"I have to kill you," my patient said

October 11, 1999

The author's abduction by a drug addict was terrifying enough. But his glimpse of the justice system was scary, too.

"I have to kill you,"my patient said

Being abducted by an addict bent on murder was scary enough.Then the author tangled with the justice system.

By A.P. Shadhwani, MD, Internist / Bedford, IN

The doctor's captor had a bad history; and was physically intimidating,too. Doctor Shadhwani (Above) and his captor (shown below in custody).

'll get $5,000 if I kill you and drive across the state line to Illinoisand throw your body out, " said Scott, my former patient.

The idea of someone paying to have me killed was nonsense, the ravingof a drug-hungry addict--but that was small comfort. I was in the frontseat of my own car, my hands taped together. Helpless.

"Scott, listen," I said. "No one would have any reasonto kill me." Despite a desperate fear that my life was about to end,I retained enough presence of mind to use his first name. That might calmhim down, might even stop him from hurting me. I'd learned the tactic intraining to deal with depressed patients and drug abusers. But I never thoughtI'd have to apply it to save my life.

Minutes earlier, everything had been normal. I closed my office around9 pm, and, as usual, I left last, after catching up on paperwork. Beforegoing, I glanced out to the dark parking lot, as an automatic precaution,and saw no one. But as soon as I locked the door, he appeared--from nowhere,it seemed.

And when Scott Nicholson appeared, he really appeared. He weighedmore than 350 pounds, making him about three times as hefty as me. Beforesaying anything, he grabbed my hands and held me immobile.

"What is it? What do you want?" I asked. That's when he firstsaid he had a "mission" to kill me.

Although I didn't believe that, I knew he was bad news. During his firstvisit, he'd told me of his jailbird past. When I refused to prescribe allthe Demerol and diet pills he wanted, he stopped showing up.

So, outside my office that night, I thought he just wanted drugs, ormoney for them. But then he took out a large knife. Panicky, I struggled,and he forced me to the ground, hurting my hip. When he let me up, he pulledout duct tape and bound my hands.

When he began to put tape over my mouth, that made me frantic. I feltmy only hope was to keep communicating with him. "Please don't tapemy mouth," I pleaded. "If you need anything I have, let me openthe office and get it."

"No," he said. "I have to take you someplace." Buthe did put the tape away. So I'd have at least a few desperate minutes totalk to him.

Then he got my car keys from my bag, opened my car, and motioned me intothe front passenger seat. As unobtrusively as I could, I looked up and downthe street. No cops. Nothing.

And so we drove off. My world shrank to the inside of that car; my lifemight well depend on what I said in the next few minutes. "Scott, youknow me," I said. "Don't hurt me; let me give you money, and youcan leave without committing a crime." I was hoping he wasn't rationalenough to realize that he was already guilty of kidnapping.

"Let me think about that, Doc," he said. He drove for a coupleof miles, then said okay.

I said, "You don't have to call me 'Doctor' My name is Andy. AndI can give you $5,000 if you come back tomorrow."

"No. I need money now, to buy drugs."

I had very little cash with me, so I suggested going to an ATM. He agreed--thankGod--and untaped my hands! Still, I couldn't let myself feel much hope.Though he'd told me previously that he'd spent jail time for possessionof drugs, he also claimed to have killed another prisoner in a fight.

And that wasn't all. Months earlier, he'd made me a business proposition:"If you want someone killed, Doc, I'll do it. For $5,000." Afterthat, I immediately referred him to other professionals for mental therapy.The counseling revealed that Nicholson was harboring thoughts of committingmurder. Indeed, the consensus was: "Don't make him mad. It's not justtalk. He's clearly capable of killing." I'd been greatly relieved whenthis particular patient soon disappeared from my appointment book.

Now, as he stopped the car at an ATM and led me to it, I prayed the machinewas working. It was, but I could get only $200 before the screen said I'dreached my limit. I dreaded Scott's reaction, but he said, "That'sokay for now," and led me back to the car. At that point, I offeredagain to give him whatever cash I had in the office. He agreed.

Still, I felt that I'd probably bought only a few more minutes of life.Riding with him back to the office, I thought of my mother, brother, andsisters back in India. I wished I'd spent more time with them, or at leastcalled more often to say how I loved them. Now it was too late, I feared.

When we got into the office, though, the situation eased a bit. Maybemy show of cooperation was working. In any case, Scott seemed pacified bythe additional $100 I came up with. To pacify him further, I offered himmy computer, but he refused. And I apologized for not supplying the drugshe'd wanted.

"Look, Scott, I swear I'll give you $5,000 in the morning,"I said. "But I just have to sleep now." He said okay, but I noticedhe was shaking and getting jumpy--possibly from crack or cocaine withdrawal.

We agreed that he would leave, then return at 8 in the morning so wecould go to the bank together for the money.

"I'm going outside, now," he said. "But I'll be watchingfrom nearby, and I have a police scanner, so I can listen in on calls tothe police. If you contact them, I'll kill you. And by the way: I know whereyou live, too--Andy."

I forced myself to look him in the eye. "I won't call them, Scott,"I said. "You were my patient; you're a friend." I worried thathe might tie me up and cut the phone line before he left.

He did none of those things, and when he walked out, I felt as if Godhad reached down to save me. Quickly, I locked the doors, then glanced throughthe windows. He wasn't in sight.

I rushed to the phone, my mind racing. 911? No. I couldn't discount thepossibility that Scott really did have a scanner. So I called a friend,and asked him to call the police. "And make sure you tell them to showup quietly, maybe in unmarked cars first," I said. "If he's watchingand sees them coming, he might break in here and hold me hostage."

After hanging up, I had my first moment of true hope: Help was on theway. Still, I didn't breathe easy until I saw the police show up.

In came plainclothesmen, then uniformed cops, followed by my friend.Despite my relief, I realized that I'd still be in danger until Scott wascaptured. He could ambush me again; and if he learned I'd called the police,I might have trouble playing the part of his friend next time.

Then came another unpleasant shock: To my astonishment--and anger--Isaw that two of the officers were openly suspicious of me. Theirpointed questions and cold manner showed they found it hard to believe thata kidnapper would have freed me voluntarily.

I controlled my anger, showed my hands--bruised from my struggle andfrom the tape--and told them of my hip injury.

Perhaps because Scott had a criminal record, the police decided to bringhim in for questioning. To help, I described my silver Accord, which weassumed he'd driven off in. I also gave them Scott's address from my patientrecords (though it turned out to be no longer current). One officer agreedto stay near my office in an unmarked car, in case Scott showed up for our8 am "appointment."

After the police walked out, another problem hit me: Where should I go?Not home--maybe Scott really did have my address. Not to a friend's house--ifScott were to follow me, I'd be bringing danger into someone else's life.I decided to stay in a hotel, and my friend--a friend, indeed--took a roomthere, too, so I'd have an ally nearby.

I didn't sleep a minute that night. I kept thinking: What about my office?My staff and patients? With this peril hanging over me, I couldn't justlet the day proceed as usual. First thing in the morning, I called my secretaryand told her what had happened. She said she'd phone patients, explain thesituation, and cancel their appointments for the day.

I also called the police, who had no news. But soon my secretary phoned.Her husband had a police scanner, and he'd heard of a drug raid and arrestsat a place called the Pines Apartments. Some details made it appear thatScott Nicholson had been involved. In any case, it didn't seem safe foranyone to stay at the office for more than a couple of minutes. My secretarywould still go--with her husband--to get my patients' phone numbers andappointment book. Then she would alert patients from her home phone. Weassumed that a cop would still be on guard. As it turned out, none was.

Meanwhile, I paced, worried, and watched TV while hoping for news bulletins.At 4 o'clock, after repeated calls, the police let me in on what they'dknown all day: Scott had gone with my money right to an apartment wherea drug known as "cat" (methcathinone) was being made. A neighborhad called the police to report the distinctive smell of that process. Duringa raid, Scott had taken a woman hostage at gunpoint. But police mediatorshad calmed him down and taken him into custody.

The next day, I got my car back--and some devastating news: Even thoughhe'd kidnapped me and taken another hostage at gunpoint, the police didn'tthink they could hold Scott for more than a couple of days, assuming hewas able to post bond.

Scott had disputed my account. He said I was his friend, and I'd lenthim my car. As for the hostage incident, the details weren't clear, thepolice said, and the woman involved wasn't willing to testify.

But he'd menaced the police, too, as I understood it. How could theypossibly release him?

"Sorry, sir, that's the way it works with bond, and we have to followthe rules." That's the only explanation I got. The rules protectedhim--and kept me in fear.

The next day, when I showed up at Dunn Memorial Hospital in Bedford tomake rounds, a nurse rushed to warn me: "Doctor, stay away from room218! That fellow, Scott, is in there."

The local paper had covered his arrest, then followed with a story aboutmy abduction, so the hospital staffers were all acquainted with my situation.They also knew the latest, which was news to me: The night of his arrest,Scott had complained of abdominal pain, and he'd wound up at the hospitalwhere I admit patients. Then he'd started demanding pain pills.

Luckily, none of my patients were in the same wing, and he was underguard. But only one cop had been assigned to him. I thought of Scott's immensesize and resolved to stay far away from that wing.

I also took steps to defend myself--not just from Scott, but from thejudicial system as well. So far, that system had listened to my kidnapper'sstory while raising a suspicious eyebrow at mine. I contacted a lawyer totry and ensure that Scott wouldn't be released on bond. We got nowhere:The police called to alert me that he would be at large again. Sure enough,he was released from the hospital and then freed, after a friend put upa bond of about $3,500.

Rather than waste energy being angry, I focused on protecting myselfby setting up new routines. I never stayed alone anywhere, and let no stafferstay in the office alone, either. I bought stun guns for myself and my twoassistants. Yet I didn't feel truly secure.

Two months later, Scott was arrested on new drug charges. My lawyer anda psychologist went to the prosecutor's office--and came back with a victory:There'd be no release on bond this time.

In a deposition, I finally got my chance to tell what Scott had doneto me. But even then, things didn't go as I'd expected. For starters, mylawyer said he had to coach me carefully. As he explained, a prosecutorwouldn't simply assume that my accusation was justified. He'd have to bepersuaded that I wasn't a bad-apple physician who'd gotten into a disputewith an addict he'd been supplying with drugs. Despite the evidence--mywrist and hip injuries, and the duct tape found in the car with my bloodon it--what would matter most would be my credibility, something I feltthe police had doubted.

The defense lawyer twisted everything that had happened, using everyweapon at his disposal, from innuendo to insult. He hurled such questionsas "Didn't you get Scott hooked, Doctor?" and "Weren't youabout to give him $5,000 to kill someone?"

That was particularly hard to take, given the panic I'd felt when Scottsaid he was getting $5,000 to murder me. But there was more: "Weren'tyou Scott's friend, Doctor? Why else would you have told him to call you'Andy'?"

This went on for eight hours, but I didn't let myself get rattled. Bystaying calm and professional, I'm sure I helped convince the prosecutorthat the case against Scott was solid.

Fortunately, this tale has an ending that's, well, reasonable. Scotthad already done time for one felony, and the evidence seemed clear thathe'd kidnapped me, taken that woman hostage, and participated in making"cat." He might have gotten life imprisonment, so his lawyer persuadedhim to plead guilty and testify against his drug-making associates. As aresult, he was sentenced to 26 years, though, as I understand, he may actuallyserve as few as 11. But at least he's off the street for now.

Ashok Shadhwani. "I have to kill you," my patient said. Medical Economics 1999;19:63.