Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Great Recession: Celebrity Suicides

Needless to say, over the winter, a subtle media-driven "the-economy-is-to-blame" thread became apparent in the stories about the rash of murder-suicide incidents.

Additionally, there is a growing list of "celebrity suicides" of wealthy and well-connected individuals who have allegedly died by their own hand. Here are the ones that appear to be on that exclusive tally, to date.

April 22, 2009 - David Kellermann, 41, the acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac, died by hanging. See more details, here.

January 5, 2009 - Steven L. Good, 52, Chairman and Chief Executive of Sheldon Good & Co., a leading US real estate auction firm, was found with a gunshot to the head, behind the wheel of his red Jaguar. The car was in a parking lot in the McGraw Wildlife Refuge near East Dundee, Kane County, outside of Chicago. No suicide note was found with the body, but authorities felt it was suicide.

Good, who was Chairman of the US Realtors' Commercial Alliance Committee, had a long-standing business relationship with Donald Trump. Good's father founded the real estate company in 1965. The firm "has sold more than 45,000 U.S. and international properties in more than 100 different classes and produced more than $10 billion in sales.”

January 5, 2009 - Adolf Merckle, 71, the billionaire investor, businessman, and one of the richest people in Germany lost a fortune shorting Volkswagen. He died by throwing himself in front of a train near his hometown of Blaubeuren. He developed his Bohemian grandfather's chemical wholesale company into Germany's largest pharmaceutical wholesaler, Phoenix Pharmahandel. The explanation for his death centered on reports that his cement company HeidelbergCement was unable to make payments on a huge loan taken out to purchase an English competitor.

December 23, 2008 - René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 67, a French nobleman, money manager, and businessman, and one of the founders of Access International Advisors (AIA Group), had funneled $1.4 billion of his clients' money into the fund run by Bernie Madoff.

De la Villehuchet was found dead in his company office on Madison Avenue in New York City. His left wrist was slit and de la Villehuchet had taken sleeping pills, in what appeared to be a suicide. Although no suicide note was found at the scene, his brother in France received a note shortly after his death in which he expressed remorse and a feeling of responsibility.

From its inception, Access International’s headquarters were in Suite 2206 of 509 Madison Avenue, the same office where Mr. Villehuchet killed himself.

Access International had connections to wealthy and powerful aristocrats from Europe. Its funds enlisted intermediaries with links to the cream of Europe's high society to garner clients. It had invested a reported US$1.4 billion with the disgraced investor and fund manager Bernard Madoff. De la Villehuchet had also invested his personal money with Madoff's business.

According to The New York Times, de la Villehuchet's older brother Bertrand said that René-Thierry was connected to Madoff by René-Thierry's partner in AIA, Patrick Littaye, another French banker, and that René-Thierry had not known Madoff personally.

Over the last 20 years, de la Villehuchet was renovating and organizing the archives of Le Château de Plouër (a private property) in Plouër-sur-Rance, Brittany, which he'd inherited from an uncle, and was nearly finished with the endeavor at the time of his death.

December 17, 2008 - Christen Schnor, 49, a Danish-born senior executive with HSBC bank, was discovered hanging by a belt, naked, in the wardrobe of his £500-a-night suite at the Jumeriah Carlton Tower Hotel, Cadogan Place, in Knightsbridge, London, having also rented a £390-a-day apartment for his wife and two children in Lower Sloane Street, in the same upper-class area. Schnor worked at HSBC’s Canary Wharf office. (According to Above Top Secret, his death resembles that of Amschel Rothschild who was discovered hanging in a high-class hotel in Paris on 11th July 1996.)

December 5, 2008 - Alex Widmer, 52, Chief Executive of Bank Julius Baer, Zürich, died by suicide. A bank spokesman carefully pointed out that there was no link between Widmer’s death and the group’s "current" activities, but declined to give further details on the cause of Widmer’s death, saying it was a "private matter."

November 17, 2008 - Paulo Sergio Silva, 36, a trader for the brokerage arm of Brazilian banking giant Itau, shot himself in the chest during the afternoon trading session of Sao Paulo, Brazil's commodities and futures exchange in an apparent suicide attempt. He shot himself in the open outcry pit. Hospital staff said he was in critical condition.

November 15, 2008 - Rajendra Gupta, in his late 30s, a Gurgaon beverage dealer, apparently staggering under the weight of stock losses, hanged himself from the ceiling with his wife’s sari, after leaving behind a note donating his eyes. In his suicide note, Gupta, father of two kids, said he was unable to bear the huge losses following the crash.

October 25, 2008 - An unnamed 47-year-old man from Gwangju who suffered serious depression after huge losses on the stock market, died by suicide. He invested 370 million won after taking out a mortgage on his house and using his life insurance as security for the loan two years ago, but the recent financial recession resulted in him losing about 60 percent of his total investment.

"When the nation's stock market index fell below 1,000 [earlier in October], he stopped eating and went on a drinking binge for days and finally decided to kill himself,'' his wife was quoted as saying to police.

October 22, 2008 - An unnamed 42-year-old branch manager of an insurance company was found dead in an apparent suicide on a mountain in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, South Korea. Police believe that he killed himself due to concerns over losses his firm recorded with various insurance products.

October 9, 2008 - An unnamed 32-year-old employee from a security firm was found hanging at an inn in Seoul, South Korea, which police claimed was related to the stock market crash.

September 25, 2008 - Kirk Stephenson, a London investment-fund executive, ate breakfast with his wife and eight-year-old son, then drove to a train station about 30 miles from his Chelsea home. As an express train approached, Stephenson stepped onto the tracks, according to British Transport Police. The driver applied emergency brakes but couldn't stop in time. Stephenson, 47 years old, died at the scene.

May 23, 2008 - Barry Fox, a Bear Stearns executive, took a drug overdose and then leapt to his death from the 29th floor of his Fort Lee, New Jersey, office. He was a research supervisor who worked for nine years at Bear Stearns. He jumped after he learned he wouldn't be hired by JP Morgan Chase, which was about to buy his firm. A coroner confirmed in an autopsy report that the death was a suicide.

Fox was devastated by the implosion of Bear Stearns and the financial hit he was likely to face, says Fred Philippi, his longtime companion. After several personal setbacks, "this Bear Stearns thing happened to be the last straw that broke his spirit," Philippi said in an interview.

Interestingly, some media also are including the following individual as noteworthy as a "stock market crash"-related suicide, even though this death occurred 7 years ago.

January 25, 2002 - J. Clifford Baxter, 43, was a former Enron Corporation executive who resigned in May 2001. He sold a large quantity of Enron stock during the months prior to Enron bankruptcy. Reportedly, Baxter clashed with CEO Jeffrey Skilling over questionable Enron business practices. Before his death, he had agreed to testify before Congress in the Enron case.

Baxter was found dead in his black Mercedes-Benz S500 in Sugar Land, Texas, with a gunshot wound through the right side of his head. The ammunition used was a "Glaser Safety Slug," which at the time was misreported as rat-shot. A revolver was found in his car and a suicide note was found in his wife's car at their home. An autopsy was performed by the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office and the death was ruled a suicide. His suicide note was hand printed, though not signed, for his wife Carol. The letter expressed Baxter's despair over the direction his life had taken.

Hauntingly, Baxter was born in Amityville, New York.

The idea of Wall Street financiers leaping to their deaths during the stock-market crash of 1929 is largely myth, but it is myth rooted in a shred of truth: A handful of brokers did choose to end their lives through such extreme measures. ~ MarketWatch, April 22, 2009.

For more about how the media are discussing the "1929 Stock Market Crash" folklore about stockbroker suicides, see here and here.

The "W.C. Varones Blog" has a list of 92 deaths (some suicides) of mostly non-celebrities, related to mortgages and foreclosures. Above Top Secret also list both suicides and possible murders here.

What I am attempting to do is first track the more high-profile "celebrity suicides" that appear to be getting some attention in the American and international media.

3 comments:

Christopher Knowles said...

Watch Michael Clayton, is all I have to say...

W.C. Varones said...

No doubt there is something to the copycat effect.

But there is also something to the economic effect. Suicide rates spiked in the Great Depression, and they are spiking now.

While I blame Alan Greenspan as the father of the housing bubble, many others were also to blame, including Franklin Raines, Angelo Mozilo, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, GW Bush, etc.

No bubble, no pop. We would have all been much better off if we'd just hummed along at 1-2% average GDP growth without a housing bubble.

Those who believe they can eliminate recessions create depressions.

W.C. Varones said...

I tend to believe the researchers (as do the National Park Service and ABC News and Encarta), who found that suicide rates increased during the Great Depression.

Steven Stack accepts this data too. Stack also forecasts rising suicide rates in this economic crisis.

Call rates to suicide hotlines and local government completed suicide statistics are already bearing this out. Yes, you have to wait a few years for finalized national statistics, but there is plenty of evidence available now for those who care to look for it.