15 Years Later, Shocking Markle Murder-Suicide Case Fades From View

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

A version of this article originally appeared in Arkansas Business on Sept. 30, 2002. It is being republished as part of Arkansas Business' 30th anniversary issue. You can access the digital edition for free here.

A violent thunderstorm and a creepy old house, a famous mother who had literally portrayed the devil, a methodical killer wearing a Halloween mask: Despite dramatic elements that would tax a B-movie screenwriter, one of the strangest business-related crimes in recent history has very nearly faded from view.

The case of Ronald Gene Simmons, who shocked the nation only six weeks later by slaughtering 14 members of his family and two former co-workers in Pope County, is detailed in two books and innumerable articles available on the Internet. Two books also were written about the murder of Little Rock socialite Alice McArthur five years earlier.

The murders of three West Memphis boys in 1993 inspired two critically acclaimed documentaries and celebrity support for the three youths convicted of the killings.

But as the 15th anniversary of the deaths of John, Christina, Amy and Suzanne Markle nears, the only lingering attention comes from a handful of conspiracy theorists who insinuate — but never quite allege — that Bill Clinton or Jack and Witt Stephens may have been involved in the annihilation of the prosperous Little Rock family.

Weeks of investigation confirmed what seemed obvious as soon as the crime was discovered. John Markle left a short suicide note in which he acknowledged killing his wife and two young daughters. He dated and timed the note and called his attorney barely a quarter-hour before his body was found, answering the question of when. Three handguns containing 14 spent shells explained how.

It would take a few more days for the Little Rock Police Department to determine that the discovery of his risky embezzlement scheme had motivated Markle, a 45-year-old futures trader for Stephens Inc., to destroy his family and himself. It would be four years before all the subsequent litigation was resolved.

Fifteen years later, the Stephens organization declines to add any information to the public record on the Markle case, except to say that more sophisticated controls are now in place that would prevent a similar scam.

The Crime

As far as the public was concerned, the Markle case began at 4 a.m. on the stormy morning of Nov. 16, 1987. That’s when John Markle telephoned his attorney, Richard Lawrence, and in a brief conversation asked him to come right away to the Markle home: a somber Victorian at 1820 Main St. in the historic Quapaw Quarter.

Lawrence, having an insider’s knowledge of turmoil in Markle’s life, twice tried to call Markle back before setting out, but he got no answer. At 4:10, he called the Little Rock Police Department and asked the dispatcher to send an officer to the Markle house.

A lightning strike darkened the street lights outside the house as Lawrence drove up. All that was visible was a small light in a downstairs window. The storm had been disrupting police radio transmissions, which may be why no patrol car had responded to Lawrence’s request.



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