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Suspect In Houston Slaying Kills Himself As Police Close In

Joseph James Pappas died when confronted by two Houston police officers at the end of a two-week manhunt.
Texas Department of Public Safety
Houston Police Department via AP
Joseph James Pappas died when confronted by two Houston police officers at the end of a two-week manhunt.

The man suspected of shooting renowned cardiologist Mark Hausknecht, who treated a former U.S. president, killed himself Friday. Authorities say Joseph James Pappas, 62, died when confronted by two Houston police officers at the end of a manhunt Friday morning.

"I thank God that that second officer got there when he got there, because the suspect was not complying with the commands of the [first] officer," Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said at a midday news conference. "I'm convinced that had that second officer not arrived, we might have had a shootout out here."

Instead, Pappas, who police say was clad in a bulletproof vest, shot himself.

The deadly conclusion caps a two-week search. On July 20, Hausknecht was gunned down in broad daylight as he biked to work at Houston Methodist Hospital. The killer cycled closely behind. For weeks, the crime simmered unsolved, drawing national headlines, for both Hausknecht's most famous former patient, George H.W. Bush, and the mysterious nature of the killing.

Noise from a nearby construction site disguised the sounds of the gunshots, and law enforcement struggled to find anyone in Hausknecht's life who may have wanted him dead. Authorities could identify neither the killer nor his motive — until Houston police pleas for help from the community finally yielded a crucial lead: home surveillance footage that appeared to show the gunman.

Earlier this week, with the help of that footage, police named Pappas as the suspect. His mother died some two decades ago on Hausknecht's operating table.

"It appears that this may be a 20-year-old grudge that this man held," Acevedo announced two days ago, adding that "there was a lot of planning that went into this."

A tip from a Houston Parks Board employee Friday morning eventually led law enforcement to an outdoor area in southwestern Houston, where Pappas was waiting with a weapon. When confronted, Acevedo said, Pappas shot himself.

"It's a sad day all the way around," the police chief told reporters Friday. "It doesn't bring anybody back, but it does bring closure."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.