Longform

Murder-Suicide in the Keys Unravels a Doctor's Decades-Long Mystery

As he mills around his sandy front yard, Douglas Harrison, a tanned 69-year-old, worries about his neighbor, a gray-haired retiree named Glen Tucker. For more than two decades, the two have lived on one of the quietest blocks in South Florida.

Tucker has always been reclusive, usually staying inside his '60s-style bungalow on Little Torch Key, a remote islet 27 miles from Key West. But ever since his second wife, Joan, was partially paralyzed by a stroke, he has been flat-out depressed.

This morning, though, he looks perfectly calm as he shuffles out with his trash, barefoot in blue-and-white pajamas. It's ten minutes before noon.

Harrison asks Tucker how he's feeling, but the old man ignores him. So Harrison carries over an onion. Tucker sniffs it and mumbles, "Thank you," before going back inside.

Twenty minutes later, gunshots ring out. They're steady and relentless: one, two, three, four, five.

Harrison sprints to the Tuckers' front door. It's locked. He runs around to the back and then stops in shock. Through a window, he can see Joan propped upright in her wheelchair, her neck arced straight back, her mouth and eyes stretched wide. Blood streams from her chest, staining a pink sweater. A TV screen flickers silently behind her.

Glen Tucker walks out a side door, clutching a blued-steel Colt .45.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Harrison screams. "I'm calling the police."

"Don't call the police," Tucker replies, climbing a staircase to an upstairs bedroom.

Harrison is sure his neighbor plans to kill himself. The week before, the older man had quietly confided, "When life gets unbearable, I'll be gone." So Harrison tries desperately to stall. He asks Tucker about his beloved pet, a Siamese named Luther. "What about the cat?" he says.

"I'll do it first," Tucker says calmly and heads inside.

Harrison runs to the street to wait for police. Two more shots shatter the still, salty air.

When Monroe County Sheriff's Det. Manny Cuervo arrives a few minutes later, he enters the bungalow, glances at Joan's dead body, and finds Glen in the master bedroom, face-down in a pool of blood, the back of his head exploded by a bullet. Luther the cat is also dead, cradled flat against Tucker's stomach.

The evidence is clear: Five empty nickel-plated casings litter the floor around Joan Tucker's corpse. Two identical shells lie near Glen and his cat. His stiffening fingers still clutch the murder weapon.

The motive soon becomes obvious too. As Harrison describes his neighbor's despondency, the detective can tell the case will be easily solved. Follow-up interviews with children and acquaintances confirm the narrative: Family strife. Declining health. A stroke. Death, perhaps, is merciful for everyone.

Two months after the murder-suicide, on July 12, 2011, a sheriff's deputy fires Tucker's gun inside the police range but doesn't send the bullets for forensic testing. "Comparisons would not alter the facts in this case," he writes. "This case is closed."

A long life that ends violently, though, has a strange way of spilling old secrets.

Long after this case is filed away in the bowels of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, it becomes clear there's more to this murder-suicide than just a quiet old man who lost the will to live.

The 80-year-old, in fact, had been a prominent plastic surgeon in Wisconsin before his life went horribly wrong. More than a dozen patients lined up to testify he'd sadistically mangled them. A million dollars in claims threatened to destroy everything he'd built. Then, in the middle of it all, Tucker suddenly disappeared.

That bloody Wednesday on Little Torch Key finished a decades-long mystery that could have unraveled only in this tiny corner of a subtropical island perched at the edge of the world.


More than three decades ago, Jan Lehman crossed paths with Glen Tucker — an encounter she's still reeling from today.

Lehman's dad, Joseph Lehman Jr., was a decorated World War II veteran who served as a surgeon with the Army in North Africa and Italy. After the war ended, he finished an ear, nose, and throat residency in St. Louis and opened a practice in suburban Chicago. Lehman was raised there.

Between her dad's commanding presence and a strict Catholic upbringing, Lehman grew up fascinated with medicine and wanting to help people. She attended Marquette University, where she earned a dental degree. When she was just 24 years old, she landed a job as a faculty member in the dental school.

One night — on March 16, 1978, to be exact — Lehman's life changed during a card game in her small Milwaukee apartment. When her roommate got a good hand, she leaped up and did a cartwheel. The flip was ill-timed, though, and one of her feet caught Lehman square in the nose. Blood spurted, so the pair quickly drove to the ER. At 10:30 p.m., the on-call plastic surgeon came to see her.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink