Michelle Kosilek

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Michelle Lynne Kosilek
Born (1949-04-10)April 10, 1949
Chicago, Illinois
Residence Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk
Known for Lawsuits to obtain treatment for gender identity disorder, while in prison
Criminal penalty
Life imprisonment
Criminal status In prison
Spouse(s) Cheryl McCaul (c. 1954-1990), murdered at age 36
Children Son, Timothy, born c. 1975 (age ~38)
Conviction(s) Murder

Michelle Lynne Kosilek (born April 10, 1949) is a convicted murderer and transgender woman who is best known for the controversy surrounding her attempts to obtain treatment for her gender identity disorder while in prison. In 1990, Kosilek strangled wife Cheryl McCaul, killing her. Kosilek was sentenced to serve a life sentence without parole. During her incarceration, Kosilek has repeatedly sued the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC), seeking medical treatment for her gender identity disorder.[1]


Childhood and youth[edit]

Kosilek was born on April 10, 1949,[2] in Chicago, Illinois, and given the name Robert. In adulthood, Kosilek wrote an autobiography, Grace's Daughter, and published it online.[3] In it, Kosilek described a troubled childhood in which the adults responsible for her care regularly abused her emotionally, physically, and sexually. Kosilek wrote that she had always identified as female, that she attempted to wear girls' clothing in secret, and that whenever the adults in her life discovered her engaging in female gender expression, they emotionally and physically abused her.

Kosilek wrote of her father being sent to prison when she was 4 years old, of her mother's alcoholism, and of how Kosilek and her sister were abandoned in an orphanage, run by physically abusive nuns, for five years. Kosilek wrote that once her mother brought her and her sister home, her mother and stepfather drank heavily and often beat her. Kosilek wrote that when she was 10, her grandfather repeatedly molested her. Kosilek described meeting a transgender woman, hiding a stash of girls' clothing to wear in secret, and using estrogen cream to induce breast growth. Kosilek detailed how, when her stepfather discovered this, he beat her very badly.

Kosilek wrote that, as a young teenager, she ran away. Kosilek wrote that she was retrieved by the authorities, who sent her to a court-appointed psychologist, a man, who molested her. Kosilek wrote that she engaged in child prostitution on the streets of Chicago to survive, and at age 14 went to live with a man who let her live with him in exchange for sex. She wrote that the authorities sent her to a foster home, that she became addicted to heroin and methamphetamine, and that by age 16 she had dropped out of high school.

Adult life[edit]

Despite having dropped out of high school, Kosilek eventually[when?] earned her bachelor's degree in Counseling Psychology[where?].[4] She worked intermittently.[5] She worked for several months[when?] in clinical services at Bridgewater State Hospital, but she lost that job when hospital officials discovered she had failed to report having a criminal record in Illinois on her employment application.[6] Kosilek was employed for a time[when?] as an addiction counselor at Waltham-Weston Hospital.[7]

Kosilek wrote that in 1977, her mother died of alcoholism and tuberculosis at age 50, and that her father died of alcohol-related illness at age 61.[3]

Transgender status and abuse[edit]

From 1967 to 1968, starting when Kosilek was about 18 years old, a doctor exploited Kosilek's difficulty in obtaining medical treatment for her gender identity disorder. The doctor prescribed hormone therapy for Kosilek in exchange for sex with his patient.[8] Kosilek later said that, while she was on hormone therapy, she "felt normal" for the first time in her life. Kosilek also took hormones for several months in 1971 and 1972 (when she was about 22–23 years old), and developed breasts.

In her autobiography, Kosilek wrote that in her early 20s, she survived many violent attacks from men who were hostile to her transgender status. Kosilek wrote that in the early 1970s, when Kosilek was imprisoned[why?] in Chicago, prison officials housed her with male inmates, who assaulted her: Kosilek wrote that in 1971, a group of inmates gang-raped her, and another group gang-raped her in 1972.

Kosilek wrote that once, when she was not imprisoned, two men attacked Kosilek outside of a gay bar, beating her badly, with a brick. Kosilek wrote that the men later admitted that they specifically targeted Kosilek because she was transgender. Kosilek wrote that after these assaults, she stopped taking female hormones.

Relationship with Cheryl McCaul[edit]

After relapsing into drug abuse, Kosilek entered a drug rehabilitation facility for addiction treatment[when?].[5] There, Kosilek met Cheryl McCaul, who was working there as a volunteer counselor. McCaul believed that if she were to marry Kosilek, that Kosilek would identify as a man; Kosilek recalled McCaul saying that all Kosilek needed was "a good woman".[8][9][10] They were married[when?], but Kosilek's female gender identity did not change. Around 1975, when McCaul was 21 years old and Kosilek was 26, they had a son they named Timothy.

Murder of Cheryl McCaul[edit]

Kosilek murdered McCaul in May, 1990. In October 1992, about two and a half years after the murder, Kosilek gave a series of recorded interviews to a reporter.[11] In one of these recordings, Kosilek stated that, on the day of the murder, McCaul had returned home to the couple's condominium in Mansfield, Massachusetts, and discovered Kosilek wearing McCaul's clothing. This enraged McCaul, and an altercation ensued. McCaul threw boiling tea at Kosilek, either at her face or her genitals, and Kosilek knocked McCaul down. McCaul grabbed a butcher's knife and chased Kosilek into another room, threatening to kill her. Kosilek picked up a piece of wire that had been on a table. Kosilek reported that the next thing she remembered was awakening, days later, in the psychiatric unit of a hospital. In the interview, Kosilek stated that she "probably, because of the trauma of it ... went into a blackout at that moment." She added, "Apparently, I did take her life. It was probably in self-defense." McCaul was 36 years old when she died.

Discovery of the body[edit]

On May 20, 1990, Cheryl McCaul's body was discovered in the back seat of her car. Her car was found in the parking lot of the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleborough, after the mall had closed for the night. McCaul's body was nude, and she had died by strangulation. Kosilek had strangled her with a rope and with a piece of piano wire, pulling so tightly that she nearly severed McCaul's head from her body.

Investigation and arrest[edit]

That evening, Kosilek called the North Attleborough police department, stated that wife Cheryl had not come home that evening, and asked whether there had been any report of a car accident in which she might have been involved. The police told Kosilek that they had found Cheryl's car, and they asked Kosilek to come to the police station. Kosilek agreed, requesting that an officer pick her up.

Kosilek was twice taken in for questioning, once that day, and once on Monday, May 21. During this second visit, the police informed Kosilek that she was a suspect in the murder, and that they, the police, had spoken with Kosilek's son. Kosilek informed the police that she was going to get a lawyer, and left.

Later that evening, just after midnight, On May 22, 1990, shortly after midnight, Kosilek crashed her car in Bedford. Police observed Kosilek in the driver's seat, dressed in women's clothing, having crashed into a stop sign and some bushes. The officer administered field sobriety tests, determined that Kosilek was not intoxicated, and called her a cab. Two days later, on the afternoon of May 24, 1990, police in New Rochelle, New York stopped Kosilek for speeding. The officer observed vodka and beer inside the car, smelled alcohol on Kosilek's breath, and arrested Kosilek. At some point, Kosilek remarked to the arresting officer, "You would be drunk too, if the police thought you killed your wife." Later, at the police station, Kosilek stated, "Look, I had a fifteen year old son and a wife. I can't call my wife. I murdered my wife. Now, I need to call a psychiatrist now." Kosilek was transported to the psychiatric unit of a New York hospital, and subsequently was brought back to Massachusetts by the Massachusetts State Police.

Trial and conviction[edit]

Kosilek was indicted for murder on May 30, 1990. After unsuccessfully contesting her extradition from New York where she had been apprehended,[12] she pleaded not guilty on October 3 and was ordered held without bail.[6] In November 1992, while awaiting trial, she ran a write-in campaign for the office of Bristol County Sheriff after unsuccessfully suing the current sheriff for violations of her civil rights by "the denial of medically prescribed treatment for ... gender dysphoria."[13] Also while awaiting trial, she took female hormones in the form of birth control pills, twice attempted suicide, and once attempted self-castration.[14]

The trial began on January 14, 1993, with jury selection at which no potential juror expressed any difficulty with the judge's statement that "the defendant is physically a male but may emotionally and psychologically be a female, and will be wearing what may be described as female clothing and may exhibit mannerisms and behavior considered to be female or that he may be referred to by female pronouns."[13] At trial, Kosilek's attorney did not dispute that Kosilek strangled McCaul, but said Kosilek had no memory of the events because of a four-day blackout that began shortly before the killing. She said: "My client [Kosilek] now believes, though [Kosilek] has no memory of this, that [Kosilek] must have been the one to use that wire in self defense." The prosecution described how Kosilek hid McCaul's body, tried to disguise McCaul's death as "a sex crime", and fled to New York.[15]

During the court proceedings, a cab driver testified that he had picked up Kosilek from that same mall, on that same afternoon, and had driven her to a store located about half a mile from her house in Mansfield.

Kosilek's son, Timothy, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder, testified that that evening, Kosilek had cooked steak for their dinner, and that they had talked about everyday things. Timothy also stated that Kosilek shaved off her beard on the day of the killing, the first time she had done so in at least a year.[16]

For the murder of McCaul, Kosilek was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On appeal, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on August 8, 1996, that the trial judge's errors were insufficient to overturn the conviction.[17]

Incarceration and medical lawsuits[edit]

Kosilek is incarcerated in Norfolk, Massachusetts, at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, a medium security male prison. Kosilek has been diagnosed with gender identity disorder and identifies as female.[18] While in prison, Kosilek has presented herself as a woman, as one court decision later said, "to the maximum extent possible", and had her first and middle names legally changed to Michelle Lynne.[19]


  • Kosilek briefly received electrolysis treatments in 2008.[21]

Sex reassignment surgery[edit]

In May 2006, Kosilek sued the DOC, arguing that its refusal to provide sex reassignment surgery constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment.[20]

On September 4, 2012, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that the MDOC had violated Kosilek's constitutional rights by denying sex reassignment surgery, noting that former Corrections Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy had engaged in "pretense, pretext, and prevarication" to deny the treatment. He wrote that Dennehy had "testified untruthfully on many matters" while supporting legislation to prevent her from providing sex reassignment surgery to inmates.[23] Wolf ordered the DOC to provide Kosilek with the surgery.[24][25] In October 2012, Judge Wolf ordered the DOC to hire an independent expert to determine whether electrolysis was a necessary part of Kosilek's treatment for gender identity disorder.[26] Judge Wolf announced in December that, pending the outcome of the case on appeal, he was prepared to require the state to reimburse Koselek's attorneys for their work on the case, estimated at more than $700,000. Kosilek's attorneys offered to forgo that payment if the state would cover the cost of Kosilek's surgery and forgo its appeal.[27]

Representative Barney Frank supported the decision of Governor Deval Patrick to appeal Wolf's decision. He said "I think it should be clear she has a right to present herself as a woman, and that should be honored by the prison system" but he thought that Kosilek's advocates were wrong to describe her case "as a general trans[gender rights] issue".[28] U.S. Senator Scott Brown and his 2012 election opponent Elizabeth Warren both objected to the use of "taxpayer dollars" for Kosilek's surgery.[29][30] Relatives of Cheryl McCaul objected to the court-ordered surgery and one cousin suggested it would lead someone unable to afford such surgery to commit murder in order to receive it at government expense.[31][32]

In 2006, the editors of the Boston Globe had opposed Kosilek's surgery because "[p]rivate insurers rarely pay for sex-change operations" and "hormone treatment and expert therapy" are "sufficient".[33] In 2012, the Globe said that Wolf's decision made a persuasive case that the surgery was "medically necessary, not an elective procedure", however "distasteful". The paper had also stopped referring to Kosilek as "Robert" and adopted feminine pronouns.[34] An editorial in the Los Angeles Times noted that cost was not the issue, since the cost of the surgery would be offset by the lesser expense of housing Kosilek in a women's prison and avoid the costs associated with Kosilek's attacks on her own body. It nevertheless thought that sex reassignment surgery was "medical attention that is above and beyond the community standard of care", noting that private insurance companies and Medicare do not cover it. It offered the "generally recognized standard of insurance coverage" as the standard to be used in providing medical services to the incarcerated.[35]

The DOC appealed Wolf's decision about sex reassignment surgery, Kosilek v. Spencer, to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments on April 2, 2013.[36] On January 17, 2014, a three-judge panel of that Court ruled 2–1 for Kosilek. The majority, Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and William J. Kayatta, Jr., said that Kosilek's Eighth Amendment rights included "receiving medically necessary treatment ... even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox". In dissent Judge Juan R. Torruella said that denying the medical care in question did not violate Kosilek's Eighth Amendment rights because it did not "fall below society's minimum standards of decency" and "illustrate{d} neither an intent to harm nor the obstinate and unwarranted application of clearly imprudent care".[37]

Personal life[edit]

In her autobiography, Kosilek wrote that on October 20, 2006, she married a woman whom she identified only as "Jessica". Kosilek wrote that Jessica is transgender, and imprisoned in a different US state. Kosilek wrote that the marriage that is unofficial, and that the ceremony involved the women coordinating to say their vows at the same time. Kosilek described bringing a bouquet of flowers, a maid of honor, and an enlarged photograph of Jessica. Kosilek said she sent invitations, requesting her guests' "spiritual presence" at the appointed hour, and "a random act of kindness" instead of a wedding present.[3]

In January 2012, Kosilek self-published an autobiography, Grace's Daughter.[3]

In March 2014, Kosilek gave an interview to Boston Spirit magazine.[38] The local public television station WGBH ran a piece on the reactions from people in the LGBT community.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blom, Andrew (March 4, 2014). "Michelle Kosilek slams Elizabeth Warren for not backing taxpayer-funded sex change". Boston Herald. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Wedge, Dave (June 11, 2006). "Cross-dressing con's secret life: Psych eval details abuse, confusion.". Boston Herald. Retrieved February 14, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d Kosilek, Michelle Lynne (January 2012). Grace's Daughter. Smashwords. ISBN 978-1-46-603109-8. 
  4. ^ Michelle Kosilek, on Smashwords
  5. ^ a b Kosilek v. Maloney, 221 F.Supp.2d 158 (District Court D, Massachusetts August 28, 2002).
  6. ^ a b Coakley, Tom (October 4, 1990). "Mansfield Man Pleads Guilty in Wife's Strangulation". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  7. ^ Aucoin, Don (May 26, 1990). "Slaying Suspect's Old Job Stirs New Bedford Inquiry". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Crisp, John M. (September 12, 2012). "Sex-change operation for Robert Kosilek would be humane". Newsday. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  9. ^ Kosilek v. Spencer
  10. ^ Kosilek v. Spencer – 8th Amendment decision
  11. ^ Commonwealth vs. Kosilek
  12. ^ Ray, Richard (June 1, 1990). "Kosilek to be Brought from N.Y. for Trial". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Coakley, Tom (January 15, 1993). "Judge quizzes murder trial jurors on defendant clad as a woman". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  14. ^ Kosilek v. Spencer, First Circuit Court of Appeals, January 17, 2014, retrieved February 8, 2014
  15. ^ Coakley, Tom (January 16, 1993). "Man says he killed wife in self-defense". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  16. ^ Borg, Linda (January 20, 1990). "Police say Kosilek sober at interview Defendant contends he can't recall slaying because of the influence of drugs". Providence Journal. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Wife murderer loses SJC appeal". Boston Globe. August 9, 1996. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Taxpayers must fund wife-killer's legal battle as well as sex change, says judge". Fox News. September 17, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2013. 
  19. ^ Kosilek v. Spencer, District Court, September 4, 2012, accessed February 8, 2014
  20. ^ a b "Convicted killer sues state for free sex change". NBS News. May 31, 2006. Retrieved November 10, 2012. 
  21. ^ Weir, Richard (November 20, 2012). "Con’s sex-change surgery stopped". Boston Herald. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Wife-killer denied jailhouse electrolysis for time being". Boston Herald. November 26, 2009. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  23. ^ Kaminer, Wendy (September 7, 2012). "Is Denying Treatment to Transsexual Inmates 'Cruel and Unusual'?". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 8, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Mass. inmate sex-change ruling praised, condemned". CBS News. September 5, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  25. ^ Huus, Kari (September 4, 2012). "Sex-change surgery for prison inmate granted by judge". Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Prisoner Michelle Kosilek requests electrolysis". Boston Globe. October 25, 2012. Retrieved November 10, 2012. 
  27. ^ Valencia, Milton J. (December 19, 2012). "Judge: State must pay more than $700,000 in legal fees to attorneys of convicted murderer who wants sex change surgery". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  28. ^ Snow, Justin (October 1, 2012). "Barney Frank Backing Appeal of Ruling Requiring Sex-Reassignment Surgery for Transgender Inmate". Metro Weekly. Retrieved January 18, 2014. 
  29. ^ Palazzolo, Joe (September 4, 2012). "Judge Orders Sex-Change Operation for Prisoner". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  30. ^ Levenson, Michael (September 7, 2012). "Elizabeth Warren disagrees with judge's sex-change ruling". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 18, 2014. 
  31. ^ "Murder victim's family speaks out against husband's taxpayer-funded sex change". Fox25 Boston. September 5, 2012. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  32. ^ Ellement, John R. (September 7, 2012). "Relative of woman killed by Michelle Kosilek blasts judge for making state pay for sex-change operation". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 17, 2013. 
  33. ^ "Set limits on sex change". Boston Globe. June 15, 2006. Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  34. ^ "Free sex change for prisoner Michelle Kosilek is distasteful but legally warranted". Boston Globe. September 9, 2012. Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Sex change at taxpayer expense?". Los Angeles Times. September 13, 2012. Retrieved January 18, 2014. 
  36. ^ Naughton, Michael (April 2, 2013). "Appeals court hears Michelle Kosilek sex change case". Metro. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  37. ^ Finucane, Martin; Ellement, John R.; Valencia, Milton J. (January 17, 2014). "Mass. appeals court upholds inmate's right to taxpayer-funded sex change surgery". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  39. ^ LGBT Advocates React To Michelle Kosilek Interview, WGBH

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