The Sodini Killings are not Pittsburgh’s First Spree Murders

August 6, 2009

George Sodini is not the Pittsburgh areas first spree
killer. It was only 9 years ago that the region was reeling from
two sprees that were less than two months apart. One was carried
out by a black Satanist whose hatred for white people set him off;
the other carried out by an unemployed attorney against immigrants
and minorities who he believed were ruining America. Interestingly
enough, he was the son of immigrant parents from Latvia. The
following is from
When Ronald Taylor moved into his Wilkinsburg appartment in 1999,
he painted his bedroom walls black, played with guns,
worshipped the Devil, burned things, and kept a ‘hit list’ that
ranted against, whites, homosexuals, Jews, Italians, Asians, police
and the media. On wednesday, March 1, 2000, something snapped in
the 39-year-old. Weeks before, Taylor had begun a running a racial
feud with his landlord and a white maintenance man, John DeWitt,
working on his Wood Street apartment building in Wilkinsburg.
DeWitt told the Associated Press: “He said, ‘You’re all white
trash, racist pigs.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You’re dead.”” But
on this day, DeWitt left Taylor’s apartment early as another
carpenter, John Kroll, 55, worked on Taylor’s broken door. While
Taylor waited impatiently for Kroll to finish, a fuse ignited in
his head. Suddenly, Taylor became enraged that his door had not
been repaired fast enough and after a short dispute, shot Kroll at
10:30 a.m., perhaps mistaking him for DeWitt. Taylor then proceeded
to set his apartment on fire and walk into a commercial area of
Wilkinsburg with .22-caliber pistol and knife. Ronald Washington,
who also lives in an apartment building on Ross Street, encountered
Taylor on the stairs of his building in the midst of the rampage.
Taylor brandished a pistol and told Washington, “This gun is for
the crackers.” At 11:20 a.m., Taylor walked down to a Penn Avenue
Burger King and instantly shot Joseph Healy, 71. Healy, a former
Catholic priest, chaplain at Duquesne University and later a
professional storyteller, was the second person to die. Every
weekday, Healy routinely arrived at Burger King at 10:30 a.m. and
customarily ordered himself a regular cup of coffee. Healy usually
stayed for an hour in the last booth facing the counter, sipping on
coffee and conversing with customers. The booth was next to a big
window overlooking Pitt Street, making him a noticeable target for
Taylor. Taylor then walked towards a McDonald’s restaurant across
the street and shot three more men. “We were in the wrong place at
the wrong time,” said Cathy Zambo, 30, who was with Richard Clinger
when he was wounded outside of the McDonald’s. On their way to a
hardware store, Zambo stopped in the McDonald’s to use the
restroom. After she hopped back in Clinger’s Dodge minivan, she
noticed a man, carrying with what looked like a newspaper, beneath
the underpass of the East Busway separating the Burger King and
McDonald’s. The “newspaper” was actually a black pistol. While
Clinger parked at the front door of the restaurant making calls on
his cell phone, Taylor nonchalantly approached the driver’s side
window and fired his gun through the window, lodging the bullet in
Clinger’s brain. Zambo ran for help, as Taylor entered the
McDonald’s. “He was walking like he was on a Sunday stroll, like
nothing had happened,” Zambo later told the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette. Taylor’s lawyer, John Elash, says doctors refer to
this as a fugue state, a psychotic state of emotion where a person
falls in and out of a trance-like state. “He acted out a script
from his perverted universe,” said Elash. “This person [Taylor] was
totally affected by mental illness since the age of 14. He was
incapable of living in an outside world.” “He walked up and shot
Richard right through the window,” said Zambo. “I never in a
million years thought he would do that. I heard a shot, ducked my
head down and then jumped out of the truck and ran like a bat out
of hell to Dunkin’ Donuts.” When a police officer arrived at the
Dunkin’ Donuts on Penn Avenue, Zambo, hiding and screaming, was
frisked, handcuffed, and thrown into the back seat of a police car.
In the massive confusion and chaos, they mistook the witness for
the murderer. Zambo was freed as soon as the incident was
clarified, and Clinger survived. Inside the McDonald’s, Assistant
Manager Steven Bostard, 25, was waiting on customers just prior to
lunchtime. Taylor entered the front door and stepped behind the
counter. Bostard, who had worked at McDonald’s for three years,
asked Taylor if he needed help. In return, Taylor replied by
shooting Bostard in the right side of the head at close range,
according to co-worker Henry Smith, 23. Taylor then casually turned
around and walked into the parking lot. Smith, who is black, was
not harmed. Bostard, like Clinger, miraculously survived. Emil
Sanielevici, a 20-year-old junior, physics major at the University
of Pittsburgh, had placed his order and was waiting on his food in
the McDonald’s drive-through lane. A young computer wizard,
Sanielevici, was sitting in his “fire-engine-red” Honda when a
bullet arrived before his food. Shot in the head at point-blank
range, Sanielevici was pronounced dead at 6:15 that night in UPMC
Presbyterian. The scene then moved to the nearby Wilkins House
Senior Care hospice, where Taylor allegedly held several people
hostage, even some in wheelchairs. According to Joyce Ambrose, a
nurse who had been taken hostage, Taylor told the group of hostages
that he had one bullet left in his gun and was asking them if they
knew how many people he had already shot and who he should shoot
with his remaining bullet. “[I was] realizing I could die at this
point,” said Ambrose on “Good Morning America.” Taylor chose the
“one of the three of us who probably looked the most terrified. He
raised his gun to [my] head and said, ‘you look like a smart white
bitch,’” but then he said he would prefer to terrorize Ambrose
instead of killing her. “Which one am I going to kill?” Taylor said
while dangling the revolver between their heads, according to
Patrice Papenmeier, who was with Ambrose after she was grabbed from
her office. Taylor allowed Papenmeier’s co-worker, a black woman,
to leave, and then finally closed himself in another room, telling
the women, “When you open this door, I’ll be dead.” Papenmeier and
the other women taken hostage then ran for safety. Police and SWAT
teams surrounded the building of the barricaded hostage situation,
gradually coaxing Taylor into surrendering rather than shooting
himself. Sgt. John Fisher, a negotiator for the Pittsburgh SWAT
team, talked with Taylor, who appeared to be still upset over his
apartment door. “His mood went from anger to confusion—distraught,
fear and remorse,” said Fisher. Fisher would later testify that
Taylor wanted to kill himself because he did not want his mother to
see him spend the rest of his life behind bars. In apartment No.
510 of the Woodside Garden Apartments, police discovered the trail
of a maniac. An estimated 20 pages of notes included such
statements as, “Death to Jerusalem” and “white trash.” Along with
his ‘hit list,’ Taylor kept a paper called the “The Satan List,”
containing the names of businesses referred to as “targets,” which
did not include McDonald’s or Burger King. Ronald Taylor, “an angry
loner with a history of mental illness and obsessions about race”
was arraigned on one count of ethnic intimidation, five counts of
aggravated assault, a count of arson, carrying a firearm without a
license, and one count of causing catastrophe. Discombobulated as
the arraignment broke up, Taylor turned to a random man in the
crowd and said, “I love you, man.” “I love you, too,” replied the
man. Taylor followed that by turning to two strangers watching the
arraignment and said, “I love you, Mom.” LESS than two months later
Richard Baumhammer would lash out at his hatred of minorities and
immigrants. ———————- The folllwing account is from:
What was so chilling was the unhurried, methodical demeanor of a
goateed gunman, firing a handgun and wreaking ethnic and racial
terror from an old-money section of Mt. Lebanon to an Indian
grocery, a Chinese restaurant and a karate school. Along the
20-mile trail of blood across two counties, five people were slain
yesterday, another was gravely wounded and two synagogues were
damaged by gunshots. One, the temple of the woman who is believed
to be the first victim, was defaced with a spray-painted swastika
and the word “Jew.” In the final act of mayhem played out over 72
minutes, the gunman killed a black karate student after he
reportedly pointed his weapon at but spared the life of a white
companion. “What’s wrong with these people? What’s wrong with this
world?” said a dumbfounded Shirley Kelly of Raccoon at the scene of
the final killing in Beaver County. Taken into custody was Richard
Baumhammers, 34, believed to be an import-export and immigration
lawyer who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, where his parents own a home.
The son of dentists, he was arrested at about 3:24 p.m. yesterday
in Ambridge, his black Jeep Grand Cherokee littered with spent
shells and a bag containing a .357-caliber handgun. A bomb squad
was called to investigate a suspected incendiary device. During his
arraignment in Beaver Falls on one count of murder and recklessly
endangering another person, the 6-foot-2 Baumhammers appeared to
smirk. He wore a bulletproof vest over a faded black T-shirt. As
police rushed him to a police car for a trip to the county jail,
people in a crowd that gathered yelled out, “He needs the death
penalty” and “You’re going to die.” He was being held last night
without bail in the Beaver County Jail. Four other homicide charges
and related charges are pending in Allegheny County. “We are taking
the tack of ethnic intimidation — a hate crime,” said Paul Wolf,
acting Allegheny County police superintendent. The victims included
a Jewish woman who was Baumhammers’ neighbor; a native of India who
worked at the exotic India Grocers in Scott; two Asian-Americans
who worked at the popular Ya Fei Chinese Cuisine in Robinson and
were shot in full view of six customers; and a 22-year-old black
man from Aliquippa who was taking a beginner’s karate class. The
wounded man also was of Indian descent. Because the synagogues were
hit, the FBI is investigating whether there are any violations of
federal civil rights laws. About 25 agents and other support
personnel are on the case and have offered assistance to the
various police agencies involved, according to special agent Jeff
Killeen of the FBI. “We’re prepared to help in any way we can.
We’re treating this with the utmost urgency,” Killeen said. It was
the second murderous shooting rampage in two months in the region.
On March 1, three people were killed and two others were wounded at
an apartment building and two fast-food restaurants in Wilkinsburg.
The victims were white; the suspect, Ronald Taylor, who was been
found incompetent to stand trial because of schizophrenia, is black
and is being held at Mayview State Hospital. He was also charged
with ethnic intimidation. Gov. Ridge, in California to speak to a
Republican group, was stunned at the news. Not again. Those are the
first words that came to my mind. Not again,” Ridge said. “We are
struggling to make sense of what appears to be yet another brutal
racist rampage.” Shotguns everywhere Yesterday’s chain of events
began at 1:43 p.m. when Mt. Lebanon firefighters responded to an
alarm at a stately home at 788 Elmspring Road. On arrival,
firefighters found a burning rug and the body of Nicki Gordon, 63,
married and the mother of three children. Police said she had been
shot. The neighborhood, called Virginia Manor, is one of the most
affluent areas of the South Hills, where judges, doctors and
business leaders live in brick colonials or stone mansions with
velvety lawns and mature trees. At about the same time, police in
neighboring Scott got a call about a shooting at the India Grocers
in Scott Towne Center and summoned Mt. Lebanon police to back them
up. “That’s when it got crazy,” said Mt. Lebanon Police Chief Tom
Ogden. The serene neighborhood was shattered by the sight of police
officers toting shotguns or having handguns drawn, shutting off
traffic. Moments later, tactical team officers in olive helmets and
camouflage clothing joined the sweep. “There were cops with
shotguns everywhere,” said Steve Vogt, who lives nearby on Cochran
Road. “It was pretty scary.” Gwen Zeichner, who also lives a few
blocks away on Bower Hill Road, said she’d been walking to visit
her parents in their Virginia Manor home when she, too, was stopped
by police. “The cops were setting up and they were yelling at me,
‘Go, go, go. Get out of here,’ ” she said. “So I ran, scared to
death. I just can’t believe this. This is very unusual for this
neighborhood.” Meanwhile, the gunman struck at Beth El Congregation
of the South Hills, a brown brick complex off Cochran Road in Scott
where Nicki Gordon worshipped. It houses a temple, social hall and
nursery school attended by 116 pre-school children. About half of
those children were attending the school’s afternoon session when
the gunman opened fire, blowing out the smoked-glass doors at the
temple’s entrance with a half-dozen shots. The children, however,
were in another section of the building and did not know what was
happening in the front, temple President Sheila Schmeltz said. They
were not harmed and were not told what had happened. Using red
paint, the gunman also daubed two swastika symbols on the bricks to
the left side of the door and scrawled the word “Jew” on shards of
glass that remained hanging in two of the front doors. He also
scrawled another word, but investigators said they could only
discern the letter “R” because the remaining glass fell and broke.
The gunman apparently left Scott by traveling over Swallow Hill
Road into Carnegie. At the intersection of Chestnut and Lydia
Streets, he paused long enough outside the buff-brick, two-story
building that houses Ahavath Achim Congregation to fire at least
four shots at 2:11 p.m. Two of the bullets pierced each of the
glass front doors. A third tore into a front window, barely missing
the center candle of the electrified menorah that adorns the
temple’s entrance. “It’s so unfortunate. We never had any problems
here in Carnegie. We’ve always felt very welcome here,” said
Stanley Roth, a past president who serves as spiritual leader of
the congregation because it’s too small to have a full-time rabbi.
The Conservative congregation has about 45 families. Roth also was
fearful that the gunfire had harmed the temple’s four Torahs, or
holy scrolls, but the shots did not pierce the wall leading to the
temple’s sanctuary. Roth said he knew of no reason why someone
would target the temple, other than “I guess it’s someone who hates
Jews. This certainly brings back memories of things that have
happened [to Jews] all over the world, things that we never
expected to follow us to Carnegie.” No panic, no anguish Shortly
before 2 p.m. at India Grocers in Scott Towne Center, Kent
Kretzler, owner of Travel Connections, was sitting at his desk when
he saw the gunman walking by his front window. The gun was drawn
and held straight out. He was wearing a blazer and dark pants.
Kretzler said he heard five or six “cracking sounds.” And then he
saw a man walk past, carrying a gun. He showed “no panic, no
anguish, nothing … He was very calm,” Kretzler said. Kretzler
said the gunman walked calmly to his car, which was parked in a
handicapped spot. “I’m looking at that gun, thinking, my God,
that’s real,” Kretzler said. India Grocers sells a variety of
items, including spices, oils, ginger, rice, garlic and coconuts.
Killed was Anil Thakur, 31, a native of Bihar, India, who has no
known relatives in America. He was here on a work permit for The
WideCom Group of Canada. Shot in the neck was the store’s manager,
Sandip Patel, 25. Doctors at Mercy Hospital operated on him for two
hours to remove the bullet. He is in stable condition but faces the
possibility of permanent paralysis. Two storefronts away from the
grocery is Noble Craftsman, a store that sells needlepoint, picture
frames and other arts and crafts items. “We heard a crack, crack,
crack,” said store owner Pat Finlay. She said she thought it was
someone with an electric staple gun. After the gunman left, police
received reports of shots being fired at the Ahavath Achim
Congregation at 500 Chestnut St., Carnegie. Bullet holes were found
in a ceiling and a wall, but no one was hurt. Then about 2:30 p.m.,
the manager and a deliveryman were gunned down at the popular Ya
Fei Chinese Cuisine at Robinson Town Centre. Killed were Ji-ye
“Jerry” Sun, 34, of Churchill and Theo “Tony” Pham, 27, of Mt.
Lebanon. Witnesses said the gunman had asked for them by name
before opening fire. Vinh Truong, a Vietnamese worker who was
cooking in the kitchen, said customers started yelling because
someone had come into the restaurant and started shooting. “I came
out of the kitchen and saw Tony on the floor,” he said. “They said
the [gunman] asked, ‘Where’s Tony? Where’s Jerry.” Truong said he
is the brother-in-law of the deliveryman, who started working in
the restaurant about seven months ago. Pham and Truong lived
together in Castle Shannon. Pham’s wife, Bonnie, and son, Chris, 5,
arrived at Robinson Town Centre shortly after 4 o’clock. Grief
counselors met with them and other family members outside the
restaurant. The family was not permitted inside. Police blocked a
section of the shopping center plaza for about five hours while
they conducted their investigation inside the restaurant. Feeling
for a pulse The gunman’s trek next took him to C.S. Kim’s School of
Karate off Route 60 in Center Township, Beaver County, where Garry
Lee, 22, of Aliquippa was shot. Lee began taking classes three
weeks ago and arrived at about 2:45 p.m. with his best friend,
according to school master Marcus Murtaugh. They were the only
students in the place. According to a police affidavit, George
Thomas II said a gunman entered and pointed a weapon at him. Thomas
said the gunman then directed the gun at Lee, shooting him several
times. Thomas later picked Baumhammers from a photographic lineup
as the shooter, police said. Diane Wenzig of Center was in her
pizza shop, Center Pizza, shortly before 3 p.m. when she heard what
sounded like gunshots. “I was sitting there with my kids and sister
and we heard, ‘Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam’ — multiple shots,” Wenzig
said. “I went to the window because I was curious and he came
walking by. He was just calmly walking down the sidewalk — and
then I saw the gun.” Wenzig locked her shop door as the suspect,
wearing sunglasses, a sport coat and carrying a briefcase under his
arm, walked at a normal pace toward his Jeep. “And then he popped
off another couple of shots. I didn’t see what he shot at. And then
he calmly drove off,” she said. Wenzig wrote down the vehicle’s
license number and then went two doors down to the karate school.
On the floor, she saw Lee on the floor in his karate attire,
bleeding and having trouble breathing. Murtaugh was on the phone
with 911 and handed the phone to Wenzig to give the description and
license of the car. Lee stopped breathing. The dispatcher told her
to turn him over, and she did so. She saw wounds in his chest and
on an arm. “I was holding his wrist, feeling for a pulse. He quit
breathing on us,” she said. Police quickly closed in on the getaway
car. Aliquippa Patrolman John Fratangeli was parked on Route 51
near the Aliquippa-Ambridge Bridge when he spotted Baumhammers’
black Jeep driving by. He said he followed him over the roadway and
into Ambridge. He didn’t turn on his flashing lights until he saw
Ambridge police who could back him up. Fratangeli, 28, said at
first he thought he was going to be in the midst of a shoot-out but
after an Ambridge car blocked his path, Baumhammer stopped his car
and complied with the officers requests. “He showed no emotion,”
Fratangeli said. Baumhammer also did not say anything to the
officers. Fratangeli said police found bullets on the car seat and
the floor and that Baumhammers had more rounds in his pocket.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he wasn’t finished yet,” Fratangeli

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