- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

In the small city of Evansville, Ind., people who live on the same street for several years usually get to know each other pretty well. But 47-year-old Robert Pickett, who has lived most of his life on Tyler Avenue, is a mystery to most of his neighbors.

Yesterday, hours after the tax accountant from Evansville made national news when he fired shots from a handgun outside the White House, neighbors back home reacted with words like: "The name sounds familiar" or "I never met him."

They described him as a "private person" who lives alone, dresses "normally," and keeps his residence meticulously neat.

Mr. Pickett's personal life, however, is somewhat messier.

He dropped out of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the 1970s, was fired from the Internal Revenue Service in the 1980s and lived at a Baltimore halfway house for mental patients in the 1990s. He has attempted suicide once before.

Just last week, Mr. Pickett sent an angry letter to the IRS commissioner, with a copy to President Bush, contending his life was destroyed by the U.S. government, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported in today's editions.

"I would rather not continue with life," he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was also sent to the U.S. attorney general and the Enquirer. "My death is on your hands… . I have been a victim of corrupt government."

The letter also said the IRS commissioner was guilty of murder. "Your predecessors made decisions which killed an innocent man," he wrote, apparently referring to himself.

The letter, postmarked Feb. 2, was signed "With great contempt, Robert W. Pickett."

No one in his neighborhood contacted by The Washington Times claimed to know Mr. Pickett personally. Yet he has lived, on and off, at the address for at least three decades and graduated from nearby Harrison High School.

"I have lived here for 13 years, and I never once saw him," said George Morgan, who lives two houses away from Mr. Pickett's two-story brick house at 319 Tyler Ave., a quiet neighborhood in a city of about 120,000 people.

"It is the sort of place where you roll out the sidewalks in the morning and roll them back up in the evening," Mr. Morgan said.

Mr. Pickett worked as an accountant at Greg Bachert Co. in Evansville.

Yesterday, Betty Perry, who works across the hall from Mr. Pickett at Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, said he was "a stereotypical accountant."

She said she sometimes spoke with him in the hallway and described him as "really shy." She said he never participated in discussions about family and politics.

"This is a building where we have some real good political discussions. He would never have any part of it and would just laugh and walk off," she said. "But he was never a problem in the building."

She also said Mr. Pickett would sometimes go missing for a while, only to turn up days later. This time, he had been missing for a week, she said.

Carl Garrett, a janitor at the Greg Bachert Co., said there were no pictures of family members in Mr. Pickett's office and that "he made up his own hours" at work.

"He always seemed like a real nice guy. He just did things different from other people," Mr. Garrett said.

Yesterday, Secret Service agents searched Mr. Pickett's office and took away two computers and some other things. His home, where he has lived alone since his father's death in 1995, also was searched.

Principal John Williams, who joined Harrison High School after Mr. Pickett graduated, said the former student graduated in 1971 and had earned a Rotary award, a citizenship award and had been on the honor roll.

None of the five veteran teachers at the school who might have taught Mr. Pickett remembered him, Mr. Williams said.

Steve Johnson, who lives across the street from Mr. Pickett, said he once waved at Mr. Pickett while he was washing his car. Mr. Pickett, he said, waved back.

"Other than that, I didn't know him at all," he said.

One neighbor, Angela McBride, who knew Mr. Pickett by sight, said he was "reclusive." She recalled an incident where children selling candy knocked on his door, and he refused to open it.

His house, she remembered, was always "very well-kept."

"I have never seen the grass taller than it should be, and very rarely have I seen his vehicle parked in the driveway instead of the garage," she said.

Jean Lacewell, who has lived on Tyler Street for 28 years, said Mr. Pickett was already living at the house with his parents when she moved in.

She said she knew his mother, whom she described as a "very nice person, very professional and responsible." Mrs. Pickett worked for the Evansville Association for Retarded Citizens, she added.

Mrs. Lacewell said she had never spoken with Mr. Pickett, but added that "as far as I know, he is a nice person."

"I am sorry this happened. It sounds as if he must have had some real problems," she said.

Court records show that Mr. Pickett sued the IRS in 1994 after he was fired in 1987 for incompetence and absenteeism. He acted as his own attorney in the unsuccessful lawsuit, claiming that his constitutional rights had been violated.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Pickett said he suffered from mental illness and had tried to commit suicide.

He also contended the government repeatedly betrayed him, from his departure at West Point to his IRS dismissal.

Mr. Pickett wrote he felt betrayed by fellow West Point cadets who turned him in for unspecified misconduct, and he dropped out of the military academy in 1972. Feeling depressed and betrayed again amid problems at his IRS job in Cincinnati, Mr. Pickett traveled to West Point in 1987 and tried to kill himself with an overdose of his psychiatric medication, his suit said.

D.C. police said Mr. Pickett drove into Washington from Evansville. At about 6 p.m. yesterday, Metro transit police located Mr. Pickett's car, a blue Ford Probe with Indiana license plates, outside the Vienna Metro station.

Federal authorities in Washington said Mr. Pickett was not among those listed in Secret Service files as known threats to the president.

WTOP radio reported yesterday that Mr. Pickett was a patient about seven years ago at Fellowship House, a Baltimore facility that "treats adults with major mental illnesses, dual diagnoses and eating disorders."

The center is located at 707 St. Paul St. in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. The director of the facility did not return a telephone message left by The Times.

• Jeff Davis, Jerry Seper and John Drake contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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