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Case Study - Mark Orrin Barton

Updated on May 15, 2013

An Evaluation of Emotional Breakdown

On July 29th, 1999, Mark Orrin Barton snapped. He was a day trader and had recently lost around $105,000 while trading online. Reportedly, this had motivated him to take deadly action. When it was all said and done, nine people were dead and 13 were injured at two different brokerage offices, and his family had been murdered. The rampage seemingly began because of the common influence of money. However, the offender’s history may also have quite a bit to do with his extreme behavior. There seemed to be more to Mark Orrin than met the eye.

He drew no attention when he walked into the offices of All-Tech Investment Group in Atlanta. The greeting he received was warm, and he spoke with the secretary and manager about the Dow’s recent 200 point slide. He seemed to be the same old client that they had become familiar with. No one had any idea that he was armed with two handguns, and the two previous days had been spent killing his wife then his children in the family home with hammer blows. They were also ignorant of the fact that he had just been across the street at Momentum Securities, another brokerage firm, where he had made the same small talk then opened fire, killing four people. His demeanor was oddly calm and he gave no indicator that he was planning what he was. Shortly after the casual conversations began, five shots rang out from the meeting room, and the manager and secretary were seriously wounded. Once his damage was done, he left and headed towards the main trading floor. A 53 year old woman named Nell Jones looked up from her computer to see him approaching. From ten feet away, he fired at her, missing her forehead by mere inches. The bullet intended for Nell struck her terminal instead. She said she was the first to look into his eyes, and he seemed devoid of feeling with calm, determined air about him. Before he left, he simply uttered ‘I hope this won’t ruin your trading day.

After the circumstances were under control, five individuals at All-Tech were found dead and Mark was on the run. The news was abuzz with information and claims about the killer, some unfounded and some clearly true. Not much was known yet about the man who had just committed a line of heinous crimes. The parricide, or murder of parents or other close family members, that he had committed the two days before was still unknown as well. Law enforcement was simply pursuing a man who had shot so many innocent people in their workplaces. By dusk, the police had cornered Mark at a gas station, however they were unable to take him into custody. He turned his guns on himself. Coverage of the incident and as brash as the actions were ignited almost martial rule over the city’s financial district. America had been glued to the television for around four hours until the chase came to its abrupt end.

After Mark’s death, his story began to unfold. Former stories of brutality against his first wife and others, suicide notes, and financial dishonesty gradually began to surface. At the time, public anxiety was strong regarding public shootings, and Mark’s actions did not contribute positively to the concern. Many people wanted to know why he killed who he killed and what it meant for the safety of their neighborhoods. However, Mark’s objective was singular and directed towards certain people, not random victims. In one of the letters that were found with the bodies of his wife Leigh Ann and their two children Mychelle and Matthew, all wrapped in sheets with just their faces showing, Mr. Barton solemnly laid out his plan of action. He said ‘I don’t plan to live very much longer, just long enough to kill as many of the people who greedily sought my destruction’. He also spoke through a 1995 deposition in more calculated tones, recanting his affair with Leigh Ann during his first marriage and the fruitlessness he believed to be such a large part of his life. Clearly, his mentality seemed rather negative and his thoughts seemed like they were heavily weighing on his psyche. The issues that Mark carried with him were not sudden, but gradual.

The murder of his second family was outlined in the letters in detail. He showed a great deal of regret, blame, and denial when in reference to them. Mark said he ‘killed Leigh Ann because she was one of the main reasons for my demise … She really couldn’t help it, and I loved her so much anyway’. She was bludgeoned to death with a hammer on Tuesday of that week, her body hidden away from the children in the closet. His daughter Mychelle, who he referred to as his sweetheart, and his son Matthew who he nicknamed his buddy reportedly died with little pain. He beat them in the head with the same hammer as they slept, then held them under water in a bathtub to make sure they perished. This occurred on Wednesday, and the shootings at the trading firms happened on that Thursday. Mark was also a suspect in his first wife’s death, as he had attempted to collect the $600,000 he had taken out on her in insurance months before her and her mother were murdered in Alabama in 1993. However, he denied any involvement in their deaths in his writings, claiming there was no reason for him to lie about said circumstances once he was dead as well. He was never directly linked to this event, however he is still considered a prime suspect.

His second marriage did not promise a lasting good outcome from the start, either. Mychelle, his daughter, reported when she was 2 ½ years old that she had been molested by her father. During mental evaluations that followed, the psychiatrist claimed that Mark ‘certainly was capable’ of committing homicide. Despite the report, because of Mychelle’s age a case to remove the children from his custody was never solidly established. The damaged mentality of the spree killer was outlined further, once again, in his writings. He wrote ‘I have been dying since October’ and claimed to be very afraid, hopeless, and entirely alone. Clearly, the demons existed for quite some time before the murders of the employees and his wife and family. With no hope and no existing reason for him to avoid his actions, he acted on what seemed like revenge and anger at the world and his financial circumstances.

The parsimony of the theory that would efficiently evaluate Mark’s actions and behavior may not be simplistic. Parsimony refers to the complexity of the theory or theories used to explain criminal behavior. Some concepts may be one dimensional, such as a thief stealing because they desired the thrill or out of necessity. Others may be very difficult to ascertain or involve quite a few connected theories rather than just one x causing y. In the case of Mark Barton, there seems to be quite a few factors at work. Evaluating him thoroughly would be the only way to truly understand the reasons behind his thought process and behavior. As it was mentioned earlier, a psychiatrist that was given this opportunity claimed that he was capable of homicide. Clearly, there was some aspect of him that stood out as dangerous and potentially violent. The more sensible approach to understanding his behavior and he himself seems to be Probabilistic Casuality. This is an aspect of study much more closely associated with the social sciences. It is not as clear as x causing y. In contrast, x is more or less likely or tends to cause y. If it was possible to uncover previous negative experiences or aspects of Mark’s past that could instill his drastically negative mindset or tendency towards violence, we could fill in the missing variables and possibly come to a cumulative resolution. The theory of retribution, however, seems to be rather relevant to this case. This is also known as an eye for an eye, referring to the desire to make the punishment fit the crime. According to Mark’s letters, he felt that he had been wronged by the financial companies and the people who evidently sought to destroy him. Acting on this resentment, he committed multiple murders in their place of work. He also seemed to hold some sort of blame against his second wife, who he bludgeoned along with his children.

The Routine Activities theory may help to explain the circumstances that allowed the crime to take place. This theory refers to three specific aspects that make a general scenario a prime possible crime scene. First, there must be a viable target. In this case, those who worked at the financial companies were clearly known targets. They were not known by name, of course, but they were who Mark had a serious vendetta against. The second factor that must be present is a motivated offender. Clearly, he was motivated to seek revenge against those who had done him wrong. If his letters found after his death were any indication, this was a strong motivation behind his actions. The third detail that must be present is the lack of a guardian. A guardian can be referred to as a friend or family member who happens to be present during the crime or even a random passerby who comes to a victim’s aid. In this case, there was no present security force or law enforcement available to stop him before he was able to harm and kill so many people. This scenario holds all required factors for this theory to be applicable.

In summary, Mark Orrin Barton was a troubled man with a more complex thought process and motivation behind his crimes than some. His blame was misplaced, resting heavily on employees of the companies he traded through as well as his wife and children. He seemed to hold a grudge against life itself, saying that it had treated him unfairly and he had lost all hope for a better tomorrow. Early warning signs were seen, as his daughter was reportedly molested by him and he was deemed capable of homicide during the ensuing evaluation. He did not seem to hold regret for his actions, but rather seemed to claim that they were justified. He was pursued by police for around four hours, but committed suicide when they cornered him at a gas station. His motivations seemed to be money driven, however it appears shallow to consider this his only reason for acting. A more thorough investigation into his history and perhaps the early aspects of his life seems to be necessary to truly understand the inner workings of Mark Barton.

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