A diet doctor is gunned down in an alley outside his storefront clinic, and it looks like the kind of murder case San Diego homicide cops loathe: the professional hit, with a lengthy list of suspects. Dr. Kent Delong, a 47-year-old, outwardly straitlaced Seventh Day Adventist from Redlands, proprietor of the DermaLaser Clinic on Midway Boulevard, had been catering to the vanity of his patients for more than ten years. Some of them said they were devoted to him, but had one of them killed him? Was it a partner in one of his many money-losing Internet schemes? A disgruntled creditor or patient? Or was it more personal than that?
Bruce Morse, an inventor and ex-studio musician and jazz drummer, says he was a longtime friend of DeLong's. He can't fathom why anyone would want to shoot DeLong. "He was the nicest guy you could know. Very positive and upbeat. No pretensions at all. He dressed like a regular guy. Pair of slacks, a shirt, regular old shoes you buy at Price Club, a little white lab coat, and that was about it. The van he had was a Ford, an Aerostar. My brother has one just like it, as a matter of fact, and it's from the '80s," says Morse, who met DeLong three years ago at his clinic in La Mesa. Morse, who had stopped by to visit with DeLong at his office on the afternoon of Thursday, February 1, a few hours before DeLong was shot, was one of the last people to see the doctor alive. "He struck me as the most unobtrusive gentlemen that I've ever met. He seemed very intelligent; he seemed to be very nonconfrontational."
But not everyone felt the same way about Dr. DeLong. Educated at Wayne State University in Michigan, he moved to San Bernardino County, becoming a resident in internal medicine at Loma Linda University, an Adventist school, in the mid-1980s. Records show he operated a commodities-investment business on the side. In the early'90s, DeLong emerged as one of the state's earliest and most prolific purveyors of Fen-Phen, the "miraculous" cocktail of diet drugs. When in 1995 the combination was found to be causing heart-valve defects in at least a third of the patients who took it, the formula was yanked off the market, and the doctors who prescribed it, including DeLong, were sued by ex-patients.
As a result of selling Fen-Phen over the Internet, DeLong lost his license to prescribe controlled substances, and his medical license was placed on a five-year probation by the state medical board. The doctor then went into the herbal weight-loss business, selling nonprescription products laced with ephedrine, the methamphetamine relative linked to heart attacks, strokes, and seizures.
He turned to the Internet, where he bought and sold domain names and weight-loss websites through a netherworld of brokers and dealers of questionable repute. His biggest success came in 1999, when he sold the domain name Vitamins.com for a reported seven-figure sum. Within the last year, he had branched into the latest storefront medical fad, performing laser skin treatments and tattoo removal. In between, DeLong, a military-history buff, managed to write two books on army heroes, run for a seat in Congress, and volunteer as an "attending physician" at reunions of aging Congressional Medal of Honor winners. A biography on one of DeLong's websites claims he was an "army officer, a private pilot, a former member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and founder of a 46-location medical clinic in California."
Wherever he traveled, DeLong seemed to leave behind a trail of lawsuits from landlords and other creditors trying to collect bad debts. The doctor's personal life was no less complicated. Married once, with three teenage children, he reportedly left his wife in the '90s and took up with another woman, an attractive business associate. Two years ago, friends and associates say, he met yet another woman and had a child by her, with another baby expected in April.
But that wasn't the Kent DeLong that Bruce Morse says he knew. Morse, who says he was a drummer for rock sensations Iron Butterfly, Frank Zappa, and Little Richard in the '60s and '70s before turning full-time to inventing and marketing sports-training devices. ("I just continued to do studio work for a long time. I played jazz for a [while], just clubs around the country, and I played jazz in Del Mar for many, many years and tried to make something go of that. But it just wasn't a situation that I liked, so I backed off it, and this came to fruition, you might say.")
Morse says he combined his experience as a drummer and his familiarity with baseball to come up with his pride and joy: a device he calls Pro-PowerBT, the "Professional Batting Trainer used in Major League Baseball & Around the World." According to a description on Morses's website, the Pro-PowerBT "Elevates & Advances the Body's Natural Proficiency to accomplish the task by applying extremely escalated amounts of stimulation to the exact motion required."
"The level of Baseball Swing Muscle Memory generated using Pro-Power is incredible," says DeLong's endorsement of the Pro-PowerBT on Morse's website. "Add its nerve-path stimulator that multiplies that memory 20 or 30 times as it does, and you have a serious scientific training tool. This 'technology' has never been available in Baseball Training." On the website, DeLong is said to have been "LA Dodgers' Team Physician for seven years." Others who knew the doctor remember DeLong saying that he had been with one of the team's minor-league clubs. Other endorsers listed on Morse's website include "Merv Rettenmund; SD Padres Hitting Coach" and "Ron 'Pappa Jack' Jackson; Chicago White Sox Hitting Coach." Says Morse: "When I do something I go right to the top. This is a fantastic device."
Morse says that DeLong took an early interest in his invention and offered him tips and advice on how to market it. Morse remembers that he and DeLong would get together frequently to talk about their businesses. "We would sit around and banter about different ploys, or different techniques of advertising, or different approaches, you know, to making money," recalls Morse. "Just sort of brainstorming, feeling out different venues of advancing a product.