World

Inexplicable slaughter

A troubled man goes on a killing spree

Tom Fennell August 9 1999
World

Inexplicable slaughter

A troubled man goes on a killing spree

Tom Fennell August 9 1999

Inexplicable slaughter

A troubled man goes on a killing spree

World

Tom Fennell

While the booming North American stock market has made many people rich, it has also bankrupted countless others who gambled big and lost. When Mark O. Barton, 44, walked into All-Tech Investment Group, an Atlanta brokerage, just after 3 p.m. last Thursday, there was nothing to suggest he had been brooding over his painful losses in the high-risk world of day trading. Nell Jones, one of All-Techs traders, was the first to notice Barton. “He was someone who was very calm and determined,” she said, “no feelings.” Dressed in khaki shorts, the dark-haired, six-foot, four-inch client seemed free from worry as he chatted amiably with the receptionist and sat down for a talk with the branch manager. Then, without even a hint of anger, he stood up, pulled out two handguns and starting blasting away, killing five people. What the people at All-Tech did not know is that Barton had just walked across a busy six-lane road from Momentum Securities, another day-trading firm where he lost almost $ 160,000 in the past two months. “Ifs a bad trading day, and it’s about to get worse,” he had deadpanned there before he fired with both guns, killing four.

As police launched a search for Barton, an officer coinciden tly came across a grizzly scene at his home in an Atlanta suburb. Barton’s two children lay dead in their beds; his wife’s body was stuffed in a closet. All three had been beaten with a hammer, then held under water in the bathtub. With the murder toll at 12, and another 13 injured, the manhunt ended abruptly just before 8 p.m. when Barton, cornered by police at a service station on the outskirts of Atlanta, killed himself with a shot to the head. “This brings a very tragic day to an end,” said Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. “I don’t know if any of us can understand why something like this occurs.”

Once again, Americans found themselves groping for a thread of reason in a senseless slaughter. The techniques and profile of the killer were similar to past mass shootings, when seemingly mild-mannered Americans suddenly turned on family members, workplace associates or fellow students. But if there is one dramatic difference to be found in this case, it is that Barton may have killed in cold blood before.

Born in Sumter, S.C., in 1955, Barton settled with his first wife, Debra, in Georgia in the early 1990s. He worked as a chemical company salesman while she raised their two children. They appeared to be living a normal life, until Labour

Day weekend, 1993, when Debra, 36, and her mother, Eloise Spivey, 59, were hacked to death at a campground near a lake in Alabama. Barton was a prime suspect but was never charged, and an insurance company ultimately gave him almost $300,000 under a policy he had taken out just before his wife’s death. “The man has destroyed nearly my whole family,” Bartons father-in-law, Bill Spivey, said last week. “The man, who it appears killed my wife and daughter, also killed my two grandchildren.”

By last year, Barton had left his job and was involved in the fast-growing, high-pressure world of day trading. Linked directly to major North American exchanges by computer, he would join fellow traders across North America in executing dozens of transactions each day, trying to turn a quick profit from price movements in either direction. It is an extremely risky business—some firms employ psychiatrists

Workers flee from an Atlanta officer building; Barton with his family (below): ‘Wake up at night so afraid, so terrified’

Aerial view of buildings, bottom left and top right, where shootings took place; police remove bodies from Bartons home (below): his suicide note said he would live just long enough to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction

to counsel rattled investors. Police and sources in the two companies say he lost heavily in aggressive day trading. “Mark would trade several thousand shares at a time,” said a trader at All-Tech. In April, that firm barred Barton from further trading until he could restore his account to a required minimum value. On Wednesday, Barton was told erroneously that a $75,000 cheque he wrote to reopen his account across the street at Momentum had bounced. At week’s end, it was learned that the cheque did in fact clear.

In an angry, cryptic note written before he set off on his shooting spree, Barton said he did not plan to live much longer, “just long enough to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction.” He insisted he had nothing to do with the murder of his first wife and her mother. But he explained how he killed his second wife, Leigh Ann, 27, on Tuesday, then his son, Matthew, 11, and daughter, Mychelle, 8, a day later. Using a hammer, said the note, “just seemed like a quiet way to kill and a relatively painless way to die.” Trying to explain his action, he wrote that he had been “dying” since October. “Wake up at night so afraid, so terrified,” the note continued. “I have come to hate this life in this system of

things. I have come to have no hope.”

Fellow traders and employees at the two firms where he had accounts paid the price. The shootings revived the debate over whether more effective gun control could prevent such incidents. Aside from the two handguns Barton used in the shootings, police found two more in his van and another in his home. Only one of the five was known to be registered in his name. In Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have not been able to agree on a number of proposals, including a legislated waiting period to allow authorities to conduct a background check on people buying guns. Last week, however, even before the slaughter in Atlanta, the Senate agreed to hold talks with the House in a bid to break the impasse.

Gun-control provisions in Canada are also headed for a showdown. Last week, New Brunswick received leave to join a legal challenge to federal legislation forcing Canadians to register their guns. It joins four provinces and the three territories in asking the Supreme Court of Canada to declare the law an unconstitutional infringement on their jurisdiction.

Day traders, meanwhile, cautioned against scapegoating their business. Joseph Ianni, vice-president of Torontobased Swift Trade Securities, Canada’s only day-trading firm, said the pressures in his line of work are great, but no worse than in many others. He saw no need for more security in the investment industry. “This isn’t a day-trading issue,” said Ianni. “This is a gentleman who, if he had been in some other industry, would have done something in that industry.” Perhaps so, but 13 deaths in Atlanta will forever be associated with the fast-paced world of online trading. EH