Flamboyance, prosperity end suddenly

The Baltimore Sun

EVESHAM, N.J. -- They married on Halloween 1998 - in costume.

On their five-year anniversary, Marcie and Walter Buczynski celebrated again, throwing a costume party for 100. He dressed as a pimp. She dressed as a showgirl.

Things were apparently going great at work for Buczynski then. The two-hour daily commute from his home in South Jersey to his office at Fieldstone Mortgage Co. in Columbia was a drain. But he'd been named an executive vice president that year and was being paid more than anyone else except the CEO.

The real estate market was booming, and so was the business of lending money to people with bad credit - Fieldstone's specialty. Few people then were familiar with the term "subprime."

At noon Friday, Evesham Township police found Marcie's body in the bedroom of the couple's Marlton home, dead from what the Burlington County, N.J., medical examiner ruled yesterday was a broken neck caused by blunt force trauma. Twenty minutes later, officers from the Delaware River and Bay Authority responded to a call that someone driving Walter's car had leapt from the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

Authorities still had not found Walter Buczynski's body as of late yesterday. But police said they found a note in his blue Acura SUV directing them to Marcie's body. Walter Buczynski wrote that his actions were motivated by the couple's personal relationship, rather than economic troubles, police said.

Yesterday morning, no one answered the door at the couple's yellow suburban home set in a cul de sac of newer houses. The shades were drawn, but for one set framed by leopard print drapes. White carnations were laid on the front steps with a note attached:

"Marci,

"Our friend, you will always be on our minds and will forever live in our hearts.

"With love"

Neighbors came to their doors in nightclothes and quietly asked for privacy. They said they were in shock. The Buczynskis always seemed so friendly, so normal - not the type that this sort of thing would touch.

They were known throughout town for their Halloween parties. Walter even gave planning tips to the local South Jersey paper, the Courier-Post. Marcie, 37, gardened in the yard and decorated for every holiday. Walter went to barbecues and chatted up the mortgage business.

"They seemed like a happy couple," said neighbor Colby Tyner. "I never thought anything like this would happen."

Tyner's backyard meets the Buczynskis' front, and the couple's two younger children would often tumble over the boundary when they played. Between them, the Buczynskis had four children: an 8-year-old son in the third grade, two grown sons from Walter's previous marriage, and a 15-year-old son - in his first year of high school - from Marcie's. The school-age boys have been placed with relatives, officials said.

Friends said Walter hadn't complained of troubles at work. Still, financial worries surrounded him.

In 2006, the IRS filed a lien against him, claiming he owed more than $656,000 in back taxes. The lien is still listed as open. Two months ago, Fieldstone collapsed and filed for bankruptcy, a victim of its apparent overeagerness in making subprime loans.

As someone considered indispensable to winding down Fieldstone's affairs, Buczynski was one of only about 20 people still working there. Just last week, Fieldstone asked permission from a bankruptcy judge in Baltimore to pay Walter a $100,000 retention fee to keep him on board through February. But at age 59, he was looking at possible unemployment after that.

Walter Buczynski spent most of his life working in the mortgage industry. He graduated from Rutgers University and flew a helicopter in Vietnam, according to a 1991 article in Real Estate Weekly.

Then he settled in as an accountant at the mortgage-banking unit of Primerica Corp. in 1973. He went on to hold top positions at Chase Manhattan Mortgage and GE Capital Mortgage Services. He joined Fieldstone in September 2000.

His salary last year was $330,800, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, though he likely earned a lot more. In 2005, Walter Buczynski made more than $787,000 in salary, securities options, bonuses and perks. Unlike his fellow senior executives, he didn't contribute any of it to a 401(k) retirement account.

Walter's tax woes began in March 2001, when the IRS filed a lien of $71,924. Another was filed in August for $87,092. The largest lien, according to records, was filed in July 2006. It is not clear from public records whether any of those were resolved.

Colleagues said they weren't aware of any financial concerns.

"Walter was a great person. I really liked him a lot," Brenda L. Heigh, Fieldstone's accounts payable supervisor, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

A former colleague called her with the news of the deaths yesterday morning.

"I'm in total shock. It's a great loss." Heigh said. She saw Walter early last week. He seemed fine.

Fieldstone, founded in 1995, was once ranked among the top 20 subprime lenders in the country. But many borrowers quickly fell behind on payments and defaulted. Fieldstone hurriedly arranged to sell itself to a New York investment firm last spring, but it was deteriorating too quickly to stay alive for long.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Fieldstone's former chief credit officer, Gary Uchino, said he was certain the Buczynski deaths were not related to the business failings.

"It's definitely not work, it's something personal, I don't know," he said.

Uchino was laid off in October, though he still kept in touch with Walter after that. He's seen the couple's wedding album, where they were dressed in costume. He's seen Walter's family photos resting on his desk.

He doesn't understand why this has happened. Neither do the residents of Marlton, an unincorporated community of about 10,000 within Evesham Township.

People heard about the incidents on the television news Friday night or read yesterday's headlines. They speculated about the reasons over coffee at Dunkin' Donuts along Route 70 and in the shopping plaza parking lot a half-mile from the Buczynskis' home.

At the Evesham branch of the Burlington County Public Library System yesterday, Elsie McAllister just shook her head.

"Things are happening all over the place," she said. "I don't think there's anything that surprises me anymore."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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