Columbus, Ohio, killing spree. The deaths of four people - two of them employees of Banc One Corp. who were killed at their home last Sunday evening - woke the industry up to the fact that threats to workers go far beyond the typical branch robberies. In this brutal and far from random crime, former Banc One employee Jerry Hessler has been accused of gunning down Tracy Stevens, a Banc One customer service representative whose sexual harassment complaint led to Mr. Hessler's firing in September 1994. Also murdered were Mrs. Stevens' husband, Brian, who was also a bank employee; their four-month-old daughter, Amanda; and P. Thane Griffin, the retired chief executive of Ohio United Way, in what may have been a case of mistaken identity. Mr. Hessler is also accused of injuring another former bank employee, Ruth Canter, who was temporarily living with the Stevens family. He then allegedly went to the home of his former supervisor, Mark Campolito, and injuring him with a shot in the arm. The bank and the entire Columbus community were stunned. Banc One responded by bringing in a team of psychologists to counsel employees who knew the victims. "They're standing up very well," Banc One spokesman John Russell said of the work force. "Obviously, they're very upset and very distraught." Just days before the murders, Banc One had offered Mrs. Stevens protection against Mr. Hessler's threats in her commute to and from the bank card center in Westerville, Ohio. Relatives said she had been planning to take her complaint to police on Monday - a day too late. Police said they were called to the Stevens home at 7:09 p.m. Sunday, where the gunman struck first. Then he allegedly traveled to the suburb of Worthington to the home of Mr. Griffin, the former United Way executive. Police did not know why he was targeted, but they said Mr. Hessler knew Mr. Griffin and had met his daughter during college. Mr. Griffin lives across the street from William Leary, the son of a Banc One assistant vice president with the same name, and there was speculation that the elder Mr. Leary was a target. Mr. Hessler was arrested late Sunday night in Ashland, 75 miles northeast of Columbus, and was injured in an exchange of gunfire with Douglas Stanton, the husband of Mr. Hessler's former girlfriend, Judy Stanton. Mrs. Stanton had not been involved with Mr. Hessler for 18 years, said Lt. Steven Rush of the Ashland Police. Police said Mr. Hessler was carrying a list of names of people he apparently felt had done him wrong. Banc One officials said they did everything they could to protect Mrs. Stevens. Security risks to employees are on bankers' minds, particularly in the context of armed robberies. But in recent years, consciousness in this and other industries has been raised to other aspects of workplace violence. The American Bankers Association issued a manual and two videotapes in September that offer guidelines to help prevent and deal with violence between bank employees or domestic violence that spills into the office. "Bank employees have always been targets of workplace violence because of the threat of robberies," said Sonia Barbara, an ABA spokeswoman. "The other side doesn't get as much coverage." She said banks are also concerned about liability issues if an employee is harmed in the workplace for whatever reason. Wells Fargo & Co. reports to police any threats received by employees, said Michael Devitt, vice president and manager of security administration for Southern California. A California law requires managers to report such threats. Mr. Devitt said workplace violence has been a growing problem in the past five years, most prominently in some headline-making shootings by disgruntled postal workers. He said threats by co-workers are relatively rare.
Mr. Russell of Banc One said middle- to lower-level employees historically have received more threats than executives. But in perhaps the most sensational bank-employee crime of recent years, First Bank System chairman John Grundhofer was kidnapped in 1990. He escaped unharmed and the perpetrator, believed to be a disgruntled former employee, was never found. With further consolidation and layoffs in the offing, bankers are alert to the threat of employee retaliation. "I think the correct assessment on that is that there is potential when people lose their jobs," said Mr. Devitt. In Sunday's incident, Ohio authorities charged Mr. Hessler, 37, with three counts of murder and one count of felonious assault. Other charges are pending. Brian and Tracy Stevens had both worked at Banc One's bank card center, a round-the-clock operation with 4,000 employees. Ms. Canter formerly worked in the same customer service department. All three had worked with Mr. Hessler.