Rockefeller CEO takes his life in Dartmouth — (South Coast Today)

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South Coast Today

By Curt Brown, cbrown@s-t.com

September 16, 2009 12:00 AM

DARTMOUTH ­ A Wall Street financier was despondent, had been prescribed anti-depressants and left his wife a suicidal phone message before killing himself with a shotgun, police said Tuesday.

Details surrounding the death of James S. McDonald, the 56-year-old president and chief executive of the investment-management firm Rockefeller & Co., emerged two days after his body was discovered in a BMW sport utility vehicle behind the vacant Saturn dealership on Faunce Corner Road.

McDonald, a board member of NYSE Euronext, was familiar with the area because a friend lives in Marion, said police, who declined to identify that person.

Detective Sgt. Robert Szala, head of the Dartmouth Police Department’s detective unit, said anti-depressant medication, prescribed for McDonald, was found in his vehicle along with his body.

The medication was found on the front passenger floor in a gym bag with other personal items, police said.  “He was depressed,” Szala said. “We’re still working on that.”

Szala said McDonald’s death appeared to be the result of a self-inflicted shotgun wound.

He added that the death remains under investigation by Dartmouth detectives and state police.

Barclay McFadden III, a longtime friend, told The Associated Press that McDonald “took his own life” and added that neither he nor the family had further comment.

Dartmouth police said Karen McDonald, the financier’s wife, contacted a friend in Marion on Sunday after listening to a phone message in which her husband said he planned to kill himself.

In that message, McDonald told her he was behind a Saturn dealership next to a McDonald’s restaurant “in New Bedford,” Szala said.  The dealership is actually in Dartmouth.

McDonald left the message at 2 p.m., but Karen McDonald was out of town, visiting friends and did not receive it until she arrived at their home in New York City at 7 p.m., according to Szala. At 7:55 p.m. Sunday, Szala said police received a call from the Marion resident, who had found McDonald’s vehicle on the former Saturn property.

The vehicle was locked, and responding patrol officers had to use a device to gain entry into it.  They found McDonald’s body in the rear passenger seat behind the driver’s seat, dead from a single shot to the head.

No one else was in the vehicle. A 12-gauge shotgun was between his legs, police said, and no note was found.

Both the vehicle and shotgun were registered to McDonald.

McDonald had been president and chief executive of the New York investment manager since 2001. The company was started in 1882 by John D. Rockefeller to manage the family’s assets.

Rockefeller & Co., which also has offices in Boston, Washington and Wilmington, Del., offers wealth and investment management services to families, foundations and endowments.

The company had $25 billion in assets under administration at the end of last year, according to its Web site.

“Jim McDonald was an exceptional individual who provided strong leadership of Rockefeller and Company for over eight years,” board Chairman Colin Campbell said in a statement.

“He will be missed by all of us privileged to have known and worked with him.”

He had been on the board of stock exchange operator NYSE Euronext since 2003 and headed the audit committee.

McDonald earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1974 and a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1977.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.