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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Dr. Cornbleet worked by himself in his Loop office, without a secretary, an arrangement that had long worried his family.

On the 12th floor of her father’s building, the first thing Jocelyn Cornbleet noticed was that the door to his office was unlocked. Her father always locked the door this late. With an impending sense of doom, she turned the knob and stepped inside.

The office included a reception area and three tiny examination rooms. The middle door was closed but marked by a smear of red. “I knew he was in there,” the daughter says.

Peering in, she saw that the room was a mess. “Obviously there had been a struggle,” she says. “The blinds were bent and weren’t closed properly. The stuff on his desk was all over the place.” When she looked down, she saw her father in a pool of blood. One of his shoes was off. He had deep cuts on his hands and feet. Police would later say that the doctor had been bound with duct tape, but the daughter didn’t see any. The family would also learn that the killer allegedly had planned to use a blowtorch as part of a torture scheme.

“I didn’t cry and I didn’t freak out,” she told me one afternoon recently. “I immediately called 911,” she says. But when an operator came on the line, she couldn’t speak. “I was yelling at the person because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say—that he was in this room and here was the address. Finally, I just screamed, ‘There’s been a murder here. You need to send someone!’

“Then I had to call my mom,” she says, “which is the most horrible thing you can ever do. I said, ‘Dad’s dead.’”

The police and the detectives arrived within minutes. They blocked off the room. They introduced themselves, then began asking questions. At first they pressed her about her whereabouts that night. “Do you think I did this?” she asked. As the investigation continued, the questions focused on the doctor. Was he having an affair? No. Could he have been using drugs? No. Was he gay? Did he have a lover? No. No. The daughter says that police also cast a suspicious eye on her mother. Was this about insurance? No.

The family understood why such things needed to be asked. Still, the children say, the mere suggestion that their father was involved in something shady hurt. “When someone gets killed in that way, I think people automatically assume he is having an affair, or doing drugs,” Jocelyn says. “My dad was the most clean-cut person there could be. It was very important for us to clear his name.”

Investigators soon found a woman who had shared the elevator ride down with the likely killer. The young man, a bloody towel or jacket held to his face, “was shaking and breathing very heavily,” Jocelyn says the woman told police. “We thought that he had been punched in the face and maybe his nose was broken, because the woman who rode down with him in the elevator said there was blood all over his face. [In his confession] Hans admitted there was much more of a struggle than he had bargained for.” (Police stopped commenting on the case after Hans Peterson’s arrest.)

Footage from video surveillance cameras, which would be played repeatedly on news broadcasts, showed a man with a messenger bag walking into the building. Wearing jeans, a red baseball cap, and a waist-length jacket, he pushes the “up” button and then steps into the elevator. Forty-five minutes later, the cameras capture him re-emerging, his face now hidden by a bloody towel or jacket. Police say the man, who hurries down the hall and out a revolving door, is Hans Peterson.

Jocelyn Cornbleet says police told her what happened next: Hans Peterson ducked into the parking garage, climbed into his rental car, and drove back to New York. He stayed there for about two months. Then, around Christmastime, he packed a suitcase and caught a flight to Oregon to see his mother and father.

Tom Peterson says he noticed nothing amiss with his son, beyond the symptoms he had shown since taking Accutane. He did notice that Hans was spending time on the Internet, researching the Caribbean island of St. Martin. On the last day of his visit, the son revealed why: He was moving to St. Martin to resume his career in Internet gambling.

From his new Caribbean home, Hans Peterson reentered the blogosphere. Only this time, he did not seek out an Accutane support group. Instead, he sought information from a site devoted to Asperger’s syndrome—a milder variant of autistic disorder. In his second posting (republished on theoutfitcollective.blogspot.com, a Web site run by Chicago crime writers), he wondered whether he might have the syndrome—much as he wondered if Accutane were to blame for his difficulties: “Hi, I have always been different from most of my peers—extremely quiet, unable to engage in any sort of small talk, somewhat obsessive, intelligent, and somewhat unable to make friends. Many of these qualities I attributed to the fact that I grew up in a house in the middle of nowhere, with no immediate neighbors, and the way that may [sic] parents were rather different than most people in the town that I lived near. (White trash town—my father is a doctor, my mother from France, and not used to many American customs.) I was always considered talented and gifted in school, but I struggled socially (many people felt I was mute), and I have never been in a real relationship in my life despite my above average physical attractiveness. I am now 28 years old and recently moved from the United States to an island in the Caribbean.”

* * *

Mourners packed the Weinstein Funeral Home in Chicago for the dermatologist’s funeral. Adding to the unreal feeling of the event for the family was an instruction by police to keep an eye out for anyone among the mourners who didn’t belong—killers sometimes showed up at such ceremonies for their victims, they said. “I gave a speech and the whole time I was looking to see if there was a young man sitting by himself,” the daughter says.

Jocelyn’s eulogy took the form of an open letter to her father. “Not only did you devote your life to your family,” the daughter said, while television cameras whirred and reporters scribbled, “but to the literally thousands and thousands of patients you saw and helped. Each one you treated as if they were the most important person in the world because for that moment, their problem was your dedication and goal to fix.”

They buried David Cornbleet, dressed in the blue doctor’s coat that had once been his father’s, in the New Light Cemetery in Lincolnwood. After the ceremony, Jon Cornbleet stood alone at the site. “Dirt was being piled onto the grave and I was just crying my eyes out,” the son recalls. “And I said to [my father] right then and there, no matter what I had to do, I wasn’t going to give up. I didn’t know thing one about being a detective, but I’m a smart guy; I’m a resourceful guy. I told him, ‘You were an awesome father—you were my best friend and I’m going to do this for you.’”

* * *

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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