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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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In the late afternoon of an early fall day, Tom Peterson looks weary. Since his son’s confession, he says, he has received “horrendously harassing phone calls,” people saying things such as “Aren’t you proud of how you raised your son?” and “You must be a horrible person yourself.”

Still, he feels deep sympathy for the Cornbleets and acknowledges that they are victims of a terrible tragedy. “I can understand his opinions,” he says of the other son in this case, Jon Cornbleet, “and I’m not trying to put him down for it. My feeling is, [Hans] is my son. And in spite of whatever happened, I love him and feel that he should have” a chance to defend himself. “I’m speaking as a parent for my child,” he adds. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t know if I’d be saying it either. But if you’re going to ask me my personal opinion about my child, I’m going to tell you, and I don’t need to apologize for that.”

* * *

“I can understand his opinions,” Tom Peterson says of the other son in this case, Jon Cornbleet, “and I’m not trying to put him down for it. My feeling is, [Hans] is my son. And in spite of whatever happened, I love him and feel that he should have” a chance to defend himself.

The son has not returned to his father’s grave and won’t anytime soon, most likely. “I have not gone back as of yet because everything is still kind of up in the air,” Jon Cornbleet says. “I am not sure if I can face his grave until Hans is brought back to the U.S.”

Jon says he has considered reaching out to the other father, Tom Peterson. “Contrary to what he probably thinks, my heart does go out to him,” Jon says. “Let’s face it: For all practical purposes, his life is ruined. And he’s right: His son is never going to get married, never going to live free, never going to spend another Christmas with his family. I do think about that. At the end of the day, what I think is, this is a major tragedy between two families.”

Sitting across from me, staring into his coffee, the father shares similar feelings. He has never spoken with Jon Cornbleet. But he would be willing to. Maybe someday.

Meanwhile, in the waning afternoon, the father picks up his briefcase, stuffed with documents and studies on the drug he believes took his son, and heads home, alone.

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