By Kevin Guilfoile
The first thing that hit me sideways was the phrase "professional internet gambler."
If you're a crime buff there are few things that can become more obsessive than a real-life mystery in progress and we have one in Chicago right now. This week there was a huge break in a well-known local murder investigation and although details are sketchy and weird at this point, those few details don't add up at all. And I suspect that when the truth is known the story is going to get weirder. And more interesting.
Last October the body of 64-year-old dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet was discovered by his daughter in his 12th-story Michigan Avenue office, just across the street from Millennium Park. Cornbleet had been bound, gagged, and stabbed over twenty times. Surveillance video showed what appeared to be a young man entering the building just before the killing and leaving just after. In both instances he seemed to be hiding his face. A witness who rode the elevator with the suspect back down to the street reported that he had injured his nose and had blood on his sweatshirt, as if he had been in some sort of struggle.
The video ran for several days on Chicago television. Promising leads turned cold. The victim's family raised money for a reward and Dr. Cornbleet's son, Jon, created a MySpace page for soliciting tips from younger people--perhaps the killer's peers--who might not follow the mainstream media.
In June, apparently in part from leads developed on the internet, a 29-year-old New York resident and "professional internet gambler" named Hans Peterson (left in high school photo) became a "person of interest." DNA in Peterson's New York apartment was compared to DNA left behind at the crime scene. Two months after the murder, Peterson apparently had fled to the island of St. Martin where he applied for and received French citizenship. Last week, he turned himself in to St. Martin authorities, claiming that he committed the murder because five years ago Dr. Cornbleet had prescribed some acne medication that Peterson believed had made him impotent.
Because the French will not extradite their citizens in capital cases, bringing Peterson to Chicago for trial has suddenly become complicated.
Obviously there are many holes in this story which will be filled in the coming weeks and months. And I suspect that some of the "facts" as we currently know them will turn out to be untrue. But the bones of this story--New York internet gambler seeks acne treatment in Chicago, has bad reaction, then five years later returns to savagely murder the doctor who wrote the prescription--just won't stand up on their own, especially when you compare the complete irrationality of the act to the cold calculation of applying for foreign citizenship in order to avoid prosecution in the United States.
The local TV stations have been all over this story. The Tribune put news of the confession on Page 3 of Metro, probably because they know so little about Peterson and what they know is somewhat dubious. The Sun-Times seems to be giving it a little more wood with no more information. There are skilled reporters working the beat, however, and my gut tells me this story is going to blow up into front page weirdness in the coming days.
And although I will almost always put my money on professional reporters having the edge over internet gossips, this story might turn out to be an exception. Hans Peterson has friends. Some of his friends must know his story. Some of those friends no doubt have blogs.
I'm not making any predictions, but this could be the kind of halfway-under-the-radar tale the internet was born for.