By Patrick Rogers
August 16, 1999 12:00 PM

July 29 was a bad day for investors—the Dow fell 180 points—but Nell Jones was on a roll. A player in the high-risk game known as day trading, Jones, 53, raked in more than $15,000 by 3:10 p.m. Just then she heard a fellow trader behind her chair at All-Tech Investment in the upscale Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead: “I hope this doesn’t ruin your trading day,” he said, before spraying the office with gunfire. She froze as he pointed his .45-caliber handgun at her face. But the gunman fired at her computer instead. “He wasn’t manic or irrational,” says Jones. “His eyes had this enormous sadness; he was flat-out hopeless.”

Minutes before, the gunman, Mark Barton, 44, had opened fire at another brokerage house, Momentum Securities, across the street. By 3:15, nine people were dead and another 13 wounded. Later, Barton shot and killed himself when police cornered his van at a gas station. Investigators found the bodies of three more victims in his apartment in the suburb of Stockbridge: Barton’s wife, Leigh Ann Barton, 27, and his two children from a previous marriage, Matthew, 11, and Mychelle, 8.

“I have come to hate this life in this system of things,” wrote Barton, who had lost more than $100,000 on the market in the previous seven weeks. The note was found in the two-bedroom apartment where he and Leigh Ann, a saleswoman for a cleaning-supply company, had reunited in June after an eight-month separation apparently brought on by Barton’s disastrous investments. In the computer-written note, Barton explained how he had bludgeoned Leigh Ann and then submerged her in the bathtub on July 27 and killed his children in the same manner the next day. “…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.”

Like the all-too-many mass killers in the news of late, Mark Barton made contradictory and bewildering impressions on those who thought they knew him. He was, by all accounts, intelligent and appeared to be a good father. He volunteered his time to Matthew’s Boy Scout troop and, says father-in-law Joe Vandiver, a Macon, Ga., contractor, often cooked the meals for his wife and kids and ironed their clothes. At the same time, Barton was the prime suspect in the 1993 double murder of his first wife, Debra Spivey Barton, 35, and her mother, Eloise Spivey, 59, who were hacked to death with a sharp object at a remote Alabama campground.

Barton insisted that he was at home with his children that night. Indeed, he maintained his innocence until his death: “I deny killing [Debra] and her mother,” he wrote in his final note. “There is no reason for me to lie now.” But investigators working the case discovered that his 14-year marriage to Debra, whom he had met while both were students at the University of South Carolina, had been crumbling. Barton and Leigh Ann, who both worked for the same Macon chemical distributor at the time, were already an item. And Barton had bought a $600,000 joint life insurance policy for himself and his wife two months before her demise. He refused to take a lie detector test about his whereabouts that night and, according to his grieving in-laws, showed scant signs of mourning. Eloise Spivey’s sister Grade Herring told CNN that Barton announced his intention to remarry before either victim had been buried, while another Spivey relative recalled that Barton brought Leigh Ann (who was also married at the time) to his wife and mother-in-law’s funeral.

Since the Atlanta killings, suspicion about Barton’s possible role in the 1993 Alabama murders has only grown. Investigators in Douglas County, Ga., where the Bartons then lived, blame police across the border in Alabama for not arresting Barton despite the discovery of faint blood traces that someone had tried to

chemically remove from Barton’s Ford Taurus. “Had he been in Douglas County, there’s no doubt in my mind that Barton would have been charged with both homicides,” says Sheriff Tommy Waldrop.

Still, no witness came forward who could place Barton at the scene and the murder weapon was never recovered. Says a spokesman for the Cherokee Co. (Ala.) Sheriff’s Office: “There was never enough evidence to gain a conviction.”

Without ever completely dispelling the cloud of doubt, Barton, who grew up mainly in Sumter, S.C., as the only child of an Air Force vet, struggled to get on with his life. But three months after his wife’s murder, he was investigated by Georgia’s Department of Family and Children’s Services after a daycare worker reported that Mychelle, then 2, may have been fondled by her dad. The investigation proved inconclusive, although a psychologist who interviewed Barton found him to be “capable of homicidal acts and thoughts.”

By then, Leigh Ann had abandoned her year-old marriage to aircraft machinist David Lang to take up residence with Barton. Lang, now 37, is still bitter about his wife’s decision to leave. “I always believed Barton did it [the double murder], and Leigh Ann had to have known about it,” says Lang. “There’s no way she couldn’t have had suspicions and asked questions.”

Whether Leigh Ann suspected Barton or not—she defended him publicly—the couple formalized their relationship in 1995, a year after they had both quit Lomas International, the chemical distributor in Macon, and moved to the Atlanta suburb of Morrow. The life insurance company balked at paying out the policy on Barton’s murdered wife but finally settled: He received $294,000 before legal fees, and another $150,000 went in trust to the kids. With the cash in hand he became a day trader—a speculator who, by buying and selling stocks at a feverish pace, can make large sums in a single day. More often, however, day traders lose money: Only an estimated 10 percent come out ahead. Barton used offices at both All-Tech Investments and Momentum Securities and at times defied the odds. But in June he hit a slump that exhausted his credit. Momentum Securities canceled his account on July 27. Two days later he returned, armed and angry.

It is not clear why he attacked other day traders. Victims ranged from Ed Quinn, 58, who retired as a United Parcel Service executive three years ago, to Vadewattee Muralidhara, 44, who left her native Trinidad with two children to try her luck in Atlanta. Not even Mark Barton could offer a motive. “I am sure no one will understand,” he wrote in his final, bitter note. “If they could, I wouldn’t want them to.”

Patrick Rogers

J. Todd Foster in Atlanta and Fannie Weinstein and Grace Lim in Miami