Electric Company Murders 93-Year Old Vet, Freezing Him to Death in the Dark

The stiff, frozen carcass of a 93-year old World War II veteran was excavated from his home in Bay City, MI on January 17, transformed into an icy tomb by the Bay City Electric Light & Power which cut off his power earlier this month for arrearages in his electrical bill. Marvin E. Schur’s story is a parable for our monstrous times, a 93-year old widower murdered by a machine he probably didn’t know existed and had designs to kill him.

Murdered as effectively as a battered geriatric stuffed into an gas chamber at Auschwitz, with a far cleaner technology, however, and the patina of deniability, Schur went the way we will all go as Wall Street rips the economy of the United States to shreds and the militarized, high-tech culture of hair-trigger state-sponsored violence churns to life to confront and neutralize the desperate throngs of debtors and dispossessed millions.

Pay attention, because Schur’s story will be all of ours very soon: when the maxed-out credit card is refused at the emergency room; when the RBOC decides there are too many abandoned homes in a community to support the copper-based service there any longer and kills the local circuit; when a bank is close to failing and starts calling in notes early; when starving, unpaid military men abandon their bases and garrison a city’s supermarkets; when the looted pension fund runs out and the federal pension insurance safety net fails; as scores of millions of unemployed roam the streets facing down surprisingly fatal non-lethal and less-than-lethal weapons deployed by cops, mercenaries and US armed forces. Then people will die, not intentionally, of course, but as certainly as Schur did.

In the frigid depths of Michigan winter, a Bay City Electric Light & Power placed a “limiter” device between the electrical service on his street and the billing meter on the side of Schur’s house on January 13 – because he owed in excess of $1000 for electrical service. The device is automated dunning gear that shuts off power after the consumption of some predetermined number of kilowatts during some predetermined time period.

To restart the device, the homeowner needs to find it and reset it. Clever, eh? Keeps those unapproachable deadbeats on notice. Beats tazing them or tear-gassing them, other non-fatal technologies that should really only be deployed when someone gets disagreeable or looks threatening. Big problem in this case, however, is that this clever gear was not something that could be managed by 93-year old Schur, who was apparently deaf and possibly demented.

The city doesn’t even know if the technician explained to him how his electrical service was being jury-rigged with the auto-dunner or if he actually understood anything if indeed it was explained to him, or even if he would have had the dexterity to reset it when it finally when into fail-safe mode sometime after the 13th and Schur began to slowly, painfully freeze to death.

No one heard him wail in the freezing dark before he died and no one’s to blame. It just happened. Right? No need to question the madness of putting a lifeline utility on automatic shut-off in the dead of winter. No need to question why it makes more sense to hire two full-time people to place and remove these limiters in the winter than to establish a lifeline trust for the old and bankrupt. No need to ask why, after more than 100 years of nearly universal electrical service, it’s impossible to handle arrearages for these servicse without subjecting human beings to the humiliations of an automated cattle prod.

No, Stinquers, America’s way beyond that kind of quibbling. You learn your place in the machine and how to manage it or you die. No questions! No reprieve! Zero tolerance or anarchy! Right, Marvin? You can’t reset the dunnomatic death-switch in the dead of winter, you freeze in the dark alone. It’s brilliantly efficient and think, just imagine, if you will, the cost savings compared to having to pay for a truck roll with a licensed marksman to go out there, grab the old man by the hair and blow his fucking brains out. This is the kind of management culture that makes America great.


In related news, a three-month-old baby was found dead today on the Northwest side, in a roach-infested, garbage-filled apartment. Child & Family Services had complaints in the past few months, but apparently nothing got done. Lord.

As to heating/electricity: there should be laws in Michigan (and just about anywhere) in re cutting off the power to the destitute in wintertime. The way people get stuck in the cracks of society sometimes.

Of course: there will be those who say “they get what they deserve.” For real: fuck them.

@chicago bureau: Someone who was in the house when the body was being peeled off of the floor saw the bills on a table with bills clipped to them.

Well, I think that confirms that it’s now martini time on the Left Coast.

@FlyingChainSaw: I appreciate your outrage. This is horrible.

@chicago bureau: Of course nothing got done. Counties across the country are laying off social workers and welfare eligibility workers due to their budget crunches. Somehow they never seem to lay off the people who investigate alleged “fraud” in Food Stamps or the people like these dudes who install the shut-off valves on electricity.

SanFranLefty: ELITIST!

This is the Chicago mindset, you know. Babies dying in Dickensian squalor, kids getting shot at high school basketball games (to the point where CPS has banned away fans from games, citywide). But the streets don’t get plowed and the potholes don’t get filled, and all holy hell breaks loose. Something is wrong here. Etc.

@chicago bureau:
Yes, apparently you’re a class warrior if you point out the obvious.

Part of the tragedy here is that it appears that he had no one to check in on him, see how he’s doing.

@redmanlaw: The Bay City Manager is already pointing the finger at neighbors, who “need to keep an eye on neighbors.” Everyone seems to have let this poor man down.

It takes some hours to freeze. It could have been they did and missed the moment when the death-switch went failsafe on the geezer.

Oh, pish posh, freezing is a pleasant way to die, after the initial shivering and numbness, you go into a totally delusional state, those who have come close say it was a relief to give up, and then, when you are in the last throes, you actually feel as if you were burning hot and you take off your clothes, most outdoor hypothermia victims are found partially disrobed.

But seriously, had this man no family? This is the problem with our sane, liberal, small families, or no children at all. There ain’t gonna be anyone to give a shit about you when you are old and feeble. Unless our society finds a way to have “community” again.

Whats the expression, the fish will be the last to discover water? Someday the impact of our two favorite technological inventions, the TV and the automobile, will be seen for what they are, the destroyers of “community.” We huddle in our houses alone, watching TV, we walk from our isolated suburban house to our personal isolation chamber, the car, and have no contact with our community while coming and going from work, shopping. Even the cameradery of the neighborhood pub, which was and is a real community gathering place, has been destroyed by drunk driving hysteria and a kind of neo-victorian, neo-prohibitionist mentality, driven in part by the narcissitic cult of the healthy body the young are caught up in, and the desire for churchy types to ensure people have nowhere else but church to go for sociability.

I think the internet is rapidly rushing in to fill this void in our society, the lack of a community life.

I am going to tell a story. I am a constant visitor to a bulletti board, the Wooden Boat forum, its maintained by Woodenboat magazine, and the thing all the people their have in common is they love, and most build, wooden boats. I have been part of this community for almost 10 years. The people come from everywhere in the English speaking world, lots of Ausies, and americans from every part of the country and every social strata. We even have an English dude who is some kind of nobility, higher ranking, I think, but he doesn’t say, except sometimes a remark about his title and when it passed to him from his father and how it goes back 400 years. Usually, he mentions it to disavow it, as he is quite liberal.

But anyway, we had one member, who died last year. Destitute, and alone, and slowly, of brain cancer.

A collection was held to make sure he had a computer, in the hospice, so he could stay in touch. We organized the sending of care packages to him, with little things, toiletries, small luxuries, food items, books. Near the end, two members of this community who lived nearby started visiting him, every day, alternating, even when he grew incoherent and no longer recognized him, and one was there when he died.

All this, because of an internet community centered around a wooden boat afficionado message board. Its a real community, like this one here is, and it made a real difference in this man’s passing. His name, all I know, was “Meercat.”

I think we’re going to see a lot more of this as the winter deepens … heating oil companies demand COD in many cases. Gas and electric companies will gleefully cut you off so they can charge you to turn it back on.

Service fees, man. That’s American innovation. Why do you hate innovation? Do you have something against the freedom to innovate?

@blogenfreude: Gas and electric companies will gleefully cut you off so they can charge you to turn it back on.

@Promnight: The gentleman who died was a widower who had no children. Outliving your money and the people who care about you sucks.

@Mistress Cynica: Its not the fault of some “other,” an electric company, local social services. Its the fault of the entire way of life we have adopted, all of us. Its everyone’s fault. Its my fault, I don’t know if the old man across the street is OK, or not, I don’t speak to him, I am in too much of a hurry to get on with my 90 minute commute, too eager to get back in my house after dark to watch the Simpsons. This is the fault of a sick society and a crazy way of living that alienates everyone and leaves everyone alone, all too often. I am not going to self-righteously damn the immediate cause, and thus feel good about myself and enjoy the feeling of condemning the scapegoat. Its all of our fault. Its my fault too.

We don’t live right, in this country, in this society.

@Promnight: There are 15 apartments on my floor – I know the occupants of only 3 of them. Sure there’s some turnover, but others have been here for years.

From the U.S. Department of Inappropriate Things: Rita Moreno has been, and always will be, a killer.

@blogenfreude: Did you read that up there about that dying man? Is that why we are here, and find so much pleasure in this semblance of “community” that used to be more widespread, that you would encounter and speak with a number of friends on a daily basis, check in, trade observations and opinions, you know, actually have a community? Thats what this is, thats what the TV and the car have destroyed. Is it because we know, somewhere, whats lacking, and we seek it, and this internet thingy, that lets us all chat and share photos and rant about our jobs, and all and on, and on, is because we are finding a way back to it, community? This technology is getting better and better at creating a really decent simulacrum of “community.”

@blogenfreude: Someone get the Unicorn on the Hope (TM) Phone so that they could put more money into the low-income heating assistance program that’s so chronically underfunded…. I’m sure the GOP will object since it’s not a tax cut.

@blogenfreude: I tried to introduce myself to the new neighbors this summer – run down place, young couple with lots of enthusiasm to fix it up, I thought it would be nice to say hey, maybe deliver a bundt cake. Mother in law basically told me to eff off.

*shakes head*

That MIL = BITCH. Picture BITCH in 900 Point Font.

I talk to both my neighbors. I shovel my 75 year old neighbor’s driveway if it is a really big snowfall. My other neighbor I watch his house when he’s on vacation.

I don’t want them nosing in on my business and I don’t go nosing in on theirs. But I do help from time to time if they ask.

@nabisco: The MIL? Why did she get in your face? What was she doing there? Did you shove the Bundt cake up her ass?

@Promnight: I have a bizarre series of circle of friends. From my various jobs and schools, and then there are these really surreal tight circles. The people who rode in the “bike train” on CalTrain every morning up the Peninsula to SF on the same train – we all had our bikes and rode in a special train. We bonded every morning for 45 minutes up to the city and then we would hope to be on the same night train home with our bikes. And you guys, which is bizarre, because as Den Mother I have probably met more of you IRL than just about anyone, but at this point I know that I could come to you all in a crisis in a way more than I could to my friends who knew me when I was a geek in 7th grade. This was brought home to me a couple years ago when I had to go through some major surgery and medical procedures and the people who came through for me in terms of emotional and present support were the people with similar medical issues who I met online in a bulletin board. More than one of my IRL friends (and family members) decided they “couldn’t deal” with me being sick – even though I’d been there for them during their stages of being sick – and that really hurt.

So all that. I don’t know what to think. I’ve met you only twice in person but feel like I know you very well. I’ve never met FCS or Bloggy or Nojo in the flesh but I know what makes them tick. I worry when some people don’t show up here for a few days. What does that mean?

@Promnight: If you’re in trouble I can’t run down the hall and help you. Still, it’s nice to know that anyone here would help me (as much as is possible over teh toobz) as I would help them.

@SanFranLefty: Speaking of which – anyone seen Pedonator lately?

@SanFranLefty: SFL, I don’t know whether it would be a good thing for us to meet. I think so highly of you, and I fear that I would so disappoint you IRL that you would shun me.

@Promnight: All true but the point is they just fused this guy’s fate to a machine and let it go berserk and kill him. We’re all in this situation one way or another. Bad software that says the taxes haven’t been paid on our homes when the mortgage servicer has fucked it up and they have – but to the wrong account – threatening catastrophic fines and foreclosure. Arbitrary and unannounced changes in health insurance coverage leaving people to choose death or homelessness. Hair trigger fee systems on credit cards that can throw you into 55% interest rate hell or collections. A criminal consumer credit system that basically invites massive scale ID theft and leaves consumers to sort out the mayhem on their own, basically suffering non-stop financial catastrophe for the rest of their lives with their stupid fucking meaningless credit score perpetually wacked. Industry credit practices that increase the likelihood of default on the most vulnerable consumers. Hair trigger utility shut-off schemes that are designed to reap fees from captive consumers – of the sort that killed this guy. Humanity is being hung on this cross of crappy software, savage business practices and automated violence. Marvin could have had a parade of visitors every day and, in a few short hours, he could have frozen anyway. He’s 93. The physical insult of deep cold could have animated a cascade of physiological reactions that could have killed him long before hypothermia yanked the ghost out of him. It’s nice to think that jesus will come down and form bowling leagues and add 3 hours a day for community building activities. In the meantime, we’re all becoming acculturated to responding to cattle prods. A depression will probably do more in that regard than jesus could ever accomplish actually.

@blogenfreude: I’ll dial up Pedo. I have the secret bat code for him.

@Ewalda: Oh, sugar plum don’t say that. There’s a window of time when Benedick and Cynica will be here in SF in two weeks – then again, we live so close a lunch would be good someday.

@FlyingChainSaw: I love your 11:19 rant. Now saved elsewhere (printed out) to re-read. I think you just hit the proverbial nail on the head.

@FlyingChainSaw: Rise of the Machines, dude. Skynet is self-aware.


We don’t live right, in this country, in this society.

I believe the word that describes this is anomie: “…a state in which norms have been eroded… the effect of normlessness is to introduce alienation, isolation, and desocialisation as norms become less binding for individuals.”


@Original Andrew: That’s a good word for it…

In case anyone was wondering, I’m still around, just haven’t had much to say. If you’re not following along on Facebook, I had a bicycle crash last week that’s left me feelin’ a bit gimpy (although I’m mostly better now). Ice + slick bike tires + cornering == bad. Anyway, I still check up on this site about 18 times a day.

@Promking, Original Andrew: If it’ll make you cats feel any better, my dad told me that in our little tight knot tribal community back home, it took several days last winter for people to determine that an elder had passed away at his home. As is often the case as Cynica pointed out, this guy had no immediate family around to check up on him.

I can tell you that as of three hours ago, things were cool with my mother in law five minutes away and if there was anything thing up with the folks back home I’d be getting calls right away. Last saw the folks the weekend before last.


Yeah, I keep threatening to go to grad school and get a master’s degree in sociology (or film studies) which makes Mr. OA freak out.

Sorry about your accident. I’ve always had mega-respect for the SEA-town bicyclists–especially those bike messengers who have no fear of death–given the todos locos drivers, hellacious weather and steep hills.

I hope you feel better soon.

I was at a community meeting tonight about a poisonous transportation project that an arrogant state agency is trying to jam down the throats of an already heavily-polluted working class community near the L.A. ports. I’m still too angry to write about the details.

New u2 single from u2.com, “Get On Your Boots”.


Yo, SanFranLefty: You do realize my “ELITIST” tag on your comment was all in good snark, right?

@SanFranLefty: Thanks. I may have told this story before. Old buddy had, surprise, his taxes mispaid or unpaid by the mortgage servicing company used by BoA. As someone who has been consulting with the banking industry since like 1983, he knew what went sideways and how to interrogate the process anomaly, parse it, resolve it and clean up any systemic issues. Lady on the other end of the phone just broke into tears as he was going through the list. Her life was living hell. People’s lives being thrown into complete chaos and more than half the time she was powerless to fix the problem. @redmanlaw: Oh, gosh, if only it were self aware. It might stop all the fuck-ups. Or decide, like the movie, the species is irredeemable.

SanFranLefty: Sorry. Before my first cup of coffee, I get a little twitchy when I read stuff on the internets and start to over– WHAT THE HELL IS THAT??

(incoming e-mail alert, quivering, breathing again after realizing it is yet another continuing legal education spam e-mail)

Anyway — I knew you knew it was snark. My suggestion that you took it seriously may have offended you, and if you were offended, I etc. etc.

@Dodgerblue: No environmental justice provisions to call upon?


That particular neighbor seems to be an anomaly in my small town setting. Most of our neighbors have lived in their homes for 20-30 years, and one guy is 83 and still climbs up on his roof to repair loose shingles despite the fact that he fell off a few years ago and shattered his clavicle. I’ve got one neighbor who is That Guy who loves to mow and snowblow, so we never have a problem clearing our driveway or worrying about the grass if we go away in the summer. We’ve got cat sitters and fish feeders and folks that look after our mail, and most importantly: there isn’t a single private security system in the area and there are no break-ins.

Oh, also one of my neighbors is a former wide receiver for the Browns, which is hilarious if you realize how ridiculously partisan all the rest of us are for the Steelers.

@FlyingChainSaw: You are saying that we now live in the movie “Brazil?”

@nabisco: Let’s see – dog sitter for the neighbor/martini buddy/fellow liberal across the street, walk shoveler in cooperation with Mr. Garcia down the street, go to house for people who need a quick $20 until payday, hydration HQ for skater kids in the summer, loaner of cups of sugar, flour or bottle of wine, ride to movies for kids . . .

@Promnight: Worse. Much worse. You have to manage the chaos and there is no alternative cable guy to pay off.

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