SIMILARITIES ARE FOUND IN SERIES OF FAMILY KILLINGS; MONEY, SELF-ESTEEM WOES ARE NOTED IN THREE CASES

Date: 2003-01-18

Boston Globe, The (MA)
Author: Farah Stockman, Globe Staff

The criminal clerk's office at Brockton District Court has only one case in its computer files on Pedro Barbosa, and it's a minor offense: driving with a suspended license.

But the civil clerk's office is littered with judgments against the 38-year-old father, from unpaid credit card debt to music equipment he took home but never paid off.

Monday, without warning, Barbosa shot Laurinda Gomes, the woman he had lived with for 17 years; their 11-year-old daughter; his daughter's grandmother; and himself, sparing the lives of his 12-year-old son, a 21-year-old stepson, and their 17-year-old cousin, authorities said.

It was the third time in three years that a Massachusetts man has inexplicably killed his spouse, one or more of his children, and himself, leaving investigators with no one to catch and no one to punish. Last year, retired Air Force major Richard Kolenda told his parents how proud he was to be a father - and then murdered his wife and two children hours later, police say. In 2000, career Brockton firefighter Paul Riley Jr. took his wife, his 6-year-old son, and his 2-year-old daughter to Disney World, and then allegedly shot them in their sleep shortly after they returned.

Investigators arrived at these crime scenes knowing exactly what happened - but having no idea why. The answer is no clearer today because the killer and those closest to him are dead and because there's only so much time police departments can afford to spend on a case where there's no one to put behind bars.

Each of the men committed what researchers call "familicide," the killing of a family. None had a known history of violence. All had recent financial troubles.

Barbosa's family members, who wailed yesterday at the wake for a slain daughter, mother, and grandmother, fear they might never know why he turned murderous. Barbosa once tried to kill himself, family members said, but had done nothing to indicate that he would hurt others.

"He never abused his child," said Andre Araujo, a relative. Maria Vieira, Gomes's best friend, also said she had never heard about or noticed signs of abuse, as did the relatives of Gienia Kolenda and Alicia Riley, the wives who were killed.

There are only a handful of researchers across the country who study familicide in an attempt to uncover answers that might one day help law enforcement prevent it. It's not easy to study, because there are only 30 to 50 cases nationwide each year, said Charles Patrick Ewing, a forensic psychologist based in Buffalo. It's also difficult because all of the perpetrators are dead.

But Ewing has examined the crime for 20 years, and come up with a profile that Barbosa, Kolenda, and Riley seem to fit. They are usually depressed men who are having difficulty solving a problem, and run into financial failure or humiliation.

Unlike men who kill their wives or girlfriends, men who commit familicide rarely have a history of battering, Ewing said. They are known as doting, controlling fathers who see themselves as the center of a family that can't survive without them.

"It has to do with the perpetrator perceiving himself as essential to the lives and well-being of the people he's killing," Ewing said. "It is kind of a narcissistic, grandiose belief. . . . `You couldn't possibly survive without me. You're better off dead without me.' "

Ewing's psychological profile could help explain some of the most glaring contradictions in the three men's lives. Riley was rushing to build a house in Bridgewater so that his son could attend a special-needs school; Kolenda often talked of how his 11-year-old son and daughter, adopted from Russia, were the center of his world. And Barbosa's house was always full of children.

Men who commit familicide "seem like family men, generally overly concerned with their families," Ewing said.

Brockton police are still searching for answers;

but, in a time of tightening budgets and in a city that had 12 murders last year to solve, it is unclear how much time they can afford to spend on this kind of case.

"Once it is established as to who is responsible for the crime, the fleshing it out and the psychology end of it, unfortunately, really aren't followed up by police departments," said Westfield Detective Lieutenant Michael McCabe, who investigated the Kolenda murders. "We don't have the time or the manpower to devote to that kind of operation."

A close look at the lives of all three Massachusetts men who committed familicide in the past three years shows that each was preoccupied with financial problems.

The price tag on the two-story house that Riley was constructing was rising above the $250,000 that the firefighter and his wife, a waitress, had planned on.

And Kolenda had sunk his life savings into a GNC nutrition store in Florida. When GNC closed the store, he filed - and some might say obsessed over - a very public lawsuit against GNC. The would-be entrepreneur was left working at an automotive parts store while his wife cleaned houses for money.

Barbosa never talked about money troubles, said Araujo.

"He had money," Araujo said. "I am not aware of any financial problems."

But court records show that Barbosa, who earned more than $9 an hour as a security guard, had more than his share of troubles with debt.

In 1997, a credit card company sued him in Brockton District Court for the $1,243 balance due on his card. A clerk said the file showed "judgment has not been satisfied." A year later, another judgment was made against Barbosa: He and Gomes owed $4,558 on another credit card. In that case, records show Barbosa defaulted and failed to answer the complaint.

Barbosa and Gomes both filed for bankruptcy in 1998, and had their debts cleared. But the problems did not go away.

In 2001, he took home music equipment worth $469 from Central Music in Brockton on the agreement that he would pay off the debt at a rate of $50 per week. "He hasn't made a payment since," records in Brockton's small-claims court note. He later paid the bill, but told workers there he was having money troubles, according to the manager.

Last September, Barbosa was served a civil warrant to pay up yet another judgment against him: a bill for $408.46 owed to Dr. Robert Chavez, an orthodontist in Stoughton. "Defendant refuses to pay for services for his son," the records show.

In April of last year, Barbosa's driver's license was suspended for failing to pay a fine for a late inspection on his car and other minor infractions. It took him seven months to pay $260 for the reinstatement, leading to his arrest in June for driving with a suspended license. The only other criminal case the Brockton court has on him was a 1992 charge of disorderly conduct that was dismissed.

Ewing said most men who commit familicide "have experienced . . . financial loss, loss of self-esteem or loss of control."

"I think it's a much more common fantasy than people know," he said. "I have talked to a lot of people in my work as a forensic psychologist that people fantasize about doing familicide, but haven't done it."

Caption:

1. In October, police say, retired Air Force major Richard Kolenda stabbed to death his 11-year-old daughter Yana (center), 11-year-old son Anatoli (right), and wife, before killing himself with a pistol in front of Westfield City Hall. The photo was taken in June 2001 in Jacksonville, Fla. / AP FILE PHOTO
2. In June 2000, after a trip to Disney World, career Brockton firefighter Paul Riley Jr. (left) allegedly shot and killed his wife, 6-year-old son, and 2-year-old daughter while they slept, and then turned the gun on himself at their Lakeville home (above).

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