Bart Corbin: Double Deception

A dentist's wife is dead. It looks like suicide. But the case turns out to be far more sinister.

By Ann Rule from Too Late to Say Goodbye (Pocket Books) (Pocket Books)
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine June 2007

Bart Corbin and Jennifer CorbinPHOTO-ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANASTASIA VASILAKIS; (BART CORBIN) CHRIS THELEN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE; (GUN) RICHMOND COUNTY CRIME SCENE PHOTO; (JENNIFER CORBIN) COURTESY BARBER FAMILY

Jennifer Corbin was one of those people almost everybody liked, probably because she liked everybody. Tall, blonde and pretty, the 33-year-old mom thought of others before herself. She did everything she could to keep her small sons happy.

Married for nearly nine years, Jenn and Bart Corbin appeared to have everything: two healthy children, a lovely home in Buford, Georgia, a good marriage, admired professions (Bart was a dentist, while Jenn taught preschool part-time at a Methodist church). But tiny threadlike fissures had been creeping through the foundation of their marriage. By the fall of 2004, a divorce was in the works, and Bart was sleeping in a separate bedroom.

At 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 4, 2004, Steve and Kelly Comeau, who lived across the street, were startled to hear someone knocking at their front door. They were still in bed. When Steve answered, he looked down to see Dalton Corbin, age seven. His face was red, his cheeks streaked with tears.

“My mom isn’t breathing,” Dalton said, standing there in his pajamas. “My daddy shot my mommy. I need you to call 911.”

Skeptical, Steve Comeau nevertheless called 911, while Kelly followed Dalton to check on her friend and neighbor. She doubted that Dalton had actually seen what he described.

The Corbins’ overhead garage door was open, so Kelly hurried inside. She found the door to the kitchen unlocked, and headed down the hall toward the master bedroom, with the two boys trailing her.

In the bedroom, she could see Jenn lying diagonally across the bed. It was an odd position. Feeling a shiver of alarm, Kelly reached out to touch Jenn’s right shoulder. Could she be sleeping? Kelly pressed harder. There was no reassuring thrum of blood coursing there. The flesh was cold.

Jenn wasn’t breathing. Kelly saw a trickle of blood coming from her nose and a few bright red stains on the bedclothes. She glimpsed what looked like a pistol butt poking out from a coverlet. Feeling as if she were in the midst of a nightmare, Kelly backed away, careful not to touch anything.

“She was way gone,” Kelly later recalled to an investigator.

Jenn had been healthy and vibrant. There was no reason at all for her to have a handgun in her bed. As shocked as Kelly was by what she saw, her thoughts turned quickly to the two little boys. They were Jenn’s biggest concern, always. Now Dalton and Dillon had no mother. Kelly’s heart constricted.

She ran back to her house, taking the two boys with her, and soon heard the shriek of sirens. Only then did Kelly realize, as she tried to comfort the children, that she might have been in danger herself when she entered the Corbins’ house. She realized something else. There had been no sign of Bart.

One day well into her marriage, Jennifer Corbin had asked her sister and close confidante, Heather, “Do you ever wonder what your husband did or who he knew before you met him?”

Heather answered, “No. I know what Doug’s life was like.”

“I don’t,” said Jenn about her own husband’s life.

She had met Bart in 1995, when he was 31 and she 24, but she knew virtually nothing about his personal or romantic life before then. Whenever she asked him about his past, he wouldn’t meet her gaze.

It didn’t seem to matter at first. Handsome and dark-haired, Bart was tall — six foot three to her six-foot frame — which she liked. He was a practicing dentist and seemed a most eligible bachelor. They’d met at Barnacles oyster bar in Duluth, where she was working temporarily as a waitress and bartender while figuring out what to do with her college degree.

Like almost everyone else, Jenn was drawn to Bart’s wittiness. He could offer a quick and hilarious comment on almost anything. They began dating, and Jenn was in high spirits. When she introduced him to her parents, Max and Narda Barber, they were pleased, observing that he seemed to care a great deal for their daughter. Max found one thing off-putting: Bart’s conversation was full of profanity.

A few weeks after Jenn and Bart traveled to Italy for a romantic getaway, Jenn called her mother and asked if she was sitting down. As Narda remembered it, Jenn told her, “Bart and I have made a decision — and I’m pregnant.” She added, “We’re going to get married and have the baby.”

Narda expressed delight. “Jenn said she wanted a big wedding. And somehow we did it in six weeks — an outdoor wedding. Violins and all of that.” The couple were married on September 1, 1996.

What neither Jenn nor her family knew was that Bart had been seeing a married woman with two children — a woman he’d met through his dental business. He was also rumored to be seeing a woman 20 years older than he was. He continued seeing the younger woman all during his marriage. Another thing Jenn didn’t know: While studying dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, in Richmond County, Bart had stood out for having a very short fuse. Fellow students said that he was unpredictable, that anything could set him off. One even recalled Bart throwing his own class project against a wall, shattering it.

Students also remembered an imperious attitude. “Bart considered himself superior to others,” said one. “He was very egotistical.” His attitude was a turnoff for a number of women he met. But not for Dolly Hearn, who was a year behind him in dental school.

She had exquisite features, beautiful eyes and thick black hair, and was one of the secrets Bart kept from Jenn. Bart and Dolly had dated for about two years, but when she tried to end the relationship, Bart stalked her, not wanting to accept defeat. Though she contacted the police for help and reached out to others as well, Dolly’s life went downhill drastically.

On June 6, 1990, it ended abruptly. Dolly was found dead in her apartment of a gunshot wound to the right side of her head. It was an apparent suicide.

Bart was questioned in depth. He had a recent history of harassing her, including breaking into her apartment and vandalizing her car. Dolly’s father, Dr. Carlton Hearn, told investigators that Bart Corbin had caused his daughter a great deal of trouble in the last nine months of her life. “It would be wise to check him out,” said Carlton. He and his wife, Barbara, fully expected that Dolly’s cause of death would be changed to “malice murder” as the probe went on and that Corbin would be charged with the crime.

But that was not to be. In 1990 the Richmond County sheriff’s office had no blood-spatter experts. The gun used to shoot Dolly had been moved before any crime scene photos could be taken, making it almost impossible to reconstruct the scene. Though questions remained, Dolly’s case was officially closed, leaving suicide as the method of death listed by the sheriff’s office and “undetermined” by the medical examiner.

Dolly’s parents hired a private investigator to continue looking into her death. And the investigator found a number of people who had heard Bart Corbin talk about hurting Dolly after she broke up with him.

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