The 13th Floor

Was the Movie THE DENTIST Based on an Actual Series of Murders?

Nobody likes going to the dentist. It’s a dreaded destination full of tiny sharp metal instruments that look like they were made to extract a confession. In 1996, director Brian Yuzna fed off that fear with his film THE DENTIST. In it, Dr. Alan Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen) is a highly successful dentist who discovers his wife is cheating on him. This revelation sends him down a demented road full of some very gruesome mouth-centered murder. A killer DDS isn’t all that far from reality, and Glennon Edward Engleman was just such a dentist.

On December 17, 1958 police responded to Forest Park, near the St. Louis Art Museum in St. Louis Missouri. There they found the body of twenty-seven-year-old James S. Bullock, a clerk for a utility firm. He had been shot several times with a small caliber gun. Eventually, the police investigation turned towards the victim’s twenty-five-year-old widow Edna Ruth Bullock. Edna had left the state shortly after the murder. She relocated to Overland Park Kansas and remarried. In the end, the only thing they could find to link Edna to the murder of her husband was a $64,500 insurance policy and her connection to a .22 caliber pistol which the police couldn’t locate. The pistol in question was purchased for John D. Van Nest Sr., Edna’s father as a gift from Dr. Glennon Engleman, Edna’s first husband and also a dentist. John kept the gun in the glove compartment of his car. The gun remained their until January 10, 1959, when it was stolen. According to John, on the day of the murder the gun was still in his vehicle. Without further evidence, the case against Edna hit a dead end.

Although the doctor seemed to be only a side note in the case, five years later he found himself involved in another death. Engleman was remarried to a librarian and still practicing dentistry. However, Engleman decided to start up a side business, entering into a partnership with Eric Frey to build a drag racing strip. Frey, who had recently married one of Engleman’s ex-girlfriends, and Engleman were hands-on when it came to constructing the project. That’s probably why Frey found himself at the bottom of a well with several sticks of dynamite. Police didn’t find much of Frey’s body and eventually ruled the death an accident.  Frey’s widow walked away with a sizable insurance payout, and she then invested a large portion of the payout into the drag strip, which eventually went bankrupt in 1964.

The next ten years passed without another death, but then in 1976 Engleman met Carmen Miranda, a twenty-four-year-old dental assistant. While working for Engleman, Miranda inexplicably married a man named Peter J. Halm, a man she didn’t care much for. Not long after the wedding, Peter ended up with a bullet in the head, and Miranda ended up with a check from the insurance company for $75,000, $10K of which went to the doctor.

One year later, police found the body of thirty-three-year-old Ronald Allen Gusewelle in a St. Louis parking lot in the backseat of his car. Fourteen months earlier Ronald’s parents, Arthur and Vernita, had been murdered in their farmhouse. Arthur had been shot, and Vernita had been beaten to death. With his parents dead, the family’s oil fortune would pass on to Ronald, but with Ronald dead the fortune would go to Ronald’s widow Barbara, along with a hefty insurance payout. Later investigators learned that Barbara was having an affair with her dentist, Dr. Engleman.

In November of 1980, Sophia Marie Barrera, a fifty-nine-year-old owner of a dental laboratory, started her 1975 Ford Pinto for the last time. The ignition tripped an explosive charge which killed her instantly. Engleman owed Barrera $15,000 and was about to be sued for it. Family members said Barrera had grown increasingly fearful of being done in by an explosive device, especially since she had found one in her home in March.  Not long after Barrera’s murder, Engleman’s decade long killing spree came to an end.

Police investigating Barrera’s death began uncovering a strange web of weird coincidences and odd occurrences all linking back to the dentist. Investigators soon discovered evidence that linked Engleman to the murder of Peter Halm, and after that all the women in Engleman’s life were more than willing to come forward and testify against him. Before long the police had the whole story, all the way back to the Death of Eric Frey, the former business partner he blew up in a well. Although the police still suspected him in the murder of James Bullock, he was never convicted of that death.

At trial, Engleman’s MO was revealed. He would enter into relationships with women, then persuade them to marry someone else. He would then kill their husbands and split the insurance money with them. Police suspected that Engleman had done this quite often, even if they couldn’t link him to any other cases. Engleman was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences. In 1999, Engleman died in prison from a diabetes-related condition.

 

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