Jun 05, 2009
After David B. Kellermann, the chief financial officer of beleaguered
mortgage giant Freddie Mac, tied a noose and hanged himself in the
basement of his Vienna, Virginia, home, the New York Times made it a front-page story. The stresses of the job in economic tough times, its reporters implied, had driven him to this extreme act.
"Binghamton Shooter" Jiverly Wong also garnered front-page headlines nationwide and set off a cable news frenzy when, "bitter over job loss," he massacred 13 people at an immigration center in upstate New York. Similarly, coverage
was brisk after Pittsburgh resident Richard Poplawski, "upset about
recently losing a job," shot four local police officers, killing three
But where was the front-page treatment when, in January, Betty Lipply,
a 72-year-old resident of East Palestine, Ohio, "who feared she'd lose
her home to foreclosure hanged herself to death" shortly after
"receiving her second summons and foreclosure complaint from her
mortgage lender"? And where was the up-to-the-minute cable news
reporting on the two California dairy farmers who "killed themselves... out of despair over finances, according to associates"?
Mass Murder, Mass Media, and Missing Stories
Last summer, in the pages of the Nation magazine, Barbara Ehrenreich called attention to people turning to "the suicide solution" in response to the burgeoning financial crisis. Months later, major news outlets
started to examine the same phenomenon. Last fall, a TomDispatch report
on suicides and a range of other extreme acts -- including
self-inflicted injury, murder, arson, and armed self-defense -- in
response to foreclosures, evictions, bankruptcies, and layoffs, was
followed, months later, by mainstream media attention to the notion of "econo-cide" -- prompted, in large part, by a spate of familicides (murder/suicides in which both parents and their children die).
While it's impossible to know the myriad factors, including deeply
personal ones, that contribute to people resorting to drastic measures,
violent or otherwise, many press reports suggest that the global
economic crisis has played no small part in a range of extreme acts.
An analysis by TomDispatch of national, regional, and local news
reports in 2008 and early 2009 indicates that a silent, nationwide
epidemic of drastic measures may be underway. News of such acts linked
to economic woes -- from armed robberies to pay the rent to
financially-motivated suicides -- has filtered out of cities and towns
in no less than 30 states, many of which have seen multiple incidents.
And since only a fraction of such acts ever receives media coverage,
what is being reported, even if mostly in local newspapers, qualifies
For every Jiverly Wong, who garners days of cable-news coverage,
there are untold despondent and desperate dairy farmers and retirees
battered by the economy and at wits' end who respond by subjecting
themselves, others, or property to violence and are hardly noticed.
What follows is a sampling of such incidents, most reported locally,
and organized by month -- no month lacked such reports -- since the
beginning of this year.
David Kelley lost his job in September 2008. As values plummeted on his Clairemont, California,
home as well as the rental properties he owned, he reportedly became
"overwhelmed by debt and depression." On January 5th, he shot himself.
"He saw his good life and successful career slipping away," said his
stepmother. "He couldn't see beyond the struggles he was having."
According to a police report, Manchester, Missouri,
resident Frank Kavano, 66, who killed his wife and then himself, left a
suicide note that mentioned "financial issues and difficulty in the
After losing a bet on a college football bowl game -- on top of
losing his home to foreclosure -- Dante Vinci, age 48, reportedly
stabbed a man to death outside a Reno, Nevada, sports bar.
According to a news report, Gregory and Randolph Graham, third-generation car dealers from Ligonier, Pennsylvania,
"watched helplessly over the past year as their business collapsed
under the weight of the recession." One night, Gregory, 61, set fire to
some of the cars at his dealership and "died of a heart attack next to
the burning wreckage." Days later, Randolph, 51, "was found dead,
slumped over the wheel of his car in what may have been a suicide."
When Otero County, New Mexico,
sheriff's deputies tried to serve foreclosure papers on Miguel and Inga
Gutierrez, the couple armed themselves and opened fire. After a 16-hour
standoff, Miguel was found dead and Inga was taken into custody.
"Unemployed, awash in debt and hiding an October foreclosure from loved
ones," 55-year-old Wayne "Mike" Anderson of Stratmoor Valley, Colorado, shot himself to death as a sheriff's deputy, ready to evict him, stood at his doorstep.
In Glyndon, Maryland,
advertising executive Howard "Jack" Marks Jr., 63, killed himself
after, his wife told the police, financial woes left him in danger of
losing his business.
According to news reports, 53-year-old Jeffrey P. McKnight of Pataskala, Ohio,
was "struggling financially and overwhelmed with caring for his elderly
father" when he set his house ablaze and then killed his dad and
Reportedly "upset over being unemployed and his financial status," George Vincent, 49, of Fort Meyers, Florida,
drank copious amounts of beer, after which his wife called the police,
telling them her husband was drunk, armed, and suicidal. When Vincent
pulled a gun on responding officers, they opened fire, killing him, in
what the state attorney's office deemed to be a case of suicide-by-cop.
Lonnie Glasco walked into the San Diego, California,
bus-maintenance depot where he worked as a mechanic and shot two fellow
employees, one fatally, before police gunned him down. A friend said
Glasco, 47, was "despondent over losing his wife and his home."
Michael McLendon, age 28 and "despondent over his inability to hold a job," fatally shot nine people in Samson, Alabama, and killed a 10th in a neighboring county.
After 46-year-old Springfield Township, Ohio,
resident Michael Swiergosz's home went into "foreclosure and had been
set for sheriff's sale," he barricaded himself inside "during a
standoff with authorities that lasted three hours," before being
In Warrenton, Virginia,
police said that "domestic issues," likely compounded by "job-related
stress," lay behind 39-year-old Bruce Curtin's decision to kill his
wife and then himself.
Distraught in the face of eviction for failing to pay rent, Ginette Denize, 48, of Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York,
turned on the gas burners of her stove, started banging on her
landlord's door, and returned to her apartment. Police soon arrived
and, when one of them reportedly tripped and fell in her kitchen, she
allegedly "hovered with a knife over" him. The two other officers then
opened fire, killing her. It was conjectured that the shooting might
have been a case of suicide-by-cop.
Angered that someone else was living in the home he had lost to foreclosure, Derek C. Hightower, 24, of Bristol, Wisconsin, reportedly set a fire that "destroyed the garage, the house and three vehicles."
Michael Knudson's former girlfriend wondered whether he "somehow
thought he was saving his mom and brother from the pain and loss of the
foreclosure [of the family home] in some misguided way." Eviction was
scheduled for April 7th. Days before, say authorities, the 39-year-old
killed his mother and brother, buried them in "a shallow grave" nearby,
and burned down their Hudson, Ohio, home.
Police reported that Mark I. Levy, a 59-year-old Bethesda, Maryland,
resident, who had been a deputy assistant attorney general in the
Clinton administration and "was about to lose his job because of the
economy," died of "an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound."
Under investigation by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies
for possibly "scamm[ing] clients out of millions in a side investment
business he ran," Garden City, New York, resident William Parente, 59, "beat and asphyxiated his wife and daughters in a Maryland hotel room" before killing himself.
With talk of layoffs in the air and reportedly fearful of losing his job at California's
Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Mario Ramirez entered his workplace
and shot two immediate supervisors before killing himself.
Reportedly $450,000 in debt, 34-year-old Middletown, Maryland, resident Christopher Wood shot and killed his wife and children before taking his own life.
At a home north of Frederick, Maryland,
a man threatened to kill workers from a company that clears out
recently foreclosed homes, prompting SWAT team members to be called in.
Not far away, outside Baltimore, a man attempted to commit suicide
while being evicted from his home.
In Dauphin County, Pennsylvania,
a 27-year-old man, upset about losing his job, killed himself. A week
later, another area man, who had threatened to kill himself "after
recently losing his job," surrendered to authorities after a five-hour
In North Carolina,
the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reported 10 "suicide
threats or attempts" over the weekend of April 18th and 19th. Bill
Cook, the director of the Mecklenburg County Mobile Crisis Team, told
the press that economic woes had contributed to the spike.
Faced with eviction, 33-year-old Motalekgose Mothuse Valela allegedly warned the property manager of his Dallas, Texas,
apartment: "No one comes to my place without me being there, and I
don't care who it is: the constable, the police or the sheriff... I will
blow them all up and blow this place up," according to court documents.
He reportedly also affixed a note to his door reading, "Bomb set on
door, don't touch," resulting in a standoff with the Dallas police bomb
squad and SWAT team which lasted several hours, before he eventually
According to Indianapolis, Indiana,
Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Sgt. Paul Thompson,
27-year-old Candance Macy lured her landlord to her residence "with the
intent to kill him" in order to avoid eviction. Reportedly, Macy
claimed that "she had lost a ring behind a stove in the kitchen and...
she had asked him to retrieve it. When he stooped down to look for the
ring, Macy allegedly stabbed him in the back at least four times and
several more times on other parts of his body." He was reported to be
in serious condition.
In Rhode Island,
during an eviction proceeding, a Pawtucket Housing Authority employee
found a "man lying in a bed with a knife sticking out of his neck, and
quickly phoned police, reporting either a stabbing victim or possible
deceased person." When police arrived and approached the man, he
"suddenly sat up, with the knife hanging from his throat." The knife
fell from his neck and the man began threatening the officers with it.
"You will have to shoot me. I have nothing to live for," he told them.
Eventually, they persuaded him to drop the knife.
After Allen Park, Michigan's
Mark David Fussner, 44, refused to obey an eviction order and
threatened to shoot court officers, the police were called in. As one
of the officers approached, Fussner reportedly fired birdshot from a
shotgun, wounding him. Other police on the scene returned fire and for
the next two hours, the sound of gun shots reverberated through the
neighborhood. Fussner was later found dead in his basement. It was
unclear whether he died of a self-inflicted wound or was killed by the
A Silent (and Violent) Epidemic
news reports indicate that extreme acts precipitated by economic
disaster have occurred in at least 30 states, similar incidents have
undoubtedly occurred in most, if not all, of the remaining 20 states.
Suicides are normally under-reported in the press, while murders linked
to the economic crisis may never be reported as such. Many extreme
acts, in any case, go unnoticed by those not intimately affected.
There is, of course, no way to know which of these and similar acts
might have occurred even if there had been no global economic meltdown.
One thing is certain however: there will never be a full accounting of
the lives ruined or lost under the pressure of economic disaster, nor
will anyone ever raise a monument to the victims of foreclosure, job
loss, and business failure, of busted pensions and dynamited 401(k)s.
There will be no memorial wall in Washington with names etched into
black granite -- not for these people, neither the desperate who killed
themselves, nor those who lashed out and murdered others. Who will
remember the Knudsons in their shallow grave, or Christopher Wood's
dead children? No statue will be raised on Wall Street to solemnly
remind the former masters of the universe of the Main Street
consequences of their financial manipulations. No equivalent of the
Arlington National Cemetery will ever be laid out for the dead of this
crisis or filled with headstones reading: "Beloved Mother, Killed by
Capitalism" or "Devoted Husband and Father, Sacrificed in the Name of
Instead, the bodies will just continue to pile up. A daughter here. A father there. A family in a nearby neighborhood.
No one will ever know how many. And no one will record their names for posterity.
Note for Readers: This is Nick Turse's third report on the rising body count in America as part of his Tough Times series, analyzing the human fallout of the global economic crisis, at TomDispatch. The first two were: The Rising Body Count on Main Street (Oct 19, 2008) and Meltdown Madness (January 28, 2009).
© 2023 TomDispatch.com
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