The search committee of this small rural town had been looking for a doctor for four years. So, when young Phil Murray, who was said to be finishing his internship, expressed interest in taking on the job, no one asked to see his credentials.
Murray's folks, after all, had a hunting trailer just up the road, which kind of made him a member of the community. "Doc" Murray, as people here still call him, also said he had graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School, one of the state's best.
When he opened his office on Main Street eight months ago, most people were pleased, too. Murray, who had two examining rooms and a new electrocardiogram machine, charged as little as $5 or $10 a visit, low even here. He made house calls. He took time to talk with his patients.
His appearance might not have fit some people's expectations of a doctor -- he was corpulent and Muriel Brunke, over in Wiscoy, was a little shocked when she heard one day he'd been at the Fillmore Hotel, next door to his office, tending bar. But, she said, in a way, that was okay -- it was nice to have a doctor who wasn't putting on airs.
Murray developed a nice country practice, setting bones, writing prescriptions, taking referrals from the county health department, working as Fillmore Central School's official physician.
By the time Phil Murray was arrested about two months ago for practicing without a license, he reportedly had treated more than 500 people.
The affable, casual, outgoing country doctor of Fillmore, it turned out, was a 34-year-old former lab technician at Eastman Kodak in Rochester. He had not been an Army medic, as he had told some of his bar buddies, and state investigators reported he had not attended college, let alone medical school, as far as they know.
While posing for six months as a doctor, he seems to have cured several patients, but he also apparently misdiagnosed at least two heart attacks. With a new copy of Grey's Anatomy and a pad of prescription forms, plus the overwhelming need of a desperate community, he had managed to fool an entire town.
Fillmore is a town of about 600, about 30 miles southeast of Rochester in Upstate New York. Not a very rich town, Fillmore never could guarantee the $30,000 or $40,000 annual salary demanded by many young doctors coming out of medical school. Not very bustling either: Fillmore had, for instance, a 1950 centennial slogan that said "Fillmore: 100 Years of Rigor Mortis."
The Case of the or Doctor has suddenly changed that.
"When it happened, we thought, 'Oh, well, now Fillmore will be on the map for a day or two,' " said Paula Bliss, spokesman for the search committee. Other Fillmore residents are defensive and embarrassed.
"We're not stupid," Marion McCarty said at McCarty's Motel.
"I rented him the building when he came to town," said Joe Tonaus, owner of the Fillmore Hotel. "It was equipped as good as any doctor's office . . ."
According to the state attorney general's office, Murray had spent $40,000 furnishing the office and hiring staff. He had two nurses, a receptionist, a small laboratory. His white medical coats hung on the coat rack; shelves were filled with medical books. No medical license hung on the wall, but there was no reason that should have looked suspicious. Murray, after all, had been endorsed by the town.
If there were certain irregularities in his professional conduct, or gaps in his medical wisdom, at least one local professional -- Dr. Daniel Kaufman, the dentist -- was willing to overlook that and find excuses.
"He was a little bit of a shock to some of us, very much overweight, not too much of a dresser . . . he had kind of coarse language to say the least . . . I didn't know what to think of the chap. I figured he was sort of a product of the '60s, when they did their own things . . ." said Kaufman.
Kaufman, who once received a tetanus shot from Murray, saw a lot of Murray. Having no X-ray machine, Murray used that of the dentist. When the two conferred, Kaufman, a graduate of New York University, was sometimes shocked at Murray's ignorance.
"He didn't know anything about the mouth. He didn't even know the proper name for 'baby tooth' . . . That wasn't too surprising, there are a lot of physicians that don't know that much about the mouth . . . He didn't know too much about X-Rays," Kaufman said. "He didn't know that it didn't matter if you shot from the top or the bottom, you got the same picture . . . I thought, 'Well, I guess they must get pretty high-powered training in medical school these days. They probably leave X-rays to the technicians . . .' "
Nor was Kaufman dismayed when he heard that Murray had prescribed something of a home remedy -- boric acid -- for a dental receptionist with pinkeye. "I said to myself, 'This is great.' I think as a rule doctors are overprescribing these days."
The first people who met Phil Murray in his "professional" capacity were the members of the Fillmore search committee. A small group from churches and community groups, it derived from a project begun at Fillmore United Methodist Church to "fill the greatest need of the area," according to Paula Bliss.
The area needed a doctor, but the committee had written 70 letters to family practice centers and medical schools and received only one reply in four years. Their problem, the committee slowly learned, was not uncommon for poor, small towns.
The committee also considered applying to the National Health Service for help but, according to Bliss, encountered problems with a doctor in a neighboring town who felt that such help might establish the newcomer as unfair competition. They also insisted that they could provide adequate care for Fillmore.
Last spring, a woman whom Bliss knows but declines to identify, said she had heard about a fellow finishing medical school who wanted to practice in a small town. That led the committee in April to Murray. Bliss, a slim, gray-haired woman who laughs nervously and seems on the verge of tears as she tells her story, remembers him as "very open, friendly, someone who cared." He also gave committee members the answers they wanted to hear.
"He said he didn't want to specialize," Bliss said. "He said he wanted to concentrate more on family practice. We asked him if he'd make house calls. He said, 'Sure.' "
Murray was welcomed into the community. In the spring, there was a punch-and-cookie reception at the Catholic Church hall. Two local doctors came, as did Murray's parents. The McCartys closed their motel for a few hours, got dressed up and came.
Bruce McCarty said he was a little surprised that the new doctor was wearing wash pants and a sports shirt, and Marion McCarty recalls that Murray kept his distance from the other doctors.
Murray began a brisk business. According to patients and an Allegany County health official, he treated arthritis, bee stings, cardiac problems, leg ulcers and fertility problems and dispensed oral polio vaccines.
George Faecke, 76, went to him with an arthritis problem in the right shoulder that had been troubling him so much that he'd been sleeping in a recliner for a few weeks. Murray gave him some Naprosyn samples. They "worked a miracle," Faecke said.
Bliss' grandson had the flu and was taken to the doctor, and his family was satisfied. Dr. Kaufman, who gives shots himself, said after his tetanus shot, "He was all right." Murray set Muriel Brunke's broken toe. She also brought in her daughter, who has cerebral palsy, for a physical exam for summer camp and, although Murray did no more than sign the papers, Muriel Brunke was crazy about him.
"He said I probably knew as much about it as he did," she said. "I was delighted with the idea. I hated going to a doctor who assumes that after eight children I don't know what I'm doing."
She was to change her views. Shortly before Murray's arrest, Brunke brought in her husband, who had suffered three heart attacks. His blood pressure, which Mrs. Brunke had measured several times at home, was fluctuating wildly. He was sweating and nauseous.
Muriel Brunke, having seen the symptoms previously, was certain she was witnessing another heart attack. Murray insisted it was the flu. The next day, Brunke was in the Veterans Hospital, his illness diagnosed as a heart attack.
Another man, from neighboring Belfast, was suffering pains across the chest and down the left arm and went to Murray, who diagnosed pulled muscles and prescribed Ben Gay ointment. Doctors admitted the man to Cuba Memorial Hospital and said he seemed to have suffered a mild heart attack, but could not say when.
Those mistakes did not occur until the week in early October that Murray was arrested. By then, he was being watched. Local pharmacists had become suspicious when the statewide Medicaid system was computerized and Murray was not listed among the physicians. A doctor, suspicious because of Murray's behavior, had gone to the state Education Department's Office of Professional Discipline.
Two senior investigators from the department went to Murray's office and described imaginary ailments for which he prescribed treatment. They closed him down. A patient in the office at the time, investigator Steven Grogan recalled, "couldn't believe it." Grogan said Murray "denied it at first," then, "he said that he was not licensed, just that he loved medicine and wanted to help the community," Grogan said.
On Nov. 16 Murray was indicted by a grand jury in Allegany County, N.Y., on three counts of unauthorized practice of medicine, a felony, and six counts of unlawful prescribing of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor. A trial date has not been set, and Murray remains free on a $2,000 bond posted by his brother. Murray faces as much as four years in prison, if convicted.
State officials investigated whether anyone died as a result of Murray's apparent masquerade. They found that no one did.
The consensus in Fillmore seems to be that Murray was a terrific doctor. His patients have been asked to check in with the county health department, and 75 percent of those who call, according to director of patient service Chris Johnson, "say that Murray was a really good doctor. He took time to talk to them. He wasn't like other doctors who were too busy; they liked him."
"His choice of drugs may not have been the first choice of a doctor ," Johnson said, "but they were not that inappropriate and, when he got in over his head, he referred."
Murray succeeded in his role as doctor because he protected himself in certain areas:
* Invited to join a local hospital, Murray did not. His medical training would almost certainly have been checked if he had.
* He had to provide his state license number and a Drug Enforcement Administration number to write prescriptions, and he used the proper number of digits for each and his license number did not look suspicious.
* For dealing with particular controlled substances, Murray would have needed a special prescription pad available from the state health department. He avoided that by not prescribing such drugs.
Very likely, he knew the community needed a doctor because he spent time there and the residents had been seeking a doctor for years. Once he was established, the trusting townspeople did not allow themselves to act on their suspicions.
Where Murray acquired his knowledge of medicine and why he did it remain mysteries. Murray is not talking, and his lawyer has no comment.
Eastman-Kodak, where Murray was employed from 1966 until he became "Doc" Murray, said only that he left the company voluntarily after beginning his career as a tester in the paper surface division. He left as a research department technician.
Murray's mother, a retired nurse, has no comment, and his father, a retired Eastman-Kodak factory worker, is dead. One member of the family, who asked not to be identified, shed some light on the impostor doctor.
He was one of two brothers, bookish and not athletic, she said. He was not the favorite of his rather critical father; it was the younger brother with whom the older man went fishing and hunting. Murray had a brief, early marriage that failed. He lived at home only occasionally. His parents thought he was going to medical school at night, and they bought him the EKG machine for graduation. She doesn't recall what excuse he gave them that made it impossible for them to attend the graduation, but she knows there was an excuse; there were always excuses.
The arrest, and indictment "hit his mother like a bomb." His father died of cancer just before Murray opened his office, and the death had taken a long time. It was necessary to give him injections at home, and that perhaps is why Murray knew how to administer injections.
Another mystery is what led to the arrest.
The local doctor who first became suspicious is not talking, but investigators confirm that, as in many fine mysteries, a small item tipped off that doctor.
The item was too obscure for the small-town search committee to notice but critical enough to make a legitimate physician stop dead in his tracks:
Phil Murphy, in conversation with the doctor, had mentioned his two-year medical internship at the Univerity of Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital. But, in New York State, there are no two-year internships.