Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Examining Workplace Homicide

"Going Postal"

From the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, there was a rash of workplace homicides at various U.S. Post Offices, which resulted in coining the term "going postal." One of the cases was the Edmond Post Office massacre, which turned out to be one of the third largest mass murder incidents of its kind in the United States. The crime also brought into the spotlight homicide at the workplace, as well as the idea of the "disgruntled worker."

Patrick Henry Sherrill
Patrick Henry Sherrill

Thompson wrote that   Patrick Henry Sherrill, who lived and worked in Edmond, Oklahoma, was nicknamed "Crazy Pat" due to his unusual behavior. The article stated that Pat was often seen, "sneaking around at night in combat fatigues, tying up dogs with baling wire, peering into neighbor's windows, (and) mowing his lawn at midnight." His bizarre behavior was also observed at the many jobs he held throughout his life and by his neighbors.

The web site reports   that Pat's strange conduct was first noticeable during his youth, where he exhibited "odd and reclusive behavior" and showed no interest in his studies. Pat's primary interests were in sports, in which he excelled at school. He actually earned several school letters in discus and football.

In 1960 at the age of 19, Pat won a wrestling scholarship from Oklahoma University. However, he performed poorly and dropped out during his first year. Several years later he joined the Marine Corps and was stationed in North Carolina. While there he exhibited a talent with firearms but failed to succeed in other activities. After two years, Pat was discharged under honorable conditions and set out to look for work in the civilian world.

Pat moved in with his mother in Oklahoma and re-enrolled in school, this time at Edmond Central State University. Once again his grades were low and he dropped out of school for good. He worked at a series of odd jobs, which were for the most part unsuccessful. One of the primary causes for his lack of success was his uncooperative and rude behavior, which made him unpopular with his employers. He was a man who did not take direction well and preferred to work alone without any hindrance or supervision.

In 1985, Pat landed a job at the postal service where he worked as a full-time substitute letter carrier. It was his second time working as a postal worker. The first time was unsuccessful because he proved to be incompetent and unqualified. However, he was in need of money in order to sustain himself. Pat's mother, who spent years supporting him had died and left him a house to manage.

While working for the postal service, Pat once again had problems. Although he was initially a hard worker, his behavior offended both co-workers and customers.  Then his work also began to slide and he was suspended.

Pat believed that the post office supervisors were bent on firing him because they deemed him an unfit worker. An angry Pat decided he would teach them all a lesson.

On the morning of August 20, 1986, Pat substituted two .45 Colt semi-automatic guns and a .22 caliber pistol with ammunition for the mail in his satchel. He was armed and ready for war. 

Moments after stepping through the rear entrance of the Edmond Post Office, Pat approached two of his supervisors. Thompson stated that he held a gun in each hand and proceeded to shoot the men at point-blank range. Pat then walked through the building, shooting anything and everything in sight. The sounds of gunfire, screams and moaning filled the air as victims fell in the very place they were working in moments earlier. Other employees were scrambling over one another to escape the bullets that sprayed from Pat's guns.

As Pat walked through the building, he closed and locked doors behind him, ensuring that no one would escape his deadly mission. He only stopped temporarily to reload his weapons before resuming the shooting. It took approximately fifteen minutes and fifty rounds of ammunition for Pat to purge himself of his anger. He then turned the gun on himself.

Pat died from the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. By the time the police arrived at the scene, he had killed a total of fourteen male and female co-workers and wounded a further seven other employees. According to Thompson, the massacre was, "one of the worst mass murders committed by a single gunman in American history".

Over the last few decades, the United States Postal Services (USPS) has suffered a poor reputation from incidents of workplace violence and homicide. A national study was ordered by the Postal Service in the hopes of dispelling occupational fears and directly challenging the purported misconception that postal workers are under greater threat than those who work at other occupations. According to an article by Bob Dart titled Study Calls "Go Postal" Stereotype Mere Myth, research showed that the USPS employees are no more likely to "go postal" or commit homicide than other American workers.

Washington Post staff writer Cathy Newman writes in Going Postal? that only 16 of 6,719 workplace homicides were attributed to postal employees between 1992 to 1998. The article quoted Jerry Rubenstein, a psychologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, who stated that the "public nature of the job" led to postal worker homicides being more highly publicized, thus creating a "distorted picture of postal worker's propensity to commit violence." Intriguingly, a large number of postal employees have embraced this myth, believing that they are at higher risk of dying on the job than others.

In fact, Dart claims that homicide rates in the postal service were considerably lower than in other workplaces, with the retail trade having the highest incidence of occupational homicide. However, although the homicide rates were substantially lower when compared with other occupations, Newman stated that there was a higher risk of stress amongst postal employees, likely due to the drudging daily routine associated with the work. This fact only is a critical variable that could lead to an increase in disgruntled workers and possibly violent consequences.

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