Dr. Cop

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While Sheriff White has routinely offered him a salaried position on his eight-man force each time an opening has occurred, Mullen insists he is content with the current arrangement.

"We're fortunate to have someone with his expertise," the sheriff says. "For instance, having a medical doctor working a violent crime scene is a big plus in this business. John is excellent with virtually all aspects of forensics. More important, though, he is good with people. He's well-liked because he's a very compassionate person. When you're working a domestic situation or dealing with victims or the family of a victim, that's one of the most important parts of the job.

"I'd say the majority of the people he meets on the street or while on patrol have no idea he's a doctor as well as a deputy. It isn't something he flaunts. When he's on duty, he's just another law enforcement officer doing his job, whether it is working a homicide, patrolling, or helping a farmer get a stray cow back in the pasture."

Among those inspired by Mullen's career choice is Sheriff White's father, a general-practice physician in Mount Vernon. Dr. Robert White, 66, recently followed Mullen's path and now serves as a reserve deputy on his son's staff. "He'd never have considered it had it not been for what John has done," the sheriff says.

Still, to make the switch from full-time medical practice to the life he now leads, Mullen admits, demanded a major scale back. "I'm probably making about a third of what I earned in private practice in Dallas," he admits. The first thing to go was his plane.

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.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers