Only Murders in the Office

Society's ongoing fascination with true crime leads us to examine some devious dentists who have made past and present headlines.

By Susan Richards

While stories of sensational murders and their perpetrators populate the internet at any given time, there seems to be a particular profession dominating the true crime headlines of late – one that already has a "painful" public relations image to contend with.

That's right, dastardly dentists are having their moment.

Whether through movies, books, streaming platforms, or podcasts, people can't seem to get enough of true crime. According to Pew research, it's the most common subject to claim the highest rankings on Apple and Spotify podcasts, and another survey showed 58% of respondents admitting to consuming true crime content in one format or another regularly.

Why are we so fascinated with the dark side of humanity? Psychologists say the reasons for an intense interest in murder and mayhem are complex but, for the most part, normal. For many "fans" of the true crime genre, it may help to reinforce a healthy moral compass while providing relief when justice is ultimately served.

Let's satisfy some of that morbid curiosity by meeting a few infamous dental practitioners who found themselves on the wrong side of the law – both past and present.

The Killer Dentist

The cult horror film The Dentist was recently mentioned in an Incisor article, but did you know the deranged main character was loosely based on a real-life St. Louis dentist who provided free dental care to those who couldn't afford it? Glennon Engleman allegedly began his murder spree in 1958 by shooting his ex-wife's new husband. Over the next two decades, he is suspected of killing as many as 12 people by gun, dynamite, and car bombs – ostensibly for financial gain.

The 1980 death of a dental lab owner eventually led to Engleman's downfall when his third wife turned him into the police. He died in prison in 1999.

Poisoned Protein Shakes

While Colorado dentist James Craig has not been convicted of his wife's murder at this writing, his dubious internet searches and extramarital affair have made headlines as his October arraignment approaches. His wife of 23 years, Angela Craig, died in March of this year from cyanide and tetrahydrozoline poisoning. Police suspect Craig of lacing her protein shakes after he googled questions that included "Is arsenic detectible in an autopsy?" and "How to make a murder look like a heart attack." Yikes.

Deadly Safari

Big game hunting and dentists already have a notorious reputation – RIP, Cecil the Lion – but a 2016 safari to Zambia proved deadly for one hunter. Lawrence Rudolph, a Phoenix dentist, was found guilty and recently sentenced to life in prison for the death of Bianca Rudolph, his wife of 34 years.

While he claimed it was an accident that occurred when she was packing a shotgun on their last day, the $4 million in life insurance claims and federal investigators said otherwise.

"The defendant in this case thought he could murder his wife overseas and get away with it," said FBI Special Agent Mark Michalek. "He was wrong."

My Dentist's Murder Trial

A New York dentist was ultimately acquitted in the 2011 murder of his best friend, but the wild case involving a love triangle and forged CIA documents will soon be getting the small screen treatment. Pedro Pascal, best known for everything right now, is set to play Dr. Gilberto Nunez in the HBO true crime drama My Dentist's Murder Trial, based on a New Yorker article of the same name.

Nunez had his dental license revoked and is currently on parole for other charges. Will he tune in?

Death Behind the Wheel

In what was often described as a crime of passion, former Texas dentist Clara Harris was convicted for the 2002 murder of her orthodontist husband after she ran him down with her car in a hotel parking lot. She then brutally ran over him multiple times, and David Harris later died of his injuries.

The incident followed a confrontation with her husband's alleged mistress in the hotel lobby and was filmed by the private investigator hired by Harris herself. She was released in 2018, and her parole expired earlier this year.

DNA Breakthrough Provides Justice

In a tragic flip of the narrative, Dr. John Yelenic was a beloved dentist in rural Pennsylvania when he became the victim of a gruesome murder at his home in April 2006. After a long, contentious separation, he and his wife were scheduled to sign divorce papers, and police immediately suspected her lover of the crime. Kevin Foley, a state trooper and knife fanatic, had openly wished harm upon the dentist.

Evidence and statistics were the problem. A tiny amount of genetic material found under Yelenic's fingernails aligned with Foley's DNA profile, but with a match statistic of 13,000, the probability was not high enough to file charges – that is, until scientist Mark Perlin introduced a groundbreaking computing method for DNA analysis that enabled prosecutors to convict Foley in 2009.

Not only has this technology gone on to secure hundreds of convictions, but it has also exonerated many wrongfully accused.

A Bad Rap

The dentistry occupation has long had a bad rap despite the common goal of helping people. Maybe it's human nature to take notice of salacious headlines that lead with a job title, but truthfully, we know that people from all professions and walks of life can commit heinous crimes. To be fair, dentists don't even make researchers' top list of serial killer occupations (weirdly enough, number one is aircraft machinist)!

So, consider the possibility that your patient, who seems more nervous than usual, isn't anxious about a new filling. They might be a true crime aficionado who's recently binged the miniseries about a murderous dentist and Sunday school teacher.

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Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan's career includes award-winning feature writing and creating content with context for various industries.

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