The slayings of Dr. Roger A. Brumback and his wife, Mary, make no sense to friends and colleagues.
Drs. E. Steve Roach and Brumback had exchanged emails once or twice a week for years. As far as Roach knew, everything was business as usual in the Brumbacks' lives; the couple never mentioned feeling threatened or targeted.
“It's a cliche, but neither one of them had a mean bone in their body,” Roach said Wednesday. “They were just as uniformly kind and generous as any two people you'd ever want to meet.”
Omaha police are treating the Brumbacks' deaths as homicides, said Lt. Darci Tierney, a police spokeswoman. Police declined to say how the couple died, and said no arrests had been made Wednesday morning.
The bodies were discovered Tuesday morning when a piano mover arrived at the couple's two-story home in southwest Omaha to find the front door unlocked, a large-caliber gun clip on the threshold.
A few feet inside, Brumback, a 65-year-old Creighton University physician who had announced his retirement and was looking forward to moving to West Virginia, lay dead.
Mary, 65, would also be found in the house. She, too, was slain.
Police declined to say how the couple died and said no arrests had been made Tuesday night.
The piano mover, Jason Peterson, 41, called police just before 10 a.m. after he received no response at the home at 11421 Shirley St. He said he saw the doctor's body but no blood.
Roger Brumback was a professor of pathology, psychiatry and neurology. He came to Creighton to take over as chairman of the department of pathology in 2001 and stepped down in 2010.
Dr. Poonam Sharma, the interim chairwoman, said Brumback met with her about two weeks ago to announce he was retiring June 30. She said Brumback was excited about moving to West Virginia, where he owned property.
“He talked for 10 or 15 minutes about how beautiful West Virginia is,” Sharma said.
Brumback, she said, had been teaching and working as director of autopsy pathology at Creighton since stepping down as chairman. He worked to diagnose the reasons for patients' deaths at Creighton University Medical Center.
It was the second killing connected to the university's pathology department in five years.
Roger Brumback worked with Dr. William Hunter, whose 11-year-old son, Thomas, and housekeeper, Shirlee Sherman, 57, were fatally stabbed inside the family's Dundee home in 2008. His wife, Dr. Claire Hunter, works in Creighton's cardiology department.
That case remains unsolved.
“He was an academic and an excellent neuropathologist,” William Hunter said of Brumback.
Hunter said he wondered if the same person who killed the Brumbacks might have killed his son and Sherman. “It's just a thought that comes by,” he said.
Still, Hunter said, he had no reason to make such a connection. He said police had not contacted him Tuesday.
Sharma, who was recruited to Creighton by Brumback, said she didn't know of any threats her colleague had received or any reason he would have enemies.
“I'm absolutely shocked,” Sharma said. “We have no reason to believe anyone would be upset with him or his work.”
In addition to his work at Creighton, Brumback served on the Nebraska Board of Medicine and Surgery. There have been incidents in other states in which board members were targeted by disciplined or disgruntled medical professionals. But Roach said that based on his conversations with Brumback, the Nebraska board hadn't been involved in controversial or contentious cases.
Roach said Brumback was a member of Penn State College of Medicine's first graduating class in 1971. He described Brumback, a friend of 25 years, as a gregarious workaholic.
“He was best man in my wedding,” Roach said. “I can't believe this.”
Sharma said Brumback was very popular with students and faculty.
“He was a perfectionist,” she said. “He wanted to do everything at its best. He also had a cocky sense of humor. Every time you entered his office, he had words of wisdom.”
Brumback was an expert on Alzheimer's disease and authored hundreds of articles and many books.
He was editor-in-chief of both the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine and the Journal of Child Neurology.
On his website, he described himself as a “born-again conservationist” who had an interest in the study and protection of primates.
His wife, Mary, was a homemaker who co-authored a book with her husband in 2006 about fiber and weight control. An acquaintance said Mary Brumback formerly worked as a lawyer.
“As a community, we grieve with their family and friends. Our hearts go out to the colleagues of Dr. Brumback,'' said the Rev. Timothy Lannon, Creighton president, in a letter to faculty members.
“Please keep the Brumback family in your prayers. At times like this, our faith in a loving God can sustain us in the face of immense suffering.''
Dr. Robert Dunlay, interim chairman of the School of Medicine, called the deaths a “terrible tragedy” and said students and faculty are grieving.
The Brumbacks bought their home in 2001, according to Douglas County records. Two neighbors, Jack and Trix Cormaci, said they didn't know Roger Brumback well. But they'd often see Mary mowing the lawn, describing her as outgoing and friendly.
“She was never mad at anybody,” Trix Cormaci said. “We talked once in a while, the usual thing.”
World-Herald staff writer Maggie O'Brien contributed to this report.
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Officer Michael Pecha discusses the discovery of two bodies