The RISE and FALL of DR. BOGGS : How a Mysterious Death in the Doctor’s Office Brought a Once-Promising Career to an End
ON AN APRIL day last year, a Hollywood computer operator named Barry Pomeroy walked up to the public counter of the Glendale Police Station to file a complaint against a prominent doctor. He said the doctor had tried to kill him with a stun gun.
Pomeroy’s tale, later repeated at a preliminary hearing, was rather strange:
The doctor, he said, approached him one night at a West Hollywood bar called The Spike. Their conversation led to dinner, a trip to Glendale to see its new high-rise architecture and a quick stop by the doctor’s medical office. A few days later, the doctor took him there again, on their way to a Glendale restaurant. He offered to give Pomeroy an EKG, and Pomeroy accepted. Then the doctor opened his arms, enfolded Pomeroy in what Pomeroy thought would be an embrace, but, instead, began to jab at the back of his neck with a small black device that gave a paralyzing shock.
“At first I thought he was into some kind of kinky sex,” Pomeroy said in an interview. “But it just became so intense, I realized he was trying to kill me.” In panic, Pomeroy fought free. To his surprise, the doctor apologized and offered to stitch a bloody cut on Pomeroy’s neck before persuading him to accept a ride home. Because the story lacked corroboration, the district attorney’s office declined to file charges against the doctor, who, a detective informed Pomeroy, had been “an outstanding member of the community” for 20 years. Pomeroy considered the episode surreal, but what he didn’t know was that he had witnessed the prelude to the final ruination of Dr. Richard Pryde Boggs.
A week after Pomeroy filed his complaint, in the early hours of Saturday, April 16, the same Dr. Boggs called 911 to report a death in his office. He told the two patrolmen who responded that the dead man was Melvin E. Hanson, an Ohio businessman whose heart problems he had been treating for several years. The patrolmen were suspicious: They thought it unlikely that a doctor would meet a patient in his office at 5 a.m., as Boggs said he had. They also doubted his contention that the 911 line was busy when he dialed it several hours earlier. They refused to let the doctor sign a death certificate and, instead, called in the coroner, who ruled it a death by natural causes.
The next day, Hanson’s business partner and sole heir, 26-year-old John B. Hawkins, flew into town from Ohio, claimed the body and had it cremated. Two and a half months later, an insurance company mailed Hawkins a check for $1 million--just days before a check of Hanson’s thumbprint on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles showed that he was not, after all, the man who had died.
The victim’s identity was part of a mystery that took months to unravel. Five months after the doctor called police, investigators identified the body in his office as Ellis Henry Greene, a North Hollywood bookkeeper who had been reported missing by his aunt.
The Los Angeles district attorney now alleges that Richard Boggs, once sworn to heal people, lured Greene into his office and used his knowledge of medicine to kill him without leaving a detectable trace in order to carry out an insurance scam. Earlier this month the 56-year-old neurologist was ordered to stand trial on nine counts of murder, conspiracy, grand theft, fraud and assault with a stun gun. The charge of murder for financial gain carries a maximum penalty of death. Melvin Hanson, very much alive, is in custody in Ohio; Hawkins has vanished.
Boggs’ arrest outside his Glendale office last February represented the climactic crash of a once-auspicious career. Described by other doctors as brilliant and passionate about medicine, he was--and still is--adored by loyal patients and was commended by former President Richard M. Nixon for his work in starting one of the first health maintenance organizations. But in the years before the alleged murder, Boggs was a man in dizzying disarray, foundering in a morass of debt, lawsuits and personal chaos. And now, after being portrayed by authorities as the evil genius behind a nearly perfect crime, Dr. Boggs sits in Los Angeles County Jail, awaiting trial.
AS A YOUNG MAN,Richard Boggs never failed to make a strong impression. Those who knew him remember a man on a mission, and in the first decade of his career, nothing could slow him down. At 6 feet, 2 inches, he was an energetic, striking figure with engaging eyes and strong cheekbones offsetting a boyishly upturned nose.
Boggs was known as a witty conversationalist and a lover of art and music. He seemed generous, quick to pick up the tab with friends, and trusting to the point of naivete. He was also known for eruptions of temper that could suddenly dissolve in a grin. He could be both a perfectionist and a practical joker. He told a friend that he had once forced a medical student who had put on surgical gloves improperly to redo it nine times. He claimed that he had once stood up in mock protest at a wedding when the minister asked if there was any reason the couple should not be wed.
“There was always that halo about him of being the outstanding one,” says Ruth McCormick, who was on the faculty of his medical school. But McCormick also had the feeling that Boggs tried to take on too much. “When he was a medical student, I said that he would either end up being the president of the American Medical Assn.--or the United States--or nothing.”
Boggs had carried his drive to excel all the way from the prairie, where he had been a child of the Depression. He was born in Hot Springs, S.D., and later moved to Casper, Wyo. When the oil-drilling company his father worked for moved to Los Angeles in 1939, the Boggs family followed, settling in Glendale. Boggs, one of three brothers, graduated from Glendale High School in 1951 and from UCLA with a degree in zoology in 1956.
Growing up in Casper, Boggs had impressed a family friend named Grace Cline. “He wanted to be a doctor since he was 3 years old,” Cline says. “It was quite a struggle, since his folks didn’t have much money.” Cline loaned him money to attend medical school and again, later, to start a business. Boggs repaid the medical-school loan, but Cline later lost $31,000 she had loaned him for a business deal. She says she didn’t mind. “He’s a very fine person and he was a brilliant doctor. Still is.”
Boggs blossomed in the austere environment of the College of Medical Evangelists, a Seventh-Day Adventist institution now known as Loma Linda Medical School, just south of San Bernardino. He adopted the Adventists’ code of abstinence from meat, alcohol and tobacco and impressed others with his talent and charm. “Word came from Loma Linda (to the medical community) that Boggs was going over big,” says retired Los Angeles neurologist Edison Fisher, who later briefly practiced with Boggs. “He had sold himself on the administration out there.”
Shortly before graduation in 1961, Boggs married an Iowa native he had met through a friend in Lincoln, Neb., where Boggs had a summer job. Lola Boggs’ work as a mathematics teacher helped support them during her husband’s medical training. Because of the demands of their professions, they decided to begin a family through adoption. When two babies became available at once, they took both boys, from then on calling them twins.
“Richard always wanted a large family, as did Lola,” says John Pasek, 47, a Pacific Bell executive who met Boggs 25 years ago in the Army reserve.
While a resident in internal medicine at what was then L.A. County General Hospital, Boggs impressed several well-placed doctors who helped arrange his residency at Boston City Hospital under Harvard’s premier neurologist, the late Derek Denny-Brown. He spent two years there but in 1967 returned to finish the last year of his neurology residency in Los Angeles. Back at County General, he helped organize one in a series of campaigns by interns and residents for better working conditions.
Re-established here, Richard and Lola Boggs had two children of their own and settled into a life of apparent happiness and success. Boggs bought a Tudor mansion on a walled and wooded lot in what is now La Canada Flintridge, had a nearly life-size portrait of himself hung beside a larger one of Lola, threw barbecue parties for colleagues and set out on the tireless pursuit of medicine. In 1968, at age 35, he was recruited for a plum job, head of the neurology department at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey.
Boggs impressed the medical director, Vernon Nickel, by putting on a medical conference that drew top-notch talent from around the world. He also began to earn a reputation as a crack diagnostician. One of the many patients who would develop ardent faith in him was Rita Pynoos, the wife of Beverly Hills developer Morris Pynoos. She went to see him because her thoracic nerve had degenerated so badly she was nearly paralyzed. Every doctor she saw was unable to help--until Boggs. He diagnosed the problem and, working with an orthopedist, she says, she was cured. Boggs “was the most brilliant neurologist around,” Rita Pynoos says. “He saved my life.”
BOGGS’ ENERGY WASprodigious, but some sensed flaws in his frenzied style. Nickel, now director of rehabilitation services at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, saw a man distracted by ambition. Nickel wanted to recruit bright doctors, so he didn’t mind that they had outside practices. But Boggs, Nickel says, went overboard, slighting the hospital in favor of his own practice.
“He quickly showed that he wasn’t interested in our plans,” Nickel says. “To me, that was a terribly keen disappointment. We thought he was very bright, but he was always looking for the easy way out. He started not minding the store too much. . . . I was glad when he quit. We didn’t have to fire him.” The hospital’s records show that Boggs left in 1972.
Boggs practiced medicine in his own way, which was at a breakneck pace. He often took his friend Pasek along for the ride, trying to inspire him, as he would other friends, with his love of medicine. Pasek recalls accompanying him on wearying dashes about the county. “Sometimes his schedule would be literally a killer. He would very often start his day at 5 a.m., and we’d be on rounds at 6, and perhaps assisting a neurosurgeon in surgery. . . . He would be doing his rounds and seeing patients in the office and from one hospital to another because he very often had patients in several acute-care facilities. It was not unusual for him to finish at 10 or 11 o’clock at night.”
Pasek says Boggs kept long hours out of a pure devotion to healing, but others suggest that the doctor maintained this furious pace to build income, at the expense of some of his patients. “We discover that on call, he wasn’t taking care of our patients,” says Fisher, whose Boyle Heights medical group brought Boggs in as a member around 1970. “We got complaints from our patients that they called on weekends and never got a call back. He would have the office schedule a group of patients for him and never show up. I don’t know what he was doing.”
What he was doing was plunging into medical capitalism. Boggs had conceived a plan to become the medical provider for as many as 100,000 people. In the early 1970s, the business of medicine was on the national agenda. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was proposing national health insurance. Then-President Nixon was opposing the Democratic initiative with his own plan to make private industry responsible for preventive health care. Boggs wished to be at the forefront of the new medical-commercial phenomenon called the health maintenance organization. He put together a group of investors, recruited other doctors and, in 1970, incorporated Satellite Health Systems, one of the earliest HMOs to appear in Southern California. At its peak, the company had 22 contract doctors anchored by a leased medical building in Hollywood and Boggs’ own medical office in Glendale. Boggs, president of the corporation, hired Pasek as director of development, responsible for signing up clients. Including the patients of the doctors and the unions he signed up (the biggest was the retail clerks’ union), Pasek estimates that 25,000 patients were once registered with Satellite and receiving care.
The White House reached Boggs by telephone one day at the Disneyland Hotel, where he was delivering a speech. After talking to Nixon, Boggs related the conversation to Pasek, who was standing by: “He said, ‘We don’t want the Kennedy giveaway. We want private industry to do it. Whatever you want, you have.’ ”
Soon afterward, the fledgling businessmen opened negotiations with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in an attempt to get federal financing, but an agreement was never reached. “We just didn’t want to deal with the strings,” Pasek says. “We were whippersnappers. We thought we could do it better and that people would be beating down our door with funds. And then, of course, when the economic crunch came in ’73, ’74, that money was gone.”
With a large payroll, facilities stretching from San Luis Obispo to San Diego and never enough membership, the company lost money every month of the four years it struggled on. By the time Boggs declared bankruptcy in 1976, he was millions of dollars in debt. He owed money to the U.S. Small Business Administration, banks and leasing agencies and to dozens of friends and physicians. Friends say that Boggs was never the same again. “We just saw him disintegrate,” says Rita Pynoos’ husband, Morris. “What a waste of genius.”
In 1974, his membership with the American Medical Assn. lapsed for nonpayment of dues. Two years later, so did his membership in the American Neurological Assn. He has never been reinstated.
Boggs’ desperate situation was illustrated in one court case that stands out in the volley of litigation set off by Satellite’s failure. Glendale physician Kathleen Revel accused Boggs of stealing her medical practice, body-snatcher style. Revel had an office next to Boggs’ in a medical building at 655 N. Central Ave. Boggs recruited her to join his medical corporation in April, 1973, even as its parent, Satellite, was going under. To draw her in, she said, he told her it had $1 million in liquid assets. She turned over to the group her office, equipment and patients in exchange for a salary of $3,000 a month, insurance and a leased car. She never received the car, and her salary was discontinued before the year was out.
Finally, Revel said, she came to work and found new locks on her doors. Several of her former patients testified that Boggs told them he would become their doctor and that he resisted their inquiries about where they could find Revel, who had moved her practice. She won a $57,000 judgment and later had it exempted from protection of bankruptcy on the grounds that the debt was incurred by fraud.
With legal and financial pressures building all around him, the doctor began to make a habit of tapping his friends for help, sometimes borrowing from one to pay back another. In one typical case, he borrowed $13,600 from a friend to pay off the IRS. The friend sued Boggs to get his money back.
On top of all this, Boggs’ marriage was failing. “At some level, they were incredibly mismatched,” says Pasek. “Lola’s sort of salt of the earth, never been pretentious, could not understand why they had the big home on Chevy Chase Drive. She wanted a simpler life. Richard did not want a simpler life. . . . He had a need to be with lots of different people and that kind of energy. . . . There was something in him that drove him to a lavishness from the point of view of being appreciated.” The marriage of 17 years ended in 1978. Lola Boggs told friends she was exhausted by the bizarre turn her husband’s life had taken.
THE FOCUS OF Boggs’ life was shifting from sedate Flintridge and Glendale to the faster lanes of West Hollywood and Laguna Beach. While still living with his wife and family, Boggs moved a young man who worked in his office into the guest house of the Flintridge estate, supposedly as a tenant. By the time the marriage ended, Boggs had openly abandoned Seventh-Day Adventist asceticism for a hedonism that revolved around men. Family outings with the Glendale Adventist Church were eclipsed by group jaunts to his favorite West Hollywood clubs, such as The Rose Tattoo. In 1976 he purchased a luxury condominium in West Hollywood jointly with Jeff Tombrello, a psychotherapist in his mid-30s who had worked in Boggs’ office. They decorated it with oversized leather couches, marble floors, mirrors on the walls and a Jacuzzi in the tub. It became notorious for the flow of visitors.
“For sure, there was always a damn entourage around him,” says Pasek. “He always had three or four people, almost always male, young males.”
The men became inseparable from Boggs, partying with him in Laguna Beach, where he managed to buy a home in the late ‘70s. Later, several of them lived at various times in a condominium he leased in Glendale. They began to show up at the office, some bedraggled, even dangerous, in appearance. One female patient assumed that Boggs had picked some of them up in bars. “You could kind of see they were hustles,” says the woman, who asked not to be identified. “I told him they were bad for business.”
The frayed edges of his new life led Boggs into a new wave of litigation and turmoil. One patient, who described himself as a security expert at Boggs’ preliminary hearing, testified that, after seeing a man in an Army outfit shout threats at Boggs in his office, he bought Boggs half a dozen stun guns. (A stun gun is a pocket-size device used to repel attackers by emitting a high-voltage charge.) At some point, Pasek says, Boggs began to carry a pistol for protection against a threatening patient. Boggs also bragged to one of his lawyers of having underworld connections. In a 1981 action to collect $33,000 in unpaid child support, Lola Boggs told the court her ex-husband carried a gun and had threatened to kill her several times, once telling her that he “could hire someone to do that.”
When he broke with Tombrello in 1981, the situation got so messy it too ended in court. Boggs wanted to buy Tombrello out of the condominium, but the doctor defaulted on the payments.A judge ordered the property sold to settle the dispute. Thirteen creditors lined up to snatch Boggs’ share of the proceeds.
By 1976, both Glendale Memorial Hospital and Verdugo Hills Hospital had booted Boggs off their staffs for disciplinary reasons. But the state’s medical oversight system, unlike the legal system, evaluated the criticism in secret and took no action. Following a doctrine of confidentiality, the hospitals will not discuss the cases in detail. Officials say that the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance, the state agency charged with protecting the public from improper medical practices, would have asked one or two neurologists in the accused doctor’s community to evaluate such complaints. And hospital administrators say that, as required by law, they sent reports of their actions to the medical board. Today, the board has no record of those reports. The findings of its investigation would have been expunged three years after receipt of the reports, says BMQA director Kenneth Wagstaff. A 1980 law requires the agency to wipe out all complaints against doctors unless charges are filed.
However, a partial record of Boggs’ 1981 expulsion from Glendale Adventist Medical Center leaked into the public domain during a malpractice case in which Boggs and a La Crescenta dentist, Douglas H. Morgan, were accused of conducting repeated unnecessary and damaging surgeries.
They were treating a housekeeper named Oceal Green for jaw pain caused by a fall. Over a decade, she underwent eight surgeries, five with Boggs assisting, in which the dentist inserted into her jaw several variations of a device called the Morgan implant. Each time, she charges, the device either produced a reaction or slipped out of place. After the two removed it, she won a $70,000 default judgment from Boggs. Green reached a settlement with Morgan, but the terms of the agreement were sealed by court order. In a deposition, Boggs admitted that he had assisted Morgan in the surgeries primarily because the dentist did not have staff privileges at the hospital.
In a 1981 letter to the hospital’s board of trustees reviewing Boggs’ standard of practice, Dr. John C. Gunnell cited a long list of medical deficiencies. The letter explained why the hospital’s medical staff had voted unanimously not to renew Boggs’ staff privileges. It was a blunt accusation of “extensive evidence of patient harm, patient suffering . . . flagrant disregard for timely, accurate medical charting . . . an apparent lack of awareness of wrongdoing . . . patients being subjected to unnecessary and life-threatening diagnostic procedures . . . inadequate medical management resulting in life-threatening complications and vital organ destruction . . . an admitted practice of intentionally not visiting hospitalized patients nor arranging for another physician to visit hospitalized patients as a matter of practice.” In fact, Boggs was so busy, the doctors alleged, that he took to consulting with patients by telephone.
The loss of his last hospital connection hardly slowed the doctor, then in his late 40s. In a court filing, he estimated his 1981 income at $155,000. But his practice lost some of its prestige as he began, more and more, to see patients for a wide range of ills. He also began to do consulting work on personal injury lawsuits and to appear in court as an expert witness.
Then Boggs took another stab at prepaid health care. Through connections that remain unclear, he negotiated a contract with Teamsters Local 890 in Salinas to open a clinic for its members. But the deal fell through almost immediately, forcing Boggs into his second bankruptcy, in 1984. He sued the Teamsters for business fraud in a case that is still not resolved.
Since the early ‘70s, about 50 liens and judgments had been filed against Boggs, and in almost unending litigation, he had gone through more than an attorney per year. While he tallied up more than $1 million in uncollectible debts, collectors garnished his office receipts, and he played cat-and-mouse with county marshals who were trying to repossess his cars. In one memorable episode in 1984, marshals showed up at Boggs’ office on North Central Avenue to repossess his Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith II but found the office closed by the Internal Revenue Service for default on back taxes. Borrowing heavily from friends, Boggs was able to reopen across the street.
His patient rolls declined, and into the office came a succession of young male assistants and hangers-on. Jean Walker, Boggs’ receptionist of 15 years, called them the “street urchins.” One patient, a middle-aged woman who asked not to be identified because it would shock the “blue-haired ladies” she plays bridge with, says she used to tag along with Boggs’ entourage for dinner and dancing at the West Hollywood nightspots. But, in the office, she says, he was the square doctor in the white coat. “He just was attentive to the old ladies,” she says. “He had a beautiful bedside manner. He made you feel you were important to him.”
She says he never acknowledged his homosexuality, even under her pointed questions, and explained away the many young men in his office. “He was always saying they were his sons,” she says. “That’s always what he told the old ladies. They bought it.”
In fact, Boggs brought one of his sons to work in the office as a bookkeeper--hoping to clear up a pile of uncompleted paper work--and got his daughter a job in the building.
All the while, his professional and private identities crisscrossed. Boggs blamed one of his attorneys, Ronald Malone, for the loss of the West Hollywood condo and sued him for legal malpractice. But he continued to be involved with Malone as friend, doctor and expert witness. A mutual friend, who was also Boggs’ attorney on other cases, complained that he was prescribing sedatives to Malone in quantities she considered dangerous. But he said he was doing it to help Malone break his cocaine habit. In 1987, Malone committed suicide with a bullet to his head. Boggs managed to get Malone’s Cadillac by assuming the payments.
Boggs’ prescribing of drugs also aroused attention. Walker, his receptionist, says she frequently received calls from pharmacies questioning the quantity of his prescriptions. One patient filed a complaint with the state medical quality board this year, alleging that Boggs overprescribed drugs; the case file is not open for public review. When Boggs’ office was searched in September of 1988, investigators found paraphernalia for manufacturing methamphetamine. His last roommate, Hans Jonasson, who was also the office physical therapist, testified at Boggs’ preliminary hearing that he was trying to make the drug at Boggs’ request but didn’t succeed. When a patient named Virginia Heidanus died of a multiple-drug overdose in October, 1988, a family member filed a report with the medical board, complaining that Boggs was responsible as provider of the drugs. The case is still under review.
Somehow, Boggs’ charm covered his ever more serious breaches. James O’Connor, a disabled Burbank machinist who went to Boggs for side effects of radiation exposure, says the doctor checked him into the hospital and forgot about him for four days. But O’Connor forgave him on the spot. “The man had this kind of finesse about him,” O’Connor says today. “I worship the man. He has done so much for me.”
But Boggs could not finesse everything. He was evicted from his last real home, the condominium on Belmont Avenue in Glendale. Its owners, an elderly couple named Lillian and Maurice Roberge, leased it to Boggs in 1986 with the understanding he would buy it. He never opened escrow. “It was a headache from the very beginning,” Lillian Roberge says. Young men were constantly streaming through, the rent was regularly late, and neighbors called to complain of noise. “He destroyed the apartment. He just made life very miserable.” Last fall, shortly before the Roberges regained possession of the damaged unit--where they found hypodermic needles discarded in the bathtub--Boggs called to ask for more time. “ ‘I’m coming into some money,’ ” Lillian Roberge says he told her. “ ‘Give me a little more time. I am coming into quite a lot of money.’ ”
SEVERAL YEARS AGO--it’s unclear when--two new men made their way into Boggs’ life. One was Melvin E. Hanson, a former department-store shoe buyer who had fallen on hard times. Hanson, who was seven years younger than Boggs, became his patient and later, after he moved to Columbus, Ohio, continued to stop in on trips west. The other was Hanson’s young partner, John B. Hawkins, a muscular sometime male hustler and ladies’ man, self-avowed scammer and former bartender at Manhattan’s Studio 54. Hawkins, a high school dropout, met Hanson there and the two became friends and business partners. Not one to be consumed by business details, the brash, attractive Hawkins was widely known for being more absorbed in parties and sex. His own mother described him to a Columbus newspaper as a “gigolo, a male prostitute.”
In 1985, Hanson and Hawkins opened a trendy sweat suit store in Columbus called Just Sweats Inc. It was remarkably successful, expanding to 22 stores in a couple of years. But Columbus authorities allege that the two owners quickly tired of business responsibility and began systematically converting Just Sweats’ assets to cash in 1986, the same year Hanson began applying for several life insurance policies, three of which he secured with Hawkins as beneficiary.
Authorities don’t know how Ellis Greene turned up in Boggs’ office on April 16, 1988. Greene was last seen late the previous night leaving the Bullet Club, a bar on Burbank Boulevard. When the two patrolmen encountered Greene’s body on the floor of Boggs’ office, they found a wallet on the corpse that contained a copy of Hanson’s birth certificate and two credit cards in his name.
Boggs maintained that the man, whom he knew as Hanson, came to his office after calling to complain of chest pains. Boggs said when he went into the next room for a moment, he heard a thump and came back to find the man on the floor. He told police he called 911 and when it was busy, administered CPR. By the time paramedics arrived, the man was dead.
The coroner’s toxicological tests showed an extremely high alcohol level in the dead man’s blood but nothing else of significance. The examiner, assisted by Boggs’ comments on Hanson’s heart condition, attributed the death to inflammation of the heart. Glendale police closed their investigation with an inconclusive memo attached to the coroner’s report.
In the meantime, Hawkins was making calls to pressure Farmers New World Life Insurance Co. of Mercer Island, Wash. The company sent him $1 million. Four days later, a thumbprint for Melvin Hanson, requested by a claims representative to close out her case, arrived at the Glendale Police Department. It was the detail that set the murder investigation in motion.
It took authorities until late September of 1988 to identify the body as Greene. The 32-year-old San Diego native, who had lived in Ohio and Southern California, had been living with an aunt in North Hollywood and working as a bookkeeper for a Burbank accountant.The investigation remained in official limbo until late in January, 1989, when Hanson, who had tried to disguise himself through cosmetic surgery, was picked up at Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport, traveling under the name Wolfgang von Snowden. In his bag, customs agents found identification under several names, including Ellis Greene’s, and a book on how to create a new identity.
The FBI has pursued reports of Hawkins’ being in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Seattle, but so far, he has remained in hiding. Deputy Dist. Atty. Al MacKenzie is hoping to try Boggs and Hanson together, but Hanson has appealed his extradition and remains in Franklin County Jail in Columbus. So the state has had no chance to pressure either one to testify against the other.
With two of the three principals in custody, lawyers are preparing for what promises to be a trial with Byzantine complications. In the preliminary hearing that concluded this month, MacKenzie labored to build a case of circumstantial evidence linking the three men in a conspiracy. Its pieces include records of dozens of calls the three made to one another in the days before Greene’s death, the insurance policies purchased by Hanson, his change of identity, Hawkins’ disappearance after the insurance money came through and the testimony of Hawkins’ roommate in whom he confided that the body found in Glendale was not Hanson’s.
MacKenzie has given no hint of whether he thinks Boggs was a mastermind or simply a follower in the scheme. Boggs has characterized himself as a dupe. In a short street-corner interview, after he was identified as a suspect but before his arrest, Boggs maintained that for seven years he had known the man who came to his office as Melvin Hanson. Otherwise, he and his lawyers have declined to explain their defense in detail. One of his attorneys, Larry Bakman, will admit that “there certainly is a circumstantial case for the insurance fraud. But,” he adds, “there’s a very difficult case to prove as to the homicide.” Despite repeated requests, Boggs’ attorneys have declined to let him be interviewed for this story. In January, before his arrest, Boggs told the Wall Street Journal that if he were involved with the scam, “I’d be in Rio.” He added: “I keep thinking I’ll wake up from a bad dream.”
Initially, MacKenzie suggested the use of a stun gun as murder weapon was under study. Investigators considered Barry Pomeroy an intended victim. Now, the stun-gun theory appears to have been discarded in light of testimony that the stun guns were of a non-lethal type. Hans Jonasson testified that Boggs asked him how to obtain brucine, a poison reputed to kill without leaving any traces. During the preliminary hearing, a New York pathologist testified that after reviewing tissue slides and the autopsy report, he concluded that death was caused by either suffocation or poisoning. But MacKenzie has declined to say which of the two he will present as his theory. Proof of the cause of death is not a requisite for a murder conviction, but, without it, the state will have an uphill battle.
The faithful from the doctor’s past take heart in that missing piece of the puzzle. Boggs--who was still practicing medicine up to the week of his arrest, five months after he was publicly identified as a suspect--retains the loyalty of both friends and patients, who believe unfailingly in his skill and kindness. “I’ve really cried about it,” says Helen Stechman of Atwater, who had been going with her husband to Boggs for almost 20 years. “We’re still saying, ‘Oh, I wish we had Dr. Boggs.’ . . . He was always so concerned about us.”
“He was a darn good doctor and I don’t think he would harm anyone,” says 83-year-old Norma Johnson, a patient of 17 years.
John Pasek says he has spoken with Boggs by phone several times and hasn’t lost a particle of faith in his old friend. “Until a court of law proves otherwise, I will be loyal to him,” Pasek says. “And even if he’s found guilty, which I don’t personally believe at this point, my loyalty will persist.
“To this day he has great spiritual depth,” says Pasek, who used to go to church with the doctor in better days. “Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way, and he, for the last 15 years or so, has been brutalized by life, learning things the hard way.”
Others draw different lessons from the doctor’s life. Upon hearing of Boggs’ arrest, John Gunnell, who had reviewed Boggs’ record at a Glendale hospital, would say only, “I’m amazed that he was still practicing medicine.”
The bluntest comment comes from Edison Fisher, whose medical group voted to expel Boggs in the early 1970s and later sued him, contending successfully that he stole its financial records as well as its founder’s antique desk. Like many who would meet Boggs after him, Fisher simply saw a scammer. “Being a sociopath,” he says, “he had a hard time telling right from wrong.”
The final vestige of Boggs’ troubled medical practice disappeared the week of his arrest. He had just been evicted from his North Central Avenue office suite. When Glendale police came to get him, Boggs was clearing out the last remnants of his possessions.
In another way, little has changed. Suffering from boredom and a touch of phlebitis in jail, Boggs frequently calls old friends and patients on the pay phone--collect. They accept the charges and describe their medical problems to him. As was his custom in better times, he gives his consultation by phone.