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(25) CHAPTER 1 Wieland, Familicide, and the Suffering Father There was little pain. All of them were dead in less than five minutes. I hit them with a hammer in their sleep and then put them face down in the bathtub to make sure they did not wake up in pain.To make sure they were dead. I am so sorry. I wish I didn’t.Words cannot tell the agony. Why did I? —Mark Barton’s letter of confession, August 1999 W hen Mark Barton killed his wife, his eight-year-old daughter, and his twelve-year-old son with a hammer in July 1999 and then proceeded to shoot nine people at two different brokerage houses before shooting himself, his murderous “rampage” was attributed by the press to his newfound habit of day trading. Although littlewas known about this man, who one fellow traderclaimed was “one of the nicest guys you ever met,” Barton ’s reasons for murdering his children on that Wednesday night, and his wife the night before, appeared self-evident to journalists. As a Newsweek article summed up the case, “His debts going up, his marriage going bad, an Atlanta day trader bludgeons his family to death and goes on a shooting spree—a tragedy with a twist of cybergreed .”1 Rather than “husband,” “father,” or even “man,” Barton is characterized simply as “day trader,” rendering his “shooting spree” the predictable outcome of an acquisitive, impulsive, and undisciplined nature.2 Such a reading has the advantage of giving what at first appears to be an inexplicable act the reassuring moral of a cautionary tale. But this moral addresses only part of the story. In a letter of confession left at the family scene, Barton represents his violence as a (26) The Suffering Father legitimate expression not onlyof hatred but of devotion. As Barton has it, he murdered his children in an entirely different spirit, and with a different motive, than he murdered his fellow traders at the brokerage firms. The latter were those who deserved to die because they “greedily sought [his] destruction.” His children, by contrast, were killed to spare them from future woe: “I killed the children to exchange for them five minutes of pain fora lifetime of pain,” writes Barton. “I forced myself to do it to keep them from suffering later.”3 One murder represents an act of vengeance, but the other represents an act of intimacy and of paternal care. As counterintuitive as it seems, in Barton’s case love becomes a motive for murder. Familicide—the killing of one’s spouse and children—has been increasingly documented by psychologists for the past thirty years, and as these professionals attest, it is a peculiarly male crime.4 According to Charles Patrick Ewing, the typical familicide perpetrator is a white male in his thirties or forties, controlling yet dependent on family. He views himself as the center of the family and believes that only he can satisfy the members’ needs. When some crisis occurs, such as a severe financial reversal, the man may convince himself, as Ewing puts it, “that familicide followed by suicide is not just the only way out but the honorable and right thing to do.”5 Ewing’s profile accords with Barton’s written narrative. By killing his children, Barton sees himself fulfilling his responsibility to save them—from disgrace (of his financial collapse), from loss (of the head of the family, when he commits suicide), and from inevitable heartache: “No mother, no father, no relatives. . . .The fears of the father are transferred to the son. It was from my father to me and from me to my son. He already had it. And now to be left alone. I had to take him with me.” These words point not only to Barton’s confused state of mind but to his sense of the double-edged nature of family bonds: that is, family attachments can destroy you equally by their absence (“No mother, no father, no relatives . . . now to be left alone”) and by their presence (“The fears of the fatherare transferred to the son [and] it was from my father to me and from me to my son”). Such a double bind was, according to Barton, the curse his own The Suffering Father (27) son would inevitably inherit. His wife and daughter, by contrast, would suffer from their dependence on a man who could never truly protect them. Some years before, after his first wife’s...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469603346
Print ISBN
9780807834565
MARC Record
OCLC
703227281
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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