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Experts Look for Motive in Killings

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Neighbors who watched him from afar say he seemed sweet, a real Southern gentleman. Lawyers who worked closely with him for years call him brilliant. But the FBI apparently looked Mark Orrin Barton up and down five years ago and came to one prophetic conclusion: mass murderer.

At the time, Barton was a suspect in the meat-cleaver murders of his wife and mother-in-law. Scratching for evidence, police asked the FBI to consider everything they knew of Barton and render an opinion, according to Michael Hauptman, the Atlanta lawyer who represented Barton at the time.

“He fit the profile of a mass murderer,” Hauptman said Friday. “I’d say whoever wrote the profile should get a pay raise.”

An FBI spokesman wouldn’t comment on what profiling the bureau may have done of Barton. Until they do, or until someone who knew Barton well comes forward, the pudgy investor who killed nine people Thursday in as many minutes--after bludgeoning to death the young wife and two children he professed to love--will have eluded true capture.

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Though he shot himself six hours after committing the bloodiest murder rampage in Atlanta’s modern history, many here say part of Barton will remain “at large” until some motive for his madness can be found.

He left plenty of clues, enough clues for investigators to sift through forever, including big swings in his stock market portfolio, a wife who may have grown weary of him and an ongoing murder investigation that apparently weighed heavily on his psyche.

He was said to be deeply depressed, a nerd used to computers and chemistry who possibly got hooked on the sudden thrill of playing the market. In his personal computer profile, he listed his sole hobby as day-to-day stock trading, and his motto was: “A dollar earned is a dollar saved.” Recently, he’d earned hundreds of thousands of dollars by collecting a life insurance benefit on his first wife, whom he was suspected of slaying.

But even in his carefully written, flawlessly typed suicide note, printed on personal stationery and encased in a plastic sleeve, and released by police Friday, Barton didn’t reveal the reasons for his rampage, didn’t answer the question haunting the families now planning funerals, the question gnawing at the 12 people he injured, including a 38-year-old woman left blind by a bullet to the head.

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“Why did I?” Barton mused to himself in the note. “I have been dying since October. I wake up at night so afraid, so terrified that I couldn’t be that afraid while awake. It has taken its toll. I have come to hate this life and this system of things. I have come to have no hope.”

Failing to Explain the Unexplainable

What terrified him, why he hated “this system,” why October marked a sudden downturn in his life, Barton didn’t bother to explain, and police said they hadn’t yet discovered if Barton suffered from some physical or mental illness dating back to last fall.

Barton’s left his suicide note in the apartment he shared with Leigh Ann, his second wife, and his two children by his first wife. Also in the apartment were the bodies of Leigh Ann and the children.

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Barton wrote in his note that Leigh Ann and the children suffered “little pain . . . 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.”

Then he laid the children in bed: Matthew, 11 and Mychelle, 8, both bundled in towels and blankets, favorite toys by their sides, skulls caved in.

“I forced myself to do it to keep them from suffering so much later. 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.”

Barton’s father, Truman, died two years ago. His mother, 77-year-old Gladys, wasn’t answering her phone Friday in Sumter, S.C., where Barton grew up. She sent out a four-paragraph statement, part of which read: “There is no explanation for tragedy such as this. . . . Even though I am deeply hurt by the actions of my son, Mark, I loved him very much.”

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A friend of Gladys Barton’s, Zelma Hutchinson, said Barton had lost a lot of money recently and that he’d called his mother the day before his rampage, sounding awful. The conversation “kind of upset” Barton’s mother, Hutchinson said.

Other than his mother, however, few people stepped forward to speak up for, or explain, the 44-year-old former chemist, who graduated from the University of South Carolina with a chemistry degree but without having left much of an impression on anyone in the chemistry department; who graduated from Sumter High in 1973 without leaving a faint mark on even the yearbook, in which his name is wrong not once, but twice.

Along with the suicide note, Barton left separate notes on the bodies of his children, each one a sad little deluded lament and request.

“I give you Matthew David Barton. My son, my buddie [sic], my life. Please take care of him.”

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“I give you Mychelle Elizabeth Barton. My daughter, my sweetheart, my life. Please take care of her”

A similar note was found with Leigh Ann, whose body Barton stuffed in a closet.

“I killed her on Tuesday night,” Barton wrote in the suicide note. “I killed Leigh Ann because she was one of the main reasons for my demise.”

The children, he wrote, he killed Wednesday.

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According to Barton’s sister-in-law, Barton and Leigh Ann had separated recently, and Leigh Ann moved with Barton’s children to Stockbridge, half an hour south of Atlanta. Why, no one seems to know.

Then, weeks ago, just as mysteriously, the couple reunited, Barton briefly rejoining his family.

“I really wish I hadn’t killed [Leigh Ann] now,” he wrote. “She really couldn’t help it and I love her so much anyway.”

The note was marked: 6:38 a.m., July 29. It was eight hours before Barton began randomly firing his Colt .45 handgun and Glock 9-millimeter in the offices of Momentum Securities Inc., the brokerage firm where he’d been a day trader and where he’d recently suffered severe reverses.

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According to one Momentum source, Barton lost as much as $105,00 this summer, though the company also released a statement Friday saying he was still worth $750,000, including $250,000 in liquid assets.

‘I Don’t Plan to Live Very Much Longer’

After killing four people at Momentum, Barton went across the street and killed five people at All-Tech Investment Group, another firm where he’d done day trading. Friday, All-Tech officials were still not ready to share the full details of Barton’s financial records.

Barton closed his suicide note with an ominous warning, seemingly aimed at the brokerage houses where he’d traded.

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“I don’t plan to live very much longer,” he wrote, “just long enough to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction.

“You should kill me if you can.”

Though he acknowledged that the murder of his family made him an even more likely suspect in the 1993 murders of his first wife and mother-in law--Deborah Spivey Barton and Eloise Powell Spivey were hacked to death in their camper on Lake Weiss during a fishing trip in northeast Alabama--Barton used his suicide note to assert his innocence one last time.

“There may be similarities,” he wrote, “between these deaths and the death of my first wife, Debra Spivey. However, I deny killing her and her mother. There’s no reason for me to lie now.”

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Knowing more about Barton might help this city come to terms with what’s happened. Even the two buildings where Barton did his killing were reopened Friday to office workers, as workers returned to their jobs in surprisingly large numbers, a surreal quality hung in the humid summer air as palpable as the flags hanging everywhere at half-staff.

“I was kind of surprised that the building was open,” said Tammy Zacks, an executive at Monumental Meetings, back at work just one floor below Momentum’s offices. “I thought it was like a crime scene.”

Police, however, said the crime scene was neatly contained, the case open and shut, with a dead killer and a sheaf of confessions left behind. There was little to investigate further, police said, but the motive, and motive seemed everywhere and nowhere at once.

Neighbors of the Barton family in Morrow, where the Bartons had lived until recently, said the tone of the suicide note and the terror of the killings just didn’t fit with the man they knew.

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“He was a nice guy, a gentleman,” said Helene Peluso, who lived a few doors down from the Bartons for several years. “He’d say hello, goodbye. Always friendly.”

She could remember seeing Barton and his son, both dressed in their Boy Scout uniforms, on their way to troop meetings. Even at 6 feet, 4 inches, and 220 pounds, she said, Barton was able to carry off the sheer knee socks and kerchief of the Boy Scouts without looking silly.

“He didn’t look like the kind of man who’d go around shooting people,” Peluso insisted.

“It was a real shocker, I tell you,” said Jimmie Northcutt, another neighbor, who often saw Barton and Leigh Ann strolling around the block for exercise. “As far as I was concerned, he was a pretty good fella.”

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Another member of Northcutt’s family told a different story, though. His daughter told reporters that Barton was aloof and reluctant to talk. Many said he was addicted to his computer and rarely emerged from his house. The Barton children often complained to a neighbor that they could never use the phone, because their father was always connected to the Internet.

Four months before Barton’s first wife was murdered, he took out a $600,000 insurance policy on her life. The insurance company refused to pay, and Barton sued. Lawyers who represented him in the case said they remember a client who was straightforward, honest--and impressively innocent.

“He was a very articulate and scientifically analytical individual,” said Barry Kaplan, a partner at Hughes and Kaplan, which helped Barton win roughly $400,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Kaplan recalled Barton’s intellect as formidable. He noted that Barton thoroughly understood the chemicals FBI investigators were using on the crime scene where his first wife was killed.

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“He was always in control of himself,” Kaplan said. “The only time I ever saw any visible bristling from him was as a result of a suggestion that he was an improper parent.”

Once, that allegation had a sinister overtone. ABC News reported Friday that Barton was ordered in 1993 to undergo a psychological evaluation after his daughter told a day-care worker that her father fondled her.

David McDade, the district attorney in Douglas County, just west of Atlanta, told the network that no charges were filed because a psychologist found no signs of mental distress in the girl and no other evidence existed, besides what Mychelle told the day-care worker.

Kaplan said half the money Barton won from the insurance company went into a trust for his children, half into Barton’s personal account. The lawyer said the case was settled two years ago, which was also the last time he and Barton spoke.

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Because Barton was working as a chemist at the time, Kaplan said, it’s logical to assume he used the windfall from the insurance settlement to switch careers, launching himself as a day trader, riding the upswing of the roaring bull market.

Hauptman, who represented Barton during the most intense years of the police investigation into his wife’s murder, last spoke with Barton a year ago. After doing a national TV interview about a different case, Hauptman got a phone call out of the blue from his client.

They chatted, Hauptman said, and the next time Hauptman heard of Barton was Thursday, when Barton himself was on national TV, his photo flickering across every TV screen in America.

“I still don’t think he committed those murders,” Hauptman said of the 1993 killings--notwithstanding a chilling entry he recalled, verbatim, from the diary of Barton’s first wife.

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“I don’t know if the Mark who left the house this morning,” Debra Spivey confided to her diary not long before her death, “will be the same man who comes home tonight.”

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In His Own Words

Excerpts from gunman Mark Orrin Barton’s suicide notes:

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“I killed the children to exchange them for five minutes of pain for a lifetime of pain. I forced myself to do it to keep them from suffering so much later. No mother, no father, no relatives.”

“I am so sorry. I wish I didn’t. Words cannot tell the agony. Why did I?”


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