Street's body count rises
22 Oct 2008
As suicides and murders emerge in the wake of the financial
crisis, the fallout is increasingly measured not only in
dollars but in blood.
On October 4,
2008, in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles, Karthik
Rajaram, beset by financial troubles, shot his wife, mother-in-law,
and three sons before turning the gun on himself. In one
of his two suicide notes, Rajaram wrote that he was "broke,"
having incurred massive financial losses in the economic
meltdown. "I understand he was unemployed, his dealings
in the stock market had taken a disastrous turn for the
worse," said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Michel
The fallout from
the current subprime mortgage debacle and the economic one
that followed has thrown lives into turmoil across the country.
In recent days, the Associated Press, ABC News, and others
have begun to address the burgeoning body count, especially
suicides attributed to the financial crisis. (Note that,
months ago, Barbara Ehrenreich raised the issue in the Nation.)
Suicide is, however,
just one type of extreme act for which the financial meltdown
has seemingly been the catalyst. Since the beginning of
the year, stories of resistance to eviction, armed self-defense,
canicide, arson, self-inflicted injury, murder, as well
as suicide, especially in response to the foreclosure crisis,
have bubbled up into the local news, although most reports
have gone unnoticed nationally -- as has any pattern to
While it's impossible
to know what factors, including deeply personal ones, contribute
to such extreme acts, violent or otherwise, many do seem
undeniably linked to the present crisis. This is hardly
surprising. Rates of stress, depression, and suicide invariably
climb in times of economic turmoil. As Kathleen Hall, founder
and CEO of the Stress Institute in Atlanta, told USA Today's
Stephanie Armour earlier this year, "Suicides are very
much tied to the economy."
of a long and deep recession now commonplace, it's not too
soon to begin looking for these patterns among the human
tragedies already sprouting amid the financial ruins. Troubling
trends are to be expected in the years ahead, especially
as hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghan
Wars, their families often already under enormous stress,
are coming home to scenarios of joblessness and, in some
cases, homelessness. Consider this, then, an attempt to
look for early anecdotal signs of the fallout from hard
times, the results, in this case, of a review of local press
reports from across the nation, some tiny but potentially
indicative of larger American tragedies, and all suggesting
a pattern that is likely to grow more pronounced.
In February, when a sheriff's deputy went to serve an eviction
notice on a homeowner in Greeley, Colorado, he found the
man had slashed his wrists and was lying in a pool of blood.
Rushed to a nearby hospital, the man survived, while the
sheriff's office tried to downplay economic reasons for
the incident, saying, according to the Denver Post, that
"it wasn't linking the suicide attempt to the eviction
because the man had known for a week that he was to be kicked
In March Ocala,
Florida, resident Roland Gore killed his dog and his wife,
set fire to his home which was in foreclosure, and then
In April, Robert
McGuinness, a 24-year-old process server, arrived at the
Marion County, Florida, doorstep of Frank W. Conrad. According
to an article in the local Star Banner, the 82-year-old
Conrad was reportedly "cordial" at first. When
McGuinness produced the foreclosure notice, however, Conrad
got angry and left the room. He returned with a .38 caliber
pistol and announced, "You have two seconds to get
off my property or you will go to the hospital." Marion
County sheriff's deputies later arrested Conrad.
On June 3, agents
of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set out
to inform New Orleans resident Eric Minshew that he would
be evicted from his "Katrina" trailer. After Minshew
threatened them, the FEMA employees called the police. When
they arrived, Minshew allegedly threatened them as well
and "locked himself in his partially gutted home, adjacent
to his trailer." A SWAT team was called in and tear-gassed
the man. Interviewed by the Times-Picayune, local resident
Tiffany Flores said, "Some SWAT members told my husband
they had never seen anyone withstand that much tear gas."
The standoff went on for hours before "an assault team
of tactical officers" invaded the home. Though Minshew
opened fire, they eventually cornered him on the upper floor.
When -- they claimed -- he refused to drop his weapon, they
gunned him down.
same day, in Multnomah County, Oregon, sheriff's deputies
served an eviction notice on a desperate tenant. According
to Deputy Travis Gullberg, the Multnomah County sheriff's
publicinformation officer, the evictee promptly pulled a
gun from his pocket and pointed it at his head before being
disarmed by the deputies.
according to the Los Angeles Times, Rich Paul, a vice president
at ValueOptions, which handles mental health referrals,
said that over the last year stress-related calls arising
from foreclosures or financial hardship had gone up 200
percent in California. Similarly, Dr. Mason Turner, chief
of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente's San Francisco Medical
Center, reported "a fourfold increase in psychiatric
admissions at his hospital during August, with roughly 60
percent of patients saying financial stress contributed
to their problems."
Of course, many
victims of the linked economic crises never receive treatment.
In July, Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Habecker
told the Sacramento Bee that twice this year "homeowners
about to be evicted have committed suicide as he approached
to do a lockout." In another case, he said, "a
fellow Sacramento deputy found a note in the home that told
him where to find the foreclosed homeowner's body."
The Bee reported that such cases "received no publicity
when they happened," which raises the question of just
how many similar suicides have gone unreported nationwide.
when police delivered an eviction notice at the Middleburg,
Florida, home of George and Bonnie Mangum, the couple barricaded
themselves inside. Eventually, George Mangum was talked
into surrendering and was arrested. "He did the only
thing he knew to do, protect his family, all he did was
sit on the other side of the door and say I have a gun,
I have a gun and that's why he's going to jail because he
threatened the police," said Bonnie. The couple's daughter
Robin added, "This is my home, this is all our home
and I don't think it's right. My dad was a Green Beret,
he's sick, how are you going to kick him out?"
Florida, resident Dallas Dwayne Carter was a 44-year-old
disabled single dad who lost his job, fell into debt and
was faced with eviction. "He always talked about needing
help -- financially and help with the kids," neighbor
Kevin Luster told the St. Petersburg Times. On July 19th,
Carter apparently called the police to say he was armed
and disturbed. When they arrived, Carter fired his pistol
and rifle inside the apartment, before emerging and pointing
his weapons at the officers on the scene. Police say they
ordered him to drop them. When he didn't, they killed him
in a 10-round fusillade.
On July 23, about
90 minutes before her foreclosed Taunton, Massachusetts,
home was scheduled to be sold at auction, Carlene Balderrama
faxed a letter to her mortgage company, letting them know
that by the time they foreclosed on the house today she'd
be dead. She continued, "I hope you're more compassionate
with my husband and son than you were with me." After
that, she took a high-powered rifle and, according to the
Boston Globe, shot herself. In an interview with the Associated
Press, Balderrama's husband John said, "I had no clue."
His wife handled the finances and had been intercepting
letters from the mortgage company for months. "She
put in her suicide note that it got overwhelming for her,"
he said. In the letter, she wrote, "take the [life]
insurance money and pay for the house."
The day after
Balderrama took her life, 50 miles away in Worcester, Massachusetts,
a 64-year-old man who had already been evicted barricaded
himself inside his former home. Police were called to the
scene to find him reportedly prepared to ignite four propane
tanks. "His intention was to burn the house down with
him in it," Sgt. Christopher J. George told the Telegram
& Gazette. With the man becoming "even more despondent"
as "a moving van arrived on the street," police
stormed the house to find him "holding a foot-long
knife to his own chest" as a piece of paper burned
near the propane. The man was disarmed and the fire extinguished.
same day, in Visalia, California, a Tulare County sheriff's
deputy tried to serve an eviction notice to Melvin Nicks,
50. Nicks responded by stabbing the deputy with a knife
and barricading himself in the house for several hours.
He later surrendered.
City, Michigan, residents David and Sharron Hetzel, both
56, "lost their home to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy
protection. But they did not follow through with the Chapter
13 proceedings." On August 1, say police reports, David
Hetzel mailed a letter of apology to his family members.
Later that night, according to the local police, he attacked
his sleeping wife, striking her in the head with a golf
club and repeatedly stabbing her with a kitchen knife. After
that, he began setting fires throughout the house before
crawling into bed beside his wife and killing himself with
"a single, fatal wound to his torso."
On August 12,
sheriff's deputies arrived at the Saddlebrook, New Jersey,
home of 88-year-old Beatrice Brennan, another victim of
the mortgage crisis, who had refinanced her home and fallen
behind on payments. Refusing to stand idly by while his
mother was put out on the street, her 60-year-old son John
pulled a .22 caliber handgun on the lawmen. That sent the
movers, waiting for a court-imposed 10 a.m. deadline, scurrying
for their van. Brennan was able to delay the eviction briefly
before a SWAT team arrested him and his mother lost her
home. "I'm heartbroken over this," Vincent Carabello,
a longtime neighbor, told the local paper, the Record. "How
could this happen?"
Alt Text Roseville,
Minnesota, resident Sylvia Sieferman was under a great deal
of stress and beset by financial difficulties. She worried
about how she would care for her two 11-year-old daughters.
On August 21, according to police reports, Sieferman "repeatedly
stabbed the girls and herself." "She reached her
limit," her friend Carrie Micko told the Star Tribune.
"She couldn't cope anymore ... she felt that her daughters
were suffering because she was failing to provide for them."
As Micko further explained, "After a series of financial
mishaps, she just couldn't see her way through. She was
under extreme financial, emotional and spiritual distress
and didn't want to fail them."
The Boston Globe
reported that, on September 5, "[f]our protesters trying
to prevent the eviction of a Roxbury woman from her home
were arrested ... after they chained themselves to the steps
of her back porch." As 40 protesters chanted in the
street, officials from Bank of America ordered Paula Taylor
out of her house. "This is our eighth blockade and
the first time there have been arrests," said Soledad
Lawrence, an organizer with City Life, a nonprofit organization
seeking to halt the large numbers of foreclosures and evictions
in Boston neighborhoods. "They can be more aggressive
and we'll be more aggressive," she added.
25, as politicians in Washington tried to hash out a massive
bailout package for financial institutions, six Boston police
officers confronted about 40 City Life activists in front
of the home of Ana Esquivel, a public school employee, and
her husband Raul, a construction worker, both in their 50s.
The Globe reported that four protesters were arrested as
police shoved their way through in order to allow a locksmith
into the house to bar the Esquivels from their home. "We've
been destroyed by the bank," Ana Esquivel said, sobbing.
"The bank is too big for us." While the Esquivel
blockade failed, Steven Meacham, a City Life organizer,
told a Globe reporter that "the protests have helped
to stop about nine evictions. In the successful blockades,
the homeowners were given additional time by their mortgage
holders to negotiate alternatives to foreclosure."
Brace yourself for many more casualties on the home front
days earlier, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies came
to the Monrovia home of 53-year-old Joanne Carter and her
67-year-old husband John to serve an eviction notice. Joanne
Carter refused to accept it. According to "Monrovia
spokesman" Dick Singer, as reported in the Pasadena
Star-News, she "told deputies she had guns in the house
and showed them a shotgun." The next day, Monrovia
police officers showed up at the home after being informed
that the woman "may have made threats to a workers
compensation agency." Police Lieutenant Michael Lee
said that Carter told them if they "tried to come in,
she would defend her house at any means necessary."
She and her husband then reportedly barricaded themselves
inside, after which a shotgun was fired. Police from other
local departments were called in. Following an hours-long
standoff, the Carters surrendered and were arrested.
That same day,
in northern California, Cliff Kendall, Petaluma's chief
building official, shot himself with a rifle. A week earlier,
Kendall had learned that he was being laid off. "He
was afraid we'd lose our home, and we probably will because
I can't afford to keep it," his wife Patricia, who
is on disability with a back injury, told the Press Democrat.
"He was extremely upset about it and hurt."
On October 3,
the day before Karthik Rajaram's mass murder/suicide in
Los Angeles, 90-year-old Addie Polk was driven to extremes
by the financial crisis. With sheriff's deputies at the
door, Polk evidently took the only measure she felt was
left to her to avoid eviction from her foreclosed home.
She tried to kill herself. Her neighbor Robert Dillon, hearing
loud noises from her home, used a ladder to enter the second
floor window. He found Polk lying on her bed. "Then
she kind of moved toward me a little and I saw that blood,
and I said, 'Oh, no. Miss Polk musta done shot herself.'"
While she was in the hospital recovering from two self-inflicted
gunshot wounds, Fannie Mae spokesman Brian Faith announced
the mortgage association had decided to forgive her outstanding
debt and give her the house "outright."
On October 6,
in Sevier County, Tennessee, sheriff's deputies, with police
in tow, arrived to evict Jimmy and Pamela Ross from their
home. They heard a shot and entered the home to find 57-year-old
Pamela dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
Neighbor Ruth Blakey told WVLT-TV, "I know she really
hated to leave that house. She did not want to leave that
Wanda Dunn told
neighbors she would rather die than leave her home. On October
13, the day she was to be evicted, the 53-year-old Pasadena,
California, native apparently set fire to the home "where
her family had lived for generations" before shooting
herself in the head. "We knew it was going to happen,"
neighbor Steve Brooks told the Los Angeles Times. "It
was nobody's fault; it was everybody's fault."
readers at Slate's "Explainer" column asked the
following question: If the financial crisis was so dire,
"how come we aren't hearing about executives jumping
out of windows?" Writer Nina Shen Rastogi dutifully
the current situation hasn't had nearly as devastating an
effect on people's personal finances. The Great Crash of
1929 -- and, to a lesser extent, the crash of 1987 -- did
lead some people to commit suicide. But in nearly all of
those cases, the deceased had suffered a major loss when
the market collapsed. Now, due in large part to those earlier
experiences, investors tend to keep their portfolios far
more diversified, so as to avoid having their entire fortunes
wiped out when stocks take a downturn."
is true. So far, at least, Wall Street's suicides seem to
have been outsourced to places that its executives have
probably never heard of. There, on the proverbial main streets
of America, the Street's financial meltdown is beginning
to be measured not only in dollars and cents, but in blood.
Right now, there
are no real counts of the many extreme acts born of the
financial crisis, but assuredly other murders, suicides,
self- inflicted injuries and acts of arson and of armed
self-defense have simply gone unnoticed outside of economically
hard-hit neighborhoods in cities and small towns across
America. With no end in sight for either the foreclosures
or the economic turmoil, Americans may have to brace themselves
for many more casualties on the home front. Unless extreme
economic steps, like mortgage- and debt-forgiveness, are
implemented, the number of desperate acts and the ultimate
body count may be far more extreme than anyone yet wants