A killer's demand for entitlement

August 04, 1999|By Stephanie Salter

SAN FRANCISCO -- While the current national obsession with getting rich did not cause Mark Orrin Barton to murder his family and nine Atlanta strangers, psychologist Michael Mantell says it provided a perfect '90s backdrop for Barton's expression of an increasingly common psychotic rage.

In the scores of explosive violence cases that Mr. Mantell has studied since 1984, there were always three out-of-proportion perceptions held by the murderer: "There is a sense that he is entitled, that he deserves more and that he should get it."

A chemist-turned-day trader in stocks, Barton apparently saw himself as a man entitled only to make, not lose, money, who deserved to have his mistreated wife in her place, not estranged, and who had a right to avenge his "victimization."

According to a letter he left in his family's suburban Atlanta home, Barton shot the office workers in two investment trading firms because he saw them as "the people that greedily sought my destruction."

His second wife was killed because she "was one of the main reasons for my demise." (The children, as they so often end up in domestic homicides, were the ultimate innocent bystanders, little lives to be dispatched in a mad tidying-up mission: Barton didn't want them to have to live without parents.)

"I think what's captured people's attention with this [Barton] story is the day-trading aspect," said Mr. Mantell, the author of "Ticking Bombs: Defusing Violence in the Workplace."

On the surface, that aspect may make Barton's rampage look primarily like "a story about greed" and the growing societal pressures to acquire great wealth as quickly as possible. But much darker forces prevailed.

"This was a psychotic mind, not just a person saying, `I wish I could drive a Mercedes.' He was a man who had a long break [with reality] that was impacting itself for more than a year," Mr. Mantell said.

"The powerful thing that is going on is this incredible narcissism -- I'm entitled, I deserve, I should -- and this internal despair. The mind just unravels, and nobody sees it."

This is a direct sign of "the failure of the mental health system," Mr. Mantell said.

"We have more and more of these kinds of people walking around," he said. "But we don't see them until they do something like he [Barton] did. It's like we are sending out rowboats instead of ships or aircraft carriers to pick up what's floating around in this ocean of madness."

Stephanie Salter is a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. Her e-mail address: salter@examiner.com.

Pub Date: 8/04/99

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