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The True Crime Story Behind Cult Horror Favorite 'The Dentist'
Who is Dr. Glennon Engleman, the vicious murderer who served as inspiration for the 1996 film "The Dentist?"
Low-budget slashers have a special place in the hearts of horror fans, and 1996's "The Dentist" is no exception. The cheaply-made sets and shaky special effects of this gross-out film have an endearingly campy quality — but the true crime story that inspired the black comedy is far darker and more horrifying.
Dr. Glennon Engleman, a sociopathic dentist and violent hitman, served as the inspiration for the Brian Yuzna-directed movie, according to IMDB. But in actuality, Engleman's story doesn't quite match up with that of "The Dentist's" fictional Dr. Alan Feinstone.
In "The Dentist," (spoilers ahead!) Feinstone loses his grip on reality after catching his wife cheating with the pool boy. He begins purposely inflicting pain on patients, brutally destroying their teeth with his instruments as well as sexually assaulting one victim while gassing her. Feinstone soon begins killing his clients and assistants until the movie's brutal climax. Feinstone's crimes are repeatedly cinematically linked to the act of fellatio, which he caught his wife performing on the pool boy (in one act of brutality, he yanks out her teeth and tongue). The motive for his murders are sex and revenge.
Engleman's story is very different. Engleman graduated in 1954 after studying dentistry at Washington University before going on to practice in Missouri. His murder spree started in 1958, when he allegedly shot James Bullock, the new husband of Engleman's ex-wife, Edna Ruth Bullock, according to UPI. The ex-wife then received $64,500 in life-insurance benefits, which left investigators suspicious of Engleman, but the dentist had an alibi for the murder. His next known killing took place in 1963: Engleman's business associate was killed after getting blown up by dynamite on a site where Engleman owned a dragstrip. Engleman then allegedly shared the money collected from life insurance with the associate's wife.
He wasn't done there. In 1976, Engleman apparently convinced his dental assistant, Carmen Miranda, to marry a man, Peter Halm, so they could eventually kill him for the purpose of collecting on insurance. After Halm was shot in the head, Miranda received a $75,000 payout — and she gave $10,000 of it to Engleman, reports The New York Daily News.
Engleman's killings escalated in 1977 after he murdered the Gusewelle family. He had an affair with Barbara Gusewelle Boyle before he sent her off to marry Ronald Gusewelle. Ronald and his parents were all eventually shot to death — once again for the purpose of collecting on insurance, according to The Daily Herald.
Engleman's last-known murder occurred in 1980 when Sophie Marie Barrera, the owner of a south St. Louis dental laboratory who Engleman owed $14,500, was killed by a car bomb. It was Barrera's death that ultimately led to the dentist's downfall. Police had been suspicious of the dentist for awhile, and his third wife ended up turning him over to the police.
One of the most striking aspects of Engleman's murder spree is that he almost always had a female accomplice. He reportedly had a "hypnotic" way with women, and Engleman was said to have used his sexual power over women to coerce them into murder schemes, according to The New York Daily News.
Dr. Alan Feinstone has little in common with Engleman on the surface, but perhaps their motives are more similar than they seem at first glance.
While Engleman was thought to have killed for financial gain, some theorized that, like Feinstone, his crimes were sexual in nature.
"He says he does it for money, but I think that's a front," said Gordon Ankney, the prosecutor who sent Engleman to prison, according to UPI. "He never did it for enough to make it worthwhile ... He related homicidal intimacy with sexual intimacy. There was almost a sexual excitement about killing. He's said to have quite a sexual drive. He has a very macho image of himself."
Engleman and Feinstone share one other huge similarity: Corbin Bernsen, the actor who plays Feinstone in "The Dentist," had played Engleman three years earlier in another film, titled "Beyond Suspicion."
Although confined to what appears to be a psychiatric facility at the conclusion of the film, Feinstone escapes in the widely reviled sequel, "The Dentist 2." Engleman had no such luck: He passed away from diabetes-related conditions in 1999, The New York Daily News noted.
"[Before his death] there was some thinking that he would practice on the prisoners, but the warden stopped that talk pretty soon," Ankney said, according to UPI. "He was a lousy dentist."
[Photos: Dentist by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images; Dr. Glennon Engleman via St. Louis Metro Police Department]