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Frustrated Farm Loan Supervisor Kills Family, Self

January 9, 1986

ELK POINT, S.D. (AP) _ A Farmers Home Administration supervisor who killed his family and himself was frustrated because his efforts to go by the book had failed to help farmers in financial trouble, friends and clients say.

″When things didn’t work out the way the book said he just cracked,″ said Dave Swanson, an Elk Point farmer. ″The general feeling of everybody I’ve talked to today is that his job killed him.″

Bruce Litchfield’s suicide note, released today at a news conference, says in part, ″The job has got pressure on my mind, pain on left side.″ The note, written on lined paper, showed doodles and scratches at the top.

Litchfield, 38, shot his wife and two children with a .22-caliber pistol Wednesday, then went to his office and shot himself in the head, said Union County Sheriff Eugene ″Bud″ Rasmussen. Litchfield died about two hours later at a Sioux City hospital.

The bodies of Litchfield’s family were found in their beds when authorities went to notify his wife, Laura Ellen, 42, of the office shooting, the sheriff said. The children were identified as Christine, 12, and Allan, 9.

It was the second such shooting in the troubled farm belt in a month. On Dec. 9, a Lone Tree, Iowa, farmer with $600,000 in debts killed his wife, another farmer and a bank president before committing suicide.

″As far as I’m concerned, he kept me in farming for another year,″ said Swanson, adding that Litchfield would go out of his way to help, doing things farmers didn’t ask him to do.

Swanson said he called the FmHA office early Wednesday to talk to Litchfield and was told he was on the phone. A short time later, Litchfield’s secretary called back to say her boss had shot himself.

Litchfield was very good at his job, Swanson said. ″He was worried about everything he had done for everybody, and it didn’t help them. I think that the man had a lot on his head.″

Rasmussen said the family members probably were shot as they slept.

″I don’t think they were awake, ’cause they were all shot in their individual beds,″ he said. ″They were still clothed in their night clothing. He also shot the dog. I don’t think any of them knew what happened because they showed no signs of struggle at all.″

Autopsies were ordered to determine the time of death, he said.

People who knew the family in Faulkton, a town of 955 where the Litchfields lived before moving to Elk Point in 1984, also said they thought personal problems were to blame. They described Litchfield and his wife as perfectionists who had trouble making friends.

″As much love as can be experienced in this community, you couldn’t get through to them in a positive way,″ said the Rev. Gary Rae, pastor of the United Church of Faulkton, to which the family belonged. ″We didn’t know how to reach them.″

″They weren’t the kind of people that trusted you,″ he said. ″It’s just like throwing coal into a steam engine, and not ever releasing the steam. It’s going to blow. It blew down there. ... Their lives were just a tragedy waiting to happen.″

The Litchfields’ Elk Point pastor, the Rev. Don Greenough, said no one would ever know all the reasons, but problems in agriculture probably played a part in the deaths.

The Litchfields’ pastor, the Rev. Don Greenough, said no one would ever know all the reasons, but problems in agriculture probably played a part in the deaths.

Ross Heupel, an aide to Rep. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Litchfield had spoken to him several times about new FmHA rules detailing steps to be taken with troubled loans.

″He knew the rules and, I think to be honest, he was somewhat leery of the rules as well,″ Heupel said. ″He was very blunt about it. He knew the system, and I think he knew the rules were not going to help the farmers.

″He would get kind of carried away talking about the problems and the details.″

State FmHA Director Dexter Gunderson said he wasn’t aware of Litchfield being troubled by his work. Litchfield’s office had an ″extremely low″ number of delinquent farm loans to handle, he said.

Litchfield had worked for the FmHA since 1977, moving to Elk Point, a community of 1,600 people near the Iowa border, in 1984, Gunderson said. ″He called here a couple of times yesterday and gave no indication to the people who talked to him.″

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