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The RISE and FALL of DR. BOGGS : How a Mysterious Death in the Doctor's Office Brought a Once-Promising Career to an End

October 29, 1989|DOUG SMITH | Doug Smith is The Times' Glendale bureau chief.

ON AN APRIL day last year, a Hollywood computer operator named Barry Pomeroy walked up to the public counter of the Glendale Police Station to file a complaint against a prominent doctor. He said the doctor had tried to kill him with a stun gun.

Pomeroy's tale, later repeated at a preliminary hearing, was rather strange:

The doctor, he said, approached him one night at a West Hollywood bar called The Spike. Their conversation led to dinner, a trip to Glendale to see its new high-rise architecture and a quick stop by the doctor's medical office. A few days later, the doctor took him there again, on their way to a Glendale restaurant. He offered to give Pomeroy an EKG, and Pomeroy accepted. Then the doctor opened his arms, enfolded Pomeroy in what Pomeroy thought would be an embrace, but, instead, began to jab at the back of his neck with a small black device that gave a paralyzing shock.

"At first I thought he was into some kind of kinky sex," Pomeroy said in an interview. "But it just became so intense, I realized he was trying to kill me." In panic, Pomeroy fought free. To his surprise, the doctor apologized and offered to stitch a bloody cut on Pomeroy's neck before persuading him to accept a ride home. Because the story lacked corroboration, the district attorney's office declined to file charges against the doctor, who, a detective informed Pomeroy, had been "an outstanding member of the community" for 20 years. Pomeroy considered the episode surreal, but what he didn't know was that he had witnessed the prelude to the final ruination of Dr. Richard Pryde Boggs.

A week after Pomeroy filed his complaint, in the early hours of Saturday, April 16, the same Dr. Boggs called 911 to report a death in his office. He told the two patrolmen who responded that the dead man was Melvin E. Hanson, an Ohio businessman whose heart problems he had been treating for several years. The patrolmen were suspicious: They thought it unlikely that a doctor would meet a patient in his office at 5 a.m., as Boggs said he had. They also doubted his contention that the 911 line was busy when he dialed it several hours earlier. They refused to let the doctor sign a death certificate and, instead, called in the coroner, who ruled it a death by natural causes.

The next day, Hanson's business partner and sole heir, 26-year-old John B. Hawkins, flew into town from Ohio, claimed the body and had it cremated. Two and a half months later, an insurance company mailed Hawkins a check for $1 million--just days before a check of Hanson's thumbprint on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles showed that he was not, after all, the man who had died.

The victim's identity was part of a mystery that took months to unravel. Five months after the doctor called police, investigators identified the body in his office as Ellis Henry Greene, a North Hollywood bookkeeper who had been reported missing by his aunt.

The Los Angeles district attorney now alleges that Richard Boggs, once sworn to heal people, lured Greene into his office and used his knowledge of medicine to kill him without leaving a detectable trace in order to carry out an insurance scam. Earlier this month the 56-year-old neurologist was ordered to stand trial on nine counts of murder, conspiracy, grand theft, fraud and assault with a stun gun. The charge of murder for financial gain carries a maximum penalty of death. Melvin Hanson, very much alive, is in custody in Ohio; Hawkins has vanished.

Boggs' arrest outside his Glendale office last February represented the climactic crash of a once-auspicious career. Described by other doctors as brilliant and passionate about medicine, he was--and still is--adored by loyal patients and was commended by former President Richard M. Nixon for his work in starting one of the first health maintenance organizations. But in the years before the alleged murder, Boggs was a man in dizzying disarray, foundering in a morass of debt, lawsuits and personal chaos. And now, after being portrayed by authorities as the evil genius behind a nearly perfect crime, Dr. Boggs sits in Los Angeles County Jail, awaiting trial.

AS A YOUNG MAN,Richard Boggs never failed to make a strong impression. Those who knew him remember a man on a mission, and in the first decade of his career, nothing could slow him down. At 6 feet, 2 inches, he was an energetic, striking figure with engaging eyes and strong cheekbones offsetting a boyishly upturned nose.

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