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Cynthia Volpe
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“Government employees should be treated like street whores," screamed Robert Lezelle Courtney, as he beat thirty-eight-year-old Cynthia Volpe to a pulp. Courtney, a forty-seven-year-old millionaire and low-rent landlord, was enraged because environmental health inspector Volpe had just declared one of his units in Bakersfield, California, uninhabitable.

As Volpe turned to get into her car, Courtney grabbed her hair, twisted her neck, slammed her against the car, and yanked her to the ground. "You ruin people's lives," Courtney screamed at her as she lay flat on her back trying to ward off his kicks and punches, "and I'm going to ruin yours." Volpe absorbed his blows for five minutes. Finally, knowing she could not win against his 230 pounds, she faked unconsciousness. Courtney left her on the pavement, her nose broken, her eyes swollen shut, her face a bloody pulp.

Two months later, Volpe took Courtney to court, charging him with assault with a deadly weapon and assault with great bodily injury. She was suing for $3 million. Courtney pleaded innocent. The court set him free on bail of $7,500. A spirited defense by Courtney's lawyer charging that Volpe, not Courtney, had started the fight deadlocked the jury. They would have to return to court the next day to resume deliberations. Before court resumed, however, Courtney's guilt or innocence would be a moot point.

At dawn the next morning, a sheriff's dispatcher received a desperate 911 call from Cynthia Volpe. A man was inside her house, she said, shooting a gun. "Please hurry," she pleaded.

Before deputies arrived, Courtney fatally shot Cynthia's husband, Kenneth Volpe, and her mother, Betty Reed. As Cynthia herself tried to crawl under the bed to hide, Courtney shot her four times at point-blank range, killing her. Cynthia's children, Keith, fourteen, and Andrea, nine, had barricaded themselves in their bedrooms. Courtney either bypassed them by accident, was in a hurry to escape, or just did not give a damn.

The next morning, a convenience store operator in Lamont recognized Courtney at his gas pump and phoned the police. Officers from the Bakersfield police, Highway Patrol, and Kern County Sheriff's Department zeroed in on Courtney's faded green 1973 Lincoln Continental. Thirty-two officers chased Courtney for thirty minutes and thirty miles. Fifteen of the officers fired more than two hundred rounds of ammunition at him. The shots flattened some of the Continental's tires, but Courtney had otherwise "armored" the interior of the car with stacks of newspapers. He was also wearing a bulletproof vest and a military Kevlar helmet. He was armed with three guns. He fired four hundred rounds from one, an illegal, full-auto MAC-9 9 mm.

One police sharpshooter hit Courtney's helmet, knocking it off, but Courtney was unscathed. Driving toward the downtown courthouses, Courtney skidded into the center median and leaped out to open his trunk for more ammunition. More shots by police sent him back to the driver's side door. Surrounded and under fire, Courtney placed a .25-caliber pistol under his chin and shot himself. Meanwhile, officers fired two more fatal shots.

Courtney, it turns out, had a history of almost inconceivable violence. On April 2, 1958, at age thirteen, he had an argument with his nine-year-old brother, Jessie, Jr., and his seven-year-old sister, Bonnie, over a toy. He went to the basement of his Anchorage home for a rifle, then he murdered both of them. Next he shot his brutally disciplining mother to death. Courtney spent three years in Alaska's Bureau of Juvenile Institutions. Later he moved to southern California. His juvenile record was sealed and unavailable to the prosecuting Kern County district attorney, who says that had she known of it, she would have requested that no bail be granted.