Perhaps it was fitting justice: a dentist who enjoyed inflicting pain was murdered in his own chair. The question is not who wanted Dr. Frederick Nielsen dead, but rather who of the many finally reached the breaking point. The sordid details of this case, with its shocking revelations of violence, cruelty, and horrific sexual abuse, would be tough for any investigator to stomach. But for Seattle Homicide Detective J.P. Beaumont, the most damning piece of the murderous puzzle will shake him to his very core -- because what will be revealed to him is nothing less than the true meaning of unrepentant evil.
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February 01, 1988
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Excerpt from Improbable Cause by J.A. Jance
What we've got here this morning, Dr. Howard Baker announced somewhat pompously to the crowd of reporters assembled in the small dental office's waiting room, what we've got here is one dead dentist.
Doc Baker, King County's medical examiner, is a political type who likes to be quotable, no matter what. And Seattle's eager newshounds, packed like so many note taking sardines in the impeccably decorated reception area, were only too happy to oblige. They responded with an enthusiastic clicking and whirring of various audio and video recording devices.
As I pushed my way into the room, the news-gathering sounds annoyed me. I can't help it. My name is J. P Beaumont. As a detective with the Seattle Police Department Homicide Squad, I resent it when reporters manage to beat detectives to a crime scene.
Doc Baker was holding forth and waxing eloquent. He's an irascible old bear of a man with a full head of white hair who enjoys seizing the limelight. He towered over the rowdy group of reporters milling around him. Eventually, though, he caught sight of me standing on the edge of the crowd along with my partner. Detective Allen Lindstrom Big Al, as he's known around homicide on the fifth floor of Seattle's Public Safety Building.
The homicide detectives are here now, Baker informed the reporters. You'll have to excuse us. With that, he turned on his heel and disappeared through a door that led to a short hallway. imperiously motioning for us to follow. Doc Baker can be somewhat overbearing on occasion.
There was a short silence after Baker left the room, a silence punctuated by the sound of a woman crying. The muffled noise originated from behind a closed door just to the right of the receptionist's desk. There was no time to check it out, however. Doc Baker didn't give us that much slack.
Hey, Beaumont, Lindstrom, he bellowed back down that hall. Are you coming or not?
Big Al started moving, his physical bulk mowing a path way through the crush of reporters. I hurried along in his wake before the narrow opening closed behind him.
The moment we entered the hallway, I knew it was going to be bad. I recognized the faint, telltale stench of decaying flesh only too well.
The waiting room had smelled distinctly of fresh paint and new carpet overlaid with the suffocating scent of some female reporter's exotic, pungent perfume. But the hall way held a different odor, one that became stronger as we neared one of two swinging doors at the end of it. When Al pushed it open, a blast of gagging odor hit us full in the face.
My years on the force have taught me to prefer my murder victims fresh--the fresher the better. This one wasn't. The body had been left unattended for far too long in the muggy summer heat of an unusually warm July.
I stepped through the swinging door only to be blinded by a sudden flash of light. When I could see again, I saw Nancy Gresham, a fairly new police photographer, snap ping pictures of someone seated in a laid back, futuristic looking dental examination chair.
Big Al Lindstrom got far enough around the chair to see what was in it. He stopped short. Jesus! he muttered.
I was right behind him. I guess I've seen worse, but I don't remember when.
It was every kid's worst nightmare of what might happen once you wind up in a dentist's chair. The man's eyes were open and his mouth agape. He looked like a terrified patient waiting for some crazed dentist to start drilling and blasting. But below the open mouth, below the slack chin, was a second opening, a small, round, ugly wound through which the man's lifeblood had drained away.
And there was a surprisingly large amount of it. Blood had soaked down through his clothing and dripped off both sides of the chair, where a dark brown stain etched the outline of the chair's contours into plush, snowy white carpet.