A bland Beaverton McMansion makes an unlikely potential hideout for an international mystery man.
But according to the latest media speculation, Jayant M. Patel—the ex-surgeon notorious on two continents as "Doctor Death"—is lying low in either his 5,225-square-foot home at the end of Northwest Bluegrass Place or not far away.
Last week, cops in the Australian state of Queensland asked prosecutors to seek Patel's extradition on charges ranging from manslaughter to fraud. Patel's surgical career crashed Down Under last year, with the India-born American citizen hightailing it for Portland after an alleged string of botched surgeries at a rural hospital.
Wherever he is, Patel—who resigned from Portland's Kaiser Permanente in 2001 before the hospital planned to fire him—has an ace in the hole: criminal-defense lawyer Stephen Houze.
The Portland lawyer vows to fight extradition, claiming wall-to-wall coverage in Australia virtually guarantees a "show trial." And Houze may stand an excellent chance of persuading an American judge to agree.
One evening last summer on assignment for Maxim magazine, I went to Bluegrass Place, knocking at Patel's front door. No answer. The only sign of life came when Patel's neighbors gave me the Evil Eye, since I was hardly the first journalist to come snooping around the cul-de-sac.
The case is a newshound's dream: gory details (such as a colostomy performed backwards) mixed with institutional failure (no one, it seems, ever checked Patel's background before hiring him).
And while The Oregonian's coverage has been comprehensive, the Portland daily can't convey just how obsessed Australia is with Patel, and how tough that makes it to find jurors who will presume him innocent until proven guilty.
For reasons as much to do with politics as the grisly story, it's a national craze still going strong nearly a year after a whistle-blower nurse uncorked the scandal.
After quitting Kaiser, Patel took a job in Bundaberg, a rough-edged Queensland town near the Great Barrier Reef, surrounded by sugar cane, cattle ranches and rugged mountains.
Like most First World nations, Australia guarantees health care to all citizens, with its six state governments running the system. That setup made Patel's undoing ripe fodder for Queensland's insanely combative, macho politics.
Queensland's premier, left-winger Peter Beattie, had become a national star by winning landslides in Australia's most right-wing state. But the Patel uproar threatened to undo his administration. His health minister went down in flames, and his party lost two special legislative elections.
Looking to stem the damage, Beattie appointed a pugnacious, chain-smoking conservative lawyer to lead an investigation that turned into Watergate-style theater. Meanwhile, the gritty Bundaberg citizens who filled the witness box—among them, the widow of a bulldozer driver and an F-bomb-dropping country singer—made an ideal cast for a country that loves "Aussie battlers," the underdog national archetype.
No surprise, then, that Beattie does everything to look tough on Patel, like staging a press conference to ballyhoo cops' routine handover of their investigation to prosecutors. Houze blames Beattie for stoking public ire for political gain. Beattie vows Houze can't "intimidate" him.
Last August, when I visited Queensland, every barista and bus driver who learned I was from Portland offered a take on Patel. Barring the discovery of an Outback tribe untouched by tabloids or satellite TV, the so-called "Dr. Death's" hopes for an uncontaminated jury seem faint indeed.