How to Spot a Workplace Crazy

Article excerpt

Byline: Lloyd Grove

The warning signs of office mayhem.

Most mornings, Jeffrey T. Johnson emerged from his one-bedroom sublet on Manhattan's East 82nd Street wearing a stylish suit--looking more like an executive than the laid-off women's handbag designer he actually was--and returned carrying breakfast from a nearby McDonald's.

But on Aug. 24, the 58-year-old Johnson didn't return. Instead, he headed downtown to his former employer, Hazan Imports Corp. in the shadow of the Empire State Building, and wreaked mayhem with his .45 caliber pistol before dying in a gunfight with police.

To his neighbors--who variously described Johnson to Newsday as "the nicest guy" and "a mellow person"--he gave no hint of homicidal rage. But to his traumatized coworkers, Johnson's terrible act, a year after his dismissal, couldn't have come as a complete surprise.

"These incidents are not impulsive," says corporate-security consultant Jeffrey Slotnik. "I'll guarantee you that it's going to come out that this person made threats. It's going to be discovered that this person told somebody what he was going to do, and it culminated in the death of his boss and the wounding of nine people."

The phenomenon of the killer employee--popularized as "going postal" after letter carrier Patrick H. Sherrill, warned that he might be fired in August 1986, toted a gun into the Edmond, Okla., post office and killed 14 people and then himself--is hardly new. "It has likely always been present in the United States," says workplace-violence-prevention coordinator Dan Hartley of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The bloodiest incident occurred on May 18, 1927, when Bath Township, Mich. …