"Deputy Doc"


This story ran in the Dallas Morning News on Monday, May 17.

Early one morning last month, Dr. John B. Mullen was driving home from his usual overnight emergency room shift when the police radio in his Ď94 Caprice crackled to life with the report of a hit and run accident. Adrenalin suddenly pumping, John Mullen, Franklin County deputy sheriff, stomped the souped-up Chevy into overdrive.

Minutes later, as suspect Oswaldo Guzman pulled into his driveway, the balding, bespectacled Dr. Mullen was right in his tail. A strange-looking figure, clad only in his light blue surgical scrubs and carrying a sidearm, Mullen stepped from his unmarked car and announced to the startled Mr. Guzman, "Hold it. Youíre under arrest."

Gun-toting doctor-deputies certainly are a rarity everwhere, although "Doc" Mullen and his dark-blue patrol car have become a fairly common sight around Franklin County. What makes John Mullen much more remarkable is the extraordinary choice he made to become an unpaid country deputy, and the equally impressive range of training and experience Mullen brings to the work he loves.

A former top-flight Dallas neurosurgeon, Mullen long since jettisoned his lucrative practice to fulfill a boyhood fantasy. But that only covers page one of his resume.

Dr. Mullen is a senior reserve officer in the Armyís elite First Special Operations Command (airborne), who served in Operation Desert Storm, as well as various clandestine assignments around the world. He is also a broadly-trained forensic examiner, adept in a range of investigative skills from lifting latent fingerprints to detecting forgeries. Moreover, Mullen is an avid student of serial murder and other aberrant crimes, and lectures on these subjects to professional audiences at a police training facility in Arlington.

"Theyíre are all strong passions of mine," says the doctor, seated in his spacious home office on Lake Cypress Springs. The blue Caprice -- local kids used to call it the Batmobile -- is parked outside. Inside, Mullen is surrounded by walls of exposed wood, each hung with dozens of diplomas, awards and certificates attesting to his unique stature as a medical, military and crime detection polymath.

"Deep down heís different," explains Dr. Richard Jackson, a Dallas neurosurgeon whoís known Dr. Mullen since the early 1980s. "He walks to the beat of a different drummer."

Once spotlighted on the front page of this newspaper for performing a rare and intricate procedure to control a local teenís epilepsy, John Mullen today divides his time between his paying job in the ER, and his solo (usually evening) patrols around Franklin County, writing traffic tickets, intervening in domestic disputes, arresting drunks and chasing after dope traffickers out on Interstate 30.

He says he has never regreted his decision to leave neurosurgery.

"Cutting on nerve tissue is extremely stressful," Mullen says. "It was exacting and demanding, and appealed to the perfectionist in me. Unfortunately, most of my cases werenít that interesting. I got tired of treating people with lower back pain. It was monotonous to hear them complaining all the time.

"Out here I have a sense of really helping people. I get a great deal of satifaction when I arrest dopers and drunks and put them in jail."

Anyone whoís ever considered chucking it all as Mullen did can appreciate the daring necessary to make such a move. But the taciturn doctor, who dislikes to analyze himself, downplays his actionís significance.

"I bore easily," he says.

He also is generally unmoved by money, power or fame. The motive principle of John Mullenís life appears to be a sharp sense of right and wrong, animated by a single-minded lust for adventure, danger, and intellectual challenge -- often all at once.

That might help explain why his wife, Martha, whom he married in January of 1998, is the fourth Mrs. Mullen. There have been no Mullen children.

"I havenít been an easy person to live with," Mullen concedes. "But Iím trying to do better."

Past wives notwithstanding, John and Martha Mullen seem well suited to one another. She is a former oncology nurse who doesnít miss the strain of administering chemotherapy to critically ill cancer patients. "I understand getting burned out," she says.

Perhaps more importantly, Martha shares with John an abiding fascination with both forensic criminal detection and deviant criminal behavior. "I never read romance novels," she explains. "Iíve been a true crime fan since I was 25."

Once the doctor and the nurse discovered this mutual interest, marriage soon ensued. Since then, the Mullens have taken several forensic science classes together, including one on blood spatter analysis.

"We talk about cases all the time," Martha Mullen says. "Usually, itís about something in the news, like the recent child abductions near Dallas. We try to guess what will happen next in the investigations."

Doc Mullen says that many of his passions crystallized more or less by accident in the late 1960s at the University of Vermont in Burlington, where he took an undergraduate degree in chemistry.

He discovered the demanding world of neurosurgery while working part-time in a medical lab on campus. "I liked the challenge," he says. "At the time, neurosurgery was the most challenging specialty in medicine."

Another new interest was forensics - Mullen always dreamed of becoming a police officer -- which he studied while employed in the Vermont state medical examinerís lab. Mullen assisted in more than 1000 autopsies there, learning to read features such as lividity and blow fly infestation the way pathologists do for telltale evidence of how and where and when a person has died. Later, he worked for the Vermont ME as a crime-scene analyst, assisting highway patrol investigators at accident and murder scenes all over the state.

"Again, thereís a strong intellectual challenge, a puzzle to be solved, when you collect and interpret the evidence at a crime scene," he says. "If itís an assault or murder, you also know in the back of your mind that whoever did it is likely to do it again. That keeps you focused. You want to prevent another crime if you can."

Mullen took his internship and residency at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, where he briefly considered switching to psychiatry. "I really enjoyed working with paranoid schizophrenics," he recalls. "But psychiatric patients seemed to be mostly depressed middle-aged females. You can only talk to so many of them before you want to tell them to get a life."

According to Dr. Jackson, it was evident soon after Mullen arrived in Dallas from Duke in 1981 that the new neurosurgeon in town wore his own kind of hat.

"Some doctors play golf for their fun time," says Jackson. "Others go to the symphony. He liked guns. From what he told me about his gun cabinets at home, it sounded like he could have held off the Federal agents in Waco much better than the Davidians did. It sounded like an arsenal."

About that time, Mullen also applied to join the Army Special Operations Command as a reservist. "They were astounded that a neurosurgeon would call, wanting to join," he remembers. After commission as a captain in 1982, there ensued a string of assignments all over the world, he says, culminating in January, 1991, when the doctor was mobilized to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm. Mullen was assigned specific responsibility for operating on soldiers thought to have live ammunition inside them. None did, and he soon chafed at the lack of action in his surgical theater.

"He was one of the few reservists I knew who actually was eager to get over to Desert Storm," Dr. Jackson recalls. "I remember that he didnít want to be a doctor over there. He wanted to be a soldier."

Dr. Mullen says he used his abundant down time in the desert to reflect on his life, which he had come to dislike. Neurosurgery no longer held his interest, and his third marriage, only a year or two old, already had gone sour, he says. So he made his bold decision: "I decided that life is too short," he says, "and that when I got back I was going to go to the police academy and become an officer."

"This was not a doctor in trouble for incompetence, poor medical care or poor judgment," says Dr. Jackson. "He was very good technically, and his patients liked him. But he had a little different personality. Very decisive and opinionated, pretty much a hawk. Once he made up his mind, there was very little room to change it."

One of the hardest parts of becoming a deputy was to convince people he was serious, says Mullen. Later in 1991, when he approached Franklin County sheriff Charles J. "Chuck" White with the offer to serve as an unpaid reserve deputy, "I think he believed I was on some kind of lark," Mullen remembers. "Maybe a mid-life crisis."

He stirred similar incredulity when Mullen first started lecturing on sexual crimes at the Law Enforcement Training facility in Arlington.

"His resume is six pages long," says Patt (cq) Hollingsworth, training coordinator at the center. "When Iíd start reading it off, everyone in the class would look at me like, `This guyís got to be some kind of weird duck.í But then they like him! Heís so candid and down to earth that you quickly forget how well educated he is."

Sheriff White says he is equally pleased with Doc.

"Heís real serious, and a very competent deputy," says White.

"Johnís a big asset for us," adds Gerry Allen, the sheriffís chief investigator. "Everyone here has a lot of respect for him."

Dr. Mullen claims at last to have found fulfillment as a peace officer, and says he doesnít even resent the more mundane aspects of his job, such as directing traffic or helping to round-up stray livestock, two mainstays of any rural deputyís routine.

Thereís even occasional moments of real drama. His most memorial case to date, says Mullen, was that of a hitch hiker he stopped on I-30. "The guy turned out to be a fugitive serial rapist from Oregon," he says.

The doctor also once arrested one of his former surgical patients.

"He was passed out drunk in his car sitting on the yellow line of a service road," Mullen recollects. " As I helped him out of his vehicle, he wanted to fight. He didnít recognize me as his surgeon until I got him to jail. He was pretty surprised."

Mullen also is working on an unsolved strangulation homicide from years ago, in which the killerís weapon was a unique and interesting combination of twisted coat hanger and ligature. He wants to publish a descriptive piece about the case, hoping other police agencies might recognize the unique weapon from their own case files and share information.

Yet despite such stimulating diversions, country life sometimes can seem slow, especially when Lt. Col. John B. Mullen reads the latest headlines from Kosovo.

Will he be called again to active duty, as he was in 1991?

"Maybe, if we send in ground troops," Mullen replies, a flicker of eagerness in his eyes. "Maybe."