HBllama0621 (ran 6-21-01)

Michael Cairncross, his llama, Black Pearl and a couple of dogs check out the Pier Plaza on a visit to Hermosa last holiday season. Photo by Kevin Cody

‘Llama Man’ ends life in San Diego


Robb Fulcher

"Llama Man" Michael Cairncross, a well-known San Diego character who drew considerable attention during a holiday visit to the beach cities, apparently took his own life by handcuffing himself to a buoy chain 20 feet under the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Cairncross, 40, who lived in a van with his llama and Great Dane, had been suffering from bipolar disorder and had refused to take medication, San Diego Police Lt. Ray Sigwalt said on Tuesday.

"He apparently drowned himself," Sigwalt said.

Two scuba divers discovered the body of Cairncross 6:10 p.m. Wednesday, June 13 about 300 yards offshore, clad in swimming briefs and handcuffed to a chain securing a buoy to the ocean floor in La Jolla Cove, Sigwalt said.

Cairncross was a well-known and popular fixture in the affluent La Jolla area in northern San Diego, where he could be seen walking his llama, Black Pearl, and his dog. Cairncross and the animals slept in his van in various spots up and down the shore, Sigwalt said.

"He was a local character. He was an amiable guy, easy to get along with. I guess he liked the attention he got walking around with a llama," Sigwalt said.

"He left the area and there had been a divorce, a loss of job. Then he came back to San Diego a couple years ago and started going around with the llama and the dog," Sigwalt said.

Before he died Cairncross had been talking to family members about the possibility of taking medication for his illness, but did not take the medication, Sigwalt said. Cairncross gave away the llama and the dog shortly before he died, Sigwalt said.

Cairncross and his animals had passed through the South Bay over Christmastime to visit friends in Manhattan Beach. In the course of his stay Cairncross was ticketed by Hermosa police for "pasturing a domestic animal in a public place."

Cairncross is survived by his parents Larry and Joan Cairncross, son Chancellor Cairncross, sister Laurie Way and brothers Neil, Scott and David Cairncross.

A memorial service was held Tuesday at El Camino Memorial Pacific Beach Chapel in San Diego, and Cairncross’ ashes were to be scattered at sea.

Bipolar Disorder, also called manic depression, is characterized by severe and recurrent depression or mania, and affects as many as 2 million Americans. The states of mania and depression may alternate cyclically, one mood state may predominate over the other, or they may be mixed or combined with each other, according to Encyclopædia Britannica.

Bipolar disorders of varying severity affect about 1 percent of the general population and account for 10 to 15 percent of re-admissions to mental institutions. Statistical studies have suggested a hereditary predisposition to the disorders, which now has been linked to a defect in a gene.

Long-term use of a lithium carbonate medication can lessen or even eliminate bipolar symptoms of many people.

A bipolar person in the depressive phase may be sad, despondent, listless, lacking in energy, and may have a poor appetite and disturbed sleep. The depressive state can be either agitated or sad and dejected.

The manic state is characterized by abnormally intense excitement, elation, expansiveness, boisterousness, talkativeness, distractibility and irritability.

Depression is the more common symptom, and many patients never develop a genuine manic phase, although they may experience a brief period of mild euphoria while recovering from a depression.

Manic-depressive psychosis was described in antiquity by the 2nd-century Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia and described definitively in modern times by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin. ER