A Bright Student, a Quiet Neighbor
White House Suspect's Acquaintances
Tell of Job and Money Troubles
by Eric Lipton and Debbi Wilgoren
Leland William Modjeski drifted in and out of a community college
for a decade before settling in at George Mason University,
receiving a bachelor's degree with distinction in 1989 and a
master's over the next three years.
But two years later, Modjeski was delivering for Pizza Hut. Then
he was fired. For the last six months, a neighbor said, the man
who allegedly climbed over the White House fence Tuesday night
apparently has been unemployed.
Residents of the one-block street in Falls Church where Modjeski
has lived fro years with his wife and their blue parakeet say
modjeski was quiet and polite. Although his former professors
remembered a bright, motivated student who liked jazz, federal
investigators said the 37-year-old son of a military family had a
history of mental problems.
His wife, Rosemary Modjeski, told federal agents he was depressed
over the recent closing of streets around the presidential
He was born in Italy to Robert L. and Maurine Richardson
Modjeski. The young man whose nickname was Lee graduated from
Fairfax County's Mount Vernon High School in 1976.
He married Rosemary Decicco five years later and lived with her
in Annandale apartment until 1982. Then they bought a new three-
bedroom town house on Prince Albert Court in Falls Church for
$86,875. Neighbors estimated the current value of the house at
From 1976 to 1986, Modjeski enrolled at Northern Virginia
Community College's Annandale campus three times, taking classes
for six months or a year at a stretch. He entered George Mason
as a sophomore in the fall of 1986.
Three years later, Modjeski secured a spot in George Mason's
doctoral program by finishing his bachelor's degree with
distinction - an honor conferred by the faculty based on grades
and professors' recommendations. Faculty members who taught him
said he appeared headed toward a solid career, either in academic
life or perhaps in a corporation's personnel department.
"He was a great student. One of the best," said Lee Friedman, a
former George Mason professor who had Modjeski in a small 1991
seminar titled Techniques of Industrial Organizational
Psychology. "He seemed to have all the potential to be a great
But after receiving his master's degree in 1992, Modjeski told
his adviser, Associate Professor Louis C. Buffardi, that he was
dropping out, in part because of the financial strain of staying
"We did not small-talk very much, but he was not so quiet that he
seemed unusual," said Buffardi, who directs the industrial and
organizational psychology program that Modjeski attended.
Buffardi and other professors said they didn't hear of Modjeski
again until yesterday, when his name was read on radio and
television news broadcasts and reportersbegan flooding the
Fairfax County campus.
On McNair Drive in Mount Vernon yesterday, a man who identified
himself as Robert L. Modjeski told a reporter, "I'm sorry, we're
not speaking to anyone." A neighbor, Melody Buckley, said that
Robert Modjeski is a retired lieutenant colonel int he Marine
Corps and that Leland is his son from a previous marriage.
No one answered the phone yesterday at the Baton Rouge, La., home
of his mother, Maurine Richardson Modjeski. Her late father,
Edwin Leland Richardson, was a Washington-trained lawyer from a
prominent Louisiana family.
At Leland and Rosemary Modjeski's brick-front town house, one of
eight on the dead-end block, no one answered the door. The
couple's lawn is carefully manicured, with rhododendron bushes
and pansies out front and a six-foot-tall wood fence in back.
Neighbor Roy E. Eberhart, 42, said that he often was Leland
Modjeski sitting on his fron troop smoking a cigarette but that
he knew little about the man.
"We would talk about my garden," Eberhart said. "I gave him some
vegetables one summer."
Eberhart and other neighbors said they wondered how the Modjeskis
could afford their home and two Honda automobiles. Rosemary
Modjeski once ran a day-care operation out of her home, a
neighbor said, and she appeared to have had a day job since then.
Leland Modjeski never talked about government or President
Clinton, Ebergart said, and did not seem to havemuch interest in
the political world. Fairfax voting records show he has been
registered to vote in the county since at least 1980 and has
boted in every presidential election since then. Virginia voter
records do not list party affiliation.
County records show no sign of financial stress or legal
troubles. Modjeski, who apparently never served int he military,
took out a $24,000 loan last year from the Navy Federal Credit
Union, using his town house as collateral.
Modjeski worked for five months last year as a delivery driver
for a Pizza Hut inthe 7600 block of Lee Highway. A company
spokesman said Modjeski was fired Nov. 11 but refused to say why
until after a meeting today be3tween Pizza Hut officials and
Secret Service investigators. Workers at the Pizza Hut, in a
strip shopping plaza near Merrifield, said they had been told by
their bosses not to comment.
No one claimed to know exactly why Modjeski would try to enter
the White House grounds. One of his former professors, John
Riskind, said a good student's failure to succeed professionally
could lead to mental instability.
"That kind of decline in fortune, drop in stature can really be a
terrible blow," Riskind said. "When people are going through
tremendous stress like that, it can affect their self-esteem and
basis for self-worth, which can alter their behavior."
Staff writers Steve Bates, John Fountain and Lan Nguyen and Metro
staff resource director Margot Williams contributed to this
Washington Post Staff Writer
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