MASS MURDER AND THE POSTAL PURGES (PAGE 3)
"Crazy Pat" became the Postal Service's official party line explaining the incident. Postal inspectors circulated stories about "Crazy Pat" dressed in fatigues, peeping in neighborhood windows. He had once rode solo on a bicycle built for two and someone remembered that he had smiled too much at his twentieth high school reunion. By proving his insanity, the Postal Service sought to avoid any question of its own sanity. A one time neighbor, Charles Thigpen, commented that everyone wanted " . . . quick answers. And since Pat's not alive to defend himself, they don't have to be the right answers."
Meeting in San Antonio, Texas on August 21, the day following the tragedy, the 26,000 member National Association of Postmasters requested greater authority to fire Vietnam veterans. Postmaster Hugh Bates of Clanton, Alabama, president of the association, called for a get tough policy and vowed to continue to press workers to perform better.
In the 1980's certain groups of employees enjoyed a special status within the United States Postal Service. To better fulfill job quotas mandated by Congress, exclusive "in house" social organizations were formed within the Postal Service to serve the perceived "special" needs of women and minorities. Women, in particular, were encouraged to meet in officially sanctioned, informal discussion groups to solve mutual problems. Objecting to the harsh, quasi-military atmosphere of the Postal Service, some women saw Vietnam-era veterans as the chief obstacle in their campaign to feminize the Postal Service. Militant feminists complained that Vietnam-era veterans tended to be aloof, insensitive, and over competitive. Since women comprised upwards of 35 percent (and rising) of the postal workforce, their complaints were treated seriously.
Following the Edomond, Oklahoma tragedy, women's newly acquired power coupled with their imagined fears led to prejudice against Vietnam-era veterans. The Postal Service had created "Crazy Pat" and he had come back to haunt them.
The effects of the slaughter were felt far from Oklahoma. The shock waves quickly reached Riverside, California where I was working as a letter carrier. When I finished my route and returned to the post office on the afternoon of August 20, 1986, I heard the sketchy and distorted details of the story as it was then circulating on the workroom floor. A "pscho-vet", drunk or drug-crazed, had gone on a rampage and murdered scores of his fellow carriers in Edmond, Oklahoma with a .45 military pistol.
Shortly afterwards a female supervisor made a bad joke about my experience as a Military Policeman in the Army and my expertise with a .45. It wasn't funny and nobody laughed. But everyone stared at me, instead of her. In the ensuing months relationships with my fellow carriers became increasingly frigid and I began to seek support from the other Vietnam-era veterans in my section who like me were beginning to suffer the pain of ostracism.
We thought the problem was only temporary, but we were mistaken. Rumors of violence and mayhem at unidentified post offices continued to spread. Psycho-vet had become the postal bogeyman.
Tension mounted. In June 1988 a clerk in Chelsea, Massachusetts killed a co-worker before committing suicide. During a 13 hour siege in New Orleans in December 1988, a mail handler, holding his ex-girlfriend hostage, shot his supervisor in the face and killed him. Three others were wounded and one was blinded in one eye. In May 1989 Alfred J. Hunter, a 42 year old Boston mail handler, murdered his ex-wife. He then stole a two-seater Cessna airplane and strafed the city's streets with an AK-47 for three hours. The Postal Service attempted to cover up these incidents and released few details. Rumors circulated that they were the work of psycho-vets. More and more pressure was being placed on postmasters to rid their workforce of Vietnam veterans.
On August 8, 1989, award-winning career carrier John Merlin Taylor was being jibed about the Edmond, Oklahoma tragedy by a group of his fellow carriers at the Oak Glen station in Escondido, California. Letter carrier Johnny Simms later claimed they were just "joking around" with Taylor. The next day Taylor, a Marine Corps veteran who rarely complained, made a few sarcastic comments about the growing volume of mail before he clocked-out and went home.
On August 10, 1989, Taylor woke up early and put two bullets in his wife's head with a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol loaded with long rifle ammunition. He dressed in his regulation summer uniform, drove to work as usual, and shot fellow letter carriers Richard Berni and Ronald Williams to death as they sat on a picnic bench on the loading dock. Entering the post office through a side door, he shot co-worker Paul De Risi in the upper arm. When Taylor stopped to reload, fleeing window clerk William Karlson noted that "he didn't have any emotion. He was stern-faced." It was too early for most of the employees to be at work and Taylor soon ran out of targets. It was almost time to clock-in when Taylor put the pistol to his right temple and fired. He was just three years from retirement.
His stepson later remembered that John had been in a lot of pain. Twenty-seven years of carrying mail had injured his feet, back, and shoulder.