Kidnap Follows Shooting as Bad Luck Dogs Family : Crime: Ex-Newport resident’s abduction ends without injury. His daughter is recovering from an earlier attack.


Sometimes bad luck just seems to come in bunches.

Consider the streak the Grundhofer family is having.

Six weeks ago, Karen Grundhofer of Newport Beach was shot seven times after a deranged gunman randomly opened fire in a Berkeley hotel bar, killing one person and wounding six. She survived and is recovering. But on Monday, she was worrying about her father.

John F. Grundhofer, a former Wells Fargo Bank vice chairman in Los Angeles and until recently a Newport Beach resident, was kidnaped early Monday in Minneapolis.


Abducted by a man wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a pistol and a knife, Grundhofer, 51, was driven across the state line into a rural area of Wisconsin. There, he was forced to call in a ransom demand on a car phone. Two hours later, the 5-foot-6, newly appointed chairman of First Bank Systems escaped from his 6-foot-2 captor and ran to a nearby farmhouse to call for help.

“I have no idea why this took place,” Grundhofer said through a spokeswoman. “Right now I have a bank to run, and that’s what I intend to do,” he said, typifying the no-nonsense attitude that friends say is his greatest strength.

Survival definitely seems to course through Grundhofer blood.

Karen Grundhofer, a UC Berkeley senior, is still recuperating from the September blood bath in Berkeley. The gunman in the bar there terrorized patrons and singled out several women for sexual abuse before police shot and killed him.

During an interview Monday, Karen said she is doing fine and was just getting back to a routine existence when her phone rang concerning her father’s kidnaping.

“He’s obviously just very relieved and trying to relax, " Karen said. “We both can’t believe what’s happened to us. These two situations are almost like TV movies come true.”

Also relieved is John Grundhofer’s brother, Jerry, who is president and chief executive officer of Security Pacific National Bank in Los Angeles. The bank issued a brief statement saying that it was glad that John Grundhofer wasn’t hurt in Monday’s abduction.

“We are pleased he is OK and we abhor this type of action,” said Deborah Lewis of Security Pacific.

John Grundhofer was unavailable for an interview Monday. But FBI spokesman Byron Gigler said that Grundhofer’s kidnaping was well-executed and precisely timed, though agents in Minneapolis don’t believe that it was the work of a professional criminal.

“It’s evident that he (the abductor) was stalking Mr. Grundhofer and knew his movements,” Gigler said. “It didn’t happen by chance.” He refused to speculate on the motive.

After speaking with her father, Karen Grundhofer said he was not sure why it happened either.

“I think in general anybody who’s in the public eye is subject to something like this,” she said. “It is not something, however, that he expected to happen.”

Grundhofer was getting out of his car in the Pillsbury Center parking garage in downtown Minneapolis around 8 a.m. Monday when an elegantly dressed man ordered him at gunpoint to get back into his Mercedes sedan, authorities said.

The abductor, described as a heavy-set man in his early 50s and wearing thick glasses and a brown tweed hat, told him to start driving toward Wisconsin. Somewhere along the way to St. Croix County in Wisconsin, the gunman ordered Grundhofer to use his car phone to read a ransom note to a secretary at First Bank System, a multi-bank institution with $19.3 billion in assets.

“There was a financial demand made,” the FBI’s Gigler said. “We can’t put out the amount of money requested.”

Once the men reached a wooded area of St. Croix, Grundhofer was tied up but left alone long enough to free himself and run for help. The abductor’s physical description was released throughout the Midwest and a massive search was under way to find him and Grundhofer’s missing Mercedes.

Gigler indicated that the FBI thinks it is dealing with an amateur. “He was immaculately dressed. He was articulate and educated (and) his demeanor seemed to imply he was not an experienced criminal,” Gigler said. “It was obvious this was something new to him.”

The FBI also believes that the man may not have been working alone.

On Monday, Grundhofer’s Southern California friends and colleagues hailed his bravery, something he was doing for his daughter just a few weeks ago.

“What I admired most in him was his instinct for survival, which he has certainly shown one more time,” said Lilia Boza, Grundhofer’s personal secretary at Wells Fargo. “He is definitely a fighter. It didn’t surprise me that he managed to escape without any danger to himself.”

First Bank, the nation’s 36th largest bank-holding company, hired Grundhofer last January away from Wells Fargo, where he was in charge of its Southern California banks. At the time, First Bank was looking for someone to turn it around after losses undermined its credibility on Wall Street.

Just weeks into his job in Minneapolis, Grundhofer announced the layoff of hundreds of employees and the termination of executive perks, including club memberships. Those familiar with his management style say he believes in being lean and mean, saying anything is possible if one puts his or her mind to the task.

Besides his leadership role in the banking industry, Grundhofer was well-known for his aggressive support of culture and art in Southern California.

South Coast Repertory director David Emmes said Grundhofer, as a nine-year trustee, helped the theater grow from its dime-store beginnings into a Tony-award-winning repertory troupe of national acclaim.

“It took a person with some vision to understand what this thing could be, and Jack has always struck me as a person who has an ability to grasp an idea . . . and to act on it,” Emmes said.

Boza recalled Grundhofer’s inability to accept defeat.

“He would never give up,” she said. “Even when things were beginning to look a little grim, he would come up with ideas to turn things around. He always believes things can be changed around.”