Nine years ago a part-time letter carrier in Edmond, Oklahoma, killed fourteen people before turning a .45-caliber pistol on himself. In 1991 a postal worker in Royal Oak, Michigan, killed four of his supervisors before shooting himself with a sawed-off .22-caliber carbine. Earlier this year a staffer at a postal processing center in Palatine, Illinois, shot two co-workers with a semiautomatic pistol. The image of a disgruntled U.S. postal worker on a murderous rampage has passed from the realm of oddity into cliche -- to the point where "going postal" has found a place in the American lexicon.
Where else but Miami would someone come up with a twist on the commonplace?
Enter 66-year-old Marlon Green, a postal customer charged with the attempted murder of a Coral Gables postal clerk. His weapon of choice: A steel-tipped umbrella. His alleged beef with the postal service: The clerk once called him "chief."
"The clerk's biggest mistake was calling him 'chief,'" explains U.S. Postal Inspector Jeff Esser, a federal law enforcement agent who investigated the incident for the postal service. "That was, like, the last straw in a series of problems Green had with the post office."
Esser's findings, supplemented by the Coral Gables Police Department's arrest reports and other court documents on file at the Metro-Dade Justice Building, test the maxim that the customer is always right: On Friday, August 25, at the height of the lunchtime rush, Marlon Green opened an aqua-tinted door of the Coral Gables post office at 251 Valencia Ave. Bypassing the long queue of customers, he approached a counter where clerks label packages, dispense stamps and attend to sundry other postal functions.
Brandishing his umbrella -- which Esser describes as large, heavy, and equipped with "a rather round steel ball" at the tip -- Green laid into two of eight display cases flanking the service counter, reducing to smithereens carefully arrayed advertisements for Marilyn Monroe stamps and Express Mail delivery. Shards of glass were still tinkling onto the brown tile floor when Martin Barros, an off-duty Coral Gables police officer who happened to be in the post office at the time, approached Green, apparently in an attempt to prevent further vandalism.
Turning his attention to the cop, the six-foot-one-inch, 225-pound Green "reached back with the umbrella and began to swing" at Barros's head, according to a subsequent arrest report. He missed, which furnished Barros the opportunity to subdue his alleged assailant. Two on-duty officers were called, and Green was arrested.
At first the arresting officers believed they had apprehended nothing more than a display-case-bashing curmudgeon. "Basically, it initially started as a vandalism call," explains Esser, who regularly investigates any federal crimes involving the postal service, including burglaries, robberies, mail theft, and mail fraud. "But when he was interviewed by the local police, he said his intent was to kill this local postal employee. That's where the attempted-murder charges came into play."
Esser says the motive for the attack seems to be rooted in a previous visit Green paid to the Gables P.O. "Green had been in the post office approximately six weeks earlier because he had a delivery problem," the postal inspector recounts. "One of the clerks said, 'Hey, what do you need, chief?' It was a casual thing, but Mr. Green took it as a racial insult, Mr. Green being a black male. Evidently that was the last straw." Upon entering the post office on August 25, Esser adds, Green didn't see the clerk, whose name is Arcadio Carballosa, but thought he heard his voice coming from a back room; he apparently shattered the display cases as a ploy to draw the clerk to the front of the building. (Carballosa was forbidden by his postal supervisor to speak about the incident to the press.)
Arresting officer Raul Pedroso told Esser that Green had in his possession a note stating that he intended to kill Carballosa with a hammer. According to Esser, Green had equipped himself with the hammer. In the apparent belief that the attacks were premeditated, Assistant State Attorney Joseph Robinson charged Green with the attempted murders of both off-duty officer Barros and postal clerk Carballosa. The offenses carry maximum sentences of life in prison. (Green was also charged with resisting arrest and with smashing the display cases, valued at $200.)
In the course of his investigation, Esser found that Green has a history of problems with the U.S. Postal Service. In 1988, according to the postal inspector, Green broke windows at a post office in Carlsbad, California, a city of 60,000 people about a half-hour's drive north of San Diego. "A whole bunch of [postal-related] things have happened to this guy over the years. He has a feeling that he hasn't gotten satisfaction," Esser says, though he did not go into specifics beyond the Carlsbad incident.
A Miami resident for only a year, Green had tried other methods of giving vent to his dissatisfaction with his mail service. In July, a month before the alleged umbrella incident, he took a letter to Victoria Pesce, office manager of the Miami bureau of the New York Times. Green told Pesce that the letter, which was addressed to Washington-based Times columnist Maureen Dowd, had been returned to him undelivered, with the stamp uncanceled. The missive constituted proof, Pesce remembers Green explaining, that the postal service was conspiring against him. "He also had a map drawn out that showed how he had a letter sent to point X, it got deflected at point Y, and came back to him at point Z," says Pesce. "It was like they were doing something to him specifically."
After that initial contact, Pesce didn't hear from Green again until two weeks ago, when he phoned her from jail. She inquired about why he was incarcerated. "He said something like, 'I decided to protest my rights as a postal customer by murdering a postal worker. Unfortunately it turned out to be only attempted murder,'" Pesce recalls.
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Those were Green's last known comments to anyone connected with the press. This past week he agreed to a New Times interview, then canceled at the last minute. A guard at the Pretrial Detention Center on NW Thirteenth Street reported that Green had refused to sign the jail's standard media release owing to "philosophical problems" with the form's language.
Green, who has been declared indigent, was scheduled for a bond hearing on Tuesday, October 17. His public defender, Joseph Tesmond, has no comment about the case. Marie Sibai, the assistant state attorney in charge of the prosecution, likewise declined to comment for this story.
Court records indicate that Green has no prior felony convictions. He also has no known address or property, aside from a rented post office box in Miami. Jeff Esser, though, views Green's honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force as potentially significant. "I am of the understanding that he gets a pension from the air force," Esser says, his mind moving adroitly from mayhem to money. "Obviously it is our desire to recover some of the costs from the broken display cases."
The following correction appeared in "Letters," May 22:
Erratum Owing to a copyediting error, last week's article "Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman" was published without a byline. Staff writer Robert Andrew Powell wrote the story.