Crime, Murder, Student Loans, Suicide

Debt Is Possible Motive In Law Graduate’s Matricide/Suicide

Killing your mother is unnatural. Personally, I think trying to ascribe a “motive” or a “reason” somebody would do such a thing is a little bit futile.

But the cops are saying that a recent Villanova Law graduate, struggling as a contract attorney, shot his mother over Christmas. Then, he killed himself.

“We’ll never know his motive,” said Marion County Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Sandlin. “What is our opinion? Financial. He had a lot of student loans that were outstanding.”

The guy’s father also died under suspicious circumstances…

John Conrad Wagner, 32, had been working as a contract attorney in Philadelphia. He went to Florida State for college and Villanova for law school. A colleague of his said that he seemed to handle his contract gig well, despite the financial difficulties. From the Philadelphia Daily News:

“It was just a hundred attorneys going through boxes,” recalled lawyer Simi Mayall, who worked with Wagner during 2007-08. “It was really boring.”

Mayall said Wagner was well-liked. “He always had a smile on his face and was a really good-spirited person,” she said…

“Carolyn [Wagner’s mother] was hopeful that he would get married, settle down and get a permanent job,” said [Carolyn Wagner’s friend Patsy Batsch]. “It’s just that he had some student-loan debt that was heavy. It was taking up a lot of his salary. He just felt like he couldn’t.”

This lifestyle should ring true to many recent law school graduates who are currently contracting (to say nothing of the grads who are looking for an opportunity to do this kind of work). It is a very challenging job market for new attorneys.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of recent law graduates drowning under a load of student debt don’t murder their mother.

Ms. Wagner was found shot to death in her bed a few days after Christmas. Her husband died in a hiking accident in 2011:

The 32-year-old lawyer and Center City resident had heard his father’s cries as he plunged from a cliff while they hiked alone in 2011 in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

While the father’s death looks suspicious as hell now, Mount Rainer authorities say that the case of Robert Wagner’s death is closed.

With mounting evidence against Wagner, [Marion County Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Sandlin] said, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office had probable cause to believe he had killed his mother.

“Ultimately, we would have arrested him for that,” Sandlin said.

But when Florida authorities traveled to Philadelphia a second time and went with local police to conduct another search of Wagner’s apartment on Jan. 31, they found he had killed himself with a gun he’d bought the day before, Sandlin said.

No one may ever know the full story behind Carolyn’s death, but if Wagner did pull the trigger, police believe that his motive would have been outstanding student-loan debt, Sandlin said.

I don’t know, it’s difficult to live with debt, but it seems to me that you need something more than a bad day on before you kill your own mother. As a family friend said: “Law school isn’t worth killing your mother over.”

Exclusive: Center City lawyer’s suicide followed parents’ violent deaths [Philadelphia Daily News]

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