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The Strange Faith of Dr. Corder : He Believes That Aliens Walk Among Us and the Apocolypse Is Nigh. But Does That Mean He Isn't a Good Doctor?

October 23, 1994|Stephen Braun | Stephen Braun is a staff writer in the Times' Chicago bureau

Everything was fine as long as Dr. Corder kept his strange thoughts to himself. When they finally tumbled out, there was hell to pay.

A respected country doctor with a stable practice spread through two counties, Scott Corder passed his days among the elderly and infirm of Ottawa, a town of more than 10,000 in the gently sloping farmland of eastern Kansas. Setting fractures, listening to congested chests, he was the sort of responsible physician who never went anywhere without a pager in his belt.

But the doctor was a walking Pandora's Box.

Dizzying cosmic notions teemed inside him, an entire religion replete with space aliens and angels and warnings of Armageddon. After almost a decade of building his practice, Corder knew that telling the world about his revelations from beyond might make him a laughingstock. But there was so much to tell: that the vanguard of an alien race was already among us to pave the way for either a lasting peace or permanent darkness. That Corder himself was one of the "Chosen," earthlings implanted with monitoring devices to prepare for the coming of the spaceships. That while Corder wolfed down a hamburger at the Sonic Drive-In one night, none other than the Apostle Peter, returned from a distant solar system to hasten Earth's new age, had caught his eye and winked at him.

For most of his life, Scott Corder, now 43, had been an agnostic, more familiar with Gray's Anatomy than with the Bible. But now he had gospel to spread. The doctor told his family. He told patients. He told the Pentagon. He told the Weekly World News. Then, in December, 1988, he sat down in a Topeka conference room to tell officials of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts. From that moment on, the doctor paid dearly for his message.

Alarmed at what they perceived as a public menace, state medical authorities ordered Corder to submit to a psychiatric examination. He refused and was stripped of his physician's license. In his practice, the doctor had shown no warning signs of impaired judgment. Yet as a private citizen, he seemed to be mouthing madness. Could a physician make life-and-death decisions while giving himself over to a belief system ruled by aliens? Did health authorities have the obligation to intervene in the affairs of such a professional, even though he showed no sign of diminished capacity?

"You don't know what's going on in someone's mind," says Richard G. Gannon, the former healing arts board executive director. "We wanted to know and he didn't want to let us in."

The demarcation between madness and religious beatitude is often blurry. Interviewed by six psychiatrists over a four-year period, Corder became his own Rorschach test--the inky flow from his mind allowed for any interpretation. Some saw the construct of lunacy. Others saw the odd, yet sane, flowering of religious devotion.

Uncertainty over Corder's fitness as a doctor led medical regulators to move quickly against him. But in their haste to weed out a doctor they saw as a public threat, Corder's lawyers now allege, Kansas officials deprived Corder of a proper hearing.

"The whole process was so totalitarian," says Alan V. Johnson, one of Corder's attorneys. "They were after him because his beliefs were strange."

In the end, they decided he was sane and restored his license. The doctor returned to a shrunken practice, still believing in UFOs and angelic visitors, awaiting vindication in a lawsuit now before the Kansas Court of Appeals.

"I'm after vengeance now," Corder says in his cramped examining room in Ottawa. It is an old office, cluttered with used equipment and pervaded by a sense of defeat--yellowing wallpaper, wheezing air conditioners, battered files piled high with medication samples. Only Corder's own private icons, framed photographs of UFOs and space scenes on his office wall, testify to his lingering defiance.

"I want my name in front of them for as long as possible. I want them to remember the name of Scott Corder every time they think about disciplining a doctor."

There was a time, though, when he wished they had never seen it.

*

"THEY'RE COMING!"

The first thing Steve French noticed was the headline. Reading on, he saw a familiar name: Dr. Scott Corder.

It was a Saturday, Dec., 3, 1988. French was shopping at a supermarket outside Topeka. An investigator for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, French searched medical and pharmaceutical files each week for evidence to use against addicted and incompetent doctors. There were 6,800 physicians in Kansas and the push was on to get tough with them.

As he moved along the checkout line, French found himself drawn to a copy of the Weekly World News and its diet of Elvis sightings, Hitler clones and freak babies. Leafing through the tabloid, he paused at Page 9 to scan a story about a central Kansas woman named Donna Butts, who claimed she met with aliens every day. There was a photograph and caption with the story: "Space alien invasion only three years away, says top UFO expert."

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