Econo-cide? DC Lawyer Suicide on Layoff Day

Recent Suicides and Murders Are Linked to Job Losses and Evictions


May 1, 2009—

Mark Levy, a prominent Washington, D.C., attorney who had reportedly been laid off from his post at a law firm, was found dead in his office Thursday in what police are calling an apparent suicide.

Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, an Atlanta-based firm, said in a statement that Levy, a former deputy assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration who was chair of the firm's Supreme Court and appellate advocacy practice, had died.

"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.

The reason for Levy's apparent suicide wasn't immediately clear. But, the Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, said that Levy, 59, had been laid off and that Thursday was his last day of work.

Levy's apparent suicide is the latest of several that have been linked to the flagging economy.

With the United States and the rest of the world facing what many call the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, reports of people taking their own lives are rising.

From California to Massachusetts, several recent suicides and shootings are being linked to people who just lost their jobs or their homes. Meanwhile, the recent suicides of at least three prominent foreign businessmen have been blamed on financial losses.

"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."

But experts also agree that cases of violent acts spurred by economic stress are very rare.

For the most part, humans are resilient and most have the ability to deal with life's stresses no matter how insurmountable they may seem, said Kim Lebowitz, an assistant professor of surgery and psychiatry at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and also the hospital's director of cardiac behavioral medicine.

"But in a severe situation when a person is so unable to cope they do something extraordinarily drastic," she said.

People having trouble coping should seek professional help, psychiatrists say, but these days, getting that help may be harder than ever.

As layoffs continue nationwide, more people are losing their health coverage, including mental health benefits. Public mental health resources also are being strained as cash-strapped states cut budgets.

"When people need the resources, they become less available because of the economic circumstances," Garlow said.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Garlow said that people who commit suicide often feel overwhelmed in the moments before their fateful decision.

"Suddenly killing oneself seems to make sense as a way of stopping that sense of desperation, of being overwhelmed," he said.

The same may be true in the case of familicide -- killing one's family members.

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo killed nine people during a Christmas eve party at the home of his former in-laws in Covina, Calif. Pardo, who was unemployed and having financial problems, later fatally shot himself.

Police said that 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.

"'I'm going to end everybody's suffering,' is probably the thought process," Garlow said.

That may have been the case with Ervin Lupoe, a 40-year-old father from Wilmington, Calif. In January, Lupoe shot his five children and his wife before turning the gun on himself.

Once a medical technician at a hospital, Lupoe had 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."

The 'Breadwinner' Complex

Long before the Lupoe and Pardo tragedies, another California family murder-suicide made headlines. In June 2007, California businessman Kevin Morrissey, 51, shot his wife and two daughters in a parked car before turning his handgun on himself.

Kevin Morrissey shot his wife and two daughters before turning the gun on himself.

Police investigating the deaths said they found a note in which Morrissey, who ran a skin-care clinic with his wife, said he was distressed over his family's financial situation.

Experts say that men who lose the ability to support their families may be anguished to find their status as "breadwinner" compromised.

"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.

While Morrissey, Pardo and Lupoe are dead and cannot explain their motives, Thomas Wayne Garrett, 59, of Oklahoma, has been quite clear. He 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.

Garrett had been out of work for several years after losing his job at a tire company.

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.

'A Really Sad Case'

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.

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.

Fear of eviction has led to shooting tragedies in at least two other states.

In Massachusetts, Carlene Balderrama, 53, fatally shot herself with her husband's rifle just before her home was to be sold at a foreclosure auction.

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

Abroad, the suicides of three well-known businessmen apparently were caused not by unemployment or foreclosure, 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.

Broken by the Financial Crisis

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

Adolf Merckle, one of Germany's wealthiest men, committed suicide after his family business empire began unraveling amid mounting debt.

Merckle's holding company, VEM Vermoegensverwaltung -- which owned a stake in the automaker Volkswagen -- had been struggling 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.

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.

The Associated Press and ABC News' Sarah Netter contributed to this report.