The solution to the mystery of the sexuality of Stella Walsh is that the famed Olympic runner of the 1930s had only incomplete male and no female sex organs, an autopsy has revealed.
The 69-year-old athlete, who won 1,100 awards in more than 30 years of competition as a woman, was a national heroine in Poland and America.
But on Dec. 4 Stella Walsh was shot to death in an apparent robbery attempt in a Cleveland parking lot, and the subsequent autopsy by the Cuyahoga County coroner's office revealed her lifelong secret.
That secret, according to autopsy details discussed this week, was that to all appearances she was exclusively if abnormally male, although Dr. Lester Adelson, deputy coroner, said yesterday that chromosome tests are neither conclusive nor complete and the true situation seems "not black or white."
"Nature is infinite in her manisfestations," he said. "This case is unique in my experience. We haven't put down a final diagnosis or conclusion as to sexuality."
Early chromosome tests, it was learned, seemed predominantly male, with some question marks. Nature produces many males with some female characteristics, many females with some male characteristics and some persons whom medical science calls "mosaics," with mixed characteristics, external or in the genes.
What the autopsy showed to the examiner's eyes was that Walsh had only a "hypoplastic" or tiny, incomplete -- if still obvious -- penis with no normal opening, and equally small testes.
She had no female organs, external or internal, according to the report. She had "masculine" breasts, it said, and an abnormal urinary opening near the scrotum.
These characteristics, plus either a male or ambiguous chromosome test, would rule her out of women's Olympic competition today.But Walsh, born Stanislawa Walasiewiscz in Poland in 1911, was brought to the United States before she was 5, and in a less sophisticated day, equalled the American woman's record for the 50-yard dash at 15.
In 1932 she could have competed for either this country or Poland in the Olympics. She chose her native land and won the Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter dash. In that and later Olympiads, she won five gold and four silver medals.
She continued to run until well into her 40s, winning her fifth U.S. pentathlon championship at 43.
In 1956, she won eligibility for the U.S. Olympic squad, but at American University that August she finished only third in a 200-meter heat, failed to make the team and said tearfully, "This is the end."
She became a community leader in Cleveland. Last May the Polish government awarded her its Cross of Merit. On Dec. 4, when she was shot, she was about to buy ribbons for a Polish woman's basketball team.
The first report that Walsh had male sex organs was broadcast by Cleveland television station WKYC on Dec. 8, the night before the slain athlete's funeral. The report, which quoted unnamed sources as verifying the information, caused an uproar in Cleveland's Polish community.
Cliff Abromats, the station's news director, said that about 300 negative telephone calls and letters were received after the initial broadcast. He said there were only six negative telephone calls after Thursday nights report of the coroner's findings, which the station obtained by court order.
Initially Cuyahoga County coroner Samuel Gerber refused to make the autopsy findings public, on the grounds that they were incomplete and the case involved a homicide. Lawyers for WKYC challenged this stance in a state appeals court and won an agreement from Gerber to make the report available by yesterday.
However, while the coroner's report backed up WKYC's first story on the Walsh case, the station downplayed its significance. It reported the contents of the corner's report Thursday night in a brief, straightforward account sandwiched between other local news developments.
Other Cleveland news organizations are also downplaying the case, which involves a well-known local figure who was beloved in the Polish community. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, for example, also obtained a copy of the corner's report Thursday but did not publish a story on its contents.
Bob McGruder, the paper's city editor, said he decided not to use the material because the report is incomplete. He said the Plain Dealer will wait until after completion of the chromosome tests before writing about the Walsh case.
Asked if local news organizations had been intimidated by the uproar in the Polish community, McGruder said, "I'm not intimidated. . . . I'd like to know exactly what I'm saying before I write about that life," he said.
In California recently, Walsh's former husband, Harry Olsen, from whom she had been separated for many years, told a reporter recently that they had sexual relations only "a couple of times, and she wouldn't let me have the lights on."
Asked to comment after hearing the autopsy details, another well-known medical examiner -- Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh, now an Allegheny County commissioner -- said: "Based on the presence of a prostate [a small male prostate gland and related structures were found] and based on the absence of a uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes, the conclusion seems inescapable that this person was predominantly a male, with possibly some congenital defects or anomalies.
"I can't know for certain without all the data, but there could have been some endocrine [hormone] difficulties or imbalances, so the individual was something less than a complete male physiologically. But the absence of internal female genitalia certainly seems to remove this from the category of the true hermaphrodite [one with characteristics of both sexes]."
Wecht added that, "It may seem strange, but we know that for whatever reasons a family sometimes makes up its mind a baby is going to be a boy or a girl, and that's what it is. And it is not at all impossible that this went unnoticed during a time of no clinical examinations in sports."