As a general rule, dentists have boring lives.
Fill a cavity here, quick root canal there — all done in a beige office that’s walls are decorated with photos from a yearly beach trip to Florida and punctuated by the incoherent chatter of a man with tooth-whitening foam dripping down his chin.
The perceived monotony of a life spent staring at teeth takes on an entirely different shade however, when said teeth are attached to an unrecognizably disfigured human body.
Thomas Rumreich spent 16 years as the forensic dentist for the St. Paul medical examiner, in addition to running his own clinic in Forest Lake, Minn.
“My job there was to determine the identity of individuals who, let’s just say, could not be visually identified,” Rumreich said. “It was intense, it was also extremely interesting.”
Rumreich was also certified in forensic photography and photographed many abuse cases in the area over the course of his career. Following his retirement, Rumreich thought he’d try his hand at writing, and using his experience in the crime world, recently published his first novel.
‘Unholy Communion’ follows the lives of a sexual abuse survivor who hunts down and murders Catholic priests known to have abused children, and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department investigator who’s tasked with following the case. The investigator’s name is Chris Majek, and Rumreich said as the story progresses Majek’s personal struggle with the case becomes almost too much to bear.
“As the murders occur, the investigation begins to reveal things (Majek) really doesn’t want to recognize,” Rumreich said. “He doesn’t want to deal with what he has discovered.”
Rumreich’s experience with this kind of tragedy doesn’t stop at his career in forensics. He was abused as a college freshman at the Catholic St. John’s University in St. Joseph, Minn. He said this story is ripped right off the front pages of newspapers across the country that continue to discover sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church that go seemingly unpunished.
“If you’re Catholic I’m sorry if I’m offending you,” he said. “But it is reality.”
It’s clear Rumreich still harbors resentment toward the Catholic Church, justifiably so. But while the novel may pull on some of his personal experience, Rumreich makes it very clear that this is not at all his story.
“This book is not about me,” he said. “But I do write from a pretty good understanding of what this abuse does to a person, especially a young person.”
The interpersonal conflict of the reader makes this novel worth reading. The killer can take on a vigilante-esque persona and be seen as the good guy, hunting down only those who do evil. But at the end of the day he’s still committing murder.
“I have thought about if this was really happening, would it be justified,” Rumreich said. “The wound is deep. I am fortunate to have survived with minimal collateral damage, but there are those that don’t.”
Rumreich spent five years writing ‘Unholy Communion.’ He began by attending a writing class and speaking with an editor about the idea for his book.
“She thought it was a fantastic idea, then went on to tell me that 99 percent of people who sign on to start a book never finish,” he said. “So I took that as a dare and got busy.”
As most novels do, ‘Unholy Communion’ went through countless drafts and changes throughout the creative process.
“By the time I got done I’d written five different novels,” he said. “Where I would get half way through it and then change directions and have to go back to the beginning and start over.”
The book was finally published by Beaver’s Pond Press in St. Paul and has been available on Amazon since April 5. Rumreich said he has no grand illusions about profiting from the book, and is donating all proceeds to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, an organization based in St. Cloud, Minn.
It took a lot of long days and sleepless nights to finish the novel. ‘Unholy Communion’ is not a story for the lighthearted and Rumreich sometimes felt vulnerable writing it, but said he’s proud of his accomplishment.
“There were times when I thought in doing this, I was going to upset some of my friends,” he said. “But this is life. Like I said, it’s ripped right off of the pages of the local newspaper.”