Economy's Toll? Death in Gated Community

family murder-suicideABC News Photo Illustration

As Americans struggle to pull themselves out of the recession, community stories of family violence -- even death -- tied to financial troubles continue to surface, even if the real motive behind some murders and suicides may never be known.

Such is the case in an exclusive Orlando, Fla., community, where the bodies of four people were found Monday inside a home after what police say appears to be a murder-suicide that took the lives of an entire family.

Police say a cleaning woman who arrived for work Monday called the police after spotting the body of John Dillon Wood, 41, shot in the head. Detectives believe Wood shot his wife, Cynthia Wood, 40, and their two children Aubrey, 12 and Dillon, 10, before turning the gun on himself. The bodies were found in rooms all over the home, police say.

"It's a huge tragedy, there's no other way to describe it, and you try to provide some rationale behind it but you can't," Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger told ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando.

Detectives have yet to determine a motive, but The Orlando Sentinel reports the family from Heathrow, Fla., just outside Orlando, had a recent history of financial woes. John and Cynthia Wood declared bankruptcy in 2004, and tried to pay back more than $100,000 in credit card bills while keeping up with two mortgages totaling $228,000 and payments on a 2002 Toyota Highlander. The paper also reports Cynthia recently lost her job.

"The stress of the situation like that just grinds away at people. It's just an unrelenting psychological stress for people for all classes," said Sam Cochran, author of "Men and Depression: Clinical and Empirical Perspective," and a clinical professor of counseling psychology at the University of Iowa.

Cochran, who specializes in men's depression, said while such cases are extraordinarily rare for both sexes, men commit around 95 percent of murder-suicides.

"I think some of us attribute this to an intersection of male roles that can be internalized as unhealthy in some men -- and then our culture's fascination with violence," he said. "There's an element of male socialization that says you solve problems by taking action and, if necessary, force and action."

As the flagging economy continues to take a toll on Americans' well-being, more murders and suicides are linked to financial woes.

Earlier this fall and winter, three other men who had recently lost their jobs were arrested for killing multiple family members.

Rare Case of Murder-Suicide

In October, Karthik Rajaram of Los Angeles shot his wife, three sons and mother-in-law before turning the gun on himself, police said.

This photo, released Oct. 7, 2008, by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, shows Karthik Rajaram. The unemployed financial manager, despondent over extreme money problems, police say, was found dead Monday with a gun in his hand, law enforcement officials said.

Rajaram, 45, once held prominent positions with the accounting firm used by Sony, but he had been unemployed for several months and was facing serious financial trouble, police said.

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo killed nine people during a 2008 Christmas Eve party at the home of his former in-laws in Covina, Calif.

Police said Pardo targeted his ex-wife's family after a bitter divorce, but that his marriage wasn't the only thing that had fallen apart in his life.

Pardo had been laid off from his job as an aerospace engineer in July. He wrote in court documents, The Associated Press reported, that he had been denied unemployment, received no severance package from his employer, was falling behind on his monthly expenses and was "desperately seeking" work.

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo killed nine people during a Christmas Eve party at the home of his former in-laws in Covina, Calif., police say.

The following month, Ervin Lupoe, a 40-year-old father from Wilmington, Calif., shot his five children and his wife before turning the gun on himself according to authorities.

Once a medical technician at a hospital, Lupoe had reportedly been fired, owed thousands of dollars and was a month behind on his mortgage payments.

Detective David Cortez of the Los Angeles Police Department told The Associated Press that Lupoe, not the economy, was to blame for the tragedy.

"Being there and walking through the crime scene, it's a lot easier to see him as the suspect that did this to other people than the economy did this to him," Cortez said. "It's how he chose to respond to the circumstances; he had options."

But experts say that part of what sometimes motivates men to kill their families is the anguish over the idea that their "breadwinner" status has been compromised.

Losing the Breadwinner Status

"The idea, somehow, that a man is not able to support his family, is less of a man, those ideas might be cultural determinants" for suicide, said Yeates Conwell, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

In addition to job losses, mortgage and housing troubles have also emerged as a disturbing factor in several recent reports of familicide.

Thomas Wayne Garrett, 59, told police that he shot his wife because he didn't know how to tell her they'd been evicted.

Multiple medical problems had left Garrett's wife, Cynthia Garrett, hospitalized for 10 days in December. During that period, the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office evicted the couple from the home they rented in Midwest City after they didn't pay their rent.

Thomas Wayne Garrett told police that he shot his wife because he didn't know how to tell her that they had been evicted from their Oklahoma home.

Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said that after the shooting, Garrett told police the day he picked up his wife from the hospital, he drove around their neighborhood, not knowing how to tell her that they did not have a home to return to.

Eventually, he pulled over and shot her with a .38-caliber handgun, police say.

The bullet, Clabes said, entered Cynthia Garrett's left breast and ripped through her lung before settling in her chest cavity.

"He realizes she's suffering, so he drives her to the emergency room," Clabes said, adding that Garrett told police his plan had been to kill his wife and then himself.

"It's a really sad case all around," he said.

Fear of eviction has led to shooting tragedies in at least two other states in the last 12 months.

In Ohio, Addie Polk, 90, shot herself after facing eviction last October. Polk survived and the mortgage financing company Fannie Mae later forgave her loan.

Several months earlier, in July 2008, Carlene Balderrama, 53, from Mass., fatally shot herself with her husband's rifle just before her home was to be sold at a foreclosure auction, police said.

Robert Dillon points to the upstairs bedroom Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008, in Akron, Ohio, where neighbor Addie Polk, age 90, is believed to have shot herself.

"There is very clearly a relationship between macroeconomic conditions and suicide," said Steven Garlow, the chief of psychiatry at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. "In times of financial hardship, financial distress, upheaval, there is an increase in suicide."

The Wealthy Are Not Immune to Money Worries

That trend appears to touch even some of the most accomplished members of society, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Levy, a prominent Washington, D.C., attorney who was reportedly laid off from his post at a law firm, was found dead in his office in late April of what police said was a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

Levy was a former deputy assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration and chaired the Supreme Court and appellate advocacy practice at Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, an Atlanta-based firm.

"Mark Levy was well known and highly respected for his successful appearances before the Supreme Court of the United States," said Bill Dorris, the firm's co-managing partner.

While the exact reasons for the suicide were unclear, the Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, said that Levy, 59, had been laid off and that the day his body was found would have been his last day of work.

Abroad, the suicides of three well-known businessmen apparently were caused not by unemployment, but steep fiscal losses and business-related stress.

In the United Kingdom, Kirk Stephenson, the London-based chief operating officer of an investment firm, died after stepping in front of a train in September. His firm had lost assets in connection to the bankruptcy of former brokerage giant Lehman Brothers and, the Wall Street Journal reported, friends said that Stephenson had been under great pressure at work.

Stephenson, 47, was married and had an 8-year-old son.

In Germany, billionaire Adolf Merckle, 74, also died after being hit by a train in January. His family later confirmed in a statement that he had killed himself, according to the AP.

Merckle's holding company, VEM Vermoegensverwaltung -- which owned a stake in the automaker Volkswagen -- had struggled with escalating debt and heavy losses.

"The distress to his firms caused by the financial crisis and the related uncertainties of recent weeks, along with the helplessness of no longer being able to act, broke the passionate family businessman, and he ended his life," the family's statement said.

A Money Scandal Ends With Death

For French financier Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, it was the loss of both his family's and his clients' money that apparently led to his suicide.

Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet lost both his family's and his clients' money in the giant Ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by Bernard Madoff. Villehuchet killed himself in December.

Villehuchet, 65, reportedly lost more than $1 billion of his clients' money through investments with Bernard L. Madoff, who was later accused of running the largest pyramid scheme in history.

Villehuchet was found dead in his New York office in late December.

With reports from the Associated Press and ABC News' Scott Michels and Radha Chitale.