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Unwanted Suitor's Fixation on Woman Led to Carnage

February 18, 1988|DAN MORAIN and MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writers

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — 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.

Co-Worker's Statement

"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.

Downward Move

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