By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Yet he insists he's enjoying life like never before. Even the routine work of a rural sheriff's department--stopping speeders along the interstate, calming domestic waters--hasn't dulled his enthusiasm for the job.
Dallas neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Jackson has known Mullen since the early '80s, when the two worked together. "John," he says, "has walked to a different drummer for as long as I've known him."
Still, he admits he was stunned when his friend announced his decision to leave his Dallas practice for the unique lifestyle he now leads in East Texas. "He walked away from a sizable investment of time and work--medical school, internship, building a reputation. Not many people are willing to take that kind of step. He was very skilled, and his patients loved him. But there came a point where people who came to him with imagined pains increasingly frustrated him. He had a low tolerance for that sort of thing."
"Intense," Jackson says, is a good description of the Mullen he worked alongside. "He was never one to sit around and chitchat. He didn't play golf or go to the symphony. He didn't seem to have any outside interests. He didn't laugh a lot. In fact, I always felt he was a little too serious."
Recalling Mullen's call to Desert Storm, Jackson says he occasionally sent him care packages and notes. "I recall one letter I received from him in which he expressed his frustration at being there only in the role of a doctor, with so much time on his hands. John wanted to be a soldier, to be in on the action."
Mullen, it seems, has constantly searched for new ways to be certain that neither boredom nor apathy visits. Fascinated by the forensic phase of criminal investigation since his days as a medical examiner's assistant, he began taking law enforcement courses even while still a full-time neurosurgeon. Since 1989, when he attended a seminar on Ritualistic/Cult Investigation, he has studied everything from the analysis of bloodstain patterns to forensic hypnosis, child abuse to forensic etymology.
Today, it is Mullen who is called on to investigate all major crime scenes in his jurisdiction, as well as many in neighboring counties. Within a year after earning his Texas peace officer's certification at the Northeast Texas Police Academy, he was asked to serve as one of its instructors. Among the courses he has taught are classes on sex offenders, serial killers, and a unique course in forensic nursing (in which he instructs emergency room personnel on techniques for detecting child abuse and sexual assault and the collection and preservation of evidence).
He also serves on the Texas Major Crimes Committee, which gives law enforcement officers from around the state the opportunity to take a fresh look at a case that has been worked by others. Recently, Mullen looked at a murder case in which the investigator had several suspects but nothing that would single out the actual killer. A technique that Mullen has long followed in the course of his own crime-scene investigations was to check date books and calendars found at the scene or residence of a suspect. "We were going through all the evidence that had been collected on the case," he remembers, "and among the material was a calendar belonging to one of the suspects. He was obviously a compulsive type who logged everything on his calendar, from a trip to the grocery store to movies he'd seen. The only date with no entry at all was the one on which the crime had occurred." In time, it was Mullen's observation that led to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
Former FBI Behavioral Science Unit expert Hazelwood recalls first meeting the doctor at a law enforcement seminar in New Orleans in the late '80s. "When he came up and introduced himself and told me he was a neurosurgeon, I didn't believe him. Even after he convinced me, my reaction was much the same as everyone else: Why would a person consider leaving a profession where he was earning a tremendous amount of money to get into one like ours?
"I have tremendous respect for him. As a law enforcement officer with a medical background, he brings an insight to criminal investigation that others of us simply don't have. His understanding of the human body, how it reacts to various degrees of assault and trauma is invaluable. He's a very open-minded individual, something vital to any crime investigation. Add the fact that he has a great deal of common sense, and you have all the ingredients for an outstanding law enforcement officer."
Although the police work has added new energy to his life, Mullen makes it clear that his enthusiasm level does not drop when he reports to the emergency room where, over the course of any shift, he finds himself dealing with everything from heart attacks and strokes to accident injuries and broken bones. "Life in any emergency room," he says, "seldom offers a dull moment."
Too, more than one criminal investigation has begun while he was on the clock at the hospital. There was, for instance, the out-of-towner brought into the emergency room by ambulance, complaining that he was suffering the kind of chest pains associated with a heart attack. Upon examination, the doctor judged the man to be in perfect health. In truth, his trip to the hospital was a scam the inventive "patient" was using to skip out on a sizable motel bill he had no intention of paying. "After I had thoroughly examined him," Mullen recalls, "I phoned the sheriff's department and asked them to run him on the computer. Up popped a felony warrant, so they came and got him."