A Murder-Suicide in the Florida Keys Unravels a Doctor's Decades-Long Mystery
As he mills around his sandy front yard, Douglas Harrison, a tanned 69-year-old, worries about his neighbor, a gray-haired retiree named Glen Tucker. For more than two decades, the two have lived on one of the quietest blocks in South Florida.
Tucker has always been reclusive, usually staying inside his '60s-style bungalow on Little Torch Key, a remote islet 27 miles from Key West. But ever since his second wife, Joan, was partially paralyzed by a stroke, Tucker has been flat-out depressed.
This morning, though, he looks perfectly calm as he shuffles out with his trash, barefoot in blue-and-white pajamas. It's ten minutes before noon.
Harrison asks Tucker how he's feeling, but the old man ignores him. So Harrison carries over an onion. Tucker sniffs it and mumbles "Thank you" before going back inside.
Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning
TicketsThu., Jan. 26, 7:30pm
Florida Panthers v Ottawa Senators
TicketsTue., Jan. 31, 7:30pm
Florida Panthers v Anaheim Ducks
TicketsFri., Feb. 3, 7:30pm
Florida Atlantic University Owls Men's Basketball vs. University of North Texas Mean Green Mens Basketball
TicketsThu., Feb. 9, 7:00pm
Twenty minutes later, gunshots ring out. They're steady and relentless: one, two, three, four, five.
Harrison sprints to the Tuckers' front door. It's locked. He runs around to the back and then stops in shock. Through a window, he can see Joan propped upright in her wheelchair, her neck arced straight back, her mouth and eyes stretched wide. Blood streams from her chest, staining a pink sweater. A TV screen flickers silently behind her.
Glen Tucker walks out a side door, clutching a blued-steel Colt .45.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Harrison screams. "I'm calling the police."
"Don't call the police," Tucker replies, climbing a staircase to an upstairs bedroom.
Harrison is sure his neighbor plans to kill himself. The week before, the older man had quietly confided, "When life gets unbearable, I'll be gone." So Harrison tries desperately to stall. He asks Tucker about his beloved pet, a Siamese named Luther. "What about the cat?" he says.
"I'll do it first," Tucker says calmly and heads inside.
Harrison runs to the street to wait for police. Two more shots shatter the still, salty air.
When Monroe County Sheriff's Det. Manny Cuervo arrives a few minutes later, he enters the bungalow, glances at Joan's dead body, and finds Glen in the master bedroom, face-down in a pool of blood, the back of his head exploded by a bullet. Luther the cat is also dead, cradled flat against Tucker's stomach.
The evidence is clear: Five empty nickel-plated casings litter the floor around Joan Tucker's corpse. Two identical shells lie near Glen and his cat. His stiffening fingers still clutch the murder weapon.
The motive soon becomes obvious too. As Harrison describes his neighbor's despondency, the detective can tell the case will be easily solved. Follow-up interviews with children and acquaintances confirm the narrative: Family strife. Declining health. A stroke. Death, perhaps, is merciful for everyone.
Two months after the murder-suicide, on July 12, 2011, a sheriff's deputy fires Tucker's gun inside the police range but doesn't send the bullets for forensic testing. "Comparisons would not alter the facts in this case," he writes. "This case is closed."
A long life that ends violently, though, has a strange way of spilling old secrets.
Long after this case is filed away in the bowels of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, it becomes clear there's more to this murder-suicide than just a quiet old man who lost the will to live.
The 80-year-old, in fact, had been a prominent plastic surgeon in Wisconsin before his life went horribly wrong. More than a dozen patients lined up to testify he'd sadistically mangled them. A million dollars in claims threatened to destroy everything he'd built. Then, in the middle of it all, Tucker suddenly disappeared.
That bloody Wednesday on Little Torch Key finished a decades-long mystery that could have unraveled only in this tiny corner of a subtropical island perched at the edge of the world.
More than three decades ago, Jan Lehman crossed paths with Glen Tucker — an encounter she's still reeling from today.
Lehman's dad, Joseph Lehman Jr., was a decorated World War II veteran who served as a surgeon with the Army in North Africa and Italy. After the war ended, he finished an ear, nose, and throat residency in St. Louis and opened a practice in suburban Chicago. Lehman was raised there.
Between her dad's commanding presence and a strict Catholic upbringing, Lehman grew up fascinated with medicine and wanting to help people. She attended Marquette University, where she earned a dental degree. When she was just 24, she landed a job as a faculty member in the dental school.
One night — on March 16, 1978, to be exact — Lehman's life changed during a card game in her small Milwaukee apartment. When her roommate got a good hand, she leaped up and did a cartwheel. The flip was ill-timed, though, and one of her feet caught Lehman square in the nose. Blood spurted, so the pair quickly drove to the ER. At 10:30 p.m., the on-call plastic surgeon came to see her.
It was Dr. Glen Tucker. His hair was brown and parted, his jaw square, and his smile toothy and quick. Like Lehman's dad, he was an Army vet.
"He looked very fit and seemed in command," Lehman recalls. "He presented himself as a surgeon who had seen it all before. He made me feel comfortable right away."
Her nose was badly broken, Tucker told her after a brief exam. She would need surgery. Without waiting for swelling to go down, which was standard procedure, he gave her drugs and prepped her for the operation.
When Lehman awoke the next day, she was shocked at how terrible she felt. Her eyes were rimmed with black and purple, and her sinus cavity burst with lightning flashes of pain. "I didn't know he'd done anything wrong, but I could tell pretty quickly that I wasn't healing properly," Lehman says. "You try to fight through it. I had classes to teach."
For two months, Lehman visited Tucker weekly, and he prescribed ever more drugs. Finally, in May, the doctor convinced her she needed a second surgery. Lehman was dubious — How could a broken nose turn so serious? — but she agreed.
From the start, the second procedure seemed odd. Lehman awoke from the anesthesia to watch Tucker wheel her from a crowded prep room down a hallway. The first operating room was occupied by a janitor mopping the floor. The second was eerily empty.
"I became terrified. I did dental surgeries, and I knew how it was supposed to work," she says. "The room is supposed to be ready, prepped with equipment and nurses, long before they bring the patient in."
Lehman passed out again and then awoke with electrical tubing up her nose. Tucker soon entered the room and ripped it out by hand, tearing all the stitches. When she made it home from her second surgery, still dazed and heavily medicated, she knew instinctively her nose was worse than ever, she says. "I knew that something was not right. I didn't know why, but I was so damned terrified, I couldn't think clearly."
For a month, she stayed home, pouring saltwater into her sinuses, struggling to breathe and think through the pain. Finally, she returned to Tucker.
It would be the last time. Lehman's drug-induced denial crumbled with one devastating moment of clarity.
Waiting for Tucker to enter the exam room, she blew her nose and looked at the Kleenex. It was covered in gruesome, neon-yellow puss. Tucker walked through the door, and Lehman, tears streaming down her face, showed him the tissue: "Look at this!" she remembers saying. "This is not right!"
Tucker looked calmly at her and smiled: "The tissue is perfectly clear, Jan. You just don't want to get better."
Suddenly, Lehman's brain clicked. That statement — telling her that neon yellow was clear — finally broke down all her barriers: her instinctive trust of doctors, her unquestioning belief in authority. "I finally caught him in a blatant lie," she says. "I didn't know what was going on with my body or what had been done to me. But I knew a color. I knew it was yellow... That's when the terror hit me."
She ran. First to a bathroom, where she sobbed. Then home. Finally to a trusted doctor at the dental school, who took her to a colleague.
When that doctor first shined a light into her sinuses, he recoiled. Then he gently tugged out the gauze that Tucker had left packed inside her nose for months. It was yellow and festering with infection.
"That's when I knew this was intentional," Lehman says. "I completely lost it."
Armed with antibiotics, she spent weeks fighting infections and abscesses in her sinuses — but the damage, she'd later learn, went beyond the gauze. Her cartilage was so mangled that one side of her nose would later collapse; years later, she'd wake up to find cartilage protruding from her skin.
As Lehman tried to figure out what to do, her terror grew. Then, one day, driving home from Marquette, she swore she spotted him: Tucker was in his car, carefully following her.
She knew then she had to leave town. Within three weeks, she'd fled to Austin, Texas, where friends had recommended she hide out. Once there, she continued pursuing a complaint she'd filed against Tucker.
She didn't expect much to come of it. Wisconsin's medical laws in 1978 were almost comically tilted toward doctors. To file a lawsuit, malpractice victims first had to appear before a "Patient Compensation Panel," where doctors grilled would-be plaintiffs like criminals over intimate medical details. Without the panel's go-ahead, no suit was allowed.
"I knew I didn't have much hope," Lehman says. "But money wouldn't have helped anyway. I wanted to get Tucker's actions on the record."
Lehman didn't know it yet, but she was far from alone in coping with damage from the doctor.
Months after Lehman fled to Texas, a woman who had lost 100 pounds by dieting went to Tucker for help. She hoped to reduce the excess skin left on her body. Tucker operated on her arms, abdomen, and breasts — but botched the job so badly that she needed 13 more surgeries, according to media reports.
Another man, named as "Ralph" in a 1984 Milwaukee Magazine article, sought Tucker's help for spasms in his left arm. The surgery was so catastrophic that Ralph lost use of the arm, which was eventually amputated above the elbow.
Then there was "Mary," as she asked New Times to identify her. The 27-year-old went to Tucker for breast augmentation in August 1979, a little more than a year after Lehman's final nasal surgery. Like Lehman's nose, Mary's breasts ended up horribly infected; two more surgeries followed, each equally unsuccessful. Once, he jabbed a seven-inch needle into her breast with no anesthetic. Another time, he ripped part of an implant out an incision, also without pain medication.
"The nurse had to tell him: 'You're hurting her. Stop!' " Mary recalls. "He showed no emotion. Before the third surgery, I was so worried he'd kill me, I wrote a letter about what he'd done to me before I went in."
She survived that operation, but one of her breasts ended up square-shaped, she later told the compensation panel. Both breasts were covered with such bad scarring that they resembled "football stitching."
By 1982, Tucker faced 13 malpractice suits — and those were just the ones that had navigated Wisconsin's doctor-friendly process. The pile of complaints was the largest against any doctor in the state, according to William Bissett, then head of the Patient Compensation Panel. They ran the gamut from botched surgeries on faces, feet, and arms to three breast reductions and five nose jobs.
On June 24, 1982, Tucker's problems worsened. That's when Dr. Donald Levy, chief of plastic surgery at Milwaukee's Columbia Hospital, one of three facilities where Tucker worked, announced that an internal investigation had been launched.
Justice, it seemed, would finally catch the man who had mangled Jan Lehman's nose and Mary's breasts.
Then, three days later, he was gone.
The overturned canoe washed onto the reedy shoreline of Lake Michigan around noon, right in front of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, a hikers' refuge just outside Milwaukee.
Earlier, Joan Tucker, Glen's wife, had called 911 because her husband hadn't returned to their lakeside home from his usual 6 a.m. Sunday fishing trip. Police quickly confirmed the boat was Tucker's. The Coast Guard spent 24 hours combing the lake before calling off the search.
One local cop continued investigating, though, and turned up some strange clues. First, although Tucker's jacket washed up a few miles away, his body never surfaced — a rare occurrence with the lake's currents. Even weirder, though, were witnesses' accounts. Two people — one of them a doctor who knew the Tuckers personally — reported they'd seen Glen hours after his alleged drowning, calmly walking along Green Bay Road five miles from his home. And then, a few days later, a hiker found Tucker's emergency raft; it had been slashed with a knife and hidden under a pile of branches.
Still, there wasn't much the cop could do. He classified Tucker as a missing person, presumed drowned — then tacked this note onto his report: "If the guy wants to leave, it isn't a crime."
Six days later, Joan organized a memorial service. Glen Tucker's family and colleagues packed into the North Shore Congregational Church, a handsome brick hall with a tall iron spire. Even at the funeral, there was uncertainty. Glen's brother, Ross, was candid as he spoke from the lectern.
"Glen has disappeared before," he warned the crowd. "He may have done it again."
Indeed, Tucker's life had been equal parts brilliance and eccentricity — with hints of mental illness.
Born in 1930, he abruptly ran away from home during the Korean War — and didn't speak to his family for seven years. He joined the Army Airborne, though not much is known about his service. When he suddenly returned, he rarely talked about his time in uniform. He'd already become a practicing dentist and had married Joan, a pretty girl his age with an open smile and curly brown hair.
He enrolled at the State University of New York in Buffalo, where he earned a medical degree, and worked his way into residencies first in Buffalo and then at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. By 1970, he'd settled in Milwaukee and begun building his practice as a plastic surgeon. In the decade before his disappearance, he'd made a name in a field just hitting its post-'60s zenith; he and Joan lived on the water in Fox Point, one of Milwaukee's toniest neighborhoods.
Now, after his disappearance on the lake, all of that was finished.
The dozen malpractice suits didn't vanish with the doctor, though. Over the next two years, they inched their way through Wisconsin's labyrinthine system. Ralph, the man whose arm was amputated, won $500,000 from the hospital's insurer. The woman whose skin was damaged got $697,000, partly from insurance and partly from a state compensation fund. Other victims settled for $45,000, $20,000, and $15,000 from Tucker's insurance company, the Milwaukee Journal reported; three other former patients settled for undisclosed amounts.
Jan Lehman, eager to move on, settled for a mere $1,000 after refusing to return to Milwaukee to face the Patient Compensation Panel. "I wasn't a good witness," Lehman says. "I was a mess. I was sick and really emotional... I just wanted to make a case so there was a public record and move on."
By 1984, only three open cases remained. His victims, like Lehman, would never forget his name, but in Wisconsin, Glen Tucker was close to fading from memory.
Then Art Hackett showed up. He was a young producer for Wisconsin Public Television who got stuck one day with a mind-numbing assignment: a trip to the Patient Compensation Panel to report on infections at hospitals. As he disconsolately leafed through old records, an administrator stopped by and glanced at a file.
"He told me: 'Now, that case might be interesting. Boy, it's strange. This guy has been sued a whole bunch of times, but he drowned in Lake Michigan. Thing is, everyone says he's still alive,' " Hackett recalls.
Hackett realized he was onto something much hotter than infections. That afternoon, he began looking into the drowning and soon realized that even the police doubted Tucker had died. "But he wasn't charged with any crimes, and they don't go looking for people who didn't break the law," Hackett says. "As for the insurance companies, they were already paying out these claims. I got the sense they didn't exactly want Tucker in the courtroom anyway."
Hackett enlisted the help of David Patrick, an investigative TV reporter. They'd heard rumors that Tucker was in Florida (a nurse he'd worked with even claimed to have spotted him at Miami International Airport), so they started poring over phone books. Nothing. The trail was cold.
Then, Hackett had the kind of breakthrough that seems ridiculously obvious in hindsight: Instead of looking for Glen, he checked the paper trail left by his wife. About six months after her husband's funeral, Joan Tucker had sold their house in Fox Point for $113,000, cleared their debts, and left the state.
Then Hackett found a forwarding address for Joan in a legal document. It was on Little Torch Key, near the end of Tortuga Lane in a development called the Jolly Roger. Hackett cross-referenced it with Florida property records and found that the house had been sold in 1982 to a Martin Tucker. ("Martin," Hackett would later learn, was Glen's cat.)
Hackett called the house. A man answered but claimed he didn't know Glen Tucker. Patrick decided to fly to Florida.
After staking out the house with a cameraman, Patrick knocked on the door. Smiling sheepishly, Glen Tucker — drowning victim and disgraced doctor — walked out of the garage. When Patrick confronted him, he paraphrased Mark Twain: "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
Tucker invited the duo inside. The conversation was disjointed, flitting from angry denials to sly jokes. Asked why he faked his death, though, Tucker was crystal-clear: "I was fed up and sick with the whole mess up there."
He didn't seem to feel any remorse for his con; at several points, he grinned and laughed easily. He told Patrick: "I have done the best that I think I could. Although it may not seem ideal to you or to others, it was the best, perhaps, that I could arrange."
Why not stay in Milwaukee and defend himself?
"I would have to contend with the ruining of my reputation and the shame associated with it," he replied. "It was an impossible situation."
Then, Tucker's mood turned dark. The spark for his escape, he admitted, came when Dr. Levy — the Columbia Hospital chief — opened an internal investigation. "The temptation to kill [Levy was] huge," he told Patrick.
Before Patrick left to file his story — and tell Tucker's disfigured victims that he hadn't drowned in Lake Michigan — the fallen doctor offered a final, chilling warning. "If I get driven too far into a corner," he said calmly, "if it got to the point where life was no longer worth living, then I would not want to go alone."
About six months after the boat washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan, Joan Tucker had lost all hope of ever seeing her husband again. Then the phone rang.
Glen's brother, Ross, who had cautioned mourners at the funeral to be wary, had news: Glen was alive and well in the Florida Keys.
"I did not know," Joan later told the Milwaukee Journal. "My God, we thought he was dead. We held a memorial service. We were ready to bury him."
Joan's first thought after Ross' call was, How can I get to him? How can I help him? She quickly sold their house in Milwaukee and joined him in Florida. There was a charming, magnetic side to this doctor who had mangled so many.
"He was a brilliant and self-reliant man who also struggled with depression for most of his adult life," says his daughter, Virginia Tucker. "For my mother and I, it wasn't a question of forgiving him. He needed our help."
Virginia was 24 when her father disappeared. Growing up, she had always been proud of her dad. Once, when he was still a resident in the Mayo Clinic's burn unit, he planned a family trip, but at the last minute one of his patients — a man gruesomely burned over most of his body — had been cleared to return home. He couldn't afford a ride, so Tucker volunteered to give him a lift.
"This man looked absolutely terrifying," Virginia says. "But [my father] pulled me aside before we picked him up and said, 'Look, this man has been thrown some really bad luck. I need you to buck up, because we have to help him.' "
That's what drove Tucker into plastic surgery, Virginia says. Before the '70s, the field was less about boob jobs than helping patients charred in fires or maimed in accidents.
Then, when cosmetic surgeries became more popular, Glen Tucker reaped the benefits. The family lived a comfortable life in a lakefront home.
By the early '80s, though, Virginia — then in her early 20s — knew her father was struggling. She knew nothing about the allegations lodged by Lehman or other patients, but she "worried about how depressed he seemed, how dour he had become."
As lawsuits piled up and investigations opened, Tucker cracked, his daughter says. "For a man of that level of accomplishment to admit to his emotional problems, it was impossible," she says. "The real heartbreak for me is that with some basic psychiatric care, he could have functioned perfectly well. But he was on call every other night. He kept a superhuman schedule and couldn't admit his own weaknesses."
So when Virginia and her mother learned that Glen had lied to them and fled to Florida, they reacted with concern, not fury. "He was emotionally ill. There was no other woman. He didn't take money or a passport," Virginia says. "He was emotionally broken. He'd had a breakdown. [We were] just hoping he could stay alive."
Tucker's daughter disputes the notion that her father was a wealthy surgeon fleeing his debts. In fact, she says, he was still paying off his student loans. He and Joan set up on Little Torch Key with little more than a few thousand in savings.
In the Keys, the couple had to reinvent themselves. Glen gave up his doctors' scrubs. He tried commercial fishing and then taught himself carpentry and did odd jobs. But he rarely socialized, preferring to keep to himself.
Joan was more outgoing. She got a realtor's license, joined a small firm, and soon became well-known in the lower Keys. To friends and colleagues, she was a dedicated professional and a conscientious neighbor. Her colleagues knew nothing about her old life in Wisconsin or how she ended up in the Keys.
"The Keys are a different place. It's really to each his own down here," says Judy Shephard, a realtor who worked with Joan for decades and became a close friend but knew nothing about her past. "It's one of the things I loved about moving here from California. It doesn't make any difference how much money you have or where you came from."
Even after Hackett and Patrick discovered Glen in 1984 and produced a pair of Wisconsin Public Television pieces and an article in Milwaukee Magazine, no one in the Keys knew about the couple's past. This was an era before the internet.
In the decades they lived together on Little Torch Key, the Tuckers were mostly happy, Virginia remembers. "They found some real moments of joy," she says. "They stayed a big part of my own life, after I had kids of my own."
That all changed in 2003, when Joan died at 73 years old. Glen was despondent, Virginia recalls. His wife had been the one constant in his life, even when he tried to flee his problems.
The next year, he posted a profile on eHarmony. When he connected with another woman his age, Virginia was thrilled.
Her name was Joan, like his first wife, but her last name from a previous marriage was Carter McDonald. She was four years younger than Glen. For months, the pair exchanged letters. Their politics were similar, and Joan's intellect was a match for the former doctor's. Once a teacher at the University of Southern Mississippi, she had advanced degrees in English and wrote government reports for a living. She resided for a while in Germany, and in her free time, she had written two books about Catholic philosopher Thomas Merton.
After a short courtship, the pair married in December 2005. Joan moved into the home on Little Torch Key, filling one room with hundreds of books.
"We welcomed her to the family," Virginia says. "They had some decent years together... He loved her, and she genuinely loved him. They were both looking for happiness and companionship at the end of their lives."
But the new Joan didn't come unattached. Tucker clashed with her two sons, Carter and Allan McDonald. Tucker thought they demanded too much money, Virginia says, adding that her father once paid a $7,000 dental bill.
"The brothers," she says, "are ne'er-do-wells who sucked them dry."
Neither brother responded to multiple messages seeking comment for this article. Allan McDonald has been charged with crimes in Broward County, including a 2002 drunk-driving arrest, to which he pleaded no contest, and a prowling and loitering charge in 2008 that he also did not dispute. Joan McDonald's daughter, Mary Price, an architect in Oklahoma, declined to speak on the record but denied Virginia's claims that her brothers freeloaded.
What's clear is that the couple's life fell apart in late 2010, when a debilitating stroke left Joan paralyzed. Glen reacted with profound depression. His second wife was moved to an assisted living facility for nearly a year, but on April 30, 2011, her children took her back home against Tucker's wishes.
The disgraced former doctor opened up to Harrison, his neighbor, about his emotional turmoil. "[He said he did] not want her to be there," Harrison later told police, "[and he did] not know what to do."
Police say Joan's sons were worried about taking their mother back to Tucker's house. Carter McDonald later told police that his mom and his girlfriend were both "scared of Glen." The two believed the old man had guns in the house and asked Carter to remove them.
Five days after Carter dropped his paralyzed mom off on Tortuga Lane, Tucker loaded his Colt .45 and shot Joan five times; killed his cat, Luther; and then ended his own life.
When Jan Lehman read the Monroe County Sheriff's report and confirmed that the same Glen Tucker who had ruined her face had killed his wife and himself, she was angry all over again.
"He was a monster," she says. "Trying to describe him to someone who's never encountered pure evil is very difficult for me. If you can understand Hannibal Lecter, that's the closest I can get to how dangerous, how capable of evil this man was."
Lehman spent 20 years trying to regain what she'd lost under Tucker's knife. She connected with others who had suffered from his surgeries and tried to understand why — in her opinion — he had deliberately mangled her face. To her, the murder-suicide was the final exclamation point on a life devoted to inflicting pain.
Even as Lehman's physical pain lingered, her emotional struggle worsened. For eight years after moving to Texas, she refused to see another doctor. When she finally mustered the courage in 1988, "the doctor told me he'd never seen a nose as mangled as mine," Lehman says.
Today, she can breathe more or less normally and has regained some of her sense of smell and taste.
Mary, the other victim, agrees with Lehman that Tucker wasn't simply incompetent. "I believe he was a psychopath," she says. "He showed absolutely no emotion as he was hurting you."
Tucker's daughter vehemently denies that her dad was malicious. Despite the number of complaints facing Tucker when he fled to Florida, she still thinks he was a good doctor.
"People who have their noses and breasts done, they're often dissatisfied people," says Virginia, who now works as a nurse. "Plastic surgery can leave some brutal scarring."
Virginia has had a harder time comprehending Tucker's final choice — to kill himself and his wife. But she denies it was an act of pure violence. "He was a proud man, and he was not about to be put in a nursing home," she says. "He wouldn't come live with me, no matter how often I tried to talk him into it."
After Joan's stroke, he was in an untenable position. "To leave her uncared-for was unthinkable for him," she says. "In his totally irrational thinking, death was the only way out... Was it heinous and shocking and awful? Oh my gosh, yes. Of course. But was it a malevolent, evil act? I don't think so."
To Jan Lehman, though, it was a final bloody act in a life punctuated by violence. "I'm not at all surprised his life ended with a bullet," she says. "I'm surprised he didn't take more people with him."
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in South Florida.