'It's A Bad Trading Day ...And It's About To Get

He thought they were friends. The two men had sat side by side, day after day, engaged in the legalized gambling known as "day trading" in the Atlanta office of All-Tech Investment Group. Mark Barton "was one of the nicest guys you ever met," recalled Fred Herder, his desk mate. "He was religious, and he was on the phone with his kids all the time." Barton was unlucky at betting on stocks, however, and All-Tech had yanked his trading privileges in April.

Then last Thursday, Herder saw that Barton was back in the All-Tech trading room, dressed in baggy shorts that he often wore. Herder noticed something odd: despite the air conditioning, Barton was sweating profusely. Barton disappeared into the manager's office and Herder heard three shots ring out. When Barton came back to the trading room, he was brandishing a .45 automatic and 9mm pistol and firing wildly. Panicked, Herder tried to duck under his desk. Not fast enough: a bullet struck him in the back, wounding him seriously.

Herder was one of the fortunate victims. Before Barton killed himself a few hours later, Barton turned a pair of gleaming office buildings in Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood into slaughterhouses, firing off about 40 rounds, killing nine people and wounding 13 others, two critically. At his first stop he declared, "It's a bad trading day, and it's about to get worse." At his second he announced, "I certainly hope this doesn't ruin your trading day." The shooting spree was ghastly but depressingly familiar. The twist this time was millennial cybergreed. Trying to cash in on go-go Internet stocks, part of a growing national subculture of day traders who rent space in brokerages and try to make fortunes on market fluctuations, Barton had fallen into a hole of debt. He blamed others: in a letter he wrote at dawn on his last day, he had declared, "I don't plan to live very much longer. Just long enough to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction."

The letter offered clues to a wound deeper than a margin call during a downturn in the Nasdaq Stock Market. Two nights before he typed his last testament, Barton beat his wife to death with a hammer. The next night, he fatally bludgeoned his two young children. In the letter, he explained, opaquely, that he had killed his children to save them from "a lifetime of pain... The fears of the father are transferred to the son. It was from my father to me and from me to my son." Money woes seem to have helped trigger Barton's explosion, but other, earlier dark moments hint strongly that his rage was boiling long before anyone had figured out how to play the market in cyberspace.

Barton's demons were well hidden behind a facade of suburban normalcy. He wore Dockers and polo shirts and liked to chip golf balls in his front yard. Dad had been in the Air Force; Mom worked as a secretary at a Methodist church. Barton left little impression on schoolmates, though he was smart, a semifinalist for a National Merit Scholarship. After studying chemistry in college, he married in 1979, moved to Texas and worked his way up to become the president of a small company in Texarkana that made janitorial cleaning products. But then a blip: his co-workers considered him to be paranoid, and he was fired in 1990. Angry over unpaid stock options, he broke into the company, crashed the computers and stole the product formulas. Barton was arrested, but charges were dropped when he agreed to leave town. "He wasn't really mean or ugly or rude," recalled a co-worker, Lee Ann Burke. "But he was a childlike person who never could admit to doing wrong."

Barton moved to Atlanta and, in the great American tradition, started over. He got a job as a salesman at a chemical company and went on with life as just another regular guy. He did seem a little "controlling" to Terri Diaz, a close friend of Barton's first wife, Debra. "He didn't want to make friends with anybody," Diaz told NEWSWEEK. Debra Barton often argued with her husband, according to Diaz, telling him that he was too attached to his mother.

In September 1993 Debra Barton and her mother, Eloise Spivey, were found hacked to death by a heavy, sharp instrument in a trailer near a lake in Alabama. Police found bloody footprints leaving the crime scene but could never find shoes to match. No one was ever charged. The one--and only convincing--suspect, police say, was Barton. Investigators became suspicious when they learned that only a couple of weeks before the murder, Barton had taken out a $600,000 life-insurance policy on his wife. At the time, police say, Barton was having an affair with another woman, Leigh Ann Vandiver, whom he had met at work. Barton was coolly uncooperative with police. He refused to take a lie-detector test and seemed to give rehearsed answers to their questions. But he had an alibi: that on the night of the killing, he had been in Atlanta, three hours away, with his kids. A neighbor who sat on the porch across the street from Barton's home that night never saw Barton's car move. Police thought they noticed a spot of blood on one of the car's pedals. But before the stain could be properly examined, Barton, a trained chemist, said he had accidentally spilled a soda on the stain, making the tests impossible.

Skeptical of Barton's professions of innocence, an insurance company offered to pay out the $600,000 on Debra's life-insurance policy--but only as a trust for Barton's two children. Barton threatened to sue the company and settled: $150,000 for the kids, $300,000 for him and his lawyers. A month after the murder, his girlfriend, Leigh Ann, divorced her husband. Leigh Ann and Barton were married in 1995 and Barton became an entrepreneur, starting a little company that was to make cleaning products. The couple rented a tidy house in a middle-class suburb, where Barton was a regular churchgoer and Boy Scout leader.

But life was not entirely normal. A year after the murder of his first wife, according to state officials, a day-care worker reported that Barton's daughter, Mychelle, then 3, said that "Daddy played with her boo-boo." Asked what she meant, she pointed to her vagina. A child-welfare agency was called in to investigate. A written report from a Cobb County psychologist discounted child abuse, speculating instead that Mychelle had been traumatized by her mother's death and the suspicions about her father. Informally, however, the psychologist suggested to state officials that, in his opinion, Barton was "capable of homicidal acts and thoughts," Douglas County D.A. David McDade told reporters last week. Lacking any evidence, the state let the matter drop.

In his suicide note last week, Barton denied that he had killed his first wife and her mother. He went on to say, "I have come to hate this life in this system of things." His marriage was in trouble by fall of last year. In October Leigh Ann moved out and rented an apartment in a neighboring town. Barton's cyberspace "profile" as an America Online subscriber was, in retrospect, slightly ominous. In his first entry, about a year ago, he wrote, "Enjoy day to day stock trading" as a hobby. His personal quote was "A dollar earned is a dollar saved." But in early 1999, he no longer listed himself as married, and his hobbies now included "Guns, Day Trading." His personal quote was from the Clint Eastwood shoot-'em-up "Dirty Harry": "Make my day."

Searching for help, Barton went to the Jehovah's Witnesses for instruction. His wife had left him over money, he told his minister, but he couldn't stop gambling on stocks. "It was a fever that he had," the minister, who did not wish to have his name used, told NEWSWEEK. Barton said he was waking up in the middle of the night, and feared that he had inherited some kind of undefined mental imbalance from his father. From the Bible, he began reciting from Revelation 21:4 ("and there shall be no death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be anymore pain").

Barton had set up his home computer looking out the window, so he could watch his daughter ride her bike while he played the market. But by springtime, there wasn't much else in the house. At a yard sale in April--the same month he was cut off from trading at All-Tech because of his unpaid debts--he tried to sell his sofas for $10 apiece. By June he and the kids had moved into Leigh Ann's apartment. Barton had already filed for divorce, but Leigh Ann took him back despite arguments over money and religion. According to her father, E. J. Vandiver, she was resisting Barton's pressure to join him in becoming a Jehovah's Witness.

Barton kept on trying for the big score. On June 10, he plunked down $87,500 at Momentum Securities to start trading stock. He lost it--and borrowed an additional $100,000 from Momentum "on margin" to buy more stock. Last Tuesday, according to a report in The Washington Post, Momentum Securities notified him that he had to pay his debts immediately to keep his trading account open. That afternoon, he put on his uniform as a Boy Scout leader and went to a troop meeting with his son, Matthew, 12. But in the evening, according to Vandiver, Leigh Ann and Barton quarreled again over money.

Sometime in the night, police say, Barton killed her with a hammer. He put the body in a closet, presumably to hide it from the children, who were asleep in the next room. On Tuesday he reportedly wrote a check for $50,000 to Momentum Securities to reopen his account. But The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that on Wednesday the office manager refused to honor the check. That night Barton took a hammer and bludgeoned his children as they slept. In his suicide note, he said that he placed them face down in the bathtub "to make sure they did not wake up in pain."

A methodical man, Barton tucked the dead children back into bed, arranging towels under their bleeding heads. He placed a stuffed animal beside Mychelle and his son's favorite toy, a Game Boy, next to Matthew. He carefully laid his son's Boy Scout uniform, as well as his own, across the bed. He wrote notes for each of his victims ("I give you Mychelle Elizabeth Barton, my daughter, my sweetheart, my life..."). At 6:28 a.m., he wrote his rambling letter "To Whom It May Concern."

Shortly before 3 p.m., he showed up at Momentum Securities, promising to transfer money from another brokerage account. He was told the manager was at lunch. He stepped into the trading room and exchanged pleasantries with some fellow traders. Suddenly he whipped out his two pistols and started firing. With four people mortally wounded and others bleeding on the floor, he ran across the street to another glitzy office building where the All-Tech trading floor was located. This time, he did find the manager in, and he shot him. Then he turned on the trading floor, killing five.

He may have had more mayhem in mind. City officials say that he pressed the "up" button on the elevator of yet a third office building in the complex, but by then, the carnage next door had drawn a phalanx of police cars and SWAT teams and the elevators had been shut down. Still Barton was able to slip out and drive off in his minivan, merging into the rush-hour traffic on I-75.

Just before dark, with the city in an uproar over the manhunt, he approached a woman getting into her car in the parking lot of a shopping mall in northwest Atlanta and told her he'd shoot her if she screamed. She ran and called security. At about the same time another woman spotted his face--by now plastered all over TV--and called 911. A police cruiser quickly picked up the minivan and, following from a distance, saw Barton turn into a gas station. Another police cruiser cut in front from the other entrance.

Barton was boxed in. In his duffel bag, he had, in addition to the .45 and the 9mm Glock, a .22 revolver and a Raven .25 semiautomatic. (Two of the guns were licensed to him; police do not know how he got the others.) He had 200 rounds of ammunition, enough to kill some more. Instead, he took his .45, pressed it to his temple and pulled the trigger. For him the pain was over. For the families of his victims, it was just beginning.