September 21, 2021

Paging Dr. Barnes

by Crime Show

Background show artwork for Crime Show

There comes a time in everyone's life when you realize that your parents are two people: who they are with you, and who they are with the world. For Steve Barnes, that happened one day while he was reading the newspaper.

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Emma Courtland: To anyone who knows Steve Barnes, it should come as no surprise that one of his earliest memories—and certainly his most vivid memory—is the day that his dad, Gerald, first introduced him to baseball.

Steve Barnes: He took me to my first game. I wasn't even two years old. And he carried me through the tunnel at Wrigley Field, and I remember seeing how beautiful and green it was at not even two years old. I have that memory planted in my mind 60-something years later where I could tell you exactly what it looked like. It was the most beautiful, lush, gorgeous thing I ever saw in my life.

Emma: It wasn't just the beauty of the field that seared that day into Steve's memory. It was the fact that that beauty had been shared with him by his dad. Steve was Gerald's first child, born in Chicago in 1958. And their relationship was probably not unlike a lot of other father-son relationships of that generation: there was a lot of love between them, it just wasn't always communicated in traditional ways.

Steve Barnes: I remember one time he took me out to teach me how to run fast because I was brutally slow. And so we're in the park, and he's teaching me to pump my arms and get my knees up and everything like that. And he's getting more and more frustrated. He goes, "You run like your mother." And so that ended that session. [laughs]

Emma: Gerald's humor could be biting like that. Though even his grouchiness was incredibly charming. He was funny and fun. The life of every party—and the light of Steve's world. There just wasn't a lot of deep conversation. About anything. Sports—and baseball, in particular—really was the center of their emotional, conversational, spiritual universe.

Steve Barnes: So we always had that. We always had a depth through sports.

Emma: Steve looked up to his dad. He wanted to make him proud. Which may subconsciously have been the reason that, when his parents got divorced and his dad moved to California, Steve followed close behind and got a job working at Dodger Stadium.

Emma: So when Steve turned 18 and moved out of his father's house, the stadium was where they'd go to reconnect, where they'd bond over shit-talking the other team. And where, in 1980, their relationship would take an abrupt and irrevocable turn.

Steve Barnes: I'm working for the Los Angeles Dodgers, okay? I'm running the souvenir warehouse. You know, I'm barely 19, 20 years old. So it's an off day at Dodger Stadium, and I need to go use the restroom.

Emma: So Steve grabs the newspaper.

Steve Barnes: I go into the stall and, you know, I'm reading the newspaper while I'm doing my business.

Emma: He's taking his time, flipping through pages. And that's when Steve sees this article.

Steve Barnes: About my dad being arrested.

Emma: Dr. Gerald Barnes had been arrested at the Irvine clinic, where for three years he'd worked as a physician, and then as the medical director.

Steve Barnes: It felt like someone just absolutely came into the bathroom stall and went wham, and gave me a really hard gut punch. It knocked the air out of me. Like, I was in a daze.

Emma: Do you remember what parts of the article stood out to you most?

Steve Barnes: Yeah, my dad's in jail. [laughs] That's pretty simple. And just the sheer blindsided fraud of it all. I was blindsided.

Emma: Again and again over the next 25 years, the articles, the fraud and that blindsided feeling would repeat in sequence, like the steps in some tragic dance, until only one thing was clear: Steve had no idea who his father really was.

Emma: I'm Emma Courtland. This is Crime Show.


Emma: In 1979, about a year before Steve Barnes would read that article in the bathroom at Dodger Stadium, his father, Dr. Gerald Barnes, was working at a clinic in Irvine, California. Barnes was the clinic's medical director, and the immediate supervisor to a young physician's assistant named Rick D'Alessandro.

Rick D'Alessandro: He was in a white coat, had a badge on that said "Dr. Barnes." And he came in to interview me and asked me a few questions.

Emma: That's Rick D'Alessandro. On the day he met Dr. Barnes, he was interviewing for a role as a physician's assistant. Barnes strolled in casually, asked a few questions, then simply patted Rick on the back and said, "He'll do just fine." Rick was only a year or so into his career, so he didn't have a lot of experience working with physicians—let alone a medical director. But Dr. Barnes was immediately disarming. He had none of the pomp and circumstance of the other guys in white coats.

Rick D'Alessandro: You meet him, he's charming, very funny, lots and lots of dry humor, and very personable.

Emma: Barnes was approachable—and empathetic.

Rick D'Alessandro: Very, very easy to talk to. And patients really liked him. Really liked the guy.

Emma: Not only was Barnes the top doctor at the facility, but also, if the clinic voted on a homecoming king, Gerald Barnes would have won it. He was close friends with the owner, and his bedside manner was absolutely unparalleled. But as for his medical technique, Rick thought Dr. Barnes could use some improvement. In particular? His hygiene.

Rick D'Alessandro: He never went over to the sink and really cleaned his hands properly. That's one of the things I noticed right away.

Emma: It sounds like such a small thing, but to Rick, who was just out of medical school where an entire section of the curriculum, literally days of instruction, was devoted exclusively to the importance of proper hand-washing, it seemed odd. Especially for a guy that's supposed to be the clinic's head doctor. But Rick kept his mouth shut. He helped when he was called upon, and observed when he wasn't. And his observations became more and more troubling. There was this one time a patient came into the clinic with a deep cut on his forearm. The wound was bad, so the guy was admitted into the care of the clinic's most esteemed physician, Dr Gerald Barnes. With Rick by his side, Barnes examined the injury.

Rick D'Alessandro: And then he turns around and puts his hand down next to the wound and he has a giant sneeze, okay? Just this giant sneeze right into—on the wound. Right there. And then his nose is running a little bit, and he picks his hand up and wipes his nose like that.

Emma: Rick was horrified.

Rick D'Alessandro: I was like, are you kidding me? You just broke every rule in sterile technique.

Emma: But aside from a few whispers and sideways glances he shared with the nurses, Rick more or less kept his thoughts about Barnes to himself.

Rick D'Alessandro: I still thought, okay, he just wasn't trained well. Okay, that's all.

Emma: But over the weeks and months that followed, Barnes's behavior would get harder and harder to justify, especially his propensity to disappear in times of crisis, which were not at all uncommon at this particular urgent care center. This particular urgent care center was located in a pretty industrial part of Irvine, surrounded by factories, filled with workers and dangerous machinery. So even though the clinic wasn't really set up to handle major injuries, men would often come in with shards of metal in their eye, or eardrums that were ruptured, or skulls that had been cracked after an explosion had thrown them clear across a factory floor. And when that happened, Barnes would vanish.

Rick D'Alessandro: He would make an excuse to go to the bathroom, go to the break room or go to his office. Or he'd go in and see a patient that was waiting.

Emma: That is, a non-urgent patient. People with headaches, tummy aches, stuffy noses, at least half of whom probably could've just taken Tylenol.

Rick D'Alessandro: But he would disappear. He was always disappearing with really complicated cases, or with things where you needed to have a physician with you.

Emma: Remember, Rick was new, and a lot of these complicated cases were literally above his pay grade. But without a physician there to help, sometimes Rick was the only help they had available.

Rick D'Alessandro: It looked like the guy was shot in the stomach. There was blood everywhere. And I'm looking for him. Where is he? So I saw this guy and he's seizing, he was having a seizure. So I started an IV line, and Barnes is nowhere to be found. I had to control the bleeding and get this guy stable. I keep telling the nurses, "Get Barnes. Get him in here. I need some help."

Emma: But Barnes would never show. In fact, whenever Rick was around, Barnes made himself scarce. And for the most part, things turned out okay. But this one day in December, 1979, Rick had the day off. A man named John McKenzie had come into the clinic for medical attention. He was 29 years old and recently divorced, and he said he was feeling strange. He told Dr. Barnes that he felt dizzy. He said he was constantly thirsty, constantly hungry, and no matter how much he ate or drank, the feeling wouldn't go away. He also said he was losing weight and peeing all the time.

Emma: Dr. Barnes told McKenzie he was suffering from a benign positional vertigo—the diagnostic equivalent of nothing to worry about. Still, Barnes drew some blood, prescribed some anti-dizziness medication, and sent McKenzie on his way. But the next day, when the bloodwork came back, Dr. Barnes was out of the office, so the paperwork on McKenzie was handed to Rick to review. According to the report, John McKenzie had a glucose level of nearly 1,200.

Rick D'Alessandro: Normal is 80 to 110.

Emma: Over 10 times the norm. And his list of symptoms? Peeing a lot and insatiable thirst?

Rick D'Alessandro: First-year medical students know what diabetes is, and what their presenting complaints are, okay?

Emma: John McKenzie was on the verge of diabetic coma.

Rick D'Alessandro: That scared me to death. So I said, "We need to get hold of this guy and get him back in here."

Emma: Rick ran to reception, pulled McKenzie's file and called all of his emergency contacts. When no one got back, Rick decided to call the cops. The cops showed up to McKenzie's place, and when no one came to the door, they kicked it down. And in the kitchen, they found John McKenzie's body. He laid dead on the floor, in his hand was the bottle of pills for dizziness prescribed by Dr. Barnes. McKenzie had been suffering from diabetes and didn't know it. But why didn't Dr. Barnes know it?

Rick D'Alessandro: So that's when it really kind of turned into a nightmare for me.

Emma: Rick's fear, a fear that he hadn't yet communicated to any of his superiors, was that the man who was training him didn't just skip the part of medical school where they teach you how to wash your hands properly—he hadn't gone to medical school at all. Dr. Barnes was an imposter. Rick just needed to prove it.

Rick D'Alessandro: Monday, I went in and called the medical board.

Emma: The California Medical Board is in charge of licensing medical professionals.

Rick D'Alessandro: I said, "I'm calling to verify a license, a medical license." And so I said, "His name is Gerald Barnes, and he's practicing medicine in an urgent care center in Orange County in Irvine.

Emma: And while the woman on the other line looked this up ...

Rick D'Alessandro: I said, "I'm gonna fax up to you a picture of Gerald Barnes so you can see what this looks like."

Emma: When the fax went through, the woman called back.

Rick D'Alessandro: And she said, "Oh my God, we got a big problem here." And that's what the last thing she said to me. She said, "This is not the same guy. This is not the picture of the same guy."

Emma: The funny, charming doctor was not a doctor at all. Gerald Barnes was arrested and taken into custody. He'd soon be charged with murder for the death of John McKenzie, and grand theft for receiving a salary he had no claim to. Back at Dodger Stadium, Steve Barnes, Gerald's son, was staring at this article about his father's arrest, trying to make sense of the words on the page.

Steve Barnes: I'm just kind of awestruck and shocked. I don't know.

Emma: The article said his dad was not actually a doctor, and that someone had died because of it. Steve scanned his memories, looking for something—anything that might feel like evidence pointing one way or the other. But he came up empty-handed.

Steve Barnes: I can't see that there were anything, you know, where I would sit there and go, "Oh, there's an a-ha moment." I really didn't see it.

Emma: All that day there were phone calls from reporters asking Steve to comment on his father's crimes. But what was there to say? They clearly knew more about his dad than he did. Still, the more Steve learned about his dad, the more he was able to see these little moments, once meaningless, suddenly recolored by the light of what he now knew.

Emma: For most of Steve's childhood, his dad had actually worked as a pharmacist in Chicago. Steve used to sweep up the shop after school. Until, he remembered, one day when he was about 16 or so, Gerald came home and said, simply: "I'm not a pharmacist anymore." Steve had never bothered to ask why, but according to the reporters, it was because Gerald Barnes had been stripped of his pharmacy license for fraud—an Earth-shattering event that his father had simply never mentioned. And then, just a couple years after that, there was another moment.

Steve Barnes: There was a day, you know, that I came home when we're living in Los Angeles, and my dad goes, "Hey, I'm a doctor now." And, you know, basically my response was, "Good for you! That's cool." You know, I mean, there wasn't an in-depth conversation. I didn't go, "How did this happen?" I didn't go, "Where are your credentials?" I mean, you know, I'm 18, and I didn't care.

Emma: He didn't care. He hadn't asked. And now someone was dead.

Steve Barnes: It was pretty overwhelming.

Emma: Over the next few months there'd be more phone calls and more articles about the way his dad had managed to scam himself into a job, and about how he'd conned the medical board into sending him someone else's credentials—a doctor in Stockton who just happened to have his same name. There'd be a trial, and in April of 1981 there'd be a sentence: three years in prison for the crimes of involuntary manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license. But in all this time, Steve Barnes never saw his father.

Steve Barnes: All I know is that, you know, my duties were I had to go pack up his stuff.

Emma: At that point, nobody in the family was speaking to Gerald. They were too angry or too embarrassed. His second wife had already filed for divorce. So weeks later, when Steve finally decided to go see his father in prison, he would have to go alone. He stopped by a local Jewish deli and bought some of his dad's favorite foods. Security at the prison was minimal, so they'd actually be able to eat together. And talk.

Steve Barnes: So that was the next time I saw him. I asked him, you know, "What's going on?" And he goes, "Well, you know, I kind of made a mistake." And, you know, ...

Emma: And that was more or less the end of it. And then, after serving 18 months in a California penitentiary, Gerald Barnes was released in January of 1983. It was a new year, a new start.

Steve Barnes: And, you know, I was thinking, okay, it's one and done, and he'll figure out something else to do and do it. Nah. [laughs] That wasn't in the equation.

Emma: Pretty much as soon as Gerald got out of prison for the crime of pretending to be a doctor, he walked right back into an LA clinic and applied for a job pretending to be a doctor. Somehow he'd gotten his hands on his old credentials, the credentials of the real Dr. Barnes, the one from Stockton. He'd then charmed his way through interviews and landed the job. Again. This time it would only be two months before he got caught, and it was only by chance that he got caught at all. Apparently, he'd been recognized by a receptionist from his old clinic. Once again, Gerald Barnes pleaded guilty and was sent off to prison. Once again, leaving his now 26-year-old son to clean up the pieces of the life he left behind.

Steve Barnes: All I knew was after he got arrested the second time, it's okay, I got to go pack his crap up again, tell the car company, "Come get your car." You know, that kind of stuff. That was all.

Emma: So you would clean out his apartments for him.

Steve Barnes: Somebody had to. [laughs] And by then wives weren't really cooperative and enjoying his company or desiring to pull him out of that, no. So it was me.

Emma: Again, Steve went to visit his dad in prison. He brought him food. They talked about baseball. The thing they struggled to talk about—and the thing they perhaps most needed to talk about—was what the fuck was going on with Gerald? This thing with him pretending to be a doctor seemed to be some kind of crazy compulsion. Even in prison, he was giving medical advice to the other inmates. They were calling him Doc! Steve would ask his dad, like, "What the hell are you doing?" And Gerald would offer some kind of vague platitude. It was like watching a kid lie about eating a cupcake while he has frosting on his face. It was disheartening and troubling, so eventually Steve just stopped asking, forced to accept that he would probably never know. The only thing he did know was that his relationship with his father was shifting.

Steve Barnes: You know, when I was younger, he was just my dad. You don't think a lot about it, you know? And as time went on, I became the adult figure and he became the child.

Emma: By the time Gerald was released in April of 1986, he had nowhere to go but Steve's house. Steve offered his dad a room, but the offer came with a warning. Steve had gotten engaged, and he wasn't about to let his dad pull anyone else into his shitstorm. So while they were on their way to get his dad's stuff out of storage, Steve laid down the law.

Steve Barnes: I said, "You're living with my family, okay? You cannot be doing anything illegal, okay? I won't tolerate it." I mean, again, I'm the adult. I go, "No bullshit. I don't care what you're doing, but it's gotta be straight up, and I'm not gonna deal with this bullshit."

Emma: Gerald promised. No more playing pretend doctor. And things genuinely started to feel good again, like the Barnes boys were getting their groove back. Lots of Jewish deli dinners, lots of trips to Dodger Stadium, lots of trash talking the visiting team. Steve remembers this one time ...

Steve Barnes: We're at Dodger Stadium. We're having a great time. You know, we're buying each other beers and enjoying the ballgame and everything. And I look at him and I go, "So you doing anything illegal again?" "Oh, no. Promise I'm not da da da da da da da."

Emma: Not long after, Steve found out that Gerald was, in fact, up to his old tricks again. This time he'd stolen the identity of a Donald Barnes who was a pharmacist in San Francisco.

Steve Barnes: So I drove down there where he was practicing pharmacy. And I walk into the pharmacy and he sees a ghost. The look on his face was like, "Oh!" And I go, "You fucking lied to me again. And I'm done with you. I can't put up with it, I can't tolerate it. I told you that if you're living in my house, you can't be pulling this kind of shit." "Yeah, yeah." You know, he starts mumbling and stumbling and all this. And I go, "Wait a second. Don't give me this bullshit." I've only been good to you forever. And he goes, "I'm sorry." And he goes, "I guess I'm just fucked up." And I go, "I guess you are."

Emma: Steve and Gerald would eventually talk again. Gerald would apologize and make fresh promises to Steve, and Steve would accept Gerald's apologies and welcome him back into his life.

Steve Barnes: You know, I mean, he was brilliant at telling you what you wanted to hear, and making you believe that he was telling you the truth.

Emma: But it never was. Gerald didn't give up the pharmacy fraud. And the week before Steve's wedding, Gerald got arrested again, but by that time, it had ceased to surprise Steve. Like that knock knock joke about the orange and the banana, but without the orange.

Steve Barnes: It's not that it doesn't register, it just—I won't allow it to affect me emotionally. There's a difference.

Emma: Yeah.

Steve Barnes: In other words ...

Emma: You won't let it sting.

Steve Barnes: Yeah. No, I'm just kind of numb to it at that point.

Emma: At the end of 1992 Gerald was released again. And you probably know what happens next. He got a job as a physician, once again using the credentials of the doctor in Stockton. In case you're losing count, this was the fourth time Gerald was pretending to be a medical professional. And this time would be his most successful. This time, he got hired at a large clinic in Los Angeles, where he was once again, inexplicably, promoted to medical director. This time, he didn't just steal the medical credentials of the doctor in Stockton, he also stole his credit. Barnes bought a new car and a bunch of fancy suits. He married a woman 20 years younger. And instead of living with Steve, he would often take Steve and his wife out to fancy dinners around town.

Emma: Do you remember what he told you he was doing for work at that time?

Steve Barnes: Emma, at that point I'm not even asking.

Emma: If Steve would have asked and gotten an honest answer for once, he would have found out that Gerald was performing up to 25 physical examinations a day for the clinic. Mostly they were pre-employment examinations—and often invasive. The clinic had contracts with major companies and organizations: large banks, the California Highway Patrol, the gas company, even the FBI.

Steve Barnes: Doing physical exams on incoming FBI agents. [laughs] Balls the size of church bells, I swear to God.

Emma: At this point you're probably wondering how the hell did this keep happening? How was Gerald Barnes able to obtain someone else's credentials and use them to impersonate a doctor over and over again? Like, was there absolutely no system for preventing fraud? Apparently, all Barnes had to do to get his hands on that first set of credentials was call the California Medical Board. He gave them some sob story about his ex-wife burning down his house with everything—including his medical documents—inside. The representative took pity on Gerald, and sent the entire file to an address that was not the one that they had on record for the real Dr Barnes.

Emma: For what it's worth, the medical board says this would never happen today. They now require photo IDs to get copies of credentials. But back then, it seemed they didn't require bupkis. And once the fake Dr. Barnes had the real license in hand, it was more or less off to the races. He'd present the real credentials to potential employers, and those employers would call the medical board to confirm their validity, which they'd always do, because the credentials were indeed valid. They just didn't belong to the man applying for the job.

Emma: And even after the fake Dr. Gerald Barnes was caught, the license remained in good standing because indeed the real Dr. Gerald Barnes remained in good standing. As for why nobody put a flag on this license they knew had been used fraudulently, we reached out to members of the California Medical Board from then and now, and none of them agreed to an interview. But we were told, in short, that they had no system for flagging suspicious activity on a license. All they could do was respond to it when somebody filed a complaint. All of which is to say, once Gerald had his foot in the door, there was no occasion to stop him. After he was hired, the fake doctor was just gonna keep fake doctoring until he hurt someone else, or someone who knew his history just happened to spot him.

Emma: By the time the holidays rolled around in 1995, Gerald Barnes was living his best life. He had a new wife, a new car, and the respect of the LA medical establishment. As the newly minted director of Executive Medical Group, Barnes had earned an invitation to an exclusive holiday party in Beverly Hills, complete with an orchestra, dance floor, and a penthouse view. Some of the best physicians in the city had gathered to toast the season, and that night, Gerald Barnes was among them. There he was, expertly twirling his new, young wife around the dance floor, when an old colleague spotted him from across the room.

Rick D'Alessandro: I'm looking down and I'm going, "Oh my God, what is he doing here?"

Emma: Rick D'Alessandro, the physician's assistant who had turned Barnes in 15 years prior, could not believe what he was seeing. So he danced closer to the couple to get a better view, and sure enough ...

Rick D'Alessandro: He's got one of those stick-on things saying, "Hi, I'm Dr. Barnes."

Emma: So Rick taps Barnes on the shoulder, and Barnes turns to Rick.

Rick D'Alessandro: He goes, "Rick, how are you doing?"


Emma: Rick D'Alessandro was ready to bring Barnes down. And this time, he was determined to make it stick. The Monday after that Christmas party, Rick basically marched into the office of Gerald's boss, threw open the door, and said, "Your medical director is an impostor." As you can imagine, Gerald's boss was horrified.

Rick D'Alessandro: So I tell him the story, and he goes, "This can't be true."

Emma: The clinic had checked Gerald's credentials before he was hired, and the medical board hadn't raised any flags. This, Rick explained, was Gerald's whole game. He'd done this exact thing before—several times in fact. The two were mid-discussion when who would walk in the door but Gerald Barnes himself?

Emma: Surprisingly, Gerald didn't appear to be upset, or nervous to see Rick. He actually seemed kind of happy about it.

Rick D'Alessandro: He goes, "Rick, how's everything going? How's Sharon?" That was my first wife, right? And he says, "So what's going on?"

Emma: What was going on was that Rick, his former assistant, was once again outing him as an imposter. Gerald's boss turned to him and asked, "Is this true?"

Rick D'Alessandro: And he goes, "Absolutely not." He says, "I can prove that I'm a physician. Just let me go. I'll go to my office, I'll get the file, I'll bring it back here." He leaves the office, disappears, never heard of again.

Emma: Until about four months later. It was then that Barnes was intercepted at last. When confronted, he clutched his chest as if having a heart attack. Eventually, after it was determined he definitely was not having a heart attack, he was transported into custody—but not before he tried to escape by flinging himself out of a moving vehicle on the freeway. This time, when Barnes's case made its way to the DA's office, they threw the whole damn kitchen sink at him. In June, 1996, Barnes pleaded guilty to six counts of mail fraud, illegally dispensing controlled substances and using another doctor's DEA registration number. Prior to this, Barnes had never spent more than a couple years in prison. This time, he would be sentenced to 12 and a half years and sent to a penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Which meant Gerald Barnes wouldn't be released until he was in his 70s. Which was actually a tremendous relief to his son Steve.

Emma: Steve was 37 years old by this point. He had a son of his own. And sure, it sucked that Gerald wouldn't be around to do grandpa stuff with him, but at least Steve knew Gerald's days of crime were over. And over the next four years, the Barnes boys settled into a kind of groove. Steve on the outside, balancing fatherhood with life as a traveling salesman. Gerald in prison, keeping his hands busy with various vocational training. They seemed resigned to the rhythms of lives they were now living. They even had this running joke about it.

Steve Barnes: He would always call me and go, "Where are you?" Because he knew that I was traveling.

Emma: Yeah.

Steve Barnes: And I would tell him where I am. And then I would be a wise-ass and I'd go, "Where are you?"

Emma: [laughs]

Emma: For all intents and purposes, this story was over. But apparently, nobody told Gerald Barnes, because one day in September of 2000, Steve gets a call from his dad. And in his jokey way, Steve asks, "And where are you?"

Steve Barnes: He goes, "I'm out." I go, "Really? How did that occur?" And he goes, "I released myself on my own recognizance."

Emma: Gerald Barnes had escaped prison. Apparently, the prison had given Gerald money to transport himself by bus to a vocational training upstate, but Gerald decided to go elsewhere.

Emma: Did you have a thought, "Should I call the police?" And then decided not to? Or did it not even ...

Steve Barnes: I suppose I was protecting him. Yeah.

Emma: Yeah.

Steve Barnes: Yeah. I mean, until you asked me that, it never crossed my mind. But yeah, I would say I probably was.

Emma: Yeah.

Emma: Gerald did what Gerald always did: he found his way to California and got himself hired at yet another medical clinic. It would be his swan song. On September 27, 2000, US marshals entered the North Hollywood clinic where a Dr. Gerald Barnes had recently been hired. They yelled for the doctor to show himself. Gerald walked into the reception area, a stethoscope hanging around his neck. "I give up," he said. "You guys are good." Gerald Barnes received an additional two and a half years for the escape, and 10 years for once again impersonating a doctor.

Emma: From start to finish, his crimes spanned 25 years. He worked at eight clinics, some say more. He had five convictions for impersonating a medical professional, as well as involuntary manslaughter for the death of John McKenzie. There was a class action lawsuit of 500 complaints from a single clinic. The class was awarded $7-million, and the clinic was forced to close its doors. Between the investigations, the court hearings, the incarcerations, we don't have a clear estimate of how much money the antics of Gerald Barnes cost in total, but the number is easily in the tens of millions.

Emma: It's hard to understand what could drive someone to do this. Confounding, really. And nobody was more confounded by it than Steve. But all these years later, he's finally landed on an answer that at least feels true.

Steve Barnes: I think my dad was a doctor not for money, but for the respect that came with it.

Emma: A big part of Steve's theory has to do with the way his father behaved, not so much on the outside, but the fact that when he was on the inside, Gerald seemed genuinely happy.

Steve Barnes: I mean, it took me a long, long, long time to put that together. I'm thinking, "How in the hell can you feel good being in here?" When he's in jail, he's the big man on campus, and people admired him and everybody loved "Doc." Doc is putting together a softball team, and Doc is helping people read, and Doc is doing all these wonderful things. I mean, he put together reading programs for people who couldn't read in prison, okay? Because it gave him esteem.

Emma: Steve is the last person to really know his dad. But even he doesn't really feel like he knows him. So when I asked Steve to describe his father, the adjectives feel contradictory.

Steve Barnes: Brilliantly charming, intelligent, life of the party, great sense of humor. He's probably one of the funniest people ever. Let's see, egotistical, pathological liar, narcissistic. I mean, these are all components.

Emma: Gerald Barnes was a contradiction right up until the very end.

Steve Barnes: June 15, 2018, he died. I felt relieved.

Emma: Wow!

Steve Barnes: I felt relieved because he was sick for a good two and a half years. He was down to 92 pounds, and let's go more into that pathological liar stuff. Any time I talked to him I'd go, "How you feeling?" "I feel great!" And I'd go, "Are you eating?" "Yeah, I'm eating." And, you know, ah, bullshit. No, you're not.

Emma: Yeah.

Steve Barnes: You know? "Are you exercising?" "Yes, I am! I walk three miles a day." I go, "Are you?" "Yeah!" Uh-huh. Okay. So I mean, you know, the fact that until the very end, there was still these lies.

Emma: You had said that you were relieved in part because he had been sick, but it sounded like there was another reason that you were setting up to tell me.

Steve Barnes: Yeah. You know, I mean, it was just, okay, this isn't gonna happen again.

Emma: For the first time in his life, Steve can finally be sure that that's true.

Emma: Crime Show is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. This episode was written and produced by Mitch Hansen and me, Emma Courtland. Crime Show is produced by Jerome Campbell, Cat Schuknecht, and Jade Abdul-Malik. Mitch Hansen is our senior producer. Editing by Devon Taylor. Nicole Pasulka is our fact-checker. Production oversight by Collin Campbell.

Emma: Theme song by So Wylie. Mixing and sound design by Daniel Ramirez. Original music by So Wylie and Dara Hirsch. Special thanks to Rachel Strom, CIK Studios in Vancouver, Washington and In Your Ear Studios in Richmond, Virginia.