Dr. Cop

MOUNT VERNON--At first blush, they sound like scenes concocted by a struggling writer trying to sell a television series, one that combines the two most time-honored story lines available: lifesaving doctors and crime-busting cops.

For instance:

It is in the pre-dawn hours of a quiet East Texas morning, and the lanky emergency room doctor, still dressed in his blue surgical scrubs after a 12-hour shift at nearby Mount Pleasant's Titus Regional Medical Center, is en route home when a two-way radio anchored on the dashboard of his '94 Caprice crackles. A sheriff's department dispatcher announces that there has been a hit-and-run accident nearby and the suspect has fled the scene.

The doctor, feeling a rush of adrenaline, is soon in pursuit of the suspect, following him to the driveway of his home. As the suspect steps from his car, Dr. John B. Mullen, 54, is out of his unmarked Chevrolet, gun and Franklin County deputy sheriff's badge in hand, preparing to make an arrest.

Too cheesy? OK, try...

A young couple, having recently left the urban rat race behind, are in the process of remodeling a home that had stood vacant for years. The wife, busily taking inventory of things that need to be done, suddenly screams and immediately places a call to the sheriff's department. Breathlessly, she explains that she has discovered what appears to be a body lodged in her chimney. Deputy Mullen, the department's designated crime-scene investigator, is quickly dispatched.

Indeed, what he finds are the mummified remains of a 20-something male who, records would later show, had been reported missing eight years earlier.

Too gruesome? What if that chimney-dweller was--a vampire? Never mind, too Buffy. How about this one...

We see Mullen the night he stops a carload of local teen-agers for speeding: While talking with the kids, the deputy hears muffled sounds coming from the trunk and requests that it be opened. Inside: another teen, surrounded by dozens of cartons of cigarettes. The other kids are frightened and admit to the officer that they broke into a grocery store in a nearby town. Mullen radios the neighboring police chief--who doesn't even know yet that the burglary has taken place. "I've got the kids who did it in custody if you want to come get them," says our walking tall, butt-kicking action hero, Dr. Cop.

Such stories would usually get you mocked as a weaver of the ridiculous--unless the person to whom you were telling said stories knew the real John Mullen, currently holding down two jobs: emergency room physician and law enforcement officer in Franklin County, Texas. Proving that fact trumps fiction, the life story of former Dallas neurosurgeon Mullen is as inspiring as it is unbelievable, a tale seemingly concocted by a publicity department.

Born in the small upstate New York mining town of Port Henry, the son of a banker father and a mother who was a telephone operator, he did his collegiate undergraduate work at the University of Vermont, earning a degree in chemistry, attended medical school at Southern Illinois' College of Medicine, and served his residency at Duke University. Along the way, he funded his education tending bar, working as a bouncer, and finally, as an assistant to a forensic pathologist.

His own medical career began in Dallas, where he would develop into a highly regarded neurosurgeon, gaining nationwide attention for a procedure designed to control epilepsy. Add that as a reserve officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army's elite First Special Operations Command, he took a break from private practice to participate in Desert Storm, there to stand ready to tend wounded U.S. soldiers, and that he is certified as a master scuba diver, and a licensed pilot, and a trophy-winning skeet shooter, and that he fights crime in a Batmobile--well, you quickly get the idea that Mullen isn't exactly a slacker.

In fact, he's equal parts Sgt. Joe Friday, Marcus Welby, and Quincy.

Well, maybe not equal parts. He leans more toward his role as policeman these days. Understandable, since all he ever wanted to be was a cop.

"I've always had a tremendous respect for people in law enforcement," Mullen says as he looks out his window, watching the rain fall into the lake that forms the far boundary of his back yard. "I guess it goes back to my high school days, when I'd be hitchhiking home from school in the winters, and officers from the New York State Police would stop and give me a ride."

Besides, police work and medicine mesh well. "In many ways," he says, "they are similar. I've always felt that the medical profession and law enforcement are both a matter of detective work. As a doctor, you're trying to solve the mystery of whatever illness or injury a patient is suffering from. In law enforcement, you're trying to figure out who committed a crime."