Joseph Pappas, the former Texas constable wanted in the murder of respected Houston cardiologist Mark Hausknecht, has committed suicide and is dead, police say.
Police previously announced that they suspected Joseph Pappas was the killer of Hausknecht, who was gunned down while riding his bicycle in broad daylight on his way to work. Pappas was also riding a bicycle when he turned around and fired at least twice at the doctor, killing him, police said. The slaying was mysterious because people said Hausknecht had no known enemies; however, police say they believe Pappas, who owned a realty at one point, carried a 20-year grudge against the prominent doctor after his mother died in surgery under Hausknecht’s care.
“This is our suspect,” police said in announcing the death of Joseph Pappas.
Here’s what you need to know:
Pappas Was Wearing Body Armor When He Shot Himself, Police Say
Joseph Pappas, who was being actively sought by Houston police and was believed to be dangerous and possibly armed, committed suicide on August 3, 2018, police announced.
Pappas had “put together an ‘extensive file’ on Dr. Mark Hausknecht before killing him and had a sheet of paper with other names on it,” CBS News reported.
Pappas “was found with snub-nose revolver, backpack, bulletproof vest and a baseball cap,” reported KPRC-TV. According to Fox26 reporter Sally McDonald, writing on Twitter, “The witness who saw Joseph Pappas works for the Houston Parks Board. He first saw him around 9:20AM near the JCC and believed he looked like the suspect in dr.’s murder. Minutes later he found a wallet Pappas dropped w/ ID in it.”
McDonald also reported that it was possible the suspect had been camping while on the run.
Police feared Pappas might go out in a hail of gunfire, saying, “You don’t normally put on a bulletproof vest when you are thinking about committing suicide.”
Hausknecht once treated former President George H.W. Bush. The suspect’s full name is Joseph James Pappas, and police said from the start that they believed he was suicidal.
“He was a brilliant physician, and he’s touched a lot of lives,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said of the victim. The chief extended his condolences to the Hausknecht family.
Of Pappas, Acevedo said before he was caught: “He’s considered to be armed and dangerous, and people should not try to deal with him directly…Evidence has been obtained that ties this man to this crime, and we believe that this absolutely is the killer of Dr. Hausknecht…He’s very dangerous, and we need to get him into custody.” According to Acevedo, police believe Pappas may have once been a constable years ago in Harris County, Texas. Later news reports confirmed Pappas had worked for years as a deputy constable in Texas.
The Mother of Joseph Pappas Died Under Dr. Hausknecht’s Care 20 Years Ago, Police Say & Pappas Worked in Law Enforcement
Houston police think the motive dates back 20 years, when the mother of Joseph Pappas died in the care of Mark Hausknecht. They allege that hardened into a “grudge” that never left and spiraled into murder.
Acevedo said an arrest warrant was issued in the case against Joseph Pappas. “We said we believed he (Hausknecht) was targeted and indeed he was. One of the tips included the fact that the suspect’s mother was a patient of the doctor and died during surgery over 20 years ago,” the chief said. “So it appears this may have been a 20-year-old grudge that this man held.”
Julia Pappas died in 1997. According to The New York Daily News, Pappas’s father died in 2010, and he also has a sister.
Asked by a reporter if there were any other links between Hausknecht and Pappas, Acevedo repeated, “He (Hausknecht) operated on his mother 20 years ago and she died during surgery.” He added at another point in the news conference, “The only tie between the doc and him is that we have confirmed his mom died on the operating table…the doctor who’s the victim in this case operated on our suspect’s mom.”
The chief did not indicate whether there was a trigger that set the suspect off more recently, but he said that multiple firearms were recovered.
“I don’t know when he decided to do this, but I’m very familiar with how this murder was committed. And there was a lot of planning that went into this. There was a lot of planning and, sadly, some skill. The shots that he took, took some skill,” said Acevedo. He declined to specify more of the evidence that police have recovered in the case.
You can watch the police chief’s news conference on the suspect here:
“Quite frankly, this case has been important to us because you know that the Texas Medical Center is not just a jewel for the people of Houston, it’s a jewel for the state of Texas, for this whole nation,” the chief said.
Click 2 Houston reported that Pappas worked in law enforcement. He worked “with Harris County Precinct 2 and Precinct 7. He was first paid for his services, and later was listed as a volunteer reserve. Pappas held an armed law enforcement job for more than 30 years, until 2013,” the television station reported, adding that he was not married and lived in the home where he grew up.
He also had worked as a realtor, according to his LinkedIn page. Click 2 Houston found listings on a site called ArmsList.com by Pappas Realty. KHOU-TV found those and other online listings for “two bullet-proof vests, and listings last week for a $4,500 semi-automatic rifle, a pistol and a bullet-proof panel for a Crown Victoria.”
According to Harris County court records, Hausknecht had two medical malpractice claims filed against him in civil court in the past but neither involved Pappas as a party. One case was settled and the other is listed as dismissed.
Houston’s mayor released a statement after police announced the break in the case.
Mark Hausknecht was a prominent and respected Houston cardiologist who was known for his compassion with patients.
“Mark was a leader in the Houston Cardiovascular Associates and specialized in cardiovascular disease,” said Houston Methodist, in a statement, adding that Hausknecht was part of the DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. The family he left behind includes two adult sons, including one who is a medical student. Both sons were Eagle Scouts, a person who knew the family told Heavy. He was married to a doctor named Georgia Hsieh.
Former patients joined others in offering tributes to the doctor.
A patient wrote on Facebook, “My heart is broken. The cardiologist Mark Hausknecht was the doctor killed today in Houston. This was my heart Dr. for many years. What a great man and doctor. I had appt next month with him and he just ok my medicine on Monday.”
There was a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Chief Acevedo said in the news conference that surveillance video and photos authorities previously released in the case gave them their big break after a tipster recognized the person and told police the suspect was allegedly Pappas.
On July 31, 2018, a tip came to the police chief’s office from “an individual who wanted to provide information on this case,” said Acevedo.
The police chief praised the community for being a “partner” to helping police “keep neighborhoods safe.”
Acevedo said the police were able to enhance surveillance video from a home and “individuals recognized this suspect” after that video and photos from it were released to the news media.
The shooting occurred on July 20, 2018, a Friday, near the Texas Medical Center at around 8:50 a.m. After shooting Dr. Hausknecht, the shooter fled the scene on a bicycle. The murder occurred in the 6700 block of Main Street.
In a news conference, authorities said the killer – whom they now suspect was Joseph Pappas – turned to shoot at Hausknecht, firing multiple times.
“The suspect was on a bicycle as well, rode past the doctor, turned and fired two shots. The doctor went down immediately,” Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner with the Houston Police Department said during the news conference.