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A cautionary tale

David Epps's picture

I have known for some time that one of the dangers to pastors, priests, social workers, counselors, and caregivers in general, is the failure to set appropriate boundaries. While people need help and while caregivers are usually compassionate, caring people, the lack of inviolate boundaries can result in dire consequences. This, then, is a cautionary tale. The story is true.

The heading of the newspaper article was, “Fed-up suicide prevention counselor admits slitting wrists of chronic caller.” In 1991, a Suicide Prevention Center volunteer counselor in Sacramento, Calif., confessed that he slit the wrists of a chronic caller who had become too demanding.

Frank Charles Snyder, 29 at the time, admitted that he and an acquaintance, identified only as “John,” had attacked a depressed and suicidal Benjamin Carlson. According to Snyder, Mr. Carlson, who survived the attack, “was sucking everything out of me ... he antagonized me so that I would kill him.” The judge ordered Mr. Carlson to stand trial on the charge of attempted murder.

In 1991, Mr. Carlson was 52 and recently separated from his wife. He became a client of the suicide prevention hotline, reaching out for help while struggling with depression and loneliness over the holidays.

Soon, many of the volunteers at the center were refusing to accept calls from Carlson. Carlson would later deny most of the allegations testified by counselors in court. The counselors accused Carlson of obscenity, sexual harassment, and death threats. According to the service director, Carlson threatened to bomb her car and threatened her children. Carlson was calling the hotline 150 to 200 times a week.

But Frank Snyder, by all accounts, was a nice, compassionate guy, majoring in sociology at a local college, and decided that he would accept the calls nobody else would take and that he would try to talk to Carlson. Snyder took it upon himself to ignore the hotline’s rules and decided to meet and befriend Carlson in person.

Snyder and Carlson quickly became buddies, visiting each other’s homes and fishing together. Snyder even gave Carlson a puppy. The two scooped up the puppy one night and all three partied together at a topless bar.

But the friendship became a struggle for Snyder. His college grades were suffering, his relationship with his wife was at odds, and while helping Carlson through alcohol withdrawal, he himself began to drink more.

The hotline center also found out about Snyder’s breaking policy and suspended his participation for three months. According to Snyder, Carlson was unwilling to end the friendship with his only friend when the suggestion was brought up.

A deputy sheriff quoted Snyder as saying, “This guy, Ben, was in a vicious cycle. He wanted to die but didn’t have the courage to do it ... I was angry with him. I was furious. It was ruining my life.” Said Snyder to a detective, “If I was ever going to get Ben out of my life, I was going to have to take care of it somehow.”

On the night in question, Snyder and “John” went to Carlson’s home and forced their way into the house. Snyder struck Carlson in the face and said, “I’m going to shut you up.” A razor from a snakebite kit was used to cut the victim’s wrists. Snyder then told “John,” “We’ve got to take the jugular out,” when he realized that Carlson wasn’t dying. Snyder said that he didn’t have the nerve to cut Carlson’s throat but that, “‘John’ did the best he could.”

A jury rejected Frank Snyder’s insanity defense and Snyder received a life sentence for attempted murder with torture. He never gave up “John.” He would have been eligible for parole in 2001.

In the early summer of 1994, the former suicide prevention counselor hanged himself with an electrical cord while serving time at the state prison in Vacaville. Ben Carlson is still alive.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. ( He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]


Shamika agrees with you 150%! Being a caregiver myself (apologies for the third-person earlier) gives me a unique insight into the need for boundaries on both sides. It's a sad commentary on the state of healthcare in our nation that folks who are having a time of it don't have access to 'round the clock counselors on call. However, any fool who has ever hocked anything over a telephone line should know that one of the perks of using Ma Bell for your business is that you don't have to deal with the people on the other end of the line in person.

I have to say that getting your suicidal telephone client person loaded and taking him to a t*tty bar was probably not a good decision to make. Strip clubs are not happy places! Trust Shamika on this, honey, as she may have twirled around a stripper pole or two in her misguided youth (and my back is still in tatters!) I think the point of your story is that, while nobody usually gets hurt by listening to someone, all manner of insanity will ensue when you exceed your scope of 'practice.' What a sad irony that he himself actually ended up swinging from the rafters when he met his end.
PS, did you make all this up? It's fine if you did... I love an allegory... On the other hand this tale is so chock full of nuts that I wouldn't be at all shocked if it were a faithful historical accounting. Truth is weird like that. Anywho, just wanted to give you my tuppence on the subject. I love your blog! I read it to my grandbabies regularly. Tootles!

I have decided that I will not use you as a councilor.
I wouldn't want you slitting my throat, then hanging yourself.

By the way Pastor I am studying Druidry! Not that I plan to set up a Gallic Celtic group here of Druids, but I have an interest now that England has approved them for non-profit status.

Right now I am studying Phiny The Elder. He set up the rules for a week of moon worship for the Druids. He prepared a huge cauldron of mead and sacrificed two white bulls for most of their food.

He killed the bulls personally by hanging from an Oak tree full of mistletoe, yielding a golden sickle with which he slew the two white bulls and cut the mistletoe off.
He then gathered th mistletoe to mix with the bull meat and that cured infertility among other things.

A white clad Druid was selected to pass out eating mistletoe, bull flesh, and mead, and when he awakened, he was able to predict the new rightful High King of Ireland! Among other things.

There may be some possibility there for picking between Obama, Sarah, O'Donnell, a Mormon, an evangelical, a Huckkeebee, Deal or a former Governor, or for White House Pastor!

The TEAS and the Libertarians have no leaders, they say, so I suppose they don't need a Druid to help.

The minorities: Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Solomon Islanders, Puerto Ricans, and what Central American baseball players and cab drivers we have, never heard of the Druids.

I know this doesn't make as much sense as your article but those fruit-cakes and convicts who need help from Pastors and Druids will simply have to wait.

...battled behemoths as big as bordello bins. The buglars batched bands on the broad battlements buzzing for blasphemy.
But, brittle borders of basking benches on the blue bastions braced for branding!

Bats in the belfry belted out bemusement before bellicose belligerents briefly blasted a bellyful. Bemused bemoaning benefited the benevolent benign bequeathes.

Beriberi beset and besieged and besmirched and besotted betakers.
Bevies of birds broad and bad bifurcated bitter bile blandishly.

Blarney bloomed by the voting booth!

<strong>"A white clad Druid was selected to pass out eating mistletoe, bull flesh, and mead, and when he awakened, he was able to predict the new rightful High King of Ireland!"</strong>

Kind of like an ancient Joseph Smith "awakening" in the forest. I always thought Joseph came up with the idea to *create* the Mormon religion, after waking up in the forest after a drunken night of partying.

The original idea for the Mormon Doctrine could have been whatever it took in order to have a lot of cooks around the house.
Reverend Smith and Moses had a lot in common except fire wasn't involved in creating the lost plates and stuff.

I won't accuse either one of them of drinking excessively. Possibly too much sassafras tea, highly concentrated! Constipation was rather normal in both times--- eating grasshoppers, branch mustard, and awful bread.

Anyway it is not the "tales" but the faith in something that matters.

I just hope someone of now times doesn't write down a bunch of stuff and hide it on a mountain or under a rock on gold or lead, and have it be found in a few centuries, in a stupid constipation fit!

Those poor future folks might go around forming TEA parties, total Liberty parties, and some method of exchange worship!

...after reading this bizarre post by Mr. Epps. Why would they take a puppy to a t*tty bar? Poor thing.

Well, it seems Bishop Epps might have been pressed for time getting both his sermon and op ed piece done by the appointed deadlines, and taken somewhat of a shortcut on his op-ed piece, and just rehashed some info from a sensational crime from about ten or so years ago. Or, perhaps he got his op ed piece mixed up with his homily. Or, perhaps Bishop Epps is starting another career as a true crime writer. Or, perhaps his neighbor's dog told him what to write. Or, (fellow bloggers, please fill in the blank).

ctkcec's picture

It is indeed a true and terribly sad story. Not creative enough to make up a story like that.

David Epps

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