“Convicted ex-worker kills 5 in Melrose Park
4 others injured in morning rampage at Navistar plant”
Jon Yates and Gary Marx
Tribune Staff Writers
February 6, 2001
Just a day away from a prison term for stealing from his ex-employer, a former Navistar International Corp. worker strode into the trucking giant’s diesel engine plant in Melrose Park on Monday and opened fire, killing four workers and wounding four more before taking his own life.
About 850 workers were inside the sprawling complex when William D. Baker, using a golf bag to conceal his cache of guns, walked through the center of a large room where diesel engines undergo tests and sprayed gunfire from an AK-47 assault rifle, authorities said.
The 66-year-old former tool room attendant armed himself with a deadly arsenal: along with the AK-47, he carried a .38-caliber revolver, a Remington shotgun, a .30-caliber hunting rifle equipped with a scope, and a box of bullets and magazine clips.
Authorities said they suspected that Baker’s theft conviction and imminent imprisonment provoked the attack. It was unclear whether Baker specifically targeted his victims.
Plant worker Randy Davis was testing an engine when he heard shots and dropped to the floor. After about five seconds of silence, he rolled over and saw the colleague who was working next to him lying nearby, bleeding from gunshot wounds.
“He had every opportunity in the world to shoot me,” Davis said.
Frightened employees racing to get out jammed the building’s main exits, workers said.
Killed were supervisor Daniel T. Dorsch, 52, of Elmwood Park; technician Robert E. Wehrheim, 47, of Hanover Park; Michael Brus, 48, of Hinckley; and test engineer William Garcia, 44, of Carpentersville.
Listed in critical condition at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park was Carl Swanson, 45, of Des Plaines, with a gunshot wound in his abdomen. Another worker, Mujtaba H. Aidroos, 24, of Roselle, was shot in the chest and was in serious condition at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Bryan Snyder, 26, of Hanover Park was in fair condition at Loyola with a gunshot wound in his left arm. And Matt Kusch, 22, was treated for a gunshot wound to his foot at Gottlieb and was released.
Michael Kalagian was sitting at his desk in the building’s engineering offices when several technicians ran past, shouting that a man with a gun was inside the building.
“At first, we didn’t believe it,” said Kalagian, 37, a development engineer from Berwyn. “We thought it was a joke, then we heard two or three shots.”
Baker, of Carol Stream, had worked at the plant for 39 years as a tool room attendant before he was fired in 1994 after accusations that he and five other men conspired to steal truck engines and parts from the plant, according to federal court records.
Baker joined two co-workers and three other men in a scheme to steal $195,400 in diesel engines and parts. Baker pleaded guilty in November to one count of conspiracy to commit theft from interstate shipments. He was sentenced to 5 months in prison, followed by 5 months of home confinement.
Baker’s role in the engine theft ring was to use a forklift to load the stolen engines and components onto trucks that co-worker Jerry Dunaway drove, according to his plea agreement. Suspecting theft was occurring at the plant, Navistar had its corporate security manager, John Martinicky, call the FBI and help them by going undercover to investigate the ring, said Assistant U.S. Atty. William Hogan Jr.
Dunaway, who orchestrated the scheme, cooperated with FBI agents and wore a hidden recorder to help nab his cohorts, Hogan said.
Baker was scheduled to surrender to the federal government’s Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday. Baker also was a registered sex offender. He was convicted in 1997 for having sex with an underage girl and was sentenced to 48 months’ probation, authorities said.
Workers at the Melrose Park plant who knew Baker said he unleashed his rampage in the same room where he had been assigned as an employee. They described him as easygoing—not at all volatile or unstable.
“He was a very nice guy—I couldn’t believe what he did,” said Julio Negron, 62, who knew Baker for 20 years.
Located on North Avenue just east of Mannheim Road, Navistar’s International Truck and Engine Corp. plant employs about 1,400 people and manufactures diesel engines for trucks and buses.
Sometime before 9:45 a.m., Baker, with a golf bag slung across his back, walked up to the northwest employee entrance, said Melrose Park Police Chief Vito Scavo.
Baker told a security guard he had some personal belongings to return to a friend inside the building. When the guard told him she would summon the friend to the gate, Baker pulled out a .38 revolver and stuck it in the guard’s side.
“Well, you’re going to have to take me into the building,” Scavo said Baker was overheard saying. The guard was not injured.
Steven Bell, 23, an associate test technician, saw Baker just before he entered the testing room and wondered why a tall, elderly man in a heavy coat was carrying a golf bag.
“I kind of shook it off,” Bell said about an hour after the rampage, as he watched television coverage from the union hall across the street from the plant.
Once inside the testing room, Baker reached into the golf bag and pulled out an AK-47 automatic assault rifle. As he walked down the center aisle, he began firing his weapon at workers.
Baker fired about 25 to 30 shots in a span of eight to 12 minutes, Scavo said. At one point, he stopped in the aisle, turned around, walked back up a different aisle between workstations, and continued firing.
“As he went, bodies were discovered,” Scavo said. “He had quite a bit of ammunition.”
Many workers sought refuge in the building’s basement. Engineer Martin Reutimann, 24, grabbed his coat and cell phone, raced outside and called 911.
“Everybody took off and started running everywhere,” Reutimann said.
Baker made his way to a corner office, where he shot to death one more person and then turned the gun on himself, Scavo said.
Police found the AK-47 rifle on a nearby desk, and the .38-caliber revolver on the floor near his body. The shotgun and the hunting rifle were found inside the golf bag.
Sources said the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been asked by Melrose Park police to trace Baker’s guns to determine where he got them and whether he obtained them legally.
Police are investigating what, if anything, Baker said to his victims. He left no note at the scene and apparently said nothing to indicate his intentions to the security guard. All of the victims were employees of Navistar, but the police chief said it is unclear whether Baker knew any of them.
Company officials would not discuss security at the plant, which uses guards and photo ID swipe cards to gain access to different sections of the facility. Cliff Baerlin, a plant machinist and an official of the United Auto Workers, which represents some of the plant’s employees, said the company had switched security firms Sunday.
Baker and his wife, a civilian employee at the West Chicago Police Department, lived in West Chicago until they divorced last year and he moved to Carol Stream.
He lived alone in Spring Valley, a subdivision of brick and frame two-story townhouses, except for occasional visits from his son, who neighbors said was about 7 years old and lived with his mother.
The inside of the home on Walnut Circle was decorated with sports photographs and related memorabilia, neighbors said. Baker, at 6 foot 2 and about 275 pounds, liked to lift weights, and had a weight bench set up near the entrance to his home, close to the 50-inch color TV, one neighbor said.
Most neighbors liked him but kept him at arm’s length after they learned last year—from a list posted at the Village Hall—that he was a convicted sex offender, they said. Those parents said they had forbidden their children to go to his house.
Baker concealed other aspects of his past, telling neighbors that he had retired, not that he had been forced to leave the company after his felony conviction.
“He was a very friendly guy,” said Cindy Waidanz, 46, the neighbor two doors south of Baker whose granddaughter was the recipient of Baker’s generosity. “That’s why I can’t believe this.”
“He kept to himself,” Waidanz said. “He took care of his property very well. He seemed to me to be a good neighbor. Who would have known? It blows your mind away.”
Tribune staff writers Courtney Challos, Ted Gregory, Elizabeth Neff, Matt O’Connor, and Dan Mihalopoulos contributed to this report.