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Homicidal High Tech Workers

Posted by: Mycroft <>
Date: Tuesday, 26 August 1997, at 5:03 p.m.

Ripped from the pages of real life, these look like two patients that Dr. Balis missed.

Ex-Patient #1:

Ex-Employee Kills Himself, Former Girlfriend at Work

Saturday, August 23, 1997 x Page A1 c1997 San Francisco Chronicle

Maria Alicia Gaura, Marshall Wilson, Chronicle Staff Writers

A former worker at a Santa Clara high-tech firm forced his estranged girlfriend into a company computer room and shot her before killing himself yesterday, authorities said.

Kenneth M. McMurray, a former independent contractor at NEC Electronics Inc., and Maria Elizabeth Lualhati, an associate systems programmer at the company, both apparently died of gunshot wounds, police said.

Lualhati, 33, of Los Gatos, who also was known as Elizabeth Lagman, was the mother of a young child, co-workers said. She had worked at the company for almost a year.

The apparent murder-suicide occurred at an NEC sales office after McMurray arrived there shortly before 9:45 a.m. and forced Lualhati into a computer room.

The 34-year-old Los Altos man had worked as a contract employee for the office but was let go about four months ago, the company said. NEC did not say what kind of work he had done and gave no reason for his departure.

After the two had been in the computer room for some time, the manager opened the door and asked whether everything was OK. The man told the manager to get out and flashed a pistol, said Santa Clara police Lieutenant Walter Rees.

The manager backed away, ordered employees out of the building and called police.

Police arrived at the office at 3033 Scott Blvd. at 9:51 a.m. A SWAT team suited up and entered the office in a crawl space above the suspended ceiling. Once officers reached the area above the computer room, they pulled aside ceiling panels and saw the two bodies on the floor.

The evacuated workers did not immediately know of the hostage situation but were calmly asked to go outside and then later told of the armed intruder, according to Joe Totary, owner of a restaurant across the street.

"There was no panic, but people were worried and upset," Totary said. "The workers sat at the tables out front and waited to see what would happen. It went on for hours.

"At about noon, one of the girls came in crying and saying 'He killed her, he killed her,' " Totary said. "It is so sad, a tragedy."

The apparent murder-suicide revived memories of a shooting in 1988 at ESL Inc., a Sunnyvale defense contractor where Richard Wade Farley, a spurned suitor, shot and killed seven people. He was a technician at ESL when he fell in love with an engineer. When she did not return his affection, he began terrorizing her and was fired.

The woman was seriously wounded when Farley, loaded down with guns and ammunition, burst into ESL and began shooting people indiscriminately.

There have been 46 deaths related to domestic violence in Santa Clara County since 1993, according to the district attorney's office.

In California, homicide is the leading cause of death in the workplace, said Robert Dorsey of the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council.

Nearly 20 percent of women murdered on the job are killed by someone they know, such as a current or former husband or boyfriend, said Rebecca Speer, a consultant on workplace violence prevention and management.

She said employers are not expected to guarantee employee safety from violence, but they should prepare themselves to better handle threats to employee safety from violence.

That is because courts are increasingly holding companies liable for not preventing incidents of violence that are "legally foreseeable," Speer said, and also for failing to properly manage threats and incidents of violence that come to light.

A consultant on business and labor relations yesterday said companies can help employees who are being harassed by being open to workers' troubles. Supervisors need to be sensitive to warning signs, such as an employee who suddenly appears troubled or frightened, said Conley Baker, regional manager for the Employers Group, a consulting firm.

"They can let an employee know that if they are being harassed, they can help," Baker said.

One option is to help the worker obtain a restraining order to keep the batterer away from the workplace, he said. The company can also allow the employee to work flexible hours so the batterer will not know when she is there, Baker said.

After yesterday's shooting, about 50 NEC workers were welcomed into the Muslim Community Association Center next door. They were offered food, drinks and moral support, said center director Muhieddine Maaz.

"We provided a place to go, and some privacy, and a place to pray," Maaz said. "People were so concerned, and they didn't want to go too far away. But they didn't want to be on the street and have to deal with the cameras."

By 1 p.m., the association had set up a fund for the victim's young child and collected $1,000 to kick it off.

NEC Electronics is the American affiliate of NEC Corp. of Japan. The shooting took place at a small satellite office housing sales and design development. Company officials were unable to say yesterday how many employees worked in the office.

NEC workers were offered grief counseling, and workers from the office where the shooting took place were told to contact their managers before returning to work Monday.

For more information about the trust fund for the victim's child, contact Muhieddine Maaz at the Muslim Community Association, (408) 970-9333.

Ex Patient # 2:

Mountain View Man Admits Slaying Ex-Girlfriend Guilty plea comes after DA reduces murder charges

Saturday, August 23, 1997 x Page A19 c1997 San Francisco Chronicle

Bill Workman, Chronicle Staff Writer

A Mountain View computer consultant who police said shot his former girlfriend in a jealous rage then stuffed her body in the trunk of her car has admitted the slaying. Wendell Bigelow, 42, pleaded guilty in Santa Clara County Superior Court after attorneys negotiated his plea to second-degree murder in the February shooting death of Sherry Anne Downing, 39, an employee of National Semiconductor Corp.

The surprise admission came at Bigelow's San Jose court appearance Thursday, when a date was to have been set for a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence for a trial. He faces 20 years to life in prison, and is scheduled to be sentenced September 16.

Prosecutors had been seeking a first-degree murder conviction. But Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff said yesterday that the plea bargaining agreement was largely prompted by what he called a "1990s-style murder case." Investigators were able to analyze Bigelow's relationship with Downing through dozens of e-mail messages the two had exchanged during the six months they had been seeing each other. The e-mail accounts, he said, gave investigators a new kind of insight into the relationship--insight that has seldom been available in an age when few people write personal letters and police are forced to rely on hearsay.

Members of Downing's family had contended that she had planned to break off with Bigelow because she was seeing another man but that Bigelow had been stalking her and she was afraid to tell him of her decision. Liroff said, however, that he concluded from the electronic evidence that the "case was not what we had been saying it was," and that Bigelow had not plotted to kill her, a necessary condition for first-degree murder. "What we had was a very classic love relationship that turned sour--he wanted to continue it, but she didn't and he killed her, triggered by learning about the other man," Liroff said.

Downing was reported missing on February 3 after leaving for work from her Mountain View apartment. San Francisco police found Downing's body eight days later in the trunk of her 1974 Mercedes, parked in the South of Market warehouse district. She had been shot in the head and chest. Liroff said said investigators had enough evidence to prove that Bigelow shot Downing in his kitchen the day she disappeared. Evidence included a spent bullet detectives found inside Bigelow's washing machine, as well as blood spatters that matched the victim's blood type. Tests showed that the bullet was fired from the same gun as two others recovered by the coroner from the victim's body, Liroff said.

Public defender Barbara Fargo, Bigelow's attorney, said he had indicated he intended to plead guilty soon after she took his case. "For as long as I've represented Mr. Bigelow, he's been willing to take responsibility," said Fargo."He feels terrible and feels he should be punished. They had a caring relationship, and he regrets that he violated that trust."

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