Medicine: The Suspect

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Parents all over the U.S. one night last week looked at their children with uneasy wonder. Was it possible that a seemingly normal little boy of eight could murder his mother and father in their sleep?

In a brutally senseless crime two weeks ago, Dr. and Mrs. Melvin Nimer, both 31, were victims, it seemed plain, of a thug who invaded their Staten Island -home (TIME, Sept. 15). Son Melvin Dean, 8, told police that he was awakened and choked in the night by a white-masked prowler. The child cried for his parents, who came running. Before both died of knife wounds, Loujean Nimer is reported to have told police that the prowler was "tall as my husband, same build" (5 ft. 7 in., 160 Ibs.). In the public shock that followed, nobody got more sympathy than little (4 ft. 4½ in., 68 Ibs.), orphaned Dean Nimer. Dean accompanied his parents' remains, his brother, 2, and sister, 5 months, back to relatives in Orem, Utah.

"I Think of Papa." Into the case swarmed more than 60 New York detectives, who questioned 1,000 people, including patients at the nearby U.S. Public Health Service Hospital, where promising Resident Surgeon Nimer began work two months before. But nothing clicked. No motive appeared; the house was not robbed, and how the prowler entered was unclear. Questioned repeatedly, little Dean told conflicting versions of the sequence of events. Some cops were struck by the boy's unusual intelligence, others by his consistent lack of emotion. ("My mother and father's dead," he told one cop after the tragedy, and rode off on his bike.)

Last week the district attorney announced the shocking news—little Dean was the No. 1 suspect. He had made three separate "statements" ("I stabbed Dad first, then Mom"). He had planned the parricide, he said, while lying in bed several nights before. On the night of the crime, police said, Dean read an article in the Mormon magazine Era entitled, "I Think of Papa." It was illustrated by gnarled hands peeling an apple with a knife, ended: "How priceless is the memory of a good father." Dean left his Boy Scout knife folded inside Era, then went to bed. Later, he told police, he stole downstairs for a kitchen knife, crept back up and killed his sleeping parents. Did his dying mother, then, pass on to the police Dean's own description of the "prowler '?

"Paranoid Schizophrenic." Despite his "statements," Dean was not arrested. New York law requires complete perception of a crime in children between seven and twelve. He was examined by the Staten Island Mental Health Center, which recommended "prolonged psychiatric care." The district attorney called the boy a "paranoid schizophrenic."

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