This is an as/is repost of a book I reviewed on September 26, 2015.
In April 2014, I blogged about a man who apparently committed suicide after being “broken down” by the family court system. Chris Mackney was married to northern Virginia jewelry designer Dina Mackney. He had two kids with her, a boy and a girl. They split up and Mackney was both separated from his children and obligated to pay an oppressive amount of child support. He spent time in jail when he couldn’t come up with the money. He was repeatedly hauled into court and harassed by child support enforcement officials trying to get “blood from a stone”. He lost job after job and finally sank into an abyss of pennilessness and despair.
Like me, Mackney was a blogger. On his now defunct blog, Good Men Did Nothing, he posted about his situation as it became more and more dire. Finally, on December 29, 2013, Chris Mackney had reached the end of his proverbial rope. He sat in his car and placed a rifle under his chin, and pulled the trigger. In the wake of his suicide, his ex wife became executor of his estate, which basically consisted of his car and his computer. He had lost everything in his divorce, including his grip on his sanity. Mackney’s ex wife then sicced lawyers on everyone who posted about Mackney’s suicide and managed to get his blog taken down. Dina Mackney’s lawyers also supposedly had every comment Chris Mackney ever posted on the Internet wiped out. It was as if his presence on the Internet was being systematically erased.
Not long ago, Michael Volpe, author of Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce, left me a comment on my blog post about this case. I usually erase comments that consist of sales pitches, but I was interested in Mackney’s case. So I went ahead and downloaded Volpe’s book and just finished it last night. I mostly thought Volpe’s book was a very interesting read.
Volpe explains that decades ago in Texas, Dina Mackney’s father, Pete Scamardo, hired a hitman to kill a former business partner and friend named Sam Degelia, Jr. The hitman, who was paid $2000, was none other than Charles Harrelson, actor Woody Harrelson’s father. Once Degelia was successfully offed, Scamardo moved to Virginia where he proceeded to make a fortune in building. Apparently, Dina Scamardo grew up privileged in northern Virginia. She married Chris Macknij and then got him to legally change his name to Mackney, because it was a better name for her jewelry design business.
Volpe writes that Dina Mackney came from a family with ruthless and criminal tendencies, which may have made her especially likely to go after her ex husband with zeal. According to Volpe’s book, there was little left of Chris Mackney when she and the Fairfax County family court were finished with him. He saw no way to salvage his life or climb out of the bottomless financial hellhole he was in. So he decided to kill himself.
Volpe’s book is perhaps misnamed. I purchased it thinking it would be only about Chris and Dina Mackney and their relationship. That was probably a naive assumption on my part, since Dina Mackney seems clearly against getting her late ex husband’s story out to the masses. In fact, I think Volpe may be pretty brave to have written this book, since Dina Mackney has established herself as willing to litigate. Bullied to Death doesn’t include a lot about Chris and Dina Mackney’s marriage; it’s more about what happened after the marriage and what led up to Chris Mackney’s decision to kill himself. I’d say that makes up a good third of the book.
Another third of the book consists of Volpe’s thoughts on the family court system and how it’s unfair to non-custodial parents, usually fathers. Volpe has some rather radical ideas about how post divorce parenting and child support should be handled. At times, the writing is a bit emotional and disjointed and I spotted more than a couple of places where some editing would have been beneficial. On the other hand, I appreciated that Volpe was gutsy enough to write Mackney’s story to the best of his ability.
While I didn’t always agree with some of Volpe’s ideas, as someone who watched her husband get screwed over by an ex wife and saw him lose contact with his kids, I had some empathy for Volpe’s viewpoint. While Bill was not hounded by child support enforcement or lawyers, he did pay out the nose in child support for kids who eventually dumped him. Attentive fathers should not be treated like sperm donors with open wallets.
Something does need to be done about how divorcing couples with children are handled in the United States. While I am not at the point at which I’d say child support needs to be abolished, I do think that the system should be more equitable and flexible. Chris Mackney’s child support was established when he was employed in real estate and had made a lot of money. Not long after his divorce, Mackney’s business took a downturn and he could not pay the child support ordered by the court. He quickly went into arrears and was soon completely buried in debt he’d never be able to repay. He had no contact with his children, whom he dearly loved. It’s no wonder he became so desperate.
The last third of the book consists of notes, appendices, and citations. They are useful for those who want to do some follow up research on this sad case and others involving men’s rights in divorce situations.
Volpe’s book was apparently self-published, so it lacks the polish one might expect in something published by a big name outfit. Moreover, I think it would have been a stronger book had it included more information about Chris and Dina Mackney’s relationship and why their divorce was so acrimonious. Volpe seems to infer that Dina Mackney came from a family accustomed to resorting to criminal behavior, but everyone knows there are always at least three sides to every breakup story: his, hers, and the truth.
I’m not sure we quite get the whole truth about the Mackneys in Bullied to Death. However, I do think Volpe basically did a good job writing about this case as much as he was able to. I doubt he got much cooperation from the other interested parties, so naturally that affected how much of the story he was able to share. I also think this is a case that needs to be publicized. While I’m not sure what happened to Chris Mackney or even my own husband is the norm, there are men going through divorce becoming so hopeless that they turn to suicide or other drastic measures. Their lives matter, too.
For those who are interested, here is a video of Victor Zen reading Chris Mackney’s suicide note.
Mike Volpe later left me this comment on my original review:
mike volpe September 27, 2015 at 2:16 PM
This is a fair review of my book. I’m glad you liked and I wish you loved it. I only have two small points to make 1) I never suggested mostly men get screwed and in fact, I was careful in the book to show stories from all angles and 2) while Chris’s ex-wife wanted to remove even all his comments from the internet that failed miserably and most of what Chris has written has remained intact. You are correct that the marriage was not described in too much detail and that’s because one person was dead and the other one didn’t share any of their details. While divorce is he said/she said by nature, I feel comfortable that I presented an accurate description of what happened and not simply choosing Chris’s side. I presented his flaws, including his adultery, but committing adultery compared to covering up a murder are not, in my opinion, in the same league.
A few other people also left useful comments.
See Lo December 10, 2016 at 1:57 AM
I will soon be reading this book. The corruption and child support extortion needs to stop. #ChrisMackney will live on and his story is only the beginning.
Walter Singleton January 3, 2017 at 8:28 PM
Chris Mackney’s story is an extreme example of what happens to fathers (and sometimes mothers) in family courts EVERY SINGLE DAY. Family Court is a place where corruption reigns supreme – malicious spouses, dirty lawyers, and apathetic judges often join forces to destroy one of the parties. Once they decide which parent is on the losing side, there is often no recovery. This is a system that NEEDS to be fixed.
Those of you who have been regular readers of my blog may know why this subject interests me, although I don’t have the same level of interest in it as I once had. I do think domestic violence against men is an often overlooked and ignored problem. I applaud any author who is brave enough to take it on, even if they self-publish their work.