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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Surveillance footage from around the time of the murder showed a man police later identified as Hans Peterson hiding his face behind a bloody garment as he left the building.

 

This is a story of fathers and sons, grief and blame, obsession and determination, sickness and murder—and, above all, of differing perceptions of justice.

To the public, the murder a little over a year ago of David Cornbleet, a Michigan Avenue dermatologist with an old-fashioned practice, began as an unnerving mystery, one of those disturbingly brutal crimes charged with tantalizing clues and lurid intrigue.

Who would kill the kindly doctor who seemingly had no enemies? Why would the killer carry out the crime in such a viciously personal way—by stabbing him over and over and beating him so badly that, in the words of Jon Cornbleet, “my own family was not allowed to see him in his casket when we buried him"? Who was the mysterious young man caught on the building’s security cameras shortly before and after the murder?

The mystery apparently was solved in August when Hans Peterson turned himself in on the French Caribbean island of St. Martin and reportedly confessed. Suddenly, the narrative changed from a murder mystery to a tale of good versus evil. “The Look of Hate,” the Chicago Sun-Times declared in bold black lettering above a full-page mug shot of Hans Peterson. And, indeed, with his flat stare, shaved head, and chin shrouded in dark stubble, the accused man exuded menace.

Despite the reported confession, he was fighting extradition. His mother, it turned out, was French, which entitled him to declare himself a national. France declared its sovereignty in the matter, and a French judge ruled that a 1927 national law prohibited Peterson’s return to Illinois.

That, in turn, touched off a campaign by the Cornbleet family—led by the son—to pressure France into relinquishing the man who the Cornbleets say is a lifelong U.S. citizen with few ties to France. Among those supporting the effort are Mayor Daley and both U.S. senators from Illinois—Barack Obama and Dick Durbin. The U.S. State Department has weighed in on the side of extradition.

But as tenacious as Jon Cornbleet has been in pursuing justice for his father, Tom Peterson has emerged as equally dogged in arguing that his son—and the entire Peterson family—are also victims. The father claims that the controversial acne medicine Accutane, prescribed to his son more than five years ago by the murdered doctor, turned Hans Peterson psychotic, a condition that possibly made the young man violent enough to kill.

In blog comments he first posted in 2002, Hans Peterson claimed the drug gave him severe headaches and bowel problems, caused his hair to fall out, and destroyed both his libido and his ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. In short, he wrote, the drug had ruined his life—an outcome that he blamed on the “unethical” dermatologist who had prescribed it.

Cornbleet’s children say that blaming the drug for the murder is preposterous and an insult to their father. “This whole Accutane thing is a front,” says Jonathan Cornbleet. “Hans Peterson—the only patient in my father’s 28-year history who thought Accutane did him in—is a coward who is trying to blame a drug for a terrible crime.” The son says his father saw Peterson only once, and Peterson took only two doses before stopping the medication. How, the Cornbleets ask, could such a small amount, taken four years earlier, make someone crazy enough to kill—and not just kill, but devise and execute a highly complex plan with the clear aim of getting away with it?

Even Hans Peterson’s father acknowledges that it sounds “hard to swallow"—until, he adds, you look more closely at the long and checkered history of Accutane. The drug has been associated with birth defects and numerous physical problems, as well as with psychiatric disorders, including psychosis and aggressive or violent behavior.

Tom Peterson has publicly expressed his condolences to the Cornbleets. But he also has been highly critical of the dermatologist, calling him “one of the villains” as well as “one of the victims.” He asserts that Dr. Cornbleet inappropriately prescribed Accutane to Hans, given that the young man had only a mild case of acne. Tom Peterson bases the claim on—among other things—the drug’s package insert warning, which states: “Accutane should be reserved for patients with severe nodular acne who are unresponsive to conventional therapy, including systemic antibiotics.” The father also says the dermatologist failed to ask Hans about his psychiatric history, which included bouts of depression. Though no consent form is required, such screening is recommended in the package warning. Finally, Tom Peterson claims that the dermatologist gave Hans improper instructions on how to take the medication, which led Hans to take damagingly powerful dosages.

Dr. Charles Zugerman, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says he doubts the link between psychiatric disorders and Accutane. Still, he screens his patients for depression and has them sign a consent form outlining potential side effects, such as depression, irritability, and suicidal thoughts. If a patient has a history of mental health issues, he requires that the patient bring a letter from a psychiatrist saying it’s OK to prescribe Accutane. Zugerman also says he prescribes Accutane as a “last line of defense” and only for the most serious cases of acne. “It’s not for mild acne,” he says. “I’ve never used it as a first-line drug, nor should it be.”

What went on during that first visit between Hans Peterson and Dr. Cornbleet may never be known. The only account extant is Peterson’s. The Cornbleet family say their father was diligent, responsible, and cautious. They point out that he had never been sued, nor had he faced any sort of professional discipline. “My father was a great doctor and a great man,” says Jon Cornbleet.

Hans’s father doesn’t disagree. But he does believe that the drug caused a drastic and devastating change in his son: “Before, he was somebody you could sit down with, look in the eye and communicate with,” Tom Peterson says. “Afterwards, that was gone, and it’s remained gone and I believe it will be gone forever.”

* * *

Photograph: Courtesy of Jonathan Cornbleet

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7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

My heart really goes out to Jon Cornbleet. He is a real hero and something should be done to grant him the justice he so badly has worked so hard for. He is somebody I greatly admire and respect. I think that Jon Cornbleet is the next John Walsh.

I really hate France for making this nightmare continue for him.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

This is an excellent article. I am very impressed with the class and respect that Jon Cornbleet always shows.

Jon Cornbleet is a real life hero and somebody we should all aspire to be. I sit here and can not believe not only how strong a person he is, but how wonderful a son he is to his father. Jon's pursuit of justice is so admirable.

This is such a sad tragedy. Hans Peterson is a scum and shame on France for not extraditing this guy.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Why is France not extraditing him? He visited France a dozen or so times and thus he is protected under their laws? No wonder EVERYBODY hates the French. I think that what they are doing is criminal and I hold France personally responsible for aiding and abedding a confessed murderer.
I am very touched by the dedication and determination of Dr. Cornbleet's son. I think that all of us inside wish that we had the heart and courage that he does.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I have been following this sad tragedy since it happened. I think that John's persistency and determination is so honorable and such an ode to his love of his father. He shows a lot of class toward the Peterson family which is admirable.

Shame on France. I thought that the new President wanted to be different yet it is the same old song and dance with France. I will never visit or support those jerks.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

who ever came up with the website/myspace idea was a genius

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Excellent article. I never thought about the impact on the Peterson family. I now feel a great deal of sympathy for them (excepting Hans) as well.

Hans Peterson should be extradited and face his crime. You cannot tell me that in 4 years, he did not have one single lucid moment where he could have expressed and sought help for his feelings of anger. There are many medications that will help a psychotic individual function in society without murdering others.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Excellent article. I am saddened by the tragedy of Dr Cornbleet. He was the greatest doctor that I was ever fortunate to know. I miss his wisdom and humor tremendously.

Kudos have to be given to the son of Dr Cornbleet who has become a real life hero.

I can assure you that I or nobody that I know will ever support the French again. I think that they are obstructing justice and should be ashamed of themselves for not extraditing an American citizen.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

It would appear that no one is addressing the issue that Hans only took this drug twice, from his own fathers' admission. Unless I missed it somewhere!? How about having someone, who is qualified to do so, evaluate the effects it can have on a person: same height, weight and gender, as Hans, having only taken the drug twice as well as compared to those mentioned in the article that the drug had a psychotic effect on (in terms of how long, etc., they took it). Let's get some conclusive evidence that it was the drug FIRST. In addition, someone else said it, he had more than enough time, Hans and his father, to seek help (or intervene on behalf of his son) before this happened. This is an unforgiveable crime, and he should pay. And ditto, SHAME ON FRANCE for even becoming involved: whether he was there once or a dozen times, in my opinion, it does not matter - he didn't live there!

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Just a horrible crime and plan by Tom Peterson to distract attention from a first degree murder to two pills of vitamin a. Not to say that I wouldn’t do the same if this was my son, but it is clear that the Peterson family feels so much shame that they will do anything to transfer the blame. They are loosing a son in all of this, so it is OK to feel sympathy for them, but if one really reads between the lines of this story, Tom Ps previous comments, and even Hans’ posting on the Asberg blog, it is clear that Hans was an unguided child from the start. It seems that Top P may never really have known Hans, and only now is getting involved in his life by starting a crusade against accutatne. Perhaps this is noble cause or just a way for him to make up for lost time. Either way if wants to build support for his cause he should do everything in his power to get his son back to the US, including hitting the media in the same format and volume that the Cornbleets did.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I think it is time for France to update their law of 1927.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

It sounds like Peterson may be schizophrenic. Escalating social isolation in late adolescence with depression among other things. Accuatane probably had nothing to do with it. All the more reason we need to extradite this guy back to the US to have some court appointed experts (not ones chosen by the Petersons) weigh in and see what's up with this guy for sure.

The French are just reprehensible.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

By the way, the French law doesn't allow them to extradite anyone to a country with a death penalty. Never mind that this happened in Chicago and Illinois is currently under a death penalty moratorium. That's one of the excuses the french are using - that Peterson might be executed.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Excellent article. I am blown away by the dedication and heroism of Dr Cornbleet's son, Jon. I have to say that I am not sure anybody else would have handled this with such honor and dignity. France should be ashamed of themselves and I for one will never give that country another dime.

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I want to put my two cents into this as I have been following the case for months. The French just flat out suck as a country. They are the most corrupt government and never ever will the United States have a relationship with them when they pull monkey business like this. I think that France should be ashamed of themselves for their actions. I think that our government needs to intervene and get this to happen. No family should have to go through what the Cornbleets have to with this horrible monster who should be locked up forever and ever....

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I think it is time for France to step up and be an ally to the United States as they claim they are.

I have never seen such injustice in my life. France should be ashamed of themselves and why on earth do they want this murderer as part of their country?

I have to applaud Cornbleet's son and all of his efforts. He is the silver lining in this horrible mess created by Hans Peterson. 2 pills caused murder 5 years later, give me a break!

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Jabiru 2

... Le meurtrier, un autiste social depuis sa prime enfance ( Asperger Syndrome) est un garçon solitaire intelligent. Ses gains au poker On line sont facilités par les logiciels qu’il a lui-même créés. Avant d’arrivée à St Martin ( fwi) le 29 dec 06
Il a pensé à se suicider, il est allé pour ça au Mexique.
Il n’a pas confiance dans les institutions de son pays.

Il a choisi une pointe avancée de la France en Amérique
Pour s’y livrer après le meurtre.
L’affaire y sera jugée. 15 à 22 années de prison. Pas plus.

http://jabiru.blog.lemonde.fr

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Jabiru 1
bon article de Bayan Smith, qui synthétise bien l’affaire une année après le meurtre


De mon point de vue , le profil psychologique du meurtrier
est la piste d’enquête actuellement la plus intéressante.
La question de l’extradition étant pliée,
comme d’habitude dans les commentaires boucs émissaires
« les frenchy sont des salauds de pas nous rendre le diable »

L’essentiel à mes yeux c’est le cocktail chimique Zolof / Accutane traitements chimiques incompatibles .

Avec Internet, nous disposons de la preuve irréfutable de l’évolution des faits en 2002
Oui, deux comprimés de 80g d’accutane ont flingué le mental
d’une jeune franco-amércain d’origine suédoise par sa branche paternelle. Tandis que les Cornbleet juifs allemands, ont quitté l’alllemagne Nazi en 1939 .

les généalogies parentales de ces deux familles blanches viennent de la vieille Europe, dont tous les pays ont aboli la peine de mort...

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I have been following this case. I really would hope that France would send this guy back to the US. But we have laws that say we think it's okay for our government to kill people, so that goes against France's ethics and laws. I applaud France for holding firm. I have been a witness to murder and now my brother killer will also be set free after 25 years. Which is not far of the mark with what this guy would get in France.

I hope Jon that you and your family can rest in peace. And as far as Hans' family, get over it! Your son is the killer not the drugs!

For you anti-frenchy's- you are morons. I mean I don't love the French like I do many countries. But seriously..... you think this is bad, what about our own government? Get educated, get the facts!

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Are these people Cornbleet's family? You guys are so disgusting...Hans is a real vicim here. Accutane is one of the worst drugs and if you guys suffer long term aacutane side effects, you will understand what I am talkinga about...

7 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I am French and only heard about this tragedy over myspace. The French people had never heard about it so don't blame them please.
I, and the few people I could warn about this tragedy, are actually very sad and doing the little that we can to let the people know to have something done about it. The problem is that the information doesn't go across the country. The French who know about it support you and want the murderer to be in jail.

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