Family of psychiatrist gunned down 23 years ago speaks out to warn public

From the Oregonian, September 17, 2008

The family of a 41-year-old psychiatrist gunned down in his Portland office June 26, 1985, spoke out Wednesday, on the eve of today’s hearing to decide whether his alleged killer should be let out of the state mental hospital.

"I just don't want him to hurt anyone else," said Jane McCulloch of the man who killed her husband in 1985.

"I just don't want him to hurt anyone else," said Jane McCulloch of the man who killed her husband in 1985.

It’s been 23 years since Jane McCulloch, a mother of five, was shocked by a morning radio news bulletin: “Portland psychiatrist had just been murdered in his downtown office.”

She immediately called her husband’s office and got the answering service. She called again. “This is Jane McCulloch. I’m just checking to see if Mike’s all right.” Her husband’s co-worker got on the line, then asked whether she was sitting down.

Witnesses said disgruntled, former patient John C. Eaton calmly marched up to the 17th-floor office and fired at least five rounds from a shotgun, killing Michael J. McCulloch instantly as his receptionist looked on.

READ – Biography: Michael J. McCulloch

“I just don’t want him to hurt anyone else,” said Jane McCulloch of the man who killed her husband in 1985.

Jane McCulloch didn’t have time to fall apart. She had a 2-year-old daughter and three teenagers at home.

“The only thing I thought was, ‘I’m not a wife anymore, but I’m still a mom,'” she recalled in an interview at her home Wednesday. “That just kept me going.”

Eaton has never been tried. Shortly after the brazen shotgun attack, doctors declared him insane, saying he suffered from paranoid schizophrenic psychosis. For many years, Eaton waived his right to a commitment hearing to determine whether he was fit to be released from the Oregon State Hospital.

About two weeks ago, Jane McCulloch got word that Eaton wanted to argue for his release. Eaton, who turns 62 today, will be represented by court-appointed attorneys. The state attorney general’s office will contest his release. If necessary, a Multnomah County prosecutor and Portland homicide detective are ready to arrest Eaton if he’s released from the hospital and charge him with murder.

“I just don’t want him out to hurt anybody else,” said Jane McCulloch, now 64. “I feel like I have a moral and social responsibility to tell the story.”

Under Oregon law, a person can be committed to a mental institution against his will only if he cannot take care of his personal needs or if there is substantial evidence that he could harm himself or someone else.

Three days before her husband was killed, Michael McCulloch had reported to Portland police that Eaton, a former patient whom he had seen for about five years, had threatened him, his wife said. Jane McCulloch remembers Eaton used to call their home. Jane said her husband increased his life insurance shortly before his death, and the night before, was chatting with a colleague about what heaven might look like.

Eaton had no prior criminal record but had been committed to the state hospital in 1983 for threatening a Portland State University philosophy professor with a gun on three occasions.

For Jane McCulloch, the years that followed Michael’s violent death seemed to pass in a haze. The newly widowed 41-year-old mother got up each morning, and tried hard to keep her household running. The first five years, she also had to handle her husband’s estate and tried to sell his practice. In the ensuing years, she struggled to care for her and her husband’s elderly parents.

“I was like one of those tin toys with the key in the back … You wind them up, and they just go … click, click, click,” Jane McCulloch said. “I was such a robot. I physically worked myself to death.”

She lost 30 pounds. Between rushing to her children’s soccer games or basketball practices, she’d tend her garden, and then collapse in bed at night, exhausted. But the constant activity helped her sleep.

Bill McCulloch, Michael’s only sibling, said their parents, living in Washington state at the time, learned of Michael’s death on TV. Bill McCulloch, a veterinarian, said it felt almost like he had lost a son because Michael was 12 years younger.

His older brother works to promote the Delta Society, which the two brothers co-founded in Portland in 1977, a nonprofit aimed at using therapy animals as healers for humans suffering from illness.

“I’m doing what I can to keep his dream alive,” his brother said. Pausing, he looked down, and then, through tears, added “I miss him.”

The victim’s daughter, Amy, was 16 when she lost her father. About six weeks later, she left home and moved into an apartment on her own to get away from it all. “To me, I could blink my eyes, and it’s 23 years ago,” she said, now Amy Wood, 39, married with two children. “Time seems to pass so fast, but then it also seems like it’s yesterday.”

Wood said she’s concerned about her family’s safety, that Eaton may come after them.

The violent killing shattered Jane’s faith as a born-again Christian; today, she’s agnostic. “I don’t have any of the answers I thought I had. ”

Today, Jane McCulloch isn’t angry or bitter. She met her husband while working as a nurse and she has had experience working with the mentally ill.

“I feel no revenge or hatred,” she said. “I can’t hold him responsible because I understand how sick he is, but for that reason, he just shouldn’t get out.”