Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Illness Haunted Knifing Suspect

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Illness Haunted Knifing Suspect

Article excerpt

He told people that the Richfield Shopping Center was his home, and that someone was always ready to help him. But over the years, even the people who cared about him say they didn't know what kind of medical treatment he was receiving, if any, for a serious mental illness.

Henry "Hank" Werner, 61, who is accused of stabbing two people at the shopping center Monday morning, one fatally, has been homeless for perhaps two decades. Paul Baker, 67, who died in the knife attack, was known for his generosity and had spent many mornings having breakfast at a restaurant that also was frequented by Werner.

Authorities have not released details of the altercation that led to the killing but have said a bystander, 80-year-old Clarence Wispelwey, was stabbed when he tried to help Baker. Wispelwey was in stable condition at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson on Tuesday, a family member said.

An off-duty Nutley police officer, David Strus, was praised by Clifton police for tackling Werner and disarming him without using his police handgun. Since 2009 at least 15 people with mental illnesses had died across New Jersey at the hands of police, according to the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Most of the killings have happened in northern New Jersey, including controversial cases in Leonia and Paterson.

Strus knew all of the men involved in Monday's incident, authorities said. "None of them were strangers to one another," Passaic County Assistant Prosecutor Jason Statuto said Tuesday.

Baker and Werner had other parallels, both growing up in Clifton. Baker's obituary says he worked 25 years at Hoffmann-La Roche in Nutley, where Werner worked before being laid off more than two decades ago.

Baker went on to work as a landscaper and had a long and happy marriage, raising two children, friends have said. He was a Jets fan and active in the Athenia Reformed Church, where he was an elder, said one of his friends, Leslie Kropinack. He often waited at the church door to help an elderly man to his seat, she said.

"He had a heart of gold, and he just took care of people," she said.

Werner, who has three grown children, was diagnosed with a mental illness in the early 1990s and has spent years living on the streets, often with no one nearby to look after him, according to people who know him.

Statuto affirmed statements made by shoppers and employees at the mall who said Werner had never caused trouble. "It was out of the ordinary for him, and very unexpected," he said about the stabbing.

Werner recently returned to the Richfield Shopping Center after being away for a couple of months. He left a duffel bag at a laundry center and went to get coffee at Dunkin' Donuts shortly before the stabbing, said Debbie Roon, a laundry attendant.

He kept a low profile at the shopping center, she and others said. …

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