Unwanted Suitor’s Fixation on Woman Led to Carnage
Laura Black came home to find a letter wedged in her door. Hand-lettered across the front was a warning, “You’d better read this.” She knew who it was from, an unwanted suitor named Richard Farley.
Black had told him she did not want to see him, but he pursued her, confronted her, harassed her--at work and at home. She moved and he found her. She got an unlisted telephone number so he called her at work. She asked her employer to stop him from loitering near her car and he moved across the street.
Finally, one of Black’s friends had intervened and told Farley he would go to jail if the harassment continued. Farley was angry.
“It’s not in your best interest for him to interfere,” Farley warned in the typewritten letter of Jan. 23. “He doesn’t have any idea what he’s getting into. You’d better tell him, I’d better never see any police around me.”
Black, fed up and frightened, filed a lawsuit seeking relief. A judge ordered Farley to leave her alone pending a full hearing.
On Tuesday, the day before the court hearing date, the stocky 39-year-old software engineer loaded six guns and set out to make Laura sorry. He blasted his way into her place of employment and mercilessly cut down 11 people with shotgun fire--killing seven and injuring four, including the woman he said he loved.
After a tense six-hour standoff in which a Sunnyvale police negotiator said Farley cried and showed remorse and sometimes threatened to take his own life, the gunman surrendered in exchange for a turkey sandwich and a diet soda.
The story of Richard Farley is one of a man obsessed. His bizarre fixation on a young woman with a fetching smile was manifested in many ways, from late-night phone calls to strange gifts to relentless pursuit in convenience stores and public streets, court documents show.
The object of his attention, a promising young electrical engineer, openly feared what he might do to her. In her court plea, she said, “I have been afraid of what this man might do to me if I filed this action. However, I am now at the end of my rope. I need the court’s assistance and the assistance of the appropriate police agencies to keep this man out of my life.”
But she, and the other victims, were helpless to stop him.
Little Public Knowledge
Capt. Al Scott of the Sunnyvale Public Safety Department said Wednesday that not much is known about the gunman. He was born in Texas on July 25, 1948, and spent 11 years in the Navy, never married, has no known children and no criminal record.
But he clearly was a gun enthusiast, Scott said, and he was wildly obsessed with a woman he hardly knew.
“I have never had a personal relationship with Mr. Farley. I never even dated him,” Black, 26, said last month in seeking the court order forbidding Farley to contact her. “There is no rational reason why Mr. Farley acts as (he does).”
The two met in April, 1984, at Electromagnetic Systems Labs Inc., a high-technology defense contractor in the so-called Silicon Valley where they both worked and where Farley eventually returned to wreak his strange revenge.
Within a month, Black testified, Farley began his “strange obsession with me.”
Sunnyvale police negotiator Lt. Ruben Grijalva, who spoke by telephone to the killer for nearly five hours Tuesday night, said Farley told him he was attracted to the tall, slender, brown-haired Black by her smile.
“He was in love with her from the first moment he saw her,” the police lieutenant said.
“She never gave this guy any encouragement,” co-worker Clark Leyva told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “She was a real sweet girl.”
When Black told him she did not return his feelings and did not enjoy his attention, he began a campaign of “emotional harassment,” court records show.
This came in many forms, including threatening letters at the rate of two a week and harassment on public streets. He lurked at her corner grocery store; he cruised past her house in his car; he shadowed her at company softball games; he joined the same health club on the same day she did.
“He (Farley) comes here all the time--he used to, anyway,” said Mary Anne Kinn, a clerk at the 7-Eleven store across the street from Black’s new Sunnyvale condominium. “He was here almost every day. Maybe he took one day off a week.”
Farley was fired in May, 1986--for bothering her, Black alleged; for “poor job performance,” a company spokeswoman said Wednesday. He moved on to work as a software development engineer for at least two other nearby firms, most recently Covalent Systems Corp. of Sunnyvale.
During his siege Tuesday night, Farley told Grijalva that he had severe financial setbacks during this time, losing his house, car and computer and falling $20,000 behind in his taxes. Grijalva did not say how this happened.
Last fall, however, Farley moved from affluent suburban Cupertino into a dilapidated single-story house near downtown San Jose. Neighbors said Farley paid a low rent in exchange for fixing up the old structure.
This did little to abate his fixation on Black.
She finally filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court to end his abuse. On Feb. 1, San Jose Family Court Commissioner Lois Kittle issued a temporary restraining order forbidding Farley from approaching within 300 yards of Black and ordering him not to threaten, surveil, follow or telephone her.
Kittle, holding back tears, made the order permanent Wednesday as the court hearing that Farley feared so much was held as scheduled, little more than 12 hours after his bloody siege ended.
“This was a consciousness-raising incident,” she said from the bench. “It shows pieces of paper do not stop bullets.”
Police Capt. Scott told reporters that Farley gunned down former co-workers apparently at random with a 12-gauge repeating shotgun as he marched toward Black’s second-story office.
One man died in the parking lot as he left the building; another died behind his desk after Farley avoided security doors by blasting through a glass door. A third man was killed in the stairwell, and two men and two women in a second-floor hallway.
Shot in Shoulder
Black slammed and locked the door in her office as Farley approached. Farley punched a shotgun round through the door, shattering Black’s shoulder and collapsing a lung. Then he moved on. Grijalva said Farley told him he had not intended to kill Black.
Black was reported in stable condition Wednesday at Stanford University Medical Center.
In all, four people were wounded, including a woman who broke her arm when she fell down a flight of stairs fleeing the carnage. None appeared to be threatening Farley, as the gunman had claimed to negotiators. “Everybody was scampering away,” Scott said. A fifth casualty reported by police Tuesday night could not be confirmed Wednesday.
None of the dead or wounded was the man threatened by Farley in his hand-delivered Jan. 23 note to Black.
Police identified those fatally wounded as Joe Silva, 43; Wayne (Buddy) Williams, 23; Glenda Moritz, 27; Ron Reed, 26; Helen Lamparter, 49; Lawrence J. Kane, 46, and Ron Downey, 36. Hometowns were not known.
In addition to Black, the wounded were Richard Townsley, shot in the chest; Greg Scott, shot in the forehead, and Patty Marcotte, a broken arm.
Farley was being held Wednesday at Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose. A court date was not set. Scott said Farley probably will be charged with seven counts of murder, several counts of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
TRW, parent company of Electromagnetic Systems Labs Inc., hired a team of counselors to meet with employees, victims and families, company spokeswoman Edie Cartwright said.
Times researcher Norma Kaufman also contributed to this story.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.