In May 2011, I wrote a short piece for Riptide about an 80-year-old Keys man who'd shot and killed his wife and his pet cat before ending his own life. I called it the "saddest story of the morning." Like most of Glen Tucker's neighbors and the local police, I assumed Tucker's crime was a typically tragic end-of-life story.
Months later, I got a call from Jan Lehman. Our conversation began unraveling a three-decades-old mystery of a disappearing plastic surgeon who faked his own death to escape dozens of mangled patients.
Lehman's tale seemed too incredible to be true. Back in the 1970s, Glen Tucker had been among the most prominent plastic surgeons in Milwaukee -- until he began horribly mutilating his patients.
Tucker operated on Lehman's nose after her friend accidentally broke it with an ill-timed cartwheel. Three surgeries and a brutal few months of pain later, Lehman finally went to another doctor -- who was horrified to find an infected wad of gauze left in her nose through all the operations, plus serious damage to her cartilage.
With Lehman's help, I was able to tell the full story of what happened next in this week's cover story, "The Gun and the Scalpel."
As Lehman and a dozen other patients lined up to detail Tucker's mistreatment, the doctor faked his own death, fled to the Keys, and hid the truth from his neighbors for 30 years -- until his life ended in violence last May.
Lehman, who now lives in Texas under a different name, says she wanted to tell her story for two simple reasons: so that Tucker's other victims know he's no longer alive and to educate people about their rights as a patient.
"No one should have to go through what I went through," she says.
Lehman offers three tips she wishes she'd known back in 1978 when she first went to the ER for her broken nose.
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First, patients can get a second opinion before any surgery; second, if there are complications after that operation, they should consult an unrelated doctor before going ahead with a corrective procedure; and finally, seriously injured patients need an advocate to watch out for them as they undergo treatment.
"When you're as seriously injured as I was after my first surgery," she says, "you're in no position to rationally look out for yourself."