Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Becker

Mark Becker's psychological history

Mark Becker
Mark Becker

Mark Becker did not take the stand in his own defense, so the bulk of information about his psychiatric state came from the testimony of his mother. According to Joan Becker, Mark changed from a happy, friendly boy into someone darker and more solitary during his high-school years — so much so that she began to keep a journal dedicated to Mark's mood swings. After graduation, when he attended Wartburg College, Mark would call his parents at night sounding depressed and only lasted a semester. Mark tried college again at another local school but became so withdrawn that his roommates called the Beckers and told them their son wasn't eating and would not leave his room. Mark moved home once more.

Mark had experimented with marijuana and alcohol in high school — he was twice suspended from the A-P football team for violating the conduct policy. But it was after high school that he started to experiment with methamphetamine. Becker's defense attorneys and psychiatrists would characterize this as an attempt at self-medication for his burgeoning mental illness.

Brad Becker
Brad Becker

Mark Becker moved to South Dakota to live with his older brother Brad in 2007. Becker lived out there for over a year, working in the bakery of the local Hy-Vee supermarket. However, Becker's hallucinations worsened during his time there. He would call his parents to tell them he was fine and ordered them to quit trying to get into his head. Brad reported that he was puzzled at his brother's increasingly erratic behavior: Mark began to use loud vulgar language and started to pick fights with people. A month after the tornado hit Parkersburg, Becker came back to Iowa.

By the fall of 2008, Mark Becker's outbursts had evolved from puzzling to dangerous. Joan recounted a night when she and her husband were awoken by Mark's screams. "Get off me," he was shouting — as if he was being attacked by unseen forces. Joan recalled her son looked different, "His eyes looked right through you."

Joan said Mark believed he was turning into the family coonhound, Chief. Becker ranted about a ring of people in town (including Ed Thomas) who were ruining children. More worrisome was that he had taken a bat and begun smashing walls and doors in the Becker home. Ultimately, they called Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson to the home. Johnson suggested the Beckers commit their son to a mental hospital or he would be arrested.

Mark Becker was checked into the psychiatric unit at Mercy Hospital in Mason City on September 8, 2008. Doctors there diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, but said the symptoms could also support diagnoses of depression and schizophrenia. He was given anti-psychotic medication while in the hospital and was supposed to continue taking it after his release, but he did so only sporadically. His psychotic episodes became more frequent. Joan recalled a time when Mark called her awful curses and broke her cell-phone in half, but later came home crying and apologetic: "It wasn't me, Mom," he told her.

After another serious episode in late November 2008, Mark Becker was committed to Mercy once more. Doctors found Becker's paranoid delusional thinking and hallucinations were getting worse. His diagnosis was listed as either a generic psychotic disorder, methamphetamine-related psychosis or both, although a drug screen at the time showed only traces of marijuana.

After his release from Mercy, Mark Becker's case was transferred to Cedar Valley, where he became a client of Cedar Valley Community Services (CVCS). The organization helped Mark live independently and taught him life skills like money management, but, since Mark was an adult, they could not force him to take his prescribed medication. CVCS helped Mark get an apartment in Waterloo and found him a job at Old Chicago, a pizza restaurant in Cedar Falls, where Mark worked as a dough maker from April until his arrest for murder. Although Mark continued to suffer psychotic episodes, he would not be hospitalized again until June 21, 2009, after his attack at the Rogers' home and subsequent high-speed police chase.

 

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