What Mainstream Publishers Don't Want You to Know: Cataloguing Grief

Between 1999 and 2006, 17 magazine sales agents working in crews around the country were killed in traffic accidents, in some cases resulting in convictions of vehicular homicide and manslaughter, as well as careless driving and homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

In the first seven months of 2008, 23 agents or managers — some of whom were previous offenders — have been charged with the following:


door-to-door sales

• Second degree murder

• Second degree attempted murder

• Sexual battery by restraint

• Assault and battery on a police


• Attempted rape

• False imprisonment

• Possession and delivery of a

controlled substance

• Identity theft

• Child labor law violations

• Forgery

• Breaking and entering

• Simple assault

• Sales fraud

• Vehicle theft

• Felony trespass

No discussion of this industry is complete without mentioning the work of Phil Ellenbecker, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed in the 1999 Wisconsin van wreck. Quite simply, Ellenbecker, who lives in Wisconsin, believes the industry murdered his daughter.

Ellenbecker founded the Dedicated Memorial Parents Group and runs its Web site, www.travelingsalescrews.info. He has demanded tighter regulations from legislators, the National Field Selling Association, the Magazine Publishers Association and company owners themselves. His Web site contains information relating to more than 300 felony cases within the industry since the 1980s. It is a catalog of grief — so much so that NFSA President Vinnie Pitts has said, "It's so negative, I don't like to look at it."

Ellenbecker's vitriol toward the industry sometimes gets the best of him. In 2006, he called Nina Link, president of the Magazine Publishers Association, at her home, to tell her about the latest death of a sales agent. When Link hung up on him, he fired an e-mail to Chris Nolan, the MPA's general counsel, which read in part, "Next time I call, tell her to listen to what I have to say! Tell her from me not to hang up. I have been very patient with all of you. Don't over extend your expectations of what will happen next." Ellenbecker received a visit by FBI agents shortly thereafter.

Somewhat scary outbursts aside, Ellenbecker's coverage of the industry is invaluable, and this story could not have been done without the help of his research.

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