by Gwen Moritz
Posted 9/30/2002 12:00 am
Updated 4 months ago
Next to the shocking deaths themselves, the most explosive element of the John Markle murder-suicide case was the 12-page letter that he left behind for his mother.
Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge spent a year and a half trying to keep the contents of the letter from being released under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. The tone and some of the content was leaked to the press shortly after the killings, but the letter itself was a bombshell when it finally was released in April 1989 and printed in full in the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat.
The bulk of the letter appears to have been written over a period of several days, and in it John Markle seemed to be planning not a murder-suicide but to break off all contact with his mother. His diary noted on Oct. 31 that he had "just about finished the letter to my mother."
Only the first page of the letter referred to the killings, and it appears to have been written last — after McCambridge rejected a restitution plan that would have left her $1.2 million on account with Stephens Inc. and let her draw interest during her lifetime.
"But NO, you refused and sent your wires — which by the way Warren mention [sic] as negative impact on his and his father and uncle. So you didn't do it and you played hang-up for a week with me and now Stephens is made [sic] at me, and you, and so a deal that would have cost you nothing has now changed in a very different way. I wished you'd never done a lot of the things you did. Night mother," he wrote, the last an apparent reference to a play in which she had portrayed the mother of a suicidal daughter.
"... You were never around much when I needed you, so now I and my whole family are dead — so you can have the money — funny how things work out isn't [it]??"
The second page of the letter begins with a confession to the embezzlement.
"Guilty: John Markle traded your account on an undisclosed discretionary basis. I added funds to your account; I added losses to the Stephens account."
After that, he recounted in chronological order a variety of slights, beginning with his conception in an attempt to save McCambridge's marriage to writer William Fifield and the guilt he felt when they divorced.
The letter is sprinkled with Hollywood characters: "We (were) living in the Judy Garland House on Glenroy in WLA ..." "You and Joan Crawford were both drinking and fighting like hell ..." "You were filming something with Elizabeth Taylor in London ..."
He pointed out that he had called her daily for 26 years and had used even his boyhood earnings to buy her gifts. "What was I trying to buy?" he wrote. He accused her of ruining innumerable family gatherings through selfishness and impatience and of being no help in times of family crisis. Many of the sections ended with the underlined words, "Thanks for all your help."