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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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Peterson at his college graduation. Two years later he would seek out Dr. Cornbleet to treat the acne on his face.

His depression waxing and waning, Hans Peterson began attending Southern Oregon University, but after a quarter he transferred to Oregon State University, where he overcame his shyness enough to win acceptance into a fraternity, Theta Chi. The school year passed uneventfully. Hans, however, was restless. “I think he knew how smart he was,” his father says, “and he wanted to kind of bump brains with a place that would push him a little bit. He wanted to be a part of the bigger college scene. So he decided to go to [the University of Wisconsin] because my father went there and I went there.” After a summer at home in Oregon, Hans transferred and again joined a fraternity.

His grades were up and down, depending on his depressive moods. “He would get a 3.8 one semester and a 2.6 the next,” his father says. When he would come home for visits, he would sleep until noon, a fact that concerned his dad. “It was like he did not want to get up and do the day. He didn’t really care what he had to eat.”

Still, Tom wasn’t alarmed. “It seemed odd that he would want to stay in bed until noon on a nice day,” he says. “But after a while I just kind of accepted it. The downs were never so bad that I thought he would kill himself or anything. I just kind of said, Well, I guess that’s who he is. He’s a night owl. I’m a morning person. Should I love him for who he is or should I try to change him?”

Occasional upswings helped allay the father’s worries. “There were times when he seemed less depressed,” Tom says, “not exactly bubbly. But he would get up early, go jogging.”

A cap-and-gown photo from 2000 shows a grinning Hans Peterson displaying his diploma. The picture also reveals acne blemishes around his mouth and on his chin.

With a newly minted economics and philosophy degree, Hans landed a job as a clerk to a stock options trader in Philadelphia. “He really enjoyed it,” his father says. “They recognized he was smart and let him try some things on his own.” Then came 9/11. “After that, stock options trading tanked and so much for that,” he says. Still, after a stint on unemployment, Hans was able to find an options job in Chicago. He lived at 2470 North Clark Street, his father says, and took a bus to work. It was also here, about this time, in the spring of 2002, that he found motivation to confront his recurrent skin problems. “He called one day [in April] to say he was going to visit a dermatologist,” recalls Tom Peterson.

Two days later, Hans called again. “‘I went to a doctor for the acne and he gave me something called Accutane,’” the father says his son told him. “‘Now I have a horrible headache; I feel really depressed; I can’t concentrate.’

“‘You shouldn’t be taking it,’” Peterson says he told his son. “He said, ‘Well, I already stopped.’

“So then he starts calling me three or four times a day, telling me how horrible he’s feeling,” Peterson says. “I told him, ‘OK, wrap up your stuff and put it in storage and I’ll get you a plane ticket to fly home tomorrow.’”

The father says when he met his son at the airport, “there was just this look of terror in his eyes. He was shaking and distressed and complaining about these roaring noises in his ears. I took him home and he would curl up on the couch holding his head. He didn’t want to eat. He couldn’t sleep. I would try to play music, and he would say, ‘No, that hurts my head.’

“My reaction was shock—Oh, my God. . . . I tried to make him as comfortable as I could. I arranged for him to see doctors: neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, ear specialists. And the consensus was, he was psychotic.”

The father says his son became deeply withdrawn, rarely venturing out of his room. His symptoms improved enough, however, that after several months he took a trip to Normandy, France, with his mother for a two-month visit with relatives. (Jon Cornbleet has said Hans Peterson has never lived in France and therefore questions his ties to the country. Tom Peterson, however, insists that Hans has been there “at least a dozen times. He’s got 15 cousins, six sets of aunts and uncles there.")

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Photograph: Courtesy of Tom Peterson


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