John Lawrence Markle



Despite having several murder/suicide cases on my list I do not do put a lot of them together because as sad as this sounds they are quite often much alike. The motive of murder/suicides, especially when they involve an entire family is often surrounded by financial issues and the perpetrator most often cites, if they they cite anything at all, the unreasonable idea that they are saving their family from shame and embarrassment. I have a few others together that have researched and have considered one day when I have a few more doing one post devoted to those cases and combining them. However, this one was a bit different for a few reasons. One, the perpetrator, John Markle, was the son of an Oscar winning actress, although not one very well known, at least by today's standards, even for someone like me who next to true crime has a passion for movies. The other interesting thing was the way in which the crime was played out.

It was nearly 4:20 in the morning on November 16, 1987 when police arrived at the Little Rock Arkansas home of John Markle. Right around 4:00 Markle had called his attorney, Richard Lawrence and simply told him to come to his house and hung up the phone. Lawrence attempted to call the number back a few times before contacting the police. Just inside the home officers would find a briefcase that was apparently filled with documents with a note on top of it stating that it was to be given to his attorney. In the downstairs study authorities would find the body of John Markle. He had two guns next to him as well as a rubber Halloween mask. The investigation would determine that apparently Markle had taken the guns and placed one on each side of his head before pulling the trigger.

Upstairs in the master bedroom they would find Markle's wife, forty-four year old Christina. She would be sprawled across the couple's waterbed. She had been shot three times. In thirteen year old Amy's room they would find her and her nine year old sister, Suzanne. Amy would be on top of her bed. She had four gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Under the covers in the bed lay Suzanne who had suffered from five gunshot wounds. All four were obviously dead.

There was no secret from the beginning really who the perpetrator was and if there had been Markle had written a note to be clear. Actually he had written two. One was just simply a suicide note in which he admitted killing the others. He had written the time as being 2:30 am. The other was more like a book rather than a note or a letter. Some reports say it was ten pages while others say it was twelve but no matter how you find it, it was still extremely long. This letter was to his mother, actress Mercedes McCambridge.

McCambridge had won an Oscar in 1949 for the movie, All the King's Men. For my part I looked at her list of movies (although she also did stage and television apparently) and saw she was apparently in the 1956 movie, Giant with James Dean but not one of the staring or well known roles. But, for cult followers she was the voice of the demon in the 1973 classic The Exorcist if you have the need to say you knew who she was. McCambridge had been married twice. The first time was to a man named William Fifield. They would have a son, John Lawrence in 1941 but would divorce in 1946. In 1950 McCambridge would marry Fletcher Markle who would adopt John Lawrence. It appears that William Fifield would go on to remarry and have other children but it was unclear what kind of a relationship they had with Markle. One of Fifield's other children has apparently written a book on grief it seems and addressed slightly the incident at Markle's home in 1987 and the reaction of William Fifield but again the relationship was unclear.

At any rate this extremely long letter to his mother was said to contain a lot of bitterness and anger towards her. Markle had made a living as an investment broker but had recently been fired from his job after a scandal involving his mishandling of money. That money also involved his mother although it was said that she was not aware of Markle's actions until not long before Markle would kill his family. The story is that Markle would invest both his mother's money as well as company funds in the same things without really distinguishing the difference between the two. However if the stocks rose he gave the credit to his mothers account but if if there were losses he attributed it to the company. The “scheme” had been discovered in October and he was placed on “medical leave” while it was being investigated. Three days before the murders he would be officially fired from the company.

While the letter to his mother mentioned things pertaining to his upbringing and his continual attempt, but apparent failure to please her, they also mentioned the issue with his job. The letter indicated that there had been an offer to obtain a settlement with McCambridge that could have resulted with him simply being able to resign his job and obtain another but that McCambridge had refused. He claimed in the letter that McCambridge had called him “A liar, a cheat, a criminal, a bum. You said I have ruined your life.” Years later McCambridge would write and autobiography that says Markle is only mentioned slightly a few times but when he was it was in a “loving” way. Mercedes McCambridge would die in 2004.

Inside the briefcase that was left for his attorney a new handwritten Will would be found. Markle had voided any previous Will and replaced it with the handwritten one and left no provisions for his wife and children although specifics were not found.

Autopsies on the bodies would find that all four of the Markle's had an antidepressant that causes drowsiness in their system. It was indicated that Markle gave them this so they would be easier to kill but possibly so they would not suffer as much. It was also speculated that the Halloween mask found next to his body was used in the killing of his family so that they may not seen his face in their last moments or possibly to help him have a little less view as to what he was doing. Authorities would come to believe that due to the thunderstorm in the area at the time of the murders the neighbors had not adequately heard the gunshots. It is assumed that there was likely a period of time between which the Christina and the girls were murdered and then Markle killed himself.

Most who knew the family said they were very private people until you got to know them. Christina and the girls were involved in community activities but were still quiet to most about their private lives. Some described Markle as “snobbish” but others have said he was rather fun, if not a bit eccentric and believe it is because of these traits others may not have understood him correctly.

The fact that Markle used apparently three different guns in the course of the night is also an unusual thing for a perpetrator and it was never known the reason. It was said authorities found about fifteen other guns that were not used in the murder/suicide in the home.


In the end though Markle's reasons and/or “excuse” for murdering his family, if not simply himself is pretty familiar to cases of murder/suicide. His career was over and it was a pretty lucrative career. By all sounds of it, his bitterness towards his mother had always been there but was exasperated near the end when she refused to help him in this manner. The company that he was Vice President for before his firing would say that the monies involved had only been his mother's and the companies and did not involve any other clients. Whether they could have ever determined just how much money Markle had given to his mother fairly and how much he gave her that she was not entitled to is unclear. He would proclaim that shame and poverty would come to his family and this was his attempt to prevent that for them. It was then, and always is a lame excuse in my opinion. 

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