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EDMOND – For 15 years, Dr. Betty Ayres had practiced medicine next
door to Dr. O. Blair Cunnyngham.
Polite, gentle, caring – the ultimate medical professional –
that’s how Ayres viewed Cunnyngham.
Then the 45-year-old physician, husband and father, whom she met
when he was a pre-med student working as an Edmond emergency room
orderly in 1969, revealed a serious problem.
On Monday afternoon, Cunnyngham came to his colleague with a
request: Would she welcome his patients, excluding those focusing
on his weight-loss treatment specialty, while he took an extended
leave of absence?
“He told me he had surrendered his medical license and had some
problems and was going to go out to California to get taken care
of,” Ayres recalled Wednesday.
Her statement came a day after Oklahoma City police shot a
distressed Cunnyngham when he opened fire on two officers at the
downtown police headquarters.
“He did not go into great detail,” said Ayres, who has practiced
in Edmond for a quarter century. “He told me he had a problem with
sexual indiscretion with his female patients.
“He didn’t deny that he had a problem, we’ll put it that way. It
was an absolute shock to me. ”
Ayres agreed to accept Cunnyngham’s patients and did not press
him for details.
Earlier Monday, he voluntarily surrendered his license to the
Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision. He
admitted in a signed statement that he fondled and massaged two
female patients during physical examinations and exposed himself to
one of them.
Ayres, and others who knew a different Cunnyngham than the one
portrayed in police reports, were saddened by the tragic events.
“He was not a monster. He was not mean,” said Jennifer
Helterbrand of Edmond, a mother of two who credited Cunnyngham’s
encouragement for helping her to lose 18 pounds in recent months.
“This just totally blows me away,” she said Wednesday. “He was
gentle, he was kind and he was never anything less than a
Dennie Hall, a University of Central Oklahoma journalism
professor, knew Cunnyngham not just as his longtime family
physician but as a friend and occasional lunch companion.
“Beyond everything, I thought he was a fine doctor and a very
decent human being,” said Hall, whose last appointment came just
Cunnyngham had told Hall one time that he carried a handgun in
his glove compartment “and wouldn’t hesitate to use it if anyone
bothered him. ”
In his free time, the doctor, who minored in English in college,
had pursued a writing hobby. He had written two science-fiction
novels, “Edmond in the Twilight” and “Southeast: Forgotten
Memories,” that had gained him local recognition.
Christopher Watson, president of PPC Books of Westport, Conn.,
which Cunnyngham paid to publish his works, said the first book
sold a couple thousand copies at $ 12.95 each.
The third installment in the trilogy was scheduled for
completion later this year, Watson said.
“The first two books followed the basic theme of the Second
Coming and his version of it,” said Watson, who learned of
Cunnyngham’s death from a New York newscast. “The last book
(“Southeast: Forgotten Memories”) had the subtheme of teen-age
“He had a definite idea about the Second Coming and the whole
cast of angels that appeared in both books. ”
Watson described the futuristic works as religious in nature,
focusing on good versus evil.
In a January interview with The Oklahoman, Cunnyngham said he
hoped his second book could “be a positive factor in the lives of
many readers and their families in this age of increasing suicide
frequency. ” Cunnyngham put it this way: “Setting youthful innocence against
the calculating plans of an ancient presence, the thoughts and
feelings that young people experience as they are drawn near to
suicide are explored. ”
Talking through one of the angel figures in the book, Cunnyngham
said that a person who directly takes his own life goes into a
state of existence that is between heaven and hell.
“The person is alone, completely alone,” the author maintained.
“In almost all cases, he neither sees nor hears anything. He has
his awareness of himself, yet he is in a solitary plane of stasis.
The seconds pass, just as they do for you.
“Yet for the suicide victim, those seconds become minutes. The
minutes become hours. The hours become days. Week after week,
century after century, the seconds of awareness tick away slowly. ”
He conceded, though, that a day of judgment finally would come
and the righteous would be taken from “the dark, unhappy way
station between worlds” and ushered into paradise.
Cunnyngham said he became interested in angels when he wanted to
answer some personal religious questions.
On Wednesday, patient Helterbrand said she knew from talking to
Cunnyngham that he “had a really strong faith in God. ”
“He thoroughly believed in heaven and hell,” Helterbrand said of
Cunnyngham, who was a member of the First Christian Church in
Helterbrand said a main character in Cunnyngham’s second book
commits suicide and goes to hell for it.
“It’s really obvious he wasn’t going to commit suicide because
he knew where he’d go for it,” she said.
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Early Tuesday, Dr. O. Blair Cunnyngham told his attorney he
thought he had taken care of every last-minute detail.
Within 48 hours, he would begin treatment for his admitted
sexual misconduct with two female patients. There would be no
publicity, no shame for his family or friends.
When those plans faltered, however, the 45-year-old physician
decided to die in an armed standoff with Oklahoma City police, his
attorney charged Wednesday.
“I don’t think Dr. Cunnyngham could have taken his own life,”
attorney Mack Martin said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of person
“I think that his actions were designed so that he would be
killed. He wasn’t a threat to the police department. I’m not saying
his actions didn’t pose a threat to them. But I think his actions
were designed to be shot and killed, and I think he knew that. ”
The alleged misconduct was certainly on Cunnyngham’s mind during
his final moments.
Cunnyngham walked into the lobby of the Oklahoma City police
headquarters about 7 p.m. Tuesday, armed with a .38-caliber
revolver in his jacket.
“He came in and the civilian employee asked if she could help
him,” police Capt. Bill Citty said Wednesday.
“He didn’t answer. He focused on the uniformed sergeant also
stationed at the information desk. He twice told the officer he had
been falsely accused of sexual misconduct. ”
Cunnyngham pulled his gun on Sgt. Delmar Lanning and stepped
closer to the station’s elevators, Citty said.
Lanning drew his weapon and pleaded with the doctor to drop his
gun and to discuss what was wrong. Cunnyngham then fired two shots
Lt. Ray March, still behind the information desk, pushed the
unarmed civilian employee to safety in an adjoining office. March
and Lanning then returned fire, hitting the doctor four times, once
in the head, Citty said.
Three hours later, Cunnyngham’s wife, Maxine, and 18-year-old
son, Chris, arrived at Will Rogers World Airport unaware of what
“His wife and son were coming back from a vacation, and he was
supposed to pick them up,” attorney Mack Martin said. “And I had to
go to the airport and tell them what was going on. They got to the
airport fully expecting him to be there to pick him up. ”
Maxine Cunnyngham had to be hospitalized late Tuesday after
hearing the news, sources said.
On Monday, Cunnyngham voluntarily surrendered his medical
license to the Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure and
Supervision. Documents obtained Wednesday show he signed a
statement admitting to allegations he fondled and massaged two
female patients during physical examinations and exposed himself to
“He was very concerned about the effects of publicity to
himself, more importantly to his family, his son and his patients,
and what affect it might have on those three entities. Until
yesterday, there was no indication that there was ever going to be
any media involved,” Mack Martin said.
The Oklahoman began calling Mack Martin for comments about the
alleged misconduct early Tuesday, and also contacted him about 2
p.m. and about 5 p.m. A television news crew from KWTV appeared at
the doctor’s office about noon and interviewed Cunnyngham for about
two minutes through an open doorway.
Mack Martin charged Wednesday the impending media coverage was
the trigger that led to Cunnyngham’s violent demise.
“Whatever was done was done strictly for the purpose of
sensationalism in an attempt to destroy a person’s life, which they
did a real good job at,” Martin said.
KWTV President and General Manager David Griffin said his
reporter acted in a “fully compassionate manner” and ended the
interview by shaking the doctor’s hand and wishing him well.
Griffin said he stands by the report, which aired at 10 p.m.
Tuesday, three hours after Cunnyngham’s death but just before
police publicly identified him.
Ed Kelley, managing editor of The Oklahoman said, “We were
trying to get Dr. Cunnyngham’s response to the allegations made by
the state licensure board. We were preparing a news article based
exclusively on public documents and on-the-record comments from
officials concerning Dr. Cunnyngham’s situation. It would have been
irresponsible if we had not tried to get the doctor’s side of the
Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy repeated Wednesday
his earlier statement that the media coverage was warranted because
prosecutors needed to learn if other patients had been victimized
At least 10 women contacted Edmond police by mid-morning
Wednesday reporting similar sexual misconduct problems with
Cunnyngham. Several other calls were received by the district
attorney’s office and Oklahoma City police.
The female patient who reported Cunnyngham exposed himself to
her after fondling and massaging her in a sexually explicit manner
during a physical examination declined comment Wednesday.
“I was a victim, and this is just too much for me,” the Midwest
City woman told The Oklahoman. “I’m going through a lot of
emotional problems because of him,” she added.
Edmond city officials on Wednesday refused immediate release of
incident reports and other evidence gathered by police. The
Oklahoman formally requested the information, including a
videotape allegedly showing Cunnyngham exposing himself to a
patient while undressing her.
The videotape reportedly was made by a hidden camera after a
victim went to police with sexual misconduct complaints against the
A friend of the victim said, “She does have a tape; it’s bad,
and it clearly shows what he did. ”
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A troubled Edmond physician was gunned down Tuesday night when he
walked into the lobby of the Oklahoma City police headquarters and
opened fire on two officers.
Dr. O. Blair Cunnyngham, 45, was facing allegations that he had
fondled and massaged two female patients during physical
He had voluntarily relinquished his medical license Monday and
was facing investigations by Edmond police and the Oklahoma State
Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision.
Cunnyngham walked into the police station, 701 Colcord, about 7
p.m. and fired a gun at two veteran officers at the information
desk, police Capt. Bill Citty said.
The two officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant, were not hit and
they returned fire. At least four shots were fired at Cunnyngham.
He died at the scene.
Cunnyngham spoke with the officers before opening fire, but
Citty said late Tuesday he could not release details of the
Cunnyngham’s attorney, Mack Martin, said he last spoke to
Cunnyngham at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss anticipated media coverage
of the misconduct allegations.
“He was very upset about the way it was being handled in the
media, and I think it played a major role in what happened,” Martin
Cunnyngham gained recognition in Edmond for two science fiction
novels, “Edmond in the Twilight” and “Southeast: Forgotten Memories. ”
The latter book put forth an anti-suicide message for teen-agers and
Details of Cunnyngham’s alleged misconduct began to surface last
week after two women made reports to Edmond police. The doctor
faced an emergency hearing next Monday by the medical licensure
Before he was shot Tuesday, he had said he was to begin
counseling today in California.
Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy had turned the
patients’ allegations over to the medical licensure board, he said
“I had talked to his defense attorney a day or two ago,” Macy
“I had learned he did come in and surrender his (medical)
license. My understanding was he was going to go get counseling of
some kind, and that was the last I heard of it. ”
Written allegations by the medical licensure board accused
Cunnyngham of “engaging in non-consensual physical conduct with a
patient which is sexual in nature. ”
The board alleged the doctor fondled and massaged two patients
in a sexually explicit manner during physical examinations and
exposed himself to one of them.
One focus of Cunnyngham’s general practice has been weight-loss
He had been in private practice since July 1978 and had no
prior disciplinary record with the medical licensure board, a
Citty said Cunnyngham’s wife, Maxine, an attorney, was out of
the state when the man was shot. He is also survived by an
The two police officers were placed on routine administrative
leave with pay.
The lobby of the Oklahoma City police headquarters is undergoing
renovations and a bulletproof window is on order for the
information desk where Cunnyngham shot at the officers, Citty said.