The Torment and Stalking of Five Female Doctors
This Reads Like a Halloween Movie But It’s a Real-life Horror Story
Imagine it’s January 25, 2021. Like every other day, you head to the Veteran’s Administration, where you work as a physician. First, though, you drive your kid to their elementary school. As you’re leaving, you discover that all the cars in the parking lot have sexually explicit fliers with your name and contact information slipped under the windshield wipers.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. There have been posters with your picture with racist language and descriptions of Satanic sex rituals. Some signs have claimed you would have sex with minor boys.
You make it to work, humiliated and praying you won’t find another strange note or rambling manifesto under your office door. A few have been genuinely frightening; one mentioned a 50-caliber rifle, while another shared rape fantasies. In your inbox, you get an email accusing you of being a witch and a sorceress.
This kind of stalking is typically the fodder of Halloween horror movies. Except, in this case, it’s all true. It happened to four female doctors working at two Los Angeles veteran’s hospitals; two were terrorized for over a decade. On October 25, 2022, a judge sentenced the real-life “villain” — fifty-year-old Geuorgui Hristov Panthcev — to eighteen years in federal prison.
A Medical or a Legal Issue?
Doctors heal. They know the stress and strain a physical illness can place on someone’s psyche. It’s a safe bet to assume that a physician who works with veterans has encountered combat-related brain injuries and PTSD. In this context, a patient’s problematic or inappropriate behavior is likely to be viewed through a medical lens, not legal. According to court records, Pantchev received a service-related traumatic brain injury; it is unclear how much this influenced his harassing and intimidating behavior.
It is certainly likely that Pantchev’s healthcare providers took that into account. V.A. officials try hard to balance patients’ need for medical care with concern for the safety and well-being of their targets. This high-wire act is doubly true when it comes to mental health issues. One workaround the V.A. tried was to require him to have an escort when arriving for his medical appointments.
After three years of tormenting two doctors at the West L.A. Veteran’s Administration hospital, in 2014, Pantchev was arrested and convicted of seven counts of stalking and witness intimidation. He served a three-year prison term and got out in 2017, with the parole condition that he stay away from his victims and where they worked. He began attending the V.A.’s Loma Linda clinic.
It wasn’t long before Pantchev found three new targets, including two female physicians. In July 2020, the chaplain of the Loma Linda V.A. clinic contacted one of his latest victims to warn her there were notices posted in Alta Loma (a community in San Bernardino County) allegedly advertising her willingness to have sex for $1000. Similar flyers appeared in Long Beach, on Pepperdine University’s campus, in Manhattan Beach, and at her parent’s house. Between his 2017 parole and his arrest date in January 2021, police received more than forty reports detailing disruptive, rude, and demanding behavior while on the Loma Linda VA campus.
Pantchev also began returning to the West L.A. campus in March 2020, even though it violated his parole. After his parole ended in September, he visited the facility three times, one of which resulted in his arrest for trespassing and battery on a police officer for allegedly spitting in his face. Alarmingly, when arrested, he had just moved to an apartment only blocks from the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Who knows what would have happened next?
Stalking in the Healing Professions
It is not shocking that medical doctors and mental health professionals are at higher risk of being stalked than most other professions. We develop intimate relationships with many of our patients, often seeing them when they are most vulnerable. This bond is especially true of psychologists and psychiatrists. This fact may be why, in comparison to doctors who treat physical ailments, mental health professionals are more likely to be stalked because the patient develops the delusional belief that his treating doctor — for whom she has developed obsessive feelings — is also in love with him. Dr. Doreeen Orion, a psychiatrist and stalking expert, was stalked for over ten years by a patient whom she treated for only two weeks.
We don’t know exactly how often this happens. The prevalence rate fluctuates wildly depending on how we define stalking. A survey of over 2,500 U.K. psychiatrists found that about one of every five reported having been stalked at some point in their lives, most often (sixty-four percent) by a patient. For more than half of these victims, the stalking lasted more than a year.
But obsessive “love” isn’t the only motive. Another common reason for healthcare stalking is real or perceived mismanagement of medical treatment resulting in physical or perceived client injuries. In 1988, nurse Theresa May Ramirez was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. She went to see cosmetic surgeon Dr. Michael Tavis for reconstructive surgery and, within a week, felt like the results were unsatisfactory; her silicone breast implants seemed uneven. Over the following decade, she had numerous surgeries from multiple physicians (including Dr. Tavis), becoming increasingly angry and bitter over the results. In 1997, after a decade of stalking and harassing her treating doctors for almost a decade, she shot and killed Dr. Tavis at his medical office and critically wounded his secretary.
The Bottom Line
It is unclear what happened in 2011 that set Geuorgui Hristov Panthcev on his path of torment and terror. It is c lear that his stalking became a mission for him, a pursuit that caused significant psychological pain, fear, and humiliation in his victims.
Thankfully, medical professionals are becoming more aware of the need to protect themselves while working on getting patients the medical assistance they need. It is also heartening that the judicial system seems to have turned a corner. Not only did Panthcev’s lengthy sentence send a message, but the presiding judge minced no words as he handed it down, calling the defendant “a true menace to society” and saying Panthcev’s behavior put him “in the top five to 10 defendants among the thousands that I have seen in over 20 years on the bench.”
I don’t think he meant that as a compliment.
Originally published at https://joniejohnstonpsyd.substack.com on November 7, 2022.