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Bloodlines: The Death of Chicago Dermatologist David Cornbleet

After dermatologist David Cornbleet was murdered in his Michigan Avenue office, his son, Jonathan, devoted himself to finding the killer. Now a shy and troubled young man—a former patient of Dr. Cornbleet’s—has confessed. But that man’s anguished father is arguing that a drug prescribed by the slain doctor may have contributed to the killing.

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Jonathan Cornbleet (right) revered his father (left) as a best friend. At the doctor’s graveside, the son declared, “I will not rest until I find the person who did this.”

The son had not missed a Father’s Day in as long as he could remember and, despite all that had happened, he was not going to start now, no matter how forlorn he felt, no matter how discouraged. Through the canopy of catalpa trees, a bright sun cast mottled shadows on the marble and granite monuments. The stillness of the late June afternoon sat heavy as a tomb on the flower-strewn grounds.

Eight months earlier, in October 2006, Jon Cornbleet had come to this same spot, numb, bewildered, and heartbroken. He had listened to the tributes to his father, Dr. David Cornbleet, clung to his mother and sister, and wept as he watched the casket disappear into the chilled black earth. After the ceremony he lagged behind the other mourners, waiting until he was alone. Then, standing in his dark suit, he spoke to the man he called his best friend. “I love you, Dad,” he said. “And I will not rest until I find the person who did this.”

He clung to those words, found strength in them, all through a long winter of false leads, of staring at videotape until his eyes burned, of hanging information-seeking fliers in the cold until his hands were chapped and red.

But for all his efforts, he had failed. The killer was still out there, out of reach.

Now, in late June, filled with self-disgust, the son looked down at the grave. Bending slightly, he dropped the flowers he had brought. Then, after a pause, he turned to leave. He would not be back, he told himself. Not until he had him. Not until he, the son, had found his father some justice.

* * *

Far away, a different father, a different son. In their story, the father is the bereaved.

His son isn’t dead—not in the way David Cornbleet is. But in many ways, Dr. Thomas Peterson feels his boy is just as lost to him, buried not in a grassy field of monuments and stone, but in a catacomb of jail cells on a French Caribbean island, where he awaits charges of murder.

In much the same way that Jon Cornbleet had visited his father’s grave, Peterson had hoped to visit his son, 29-year-old Hans Peterson. As of press time he still had not, but was planning a trip to see him in mid-November.

The father now sits across from me in the lobby of a modest hotel in Portland, Oregon, sipping coffee and explaining why he feels as determined as Jon Cornbleet to find justice for a family member he has loved and lost.

* * *

Photograph: Courtesy of Jonathan Cornbleet

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