The first homicide in 25 years in Dover has shaken the town’s police chief, who said his officers pursued domestic violence charges against Dr. Ingolf A. Tuerk but they could not stop him from allegedly manipulating his wife, Kathleen McLean, into removing legal protections before she was killed.
"She sought help from the system. The system gave her the help. He was able to manipulate her one final time,'' Police Chief Peter A. McGowan said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "The victim is absolutely not at fault here. Domestic violence perpetrators are skilled at manipulation and capitalizing on any vulnerabilities that their victim has.”
McLean, 45, who obtained a restraining order and then had it vacated, disappeared last Thursday from the home she shared with Tuerk. Her body was found Saturday night after Tuerk allegedly confessed to killing her and dumping her body, weighted down with rocks in the pockets of her pants, in a nearby pond.
Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said in a statement that he has reviewed his prosecutors’ handling of the Tuerk case and is confident they made the right legal decisions. Prosecutors opposed — and judges agreed with them — McLean’s request to drop a bail condition that Tuerk stay away from McLean and their Valley Road home while domestic violence charges against him were pending.
"Our domestic violence prosecutors and advocates receive extensive training, and have substantial experience, in the dynamics of violent relationships, including identified warning signs and the sometimes cyclical nature of those relationships,'' Morrissey said. “Some of the most difficult and complicated cases we handle are those involving family violence.”
Tuerk pleaded not guilty Monday during a virtual Dedham District Court arraignment to a murder charge and is being held without bail. His attorney, Howard Cooper, declined to comment on the allegations against his client.
Tuerk, 58, was a top surgeon at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton before he was terminated following an investigation by the state attorney general’s office last year that found he had fraudulently billed for more than $31,000 in bogus surgeries and services. He agreed to pay $150,000 to resolve the allegations, the attorney general’s office said.
McGowan said his department did not have any inkling of the violence allegedly taking place until McLean came to the station on Feb. 3.
To McGowan and Patricia Hohlof Voices Against Violence, a Framingham-based domestic violence nonprofit, the information McLean provided showed how the surgeon exerted emotional and physical control over the mother of three. She had dated Tuerk for two years until he suddenly proposed, and they married in Las Vegas on Dec. 14.
According to police records filed this year in Dedham District Court, that wedding came after McLean alleged that Tuerk had suddenly turned on her and one of her children in the $1.7 million home at 29 Valley Road he’d purchased in 2017. On Dec. 7, Tuerk allegedly told her, “I’m the king of the castle. . . . You are just the guest here,” and then cut a strand of her hair and cut her hand with the scissors when she raised it to protect herself. McLean described Tuerk as controlling and jealous.
McLean accused Tuerk of slamming her head into the headboard of their bed during an argument, and of holding his hand over her nose and mouth while putting his other hand around her throat and squeezing until she passed out. After she regained consciousness, Tuerk told McLean he loved her and was intimate with her, court records say.
Dover police helped McLean get a restraining order Feb. 3 and delivered it to Tuerk in the Valley Road home, where they also seized his gun collection. Tuerk had to vacate the house that day. Police on Feb. 5 charged Tuerk with violating the restraining order when he allegedly used a Nest thermometer to lower the temperature in the house on a cold day.
Police also obtained criminal charges against Tuerk for strangulation, assault and battery on a household member, and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in February. He was released on personal recognizance and required to stay away from McLean and the couple’s home.
Tuerk was summonsed into court for arraignment in March. However, Morrissey’s office did not ask for a dangerousness hearing, which would have allowed Tuerk to be held for 90 days without bail. But prosecutors opposed allowing Tuerk to return home even after McLean dropped the civil restraining order and asked for the criminal charges to be dismissed. In a sworn affidavit, she said she and Tuerk had reconciled. A district court judge and, later, a superior court judge, agreed with prosecutors, and the case remained active.
But Hohl, of Voices Against Violence, said Morrissey’s office should have sought a dangerousessness hearing.
“I don’t want to judge anyone. . . but there were red flags in this history of the case,’’ Hohl said. “And the biggest one for me is strangulation. Strangulation is practice for homicide. . . . It’s a big, big red flag.”
Morrissey said in the statement that prosecutors examined the evidence presented when Tuerk was arraigned in March.
"We assess every incoming case individually, with our district court prosecutors consulting supervisors in cases involving domestic violence and sexual assault,'' he said. “Initially it is clear that those discussions did occur, and that our concerns were reflected in obtaining the stay-away/no contact order as a condition of bail, and our opposition to modifying that bail condition when it was challenged.”
After McLean notified authorities they had reconciled, Tuerk agreed to share the title to his home with her; documents confirming that transaction were posted at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds on May 15, the same day McLean disappeared.
Chief McGowan said that when McLean terminated the restraining order, his officers lost the authority to immediately arrest Tuerk if they spotted him near McLean or the house. Officers were not called to Tuerk’s residence until McLean disappeared.
When the only legal barrier to his return is a condition of bail, his officers must notify the court, and a judge then decides whether to issue an arrest warrant, he said.
The chief said officers handled McLean’s initial interaction with the department professionally.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim’s family and the kids involved,'' McGowan said. “It’s a horrific story that shouldn’t have happened.”
Hohl said that studies have shown a victim of domestic violence will try seven times to break out of the abusive relationship before succeeding.
“Whether they are doctors or not, they are master manipulators," Hohl said.