At 8:30 a.m., September 14, 1989, Joe entered the
Kentucky printing plant where he worked, armed to his teeth with an
AK-47, two Mac-10s and two other pistols.
After testing out all his
weapons and killing seven, he put a bullet in his head.
A former co-worker
thought that Joe was argumentative, confrontational and paranoid. "This
guy's been talking about this for a year." He went in looking for
bosses but ended up shooting at anyone that moved.
Gravure shooting occurred on September 14, 1989 when
Joseph Wesbecker entered Standard Gravure, his workplace,
and killed eight people, injured 12, and committed
suicide after a history of suicidal ideation.
Standard Gravure was a major
Louisville, Kentucky printing company founded in 1922.
Reduced revenues led to an employee wage freeze in 1982,
and in 1986 the company was sold. Standard Gravure's
customers were retailers, many of which were in the
process of going out of business, and at the same time,
paper shortages were occurring in the marketplace. It
was a time of cutbacks, stress and difficulty.
Joseph Wesbecker was born on April
27, 1942. His father died when he was one year old and
his mother was 16.
In his twenties, he started work at a
job with Standard Gravure in Louisville, Kentucky. He
was married twice and had two sons. The failure of both
marriages has been attributed to stresses he suffered at
In the spring of 1989, he went on
disability leave from his job at Standard Gravure.
After the failure of his marriages
and periods of severe stress at his work, he was
diagnosed with depression and attempted suicide multiple
times. According to CBS's 60 Minutes, "In 1984, five
years before he took Prozac, Wesbecker's medical records
show that he had this conversation with a doctor. Have
you ever felt like harming someone else? 'Yes,'
Wesbecker said. Who? 'My foreman.' When? 'At work.' The
same medical records show Wesbecker had already
attempted suicide 12 to 15 times."
Wesbecker had worked for Standard
Gravure for 17 years, but had been on disability leave
since spring due to mental illness. On September 14,
1989, Wesbecker entered the plant at 8:30 a.m. armed
with an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle and several other
firearms. He walked around the plant for thirty minutes
firing at employees, wounding twelve and killing eight
Because Wesbecker had started taking
Prozac in August 1989, less than a month before the
shooting, the wounded and the families of those killed
filed suit against manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company,
claiming that Wesbecker's use of Prozac contributed to
The jury decided 9-3 for Lilly, a
result seen by some as proof of Prozac's safety. Not
until several years later was it revealed that Lilly had
arranged a clandestine settlement with the plaintiffs in
exchange for setting legal precedent. See Fentress v.
Wesbecker is buried in Cave Hill
Cemetery in Louisville.
The Standard Gravure shooting occurred on
September 14, 1989 when 47-year old Joseph T. Wesbecker, a pressman
on disability for mental illness entered Standard Gravure, his
former workplace, and killed eight people and injured twelve before
committing suicide after a history of suicidal ideation. The murders
and subsequent lawsuit against Eli Lilly & Co is covered in the book
The Power to Harm: Mind, Murder, and Drugs on Trial (Allen Lane and
Penguin 1996) by investigative journalist John Cornwell.
On September 14, 1989, Wesbecker, who was nicknamed "Rocky"
by his colleagues, parked his car in front of the main entrance of
Standard Gravure and entered the plant at 8:30 a.m. carrying a Chinese-made
semiautomatic AK-47 derivative, a SIG Sauer 9mm pistol and a duffel bag
containing two MAC-11s, a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, a bayonet
and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
He took the elevator to the executive reception area
on the third floor and, as soon as the doors opened, began firing at
receptionists Sharon Needy, killing her, and Angela Bowman, leaving her
paralyzed by a shot in the back. Searching for Michael Shea, president
of Standard Gravure, and other supervisors and bosses of the plant,
Wesbecker calmly walked through the hallways, deliberately shooting at
people. He killed James Husband and injured Forrest Conrad, Paula Warman
and John Stein, a maintenance supervisor, who was shot in the head and
abdomen, before heading down the stairs to the pressroom, where he
killed Paul Sallee. Then wounded two electricians from Marine Electric
that were working on a broken machine, Stanley Hatfield and David
Sadenfaden and left the duffel bag under a stairwell.
Wesbecker walked down to the basement, where he
encountered pressman John Tingle, who, alerted by the loud noises, went
to see what's going on. Tingle greeted his colleague, asking him what's
happening. Wesbecker replied: "Hi John...I told them I'd be back. Get
away from me." After Tingle had gone out of the way Wesbecker continued
his path through the basement, shooting Richard Barger in the back,
killing him. According to witnesses Wesbecker approached Barger's body
and apologized, apparently he killed him accidentally, as he didn't see
whom he was shooting at.
Back on the press floor he shot at anyone in his way,
killing James Wible and Lloyd White and finally entered the break room
where he emptied his magazine hitting all seven workers present and
killed William Ganote with a shot to the head. Wesbecker then reloaded
and resumed firing, fatally wounding Kenneth Fentress.
When Wesbecker stepped out to the pressroom he pulled
his SIG Sauer, put it under his chin and shot himself, ending his
shooting spree that had lasted for about half an hour, in which he fired
about forty rounds of ammunition, and left eight people dead and twelve
wounded. Additionally one person suffered a heart attack.
When police searched Wesbecker's house they recovered
a shotgun, a Colt 9-millimeter revolver, a .32 revolver and a starter's
pistol, and found Wesbecker's will, as well as a copy of Time
Magazine on the kitchen table, featuring an article about Patrick
Purdy who had killed five children and injured thirty others with a Type
56 assault rifle, the same weapon as used by Wesbecker, at a school in
Stockton, California earlier the same year.
Richard O. Barger, 54
Kenneth Fentress, 45
William Ganote, 46
James G. Husband, 47
Sharon L. L. Needy, 49
Paul Sallee, 59
Lloyd White, 42
James F. Wible Sr., 56
Standard Gravure was a major Louisville, Kentucky
printing company founded in 1922. Reduced revenues led to an
employee wage freeze in 1982, and in 1986 the company was sold.
Standard Gravure's customers were retailers, many of which were in
the process of going out of business, and at the same time, paper
shortages were occurring in the marketplace. It was a time of
cutbacks, stress and difficulty.
Joseph Thomas Wesbecker, whose father, a construction
worker, died in a fall, when he was a mere 13 months old, was born on
April 27, 1942. After his father's death he was raised as an only child
by his mother Martha, herself only 16-years old at that time, and her
family, though he was often passed from place to place during his early
childhood, and at one time deposited in an orphanage for almost a year.
His grandfather, to whom he felt closely attached, died when he was four.
As Wesbecker was a rather poor student he dropped out
of high school in the ninth grade, but he later managed to earn his
G.E.D.. In 1960 he started to work as a pressman at a printing plant and
married one year later. With his wife he had two sons, James and Joseph.
In 1971, finally, he moved to Standard Gravure, where he soon earned a
reputation as a determined, hard-working, loyal and reliable worker.
The year 1978 marked the beginning of the downward
slope of Wesbecker's life. His marriage ended in divorce and a bitter
battle over custody and support for his two sons ensued. It was also the
year he admitted himself for the first time to a hospital to seek
In 1983 Wesbecker married again, though it was rather
short-lived and divorced one year later. As a consequence he became
increasingly reclusive and suicidal, separated from most of his family
members and lived an overall lonely life, in whose center his work
After the selling of Standard Gravure and the
subsequent management change in 1986, Wesbecker was assigned to a
mechanical folder. Soon thereafter he complained about stress and
overstrainment and asked to be placed back at his old job, but his
request was declined, wherefore he grew increasingly hostile against the
new management, grew wary of conspiracies aimed to harass him, and began
to complain about policy changes at the company. He also complained that
exposure to toluene at work caused him memory loss, dizziness and "blackout
The hostility culminated in May 1987, when Wesbecker
filed a complaint with the Jefferson County Human Relations Commission,
charging that he was harassed and discriminated for his psychological
state and deliberately put under stressful conditions. The following
examination indeed diagnosed that Wesbecker suffered from depression and
manic depression, thus substantiating his claim of discrimination, and
he was put on Prozac.
In August 1988, Wesbecker stopped working and was
finally put on a long-term disability leave in February 1989, though
there was also an agreement to re-employ him as soon as he recovered
sufficiently. Between August 1988 and May 1989 Wesbecker bought several
weapons, among them the AK-47 and pistol he later used in the shooting.
Shortly before the shooting at Standard Gravure, where he showed up the
last time on September 13, Wesbecker presumably received a letter from
the company, announcing the cancellation of his disability income.
Wesbecker had a long history of psychiatric illness
and was treated for it in hospitals at least three times between 1978
and 1987. He was diagnosed to suffer from alternating episodes of deep
depression and manic depression, was beset, among others, by confusion,
anger and anxiety and made several attempts to commit suicide. Hospital
records also suggested that Wesbecker posed a threat to himself and
According to CBS's 60 Minutes, "In 1984, five
years before he took Prozac, Wesbecker's medical records show that he
had this conversation with a doctor. Have you ever felt like harming
someone else? 'Yes,' Wesbecker said. Who? 'My foreman.' When? 'At work.'
The same medical records show Wesbecker had already attempted suicide 12
to 15 times."
In the years prior to the shooting Wesbecker more
than once threatened to "kill a bunch of people" or to bomb Standard
Gravure and at one point considered to hire an assassin to kill several
executives of the company. Apparently he even discussed these things
with his wife before their divorce. When he left Standard Gravure in
August 1988 he told other workers that he would come back, wipe out the
place and get even with the company and shortly before the shooting he
told one of his aunts that he was upset about things at work and said
they will get paid back, but as he said these things all the time, she
didn't take the threat too seriously.
One of the employees at Standard Gravure said after
the shooting: "This guy's been talking about this for a year. He's been
talking about guns and Soldier of Fortune magazine. He's paranoid,
and he thought everyone was after him."
Three days prior to the shooting, on September 11,
Wesbecker told his psychiatrist that a foreman had forced Wesbecker to
perform oral sex on him in front of his co-workers to get off the folder.
In his notes, the psychiatrist wrote "Prozac?"
In August 1989, less than a month before the shooting,
Wesbecker had started taking Prozac. The wounded and the families of
those killed filed a lawsuit against manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company,
claiming that Wesbecker's use of Prozac contributed to his actions. The
jury decided 9-3 for Lilly. Not until several years later was it
revealed that Lilly had arranged a settlement with the plaintiffs in
exchange for setting legal precedent.
Wesbecker is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in
Co-worker with assault rifle kills 7, wounds
13 in KY.
The Boston Globe
September 15, 1989
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A man with an
assault rifle mowed down co-workers as he went from floor to floor "looking
for bosses" at a printing plant yesterday, killing seven persons and
wounding 13 before taking his own life.
Police said Joseph T. Wesbecker, 47,
had been on permanent disability, was being treated for mental disorders
and reportedly had threatened the company. He carried several
semiautomatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Shootings bring call for weapons control
September 15, 1989
The police chief of this city added
his voice to nationwide calls for a ban on assault weapons after a man
using an AK-47 rifle shot 20 former co-workers at a printing plant
before killing himself.
"You don't need these kinds of
weapons unless you're a police officer or a criminal," Police Chief
Richard Dotson said at a news conference where he held up the AK-47 and
one of the two MAC-11 semiautomatic machine pistols used in Thursday's
'He said before he left, he'd get even'
September 15, 1989
LOUISVILLE -- The thing Dee Meredith
remembered most about Joseph T. Wesbecker was the way he walked.
"He swaggered like. It was an
arrogant walk, just straight ahead with his shoulders back, and he
didn't look to the left or the right," Mrs. Meredith said of her
neighbor yesterday. "It was queer just to see him walk like that. It was
almost as if he'd been taught to walk that way."
Killer denied having mental problems, rifle
The Boston Globe
September 16, 1989
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A printing plant
worker disabled by mental illness denied he had mental problems on a
questionnaire when he bought the AK-47 rifle he used to slaughter seven
former co-workers, the owner of a gun shop said yesterday.
Police said Joseph T. Wesbecker was
armed with several semiautomatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of
ammunition Thursday as he went from floor to floor at the Standard
Gravure Corp. plant.
Louisville man dies, raising shooting death
toll to 9
September 19, 1989
The death toll from Thursday's
printing-plant shooting rose to nine when Kenneth Fentress of Louisville
died about 5 p.m. yesterday, a spokeswoman at Humana Hospital-University
of Louisville said.
Fentress, 45, had been shot in the
chest and leg.
Gunman refused to go to hospital 3 days before
October 27, 1989
LOUISVILLE -- A psychiatrist's notes
show that Joseph Wesbecker rejected the doctor's suggestion to enter a
hospital three days before Wesbecker went on a killing rampage at
Standard Gravure Corp. in downtown Louisville.
Dr. Lee A. Coleman's records show
that, during a Sept. 11 session, Wesbecker wept and exhibited "tangential
thought" and "increased level of agitation and anger."
Disturbed past of killer of 7 is unraveled
LOUISVILLE, Ky., Sept 15 - The printing plant worker who used an
assault rifle to kill seven people here Thursday bought the weapon
legally, the police said today.
And they said that in responding to a question on a
form he had to fill out before he could buy the weapon, he said he had
no mental problems. The question read, "Have you ever been adjudicated
mentally defective or have you ever been committed to a mental
institution?" He answered that he had not.
But Louisville officials, friends and close relatives
of the 47-year-old Joseph T. Wesbecker, twice divorced and the father of
two adult sons, said he had gone to hospitals voluntarily for mental
problems at least twice in recent years; he had also attempted suicide
three times; he had won a determination from a human rights commission
that his employer might have discriminated against him because of his
Mr. Wesbecker killed himself after killing the others
Thursday in the printing plant where he once worked. The police said
that he bought his Chinese-made AK-47, a semiautomatic rifle, at a gun
store here in May. The police said he had carried other semiautomatic
weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the downtown offices
of the printing plant, the Standard Gravure Corporation, in a vinyl
athletic bag. Those weapons and ammunition were also purchased locally
and legally, the police said.
Bought After Bush's Move
The purchases were made two months after President
Bush banned the importing of assault rifles. Mr. Bush acted in the light
of the killings of five children and wounding of 20 at a school in
Stockton, Calif., by a man with a semiautomatic rifle.
It is not a violation of the law to own such a
weapon, imported legally before the ban, if the owner has the proper
Jack Tilford, owner of the store where Mr. Wesbecker
bought the weapon, said in an interview today" "He was normal in every
way. He was clean-cut in the whole nine yards. If he had answered yes to
any of the questions, the law says I could not have sold him the gun."
Mr. Tilford said gun shop owners have no way of
confirming the validity of information regarding mental status.
'This Is a Killer Bullet'
Police Chief Richard Dotson of Louisville said the
rifle had been loaded with copper-cased 7.62-millimeter bullets,
standard military issue for Eastern bloc nations. The copper-cased
bullet has a harder head and travels farther and faster than sports or
police ammunition. "This is a killer bullet," Chief Dotson said.
As this city mourned the dead in an officially
declared hour of silence today, additional details emerged about the
weapons and Mr. Wesbecker's state of mind and possible motives. In
addition to the 7 people he shot dead, 13 others were wounded, and one
remained in critical condition late today.
The weapons found at the printing plant were tested
today by the police, who determined that the rifleman had not made the
simple adjustments to make them fully automatic. Importing fully
automatic weapons was banned more than two decades ago. There is an
elaborate Federal registration and transfer procedure for any of those
weapons that are still in circulation.
The weapons found at the plant included two
semiautomatic MAC-11 pistols; a sig-sauer 9-millimeter pistol with which
Mr. Wesbecker killed himself, and a snub-nose .38 caliber pistol. The
weapons were bought at different times; the .38, perhaps the first of
his collection, was purchased in 1974.
The police said Mr. Wesbecker's home yielded other
weapons when they searched it Thursday: a shotgun, a Colt 6-millimeter
revolver, a .32 revolver and a starter's pistol.
Lieut. Jeff Moody of the Louisville Police said that
also among the items confiscated was the Feb. 16 issue of Time magazine,
which prominently displayed articles about the Stockton shooting.
Mr. Wesbecker, who was hired by Standard Gravure in
1971, had not worked since August 1988 and was placed on long-term
disability leave in February of this year.
But a complaint he filed in May 1987 with
Louisville's Human Relations Commission suggests that his problems were
of longer standing. In that 1987 complaint, he said the company
discriminated against him because of his mental disability. He termed
his disability manic depression; a subsequent investigation by the
commission confirmed the diagnosis and ultimately found reasonable basis
for his charge of discrimination.
The company was never officially charged with
discrimination, said Gwendolyn Young, executive director of the Human
Relations Commission, but a settlement was reached in January, with the
Ms. Young said Mr. Wesbecker's complaint was that he
could deal with the stress associated with running a mechanical folder,
in the printing of advertising supplements.
Complaints About Timing
In interviews with the police, his co-workers said
that he had indeed complained of the precision and timing that the work
involved, and wanted to return to his old job, operating the ink-running
"The settlement process was not unusual," Ms. Young
said, "and as far as we know, the company, without admitting
discrimination, agreed to return him to his old position when he was
well enough to come back to work.
"The rule in discrimination cases involving mental or
physical disabilities is that the employer is required to reasonably
accommodate the person and condition."
'They Done Him Dirty'
It could not be determined whether Mr. Wesbecker
actually took advantage of the settlement. The company president,
Michael Shea, declined to comment on the complaint Mr. Wesbecker filed,
or on any of the reports of Mr. Wesbecker's mental problems.
But Mildred Higgs, Mr. Wesbecker's aunt, was quoted
in the The Courier Journal, Louisville's newspaper, that he still
harbored resentments. "They done him dirty," the article quoted her as
Mr. Shea said the company and its 360 employees are
in shock. Standard Gravure has closed until Saturday afternoon.
Worker on disability leave kills 7, then himself, in printing plant
LOUISVILLE, Ky., Sept. 14 - A man
with an assault rifle killed seven people and wounded 13 today as he
went from floor to floor in a printing plant where he used to work.
Co-workers said he was "looking for bosses."
In the end, the man, Joseph T. Wesbecker, 47
years old, fatally shot himself. The police said Mr. Wesbecker was
being treated for mental disorders and had been on a permanent
disability leave from the plant. He had reportedly threatened the
company. When investigators found his body in the Standard Gravure
Corporation plant at the end of his 30-minute rampage, he was armed
with several semiautomatic guns and thousands of rounds of
Five of the people who were wounded were in critical
condition with multiple gunshot wounds, hospital officials said. One
person who was not wounded was being treated for a heart attack.
'Couldn't Find the Bosses'
"He was up there looking for bosses," said John
Tingle, an employee at the plant, which is adjacent to The
Courier-Journal newspaper. "He couldn't find the bosses and couldn't
find the supervisors," Mr. Tingle said. "He was just in too deep to turn
back. So he just shot anything that was close to him."
At 8.30 A.M., Mr. Wesbecker entered the building with
a duffel bag containing an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle, two MAC-11
semiautomatic pistols, a .38-caliber revolver, a 9-millimeter automatic
pistol and a bayonet, said Police Chief Richard Dotson.
The AK-47 is the same type of gun used by a man who
killed five school children, wounded 29 others and a teacher in
Stockton, Calif., in January.
He took an elevator to third-floor offices, pulled
the rifle out of his bag and opened fire, the police and witnesses said.
He then worked his way downstairs shooting people along the way. He
eventually reached a pressroom in an annex and killed himself with a
shot under his chin, Chief Dotson said.
Co-Workers Hide in Restroom
Mr. Tingle had encountered Mr. Wesbecker at the
beginning of the rampage and he recalled that Mr. Wesbecker said to him:
"I told them I'd be back. Get out of my way, John."
"I said, 'How are you, Rock?' " Mr. Tingle said. "He
said, 'Fine, John. Back off and get out of my way.' " Mr. Tingle and
other employees nearby fled to a restroom and locked the door.
The police searched every floor of the building for
victims. They found two of the bodies while Mayor Jerry Abramson
accompanied them. "It looks like a battle zone," the Mayor said. "With
the blood and the people involved, there were bodies lying across
staircases. It was just frightening."
Mr. Abramson said the searchers "found a fellow
sitting in a corner who was just shuddering in fear. He hadn't been
shot, but he was in shock."
'Guns and Soldier of Fortune'
A police officer who knew Mr. Wesbecker told Chief
Dotson the man had been "argumentative and confrontational for a number
Joe White, a Standard Gravure employee, said: "This
guy's been talking about this for a year. He's been talking about guns
and Soldier of Fortune magazine. He's paranoid and he thought everyone
was after him."
He was said to have made threats against the company,
which prints newspaper inserts and Sunday newspaper supplements, but the
company's president, Michael Shea, said he did not know of any threats
or the nature of Mr. Wesbecker's disability. "I'm at a loss to speculate
on anything," Mr. Shea said. "What's going through my mind right now is
sympathy and caring for the people who are involved."
A woman who answered the telephone at a house where
Mr. Wesbecker's mother was staying said the family did not want to
comment. "We're just in shock like everybody else," said the woman, who
did not identify herself. "We had to find out over the television. No
one called us. I guess he was just a sick person. That's all."
"This guy's been talking about this for a year."
A co-worker gives his opinion on the massacre
For a few months Josoeph Wesbecker had been suffering
from blackouts, fits of anger and mental confusion. All this combined
with a long record of mental problems led his employer, Standard Gravure
Corporation in Louisville, Kentucky, to give him disability leave until
he could fix his problems. But for Wesbecker the reasons for his leave
He believed that the company were plotting against him.
He believed that they were deliberately exposing him to dangerous
chemicals and deliberately putting him under stressful situations. He
believed that these were the reasons he was feeling ill. And over the
next seven months (while still on the payroll) he plotted his revenge on
the scheming bastards.
The act of revenge finally took place on September 14,
1989. He took numerous handguns and the favorite weapon of the mass
murderer, an AK-47 assault rifle, to his workplace. He took the elevator
up to the executive offices to get the revenge he needed to feel good
As soon as he was out of the elevator he was shooting
- killing a receptionist and wounding others. He then proceeded through
the offices shooting at anything that moved. He was a man on a mission
and nothing was going to stop him on this day, not even mental stress.
Eventually Wesbecker came to the end of the line.
He had reached the area he had worked, the pressroom,
where he dropped the AK-47 that had served him so well up to this point
and pulled out a 9 mm pistol. There was no one else in the room to kill
so he did that mass murder thing - he blew his brains all over the roof,
wall and floor.
In the space of nine minutes Joseph Wesbecker had
managed to kill seven people and wound twelve others. But unfortunately
his anger was totally misplaced as all the dead and wounded were people
like himself - little people. Somehow all the arseholes that held
positions of power in the company had managed to escape his rage. And of
those killed, most were his co-workers, many of whom had felt just as
angry with the bosses as Joe himself.