"Justice will not be found through the legal system...Would taking some of their money even be justice? Their lives would go on, just with a little less money. Our lives will never be the same."
That comment was made by Hans Peterson on July 2, 2007, nine months after he savagely murdered Chicago dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet. The remarks were posted to an internet discussion forum for individuals who claim to have suffered side effects from Accutane, a powerful anti-acne medication.
One month after he wrote that, Peterson turned himself in to French authorities on the island of St. Martin. According to reports, he told police that he murdered Dr. Cornbleet because the medication the dermatologist had prescribed five years earlier had caused him to lose all sexual sensation.
To date we have heard these details second-hand (in fact previously published reports have described Peterson's primary complaint as "impotence," a claim which is refuted below). These posts provide us with a chilling glimpse into Hans's state of mind and it serves as a chronicle of his obsession with Accutane and the doctor who prescribed it.
Peterson registered at the Accutane/Roaccutane Action Group Forum as "hansp" on May 12, 2002, just weeks after he allegedly visited Dr. Cornbleet's office for the first time. (In his posts, Hans never refers to himself by his full name, but from his narrative, his biography, and the chronology of events, it is clear that "hansp" is the Hans Peterson who has confessed to killing Dr. Cornbleet.) On June 16 of that year he posted his first comment.
"In late April, I went to see a dermatologist for my very mild, but persistent acne. He was an unethical old man who suggested accutane. He said that it was a very safe and popular drug with no serious side effects. I was never given a blood test. He never showed me the consent forms that he is required by law to make me sign. I was started on 80 mg per day. (I weigh around 190) He said that I could take the entire day's dose at once. When I picked up my prescription, the pharmacist conveniently forgot to give me the FDA required medication guide. When I picked up the medication, I was under the impression that accutane was an extremely safe drug.
"I took it for 2 days. Then I got a bad headache and read about the side effects. I stopped right away. I thought that I was safe having only taken a few pills. However, about 5 days later, I got really depressed and couldn't sleep. My ears started to ring around this time, and a lot of hair around my hairline began to fall out. (The roots of these follicles were black, normally they're white.) My appetite went away around this time as well. A couple of days after this, my libido vanished and I lost virtually all sexual sensation...It has been over a month and a half since my very brief experience with accutane and most of these effects have not improved at all. (I sleep a little better as I am starting to get used to the ear ringing, but that is about it.)
"Am I permanently affected from taking an acne medicine for 2 days?"
More than 60 posts from Hans follow over the next five years. They show a man becoming increasingly obsessed with the drug Accutane and the effects he believed it was having on his body and his mind. He attributes a series of ailments, including depression, to the medication but the two that he claims most haunt him are a constant ringing in his ears and a loss of sexual sensation.
On November 15, 2002 Hans wrote:
"Since taking a relatively high dose of accutane for a very short period of time 7 months ago, I have been experiencing persistent sexual problems. I would describe it as a loss of libido and sexual sensation. I have lost virtually all interest in sex. When I do engage in sex or masturbation, the act is no longer pleasurable. I can get an erection and otherwise function normally. The pleasurable sensation is just gone."
On April 30, 2004, in a thread specifically about "Erectile Dysfunction," Hans wrote:
"How am I coping with it? Not particularly well. You take a drug in order to increase your chances of getting laid, and end up not being able to enjoy getting laid. (Getting an erection isn't that big of a problem - it's the near complete loss of sensation.) I guess you could try to enjoy pleasing the other person, and all that crap. But, still, this side effect is horrible..."
As the years pass, Hans tries to become more familiar with both the science and the unsubstantiated claims made about Accutane. He consults with other doctors, who are not able to prove a link between his ailments and the drug he took briefly years before.
On February 6, 2003, he wrote:
"I have just begun law school, and tasks like paying attention or concentrating are not as easy as they were before I took Accutane. Perhaps I can use whatever legal knowledge I gain to take my revenge... I have nothing else to live for."
(The list of side-effects that members of this forum attribute to Accutane is so long that it would be difficult to find a response from drugmaker Roche for every single one. In the past Roche has denied a connection between Accutane and the most serious conditions alleged. "It's our conclusion, along with the outside experts and the FDA, that there is no scientific basis that links Accutane with depression or suicide," a spokesperson told Reuters in 2002.)
In a few of these posts, Hans seems to be formulating his rationalization for murder. According to Hans, Dr. Cornbleet is a villain who "deceived" him by knowingly prescribing a dangerous drug without providing any warning of the harmful effects associated with it. Hans also suggests a possible motive for this: Greed. On October 9, 2002 Hans speculated that Dr. Cornbleet was "desperate for patients, and, if I were to go on accutane, I would have to see him every two weeks for a check up."
These two claims would seem to be inconsistent, however. Presumably Dr. Cornbleet did not tell Hans that Accutane was an "extremely safe" and "popular drug with no serious side effects" that nevertheless required an intense schedule of bi-monthly monitoring visits.
And yet, especially compared to the standards of internet discussion forums, Peterson's writing is frequently clear and concise. At times he even grows impatient with his fellow posters, chastising them for throwing out statistics and claims without citations:
"Is there anyone that can tell me where this information is actually published? I admire the effort of the people that run this site, but you should really provide some adequate form of citation, so we know that these figures aren't just pulled out of the air...I don't doubt the truth of these statements, but in order for this website to be taken seriously, there needs to be some way of verifying the claims that are made on it."
After a period of frequent activity in the spring and summer of 2004, Hans disappears from the forum for two years, returning on September 20, 2006, just four weeks before he would travel from New York to Chicago to murder Dr. Cornbleet. On that day he posts two links--one to a depression study reported on the BBC web site and another to a video on YouTube. On October 10, he posts the complete text of an article about Dopamine.
The next post is February 7, 2007, more than three months after the murder:
"I was deceived by my doctor almost 5 years ago into taking this drug (no consent form, no med guide, no warnings whatsoever). I took a rather high dose for two days. TWO DAYS!!! (albeit an 80 mg undivided dose) Life altering, presumably neurological, problems which I never experienced before have plagued me ever since.
"I will never know again what it is like to pleasure a woman because I no longer have any sexual sensation - I will never again experience what silence is due to the constant ringing in my ears - I will never know who I would have become because of what this motherf**king drug has done to my mind. A drug which I should have never been prescribed...In at least some cases, such as mine, this drug just does its damage when its taken, or shortly thereafter, and that's it. No real hope of recovery, doctors are useless, the damage is done.
"Doubt my problems and their connection to Accutane all you want - I know I wouldn't believe a word of it if I had never taken the drug and someone told me the story I have told above. The truth is, I'm a rational non-hypochondriac who still can't believe how his life has been changed by this drug."
He posted four more times before he turned himself in to St. Martin police in August. On July 2, his second-to-last post he wrote:
"Justice will not be found through the legal system. There is no way to objectively verify Accutane-induced permanent neurological problems. Even if there were, it would be near impossible to legally prove causation. Even then, statutes of limitation would have run... If and when the **** ever does hit the fan they will just point out how strenuously they claimed their ignorance about permanent problems.
"Would legal justice even be justice, anyway? The people who have profitted from Roche's deception won't be personally brought to justice -- they will be shielded from personal liability... Roche's stock might drop, that's about it, it still would have been rational for those ***holes to deceive regarding Accutane in the first place: its profits over the years have been more than enough. The corrupt FDA, as a gov't institution, can't be held liable....
"There is no foreseeable retributive action in the legal system which would make their fraud regarding Accutane a mistake. Their decisions were economically rational and they know it. Would taking some of their money even be justice? Their lives would go on, just with a little less money. Our lives will never be the same.
"If you seek real justice, it will not come through the legal system -- they know this, that's why they continue to deceive and play ignorant. It is the financially rational thing to do..."