Joseph Pappas, the suspect accused in the mysterious death of respected Houston cardiologist Mark Hausknecht, bore a 20-year grudge against the prominent doctor after his mother died in surgery under Hausknecht’s care, police allege.
Pappas “was found with snub-nose revolver, backpack, bulletproof vest and a baseball cap,” reported KPRC-TV.
The bizarre shooting of Hausknecht, who once treated former President George H.W. Bush and who was shot while riding his bicycle to work in broad daylight, unfolded when the suspect, who was also on a bicycle, rode ahead of Hausknecht and turned around to shoot him, police said previously.
In addition to naming Joseph Pappas as the suspect in the Hausknecht homicide, police also released his photo and what they believe is the motive, which you can read more about below. Joe Pappas, 62, is at large, and police were seeking him in the doctor’s death. 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: “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.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Mother of Joseph Pappas Died Under Dr. Hausknecht’s Care 20 Years Ago, Police Say & Pappas Worked in Law Enforcement
A witness was credited with spotting Pappas shortly before the suspect killed himself.
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.”
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.
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.
2. Police Say Surveillance Videos & Photos They Released Gave Them the Crucial Tips
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.
“There’s a lot of cameras, so we’re hoping we can get some footage of this and bring this violent criminal into custody,” Finner said in a previous news conference.
Dr. Mark Hausknecht was 65.
“Homicide detectives are going over surveillance video from numerous businesses in the area in efforts to release video of the wanted suspect last seen on a light colored mountain bicycle traveling west on Southgate Boulevard,” police said previously.
According to the police statement, “Dr. Hausknecht and the suspect were seen on bicycles traveling north on Main St. at the Holcombe Blvd. intersection. Less than two blocks later, the shooting happened in front of a hotel at 6600 Main Street.”
3. Joe Pappas Was Accused of Threatening to Commit Suicide by Text Before He Died & Hausknecht’s Wife Urged More Gun Regulations After the Murder
Where is Joseph Pappas? Police said on August 1, 2018 that they are not sure and are actively searching for him.
“We also learned that the suspect had not been heard from by people who knew him for over 24 hours,” said Acevedo, adding that Pappas had sent a text to someone saying he was going to kill himself.
Officers conducted a check on the home of Joe Pappas at 9 p.m. July 31, 2018 and didn’t find him at home. At 4 a.m. on August 1, 2018, a search warrant was issued, and an arrest warrant was issued, for Pappas for the charge of murder, according to Acevedo. Online records show the suspect with Houston addresses since the 1980s.
Pappas was still not found. “Efforts to locate him continue,” said Acevedo on the afternoon of August 1, 2018.
No prior criminal cases come up under a search of Pappas’s name in Harris County court records.
Hausknecht’s wife, Dr. Georgia Hsieh, released a statement that derided the “misguided notion that any society with more guns is a safer society.”
“After spending his adult life saving and prolonging the lives of others, my talented husband, Dr. Mark Hausknecht, had his life prematurely ended,” she wrote, according to ABC News. “‘Senseless’ has become a trite adjective to describe these tragedies, but what is senseless is the misguided notion that any society with more guns is a safer society.”
“When students cannot go to school without fear, and teachers need to arm themselves, what has this country come to?” she continued. “As a trained emergency medicine physician, I am no stranger to the devastating consequences of both intentional and accidental firearm use. Now my family and I have joined the ranks of the tens of thousands of other grieving Americans who lose innocent loved ones each year.”
The statement continued, “So many have asked what can be done to help. While law enforcement has given you their focus on finding the criminal, I am asking you to use your vote and your voice to stem the tide of this growing public health epidemic. Write, email or tweet your Congressional Representative urging sensible gun laws. We owe it to future generations to leave a safer environment.”
“Our family would like to thank law enforcement, the medical community, and so many colleagues, patients, friends and neighbors who have reached out to support us during this difficult time. Mark loved this city. To honor him–work hard, be responsible, patient, tolerant and compassionate.”
4. Pappas’ Primary Mode of Transportation Was a 10-Speed Schwinn Bicycle & Former President Bush Praised Hausknecht for His ‘Compassionate Care’
Chief Acevedo said it’s possible – and even likely – that Pappas could still be mobile on the bicycle he was known to ride pretty much everywhere.
“I’d be looking for a 10-speed bicycle that he was known to ride extensively and almost exclusively,” said the police chief. “He’s described as a very fit white male. That bicycle has not been recovered. That was his primary mode of getting around on a daily basis.”
As for the suspect possibly being a former constable, the chief said, “There’s an indication this guy many, many years ago might have been a constable” in Harris County.
Click 2 Houston reported that Pappas also had an old Crown Victoria police style car.
In a statement from Kennebunkport, Maine, former President George H.W. Bush had said he was “deeply saddened by the tragic circumstances surrounding the untimely passing of Dr. Mark Hausknecht in Houston earlier today, and 41 sends his most sincere condolences to the Hausknecht family, his colleagues at Houston Methodist, and his friends.”
The statement also quoted Bush as saying, “Mark was a fantastic cardiologist and a good man. I will always be grateful for his exceptional, compassionate care. His family is in our prayers.”
People who aren’t prominent also offered testimonials in the wake of Hausknecht’s death. “Dr. Mark saved both of my grandparents on separate occasions. He was a kind man who did so much for so many. He deserved better than that,” wrote one woman on Facebook.
Another woman wrote that Hausknecht was her son’s first scoutmaster, and added, “He was a wonderful person and I’m heartbroken that this happened.” Another woman indicated, “This is an incredible tragedy. Mark Hausknecht and his partners…are responsible for training me and making me the cardiologist I am today. And they are the reason I practice in The Woodlands. They have remained my heroes and role models to this day.”
Dr. Marc Boom, president of Methodist, told Hausknecht’s co-workers about the murder in an email obtained by The Houston Chronicle. Hausknecht’s patients “appreciated his kind bedside manner and the extra time he took to answer their questions and fully explain their condition and treatment,” The Chronicle reported.
“We will all miss seeing Mark in the hallways and seeing patients in the cath lab and (coronary care unit), where he was known as a compassionate physician with a phenomenal bedside manner,” wrote Boom. “Our employees who worked with him said patients were so proud to call him their doctor.”
One woman indicated on Facebook that Hausknecht had sons writing, “This cardiologist who lived next door to my in-laws was fatally shot and killed today as he was riding his bicycle to the medical center. We are shocked and saddened. Our boys spent time playing with his boys. Senseless tragic loss.”
Hausknecht also had his flying license. His former flight instructor wrote on Facebook, “I remember him as a great guy and a very quick-learning student with a notable sense of humor. Any teacher will tell you that they have a few favorites. Mark was one of mine. What a tragic and senseless thing his death was. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.”
5. Pappas Had an Application to Run a Concealed Weapon Academy, Reports Say
According to Click 2 Houston, Pappas had “a business application to run a concealed handgun instruction academy.”
KHOU-TV reported that the company was called “Pappas Academy of Concealed Handgun Instruction” but the business registration expired in 1995.
Neighbors expressed shock to KHOU-TV upon hearing of the allegations. “I’m blown away that he could have been doing it,” said neighbor Richard Koenig to the television station. “He’s a quiet man. Whatever he was doing it didn’t seem very radical.”
The gunman was previously described by authorities as being between the ages of 20 and 30, and “wearing a dark shirt and pants and riding a dark colored bicycle,” according to The Houston Chronicle.
The police statement was more specific. According to the police statement, “Witnesses stated the suspect is described as a white or Hispanic male, about 30 years old, about 5’10” with a slender build. He had a tan baseball cap, sunglasses, and was clean shaven. He was wearing a gray warmup jacket and khaki shorts.” After releasing the photos, though, police clarified that the shooter was wearing a blue short-sleeved polo shirt, a khaki ball cap, and khaki shorts.
Detectives asked any residents near Southgate Blvd. at Travis Street to check their surveillance cameras between 8:40 a.m. and 9 a.m. and contact HPD Homicide at 713-308-3600 if they see the suspect on the bicycle.
Dr. Kevin Lisman, a medical partner of Hausknecht, told ABC 13 that the slain doctor had no enemies.
“Mark never had an enemy,” Lisman said to the television station. “He was very quiet, and very humble. Just the kind of guy who would take care of anybody at the drop of a hat.”
Dr. Hausknecht’s Houston Methodist biography lists him as a specialist in “Cardiology Interventional Cardiology.” The bio lists the following under “education and training”:
“Medical School: Baylor College of Medicine-Houston, TX – 1980
Residency: The Johns Hopkins Hospital – Baltimore – 1986
Internship: The Johns Hopkins Hospital – Baltimore
Fellowship: The John Hopkins Hospital – CV – Baltimore
Fellowship: The John Hopkins Hospital – PTCA Service – Baltimore
Board Certification: Internal Medicine – Cardiology
Board Certification: Internal Medicine – Interventional Cardiology.”
You can also read a detailed biography for Dr. Hausknecht that lists the same information on the website of Houston Cardiovascular Associates, where he was listed as a physician. Dr. Hausknecht did his clinic and saw all of his patients at Houston Cardiovascular Associates, according to HCVA.
His clinical interests ranged from angioplasty to hypertension and atrial septum defect. Hausknecht graduated from Cornell University in 1975 and, five years later, he gradated from Baylor College of Medicine Medical School, the bio says. Hausknecht appears in an alumni photo on this page for Cornell University’s Sigma Pi Mu Chapter.