Multiplicity | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

February 19, 2014 News » Cover Story

Multiplicity 

The secret lives of notorious sperm-swapper Tom Lippert

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For five years in the early ’90s, I lived two houses down from Tom Lippert, the now-deceased fertility-clinic worker known these days for switching out his sperm and fathering one (or many) children. But even before Tom Lippert became a salacious national story, giving birth to taglines like “sperm switch,” he was a notorious figure in my community.

Our neighborhood was close-knit and caring, full of families with young children, many of whom were Cub Scouts—we lived on an average, curving suburban street filled with ramblers and split-level homes. People there knew each other and interacted regularly. Parents formed carpools to share the task of driving kids to school. The local LDS Church wardhouse was often unlocked in the evenings, when groups of boys played basketball far into the night. There were always enough fun-loving children for my kids to each have several friends.

Lippert was the fly in the ointment of the otherwise idyllic scene. Several neighbors remember the handmade signs he’d post on his garage. Beyond the simple “Keep Out,” there was also “No Kids Allowed” and “Condoms are cheaper than diapers.”

When my 4-year-old son rode his Big Wheel past Lippert’s house, he always yelled, “Get off my effin’ property, brat!”

Julie Lott, who eventually bought my house and lived by Lippert during his scariest years, from 1994 to 1999, remembers him sitting in his driveway with Greg, his so-called bodyguard and handyman, getting drunk and yelling at every kid who passed by.

“He had this notion that if any kid was near his yard, it gave him the right to be abusive,” Lott says.

But as loud and intimidating as his shouts were, he kept his dark secrets locked away. While his neighbor Layne Nielson knew Lippert’s job involved “something about a lab and samples,” Lippert didn’t tell people he worked at a fertility clinic. He told some neighbors, including me, that he was an attorney. When we put our house up for sale, he said, “I’m a real-estate agent. Let me sell it.”

And his deceptions had a more violent streak, too.

Lott was standing in her living room one night when boulders the size of cantaloupes suddenly shattered every window that faced the street. “I felt instant cold air and thought, ‘I’ve got to get my kids out of here,’” she recalls.

Later, she says, “We had cameras set up on our bunk beds. We wanted to get a record of who did this in the middle of the night.”

Lott’s wasn’t the only rock-throwing incident on our street. Nielson’s panoramic front window was broken twice, and the local bishop’s front window was smashed, too.

“His wife happened to be awake and she saw a man she thought was Tom, limping and running away at 2 a.m.,” Nielson says.

A few months before that incident, Lippert had broken his heel, his widow, Jean, explains. Nielson recalls that neighbor Elizabeth Grannis told him she’d seen Lippert trying to access his house, which he’d locked himself out of, by pushing his large wheeled garbage can next to the gate to his backyard and climbing on top of it. He fell off the garbage can while trying to lift the gate latch and broke his heel.

Nielson says that when he saw Lippert the next day, “he said that the mob was after him and that they had sent two guys to ‘rough him up,’ but that he fought them off.”

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Lippert consistently hinted at having grandiose hidden agendas, Nielson says; he at times mentioned that he was involved with the CIA or that he’d gone to Cuba and talked to Castro.

While we knew Lippert was strange and sometimes scary, we never knew the real Lippert, whose life was built on deception, bullying and alcoholism.

None of us knew that Lippert had served two years in prison for kidnapping Purdue University student Susan Cochran in 1975. We never guessed Lippert had been a law professor by the age of 26, or that he’d lost his license to practice law because he’d been convicted on conspiracy charges after the kidnapping.

Lippert had found Cochran from a “ride wanted” card she’d posted and picked her up from the campus Alpha Chi Omega house. He’d conceived of the idea of performing “love experiments” on the girl, which included locking her in a black box and giving her electroshock-therapy treatments in hopes that he’d brainwash her into falling in love with him, according to court documents.

He accepted a plea bargain that reduced the kidnap charges to conspiracy on condition that he submit to psychiatric treatment for 90 days.

Years later, though Nielson and Lott made several calls to the sheriff, the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office shows only one arrest record for Lippert. On May 2, 1998, at 11:18 p.m., he was arrested for “disorderly conduct and interfering with a public servant.” He never served any time for the vandalism.

“He knew the law,” Nielson says. “He was a felon, but his guns were registered in his wife’s name, and Greg, his bodyguard, carried them around. Anyone attempting to trace out his web of deception and manipulation would come away baffled. This included law enforcement.”

And as with the sperm-switching, Lippert was never punished for the vandalism.

“The only people who ever paid were his victims,” Nielson says.

AN UNCHANGED MAN
When I first met Lippert’s widow, Jean, who was married to him for nearly 20 years, I thought that the calm, dignified brunette, who worked as a nurse, was the sensible “straight man” to Lippert’s flamboyant eccentricity. I had no idea, and neither did anyone else that I know of, that he held her captive through fear and intimidation.

In Minnesota in the late ’70s, as the time of his jail release grew near, Lippert ran a classified ad, seeking a pen pal to write to him. Jean answered the ad and they corresponded.

Jean first met him after his release, when a friend of Lippert’s hosted a party for him at his house.

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“He was nice looking, and he told me he was very sorry for what he did,” she recalls. “He said he was going to go straight and be a really good citizen. That he had paid the price and learned his lesson.”

The two soon began dating, though his halfway house was about an hour from her home. She worked evenings, so he came over during the day. “He had to be back by a certain time, but we could spend a lot of time together during the day,” she recalls.

She was a nurse, and Lippert talked about wanting to go to medical school.

“He wanted to go to medical school in Wisconsin and to establish residency there,” Jean says. “So he thought it would look good if we married there.” Six months after they began dating, they married in the office of a Wisconsin justice of the peace.

“He wanted me to quit my job and try to get a job in Wisconsin,” Jean says. “I had just a year to go on my LPN [licensed practical nurse] retirement, and was not going to lose that retirement because he wanted to move.” So they lived in her Minnesota home, and he drove to Wisconsin every week and came home on the weekends.

She recalls that he got a couple of interviews to be considered for medical school, but was never accepted. “It was a big letdown for him.”

Lippert was an only child—and a spoiled one, Jean says. “I hadn’t known him that long when he called his parents to ask for $5,000,” she says. “My mouth dropped open. I could never do that with my parents.”

When he’d graduated from Notre Dame Law School, his parents gave him a brand-new Porsche. “He never had to work and save up for something he wanted,” Jean says. “He wanted everything now.”

His parents took out a second mortgage on their house to accommodate one of his loan requests. “He gave them one payment and called to say he wanted another few thousand dollars, and if they didn’t give it to him, he wouldn’t make anymore house payments,” Jean recalls. “They ended up paying off that loan themselves.”

In 1988, Lippert decided to move to Salt Lake City because he knew someone at BYU. He completed several pre-med classes there, with the hope of someday attending medical school, and got a job at the University of Utah’s Community Laboratory at Millcreek, later called Reproductive Medical Technologies, Inc.

Still, he always yearned for his lost potential of working as a law professor.

“He liked to wear jewelry—gold chains and stuff—to look important and dress the way a law professor would dress,” Jean says. “He had a lot of intelligence when he was young. I’d tell him, ‘Tom, you can do any kind of work. You have good education and a good brain. Pick something you think you might like to do and do it.’ ”

Jean says that when she first met Lippert, “We would go out for pizza and he would order a glass of wine and leave half of it.” But later, she says, it seemed he grew meaner by the day, and his drinking also became more habitual.

She feels that disappointments in his life—such as losing his law license and not being accepted to medical school—contributed to his increased drinking.

And in Salt Lake City, he went from being oddly bizarre to frighteningly aggressive as his conflicts with neighbors escalated.

When their next-door-neighbor Nielson “parked close to the property line, Tom went and slashed his tires,” Jean says.

“I felt bad for the innocent victims,” she says. “They’d say some little thing and it would set him off. They might have had thoughts that I was like him or part of all his evil deeds, but I couldn’t control him or make him stop what he was doing. If I tried, he said, ‘Mind your own business. No one is going to tell me what to do.’ ”

Except when she was going to work, Lippert wouldn’t let Jean leave the house unless he went with her. And he slapped her in the face all the time, she says.

Standing at the top of their stairs after arriving home from work one night, she “had this feeling, almost like a voice in my head, that he was about to push me down the stairs. I asked, ‘Are you going to push me down the stairs?’ After I took the surprise out of it, he didn’t do it.”

PROUD GRANDFATHER
In 20 years of marriage, much of it spent in quiet misery, Jean never left Lippert, for one simple reason: “I would have lived in hell, always in fear of him being right around the corner,” she says. “I wouldn’t sleep at night worrying about him breaking into the house. Or following me after work. I wouldn’t have peace.”

She did think about suicide. “I felt so trapped. I couldn’t leave him and I couldn’t stand to stay.”

But although she thought about killing herself, she knew it wouldn’t be an easy way out. She says she remembers thinking, “If I take pills and he finds me before I die, he will torment me and make life hell for me.’”

And, she adds, “I didn’t have guts to shoot myself. I’d seen people at the hospital who shot part of their face off and I didn’t want to go around looking like Frankenstein.”

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She felt that he also wanted her to die. “Once he told me to take him to the airport and go back home and kill myself. Then he said, ‘You’re not going to do it.’ He argued with me for a while and then didn’t go to the airport.”

She says she knew that the only peace she could ever have was if he died. “He did me a favor because he really did kill himself, drinking a gallon of wine a day.” She laughs wryly. “Maybe I should have encouraged him to drink more and maybe got rid of him sooner.”

Though things were tense at home, Lippert liked his work at the fertility clinic, which lasted nine years, and got along with his boss, Jean says. He donated sperm several times over the years, but she doesn’t know how many of times he officially donated sperm and how many times he substituted his own sperm for that of the intended father.

“He didn’t like having children around,” Jean says. “He said they annoyed him. But he was proud of the kids he fathered as a sperm donor.”

She says he was like a grandfather who was proud of his grandkids—from a distance. “He didn’t have to take care of those kids or hear them fight and scream,” she says. “They were like little trophies. If he had to have them here and take care of them, that would be a different story.”

But then in 1996, the fertility clinic cut back his hours, and Lippert was free to drink more on weekdays. And when the fertility clinic closed in 1998, it ended Lippert’s final period of lengthy employment.

TURNING YELLOW
Never one to set low expectations, after the clinic closed, Lippert “was going to be a stockbroker,” Jean says. He “got all this information, but he never followed through. He’d get jobs for a month or so and then quit.”

Without a job, he had even more time to drink, and she soon had to drive him everywhere, to work and to look for work. One job was a split shift, all the way across town. “Every single day, I took him to work in the morning, then picked him up around noon. I took him back to work at 2, then had to go back around 6,” Jean says. “He finally quit that job because he was too drunk to drive and probably drank at work, too.”

Another time, booze intervened during a job at the airport. “They were cleaning out a plane and found some liquor,” Jean says. “They got drunk and he lost the job.”

Angry at his boss for firing him, Lippert tried to have the last word. “He went to the airport and walked in front of a girl who was driving an airport cart,” Jean says. “He fell, making it look like she hit him. He went to an attorney to sue the airlines and they wouldn’t even take the case. Too many people saw that he walked in front of the cart. There was that poor girl, sitting there crying.”

One time, Jean remembers, a friend took Lippert to an alcohol-treatment center. “I was thinking it would be so heavenly to have him gone,” she says. “I had planned a nice night at home with peace and quiet. I was going to watch a movie and get popcorn.”

But two hours later, he was back.

Lippert’s drinking “got to the point where people wouldn’t hire him,” Jean says. “He would go in drunk and they could tell by looking at him.”

After Lippert stopped working, she supported them both on her nurse’s salary. Tom asked her to write checks for him even after he knew the account was empty. “He would say, ‘You are going to write that check.’ I would get overdraft fees.”

He was easily spending $300 a month on wine—$10 a day bought him a gallon of the cheap stuff. He liked to cook, Jean says, but was always too drunk to do it. “He would start making something and pass out in the middle of dinner,” she says. “He’d boil up some noodles, then fall asleep and never finish it.”

Eventually, Lippert’s liver enzymes were sky-high and he couldn’t deny his alcoholism any longer. His skin began to turn yellow as liver disease gradually overtook him.

“One day, he asked what I was staring at,” Jean remembers. “I told him, ‘Your eyes are getting yellow. You really are turning yellow.’”

At age 49, he went to a hospital, then a nursing home, before he died July 6, 1999, of cirrhosis of the liver.

That night was the best sleep Jean ever had.

Jean says that Lippert’s death brought her peace and freedom. “I can do what I want and go where I want,” she says. “I can sleep without someone waking me up and telling me I have to drive them someplace.”

She says that if she met “someone who was really nice,” she would consider marrying again. “Although at my age, it’s hard to meet anybody,” she adds. “The older you get, the fewer men there are. By the time you reach your 70s, the ones that are around have health problems.”

The current sperm-switching scandal, she says, “was kind of shocking, but it didn’t really surprise me, knowing the kind of person that he was. I was watching TV and all of a sudden his picture shows up. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this man just doesn’t die. He keeps coming back.’ ”

WHAT DIDN’T HE DO?
I clearly remember the last time I saw Tom Lippert. It was May 14, 1997—my son’s 13th birthday. We went to the Salt Lake County Government Building on 2100 South and State to hear a lecture from author Dave Wolverton about his latest Star Wars book.

On the way in, we saw Lippert, trying to wrench himself away from two police officers who held him by the arms. We recognized him instantly despite the fact that he’d dyed his dishwater hair the color of Dijon mustard and now wore a large diamond stud in his right ear.

But he wasn’t arrested that night, either. And when I asked Jean what he was doing there that night, she wasn’t sure.

Even though I moved away from the Lipperts’ neighborhood, I didn’t go far. That community will always be home to me. My kids made friends there whom they’re still very close with. And I feel that the babysitters from the neighborhood who safeguarded my kids are candidates for sainthood.

One of them, Tara, once tried a sort of passive-aggressive revenge against Lippert’s “no kids allowed” policy. At the time, the Lipperts had two garbage cans—one with the word “his” painted in blue and another with the word “hers” painted in pink. Tara changed my daughter’s dirty diaper and dropped it in the “his” garbage can.

When I called my oldest son, who lives out of state, to tell him about the Lippert story, he laughed in surprise and asked the question that still haunts all of us: “Mom, what didn’t Tom Lippert do?”

Three years ago, my second son moved back into our old subdivision, where he lives with his wife and two sons. Even though he lives there, I don’t know the stories of my former neighborhood now as well as I did when I lived there. When I drive through—which I do often—it looks peaceful. The street is quiet and the houses look calm.

But you never know what goes on behind closed doors.

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About The Author

Carolyn Campbell

Carolyn Campbell

Bio:
Campbell has been writing for City Weekly since the 1980s. Her insightful pieces have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists chapters in Utah and Colorado.

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