AN OBSESSION WITH LAURA
Romance obsession, a type of delusional disorder sometimes referred to as erotomania, has received a good deal of attention in the media because of the stalking activities and violence committed against well-known public personalities. Cases like that of John Hinkley, who stalked and shot President Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodi Foster, or Robert Bardo, who stalked and murdered actress Rebecca Schaeffer, tend to attract enduring attention in the press and on television. However, this form of aberrant behavior also occurs with surprising frequency in the workplace and, in some situations, can be the precursor to extreme violence. The case of Richard Farley’s complete obsession with coworker Laura Black vividly exemplifies the kind of ultimate violence which can result from such a particularly virulent delusional disorder.
By the 1980s, ESL (Electromagnetic Systems Labs) Incorporated could be justifiably proud of its reputation as a premier defense contractor and a respected landmark in the burgeoning electronics industry. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, and sporting a modern office complex in the flourishing city of Sunnyvale, ESL provided its employees with a comfortable working environment and a camaraderie unique to the "high tech" firms which populated the area south of San Francisco known as "the Peninsula." It was, by any standard, an exciting place to work, in an area of California known for its singular blend of relaxed living, unparalleled business innovations and modern management style.
It was at this time, and into this place, Richard Wade Farley would arrive as a software technician in search of the consummate career. There would have been every reason for Farley to look forward to the future with unrestrained optimism when he joined the company after leaving the military. This was, after all, a nearly ideal turn of circumstances for a man with a much-demanded skill and a high security clearance gained from a ten-year stint with the Navy. Still, Richard Farley reported to work that first day with something dark and unseen secreted within his psyche. Perhaps he sensed his own uneasiness; or maybe he dismissed it as the expected initial jitters of beginning a new and challenging career. Perhaps he never felt anything at all. Whatever he may have known or expected, in less than four years Richard Farley would leave this company and its employees forever changed; permanently scarred by the unrecognized but developing psychosis he brought to ESL that day. His legacy would be one of unforgettable mayhem—that of one of California’s most vicious workplace murderers.
From the moment Farley was introduced to Laura Black, an electrical engineer who had worked at the company for less than a year, he was obsessed with her. The dark-haired, petite and athletic 22-year-old spoke easily to him during that first meeting, unaware that Richard Farley had already decided he would have her, one way or other. Later recalling their first meeting during court testimony, Farley said, "I think I fell instantly in love with her. It was just one of those things, I guess." Laura Black, at first, had no inkling of Richard Farley’s obsession with her.
During the three and a half years following that meeting, Farley would write some 200 letters to Laura, constantly follow her to and from work, leave gifts on her desk, and rifle through confidential personnel files to learn more about her personal life. At one point, learning that Laura Black was to visit her parents in Virginia in December, 1984, Farley broke into her desk at the office, obtained the address of her parents, and wrote letters to her in Virginia. Throughout 1984 and 1985 his letters were not overtly threatening; but that was to change as Laura continued to thwart his advances.
Farley would frequently drive past her home at night, telephone her at any hour, and, at one point, even join her aerobics class to remain as close as possible to Laura, day and night. Although Richard Farley dated another woman, and eventually lived with her in his San Jose bungalow, he twice attempted to move into the same apartment building where Laura lived. When at work or approaching her on the street, Farley would often ask for a date but would inevitably be turned aside by the polite and naturally-gentle Laura. These rejections would inevitably bring on recurring protestations and endless restatements of his limitless love for her. She would do what she could to avoid him and deter his advances; he would respond by redoubling his efforts with more telephone calls, more harassment, more gifts and incessant car trips past her home. Laura Black would be forced to move twice during these years as Farley’s harassment continued unabated at work, at her apartment complex and even on shopping trips.
Eventually, Richard Farley could no longer take "no" for an answer and his tactics became aggressive and cruel. He would make derogatory statements about Laura and rifle through her locked desk in search of even more information about her personal life and activities away from work. It seemed that every effort Laura Black made to avoid Farley was answered with further encounters with him, each contact becoming more offensive than the previous. Richard Farley was a man who had obviously succumbed to an obsession which was quickly approaching a violent finale. Laura Black was running out of options; her life had become hell thanks to Richard Farley.
By the Fall of 1985, Richard Farley had pursued Laura Black so vehemently that she turned to the Human Resources department at ESL for help. Farley was told he must attend psychological counseling sessions and stop harassing Laura if he wanted to keep his job. Although Farley attended the required counseling sessions on a regular schedule, the harassment did not diminish—it escalated. During the period he was attending counseling, Farley made a duplicate copy of Laura Black’s house key which she had inadvertently left on her desk. Rather than using the key to gain entry to her apartment, Farley displayed the key and a handwritten note on the dashboard of his car so that Laura, and others, would know he could get to her at any time. His driving excursions past her home and his telephone calls to her late at night increased. The letters he wrote to Laura became more threatening, sometimes referring to his large gun collection.
Finally, in 1986, Farley could no longer control his growing anger at Laura’s continuing rejections. He publicly and vehemently threatened her life if she would not relinquish to his desire to have her for himself. Farley also began threatening other employees at the company, including a manger, who he warned about his gun collection, his expertise with guns, and the fact that he "could take people with [him]" if provoked. ESL management, by now very concerned about Richard Farley’s bizarre behavioral patterns, terminated him in May, 1986. They were clearly concerned about Laura Black’s safety, as well as others in organization. Even as Farley was being fired from his job, an ESL manager warned Laura once more about his uncontrollable obsession and the company’s concern for her safety. Still, even the termination from his $36,000-a-year-position could not dissuade Farley. In fact, in a letter he penned to Laura just before he was fired from his job, Farley wrote, "Once I’m fired, you won’t be able to control me ever again. Pretty soon, I’ll crack under the pressure and run amok and destroy everything in my path." His words proved prophetic in the extreme.
For the next year and a half Richard Farley continued to harass Laura Black. He was experiencing economic hardships, lost two houses and found himself in trouble with the IRS for back taxes. But none of this seemed to matter to Richard Farley. He thought constantly about Laura Black and increased his efforts to gain her affection. The fact that he could no longer see her at work did nothing to check his pursuit of Laura. The telephone calls continued, as did his habit of following her whenever he could. By November 1987, his letters to Laura were voluminous and overtly threatening. In that month he wrote, "You cost me a job, forty thousand dollars in equity taxes I can’t pay, and a foreclosure. Yet I still like you. Why do you want to find out how far I’ll go?" Closing his letter, Farley threatened Black again: "I absolutely will not be pushed around, and I’m beginning to get tired of being nice."
Laura Black, in fear for her life and completely victimized by the ever-present Farley, eventually sought, and was granted, a temporary restraining order against him. The TRO forbade him from approaching within 300 yards of Ms. Black and ordered him not to contact her in any manner. The order was served against Richard Farley on February 8, 1988, with a hearing scheduled for the matter on February 17, 1988. For Farley, this temporary restraining order was an act of ultimate abandonment on Laura’s part. He now knew, without question, that Laura Black would never submit to his advances. All that was left for Richard Farley was revenge—and he already had much of what he needed to take that course. Still, on February 9, 1988, Richard Farley purchased a new, 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun and ammunition for his arsenal of personal weapons. He spent $2,000 that day, despite his financial problems, just to be sure he had everything he needed.
When Farley returned to the offices of his former employer on Tuesday, February 16, 1988, two days after Valentine’s Day, he was clearly prepared for maximum violence. It was just after 3:00 PM as he drove his motor home into the ESL parking lot, armed with his new shotgun, a rifle, two handguns, bandoleers of ammunition strapped across his chest, and a container of gasoline. In all, Richard Farley carried nearly 100 pounds of firearms and ammunition which he transferred from the motor home to his body in preparation for his assault on ESL.
Walking across the parking lot to the office building, Farley shot and killed his first victim, a 46-year-old data processing specialist who he knew. He then approached the building entrance and blasted his way through the locked glass doors, heading directly for Laura Black’s office. Making his way to Laura’s location, Farley fired indiscriminately at anyone in his path. Before reaching Laura Black, Farley shot six employees, killing four instantly with powerful blasts from his semiautomatic shotgun. Hearing the chaos outside of her office, Laura Black slammed and locked the door, hoping to find some refuge.
It was to no avail. Farley leveled his shotgun at the office door and blew it off the hinges. Jumping past the shattered door and moving swiftly towards Laura Black’s desk he raised the shotgun again and fired twice. The first shot missed, but the second critically wounded Laura Black, severing arteries, tearing muscles and destroying bone in her shoulder. Although losing a great deal of blood, and in unimaginable pain, Laura was able to avoid Farley by hiding in an adjoining office and then making a run for the parking lot where, by that time, waiting ambulances and a SWAT team had arrived. During his rampage Farley killed 7 employees and wounded another 4, including Laura. At the end of his murderous siege, which lasted for five hours, Farley surrendered to a police SWAT team.
Throughout the standoff, law enforcement personnel later recounted that Richard Farley expressed no remorse for what he had done and, in fact, appeared to delight in the mayhem and chaos surrounding his actions. The once pristine ESL offices had become a chaotic killing zone of the dead and wounded. Videos and photographs of the events that day clearly depict the heroic efforts of law enforcement officials helping those employees fortunate enough to escape Farley’s revenge as they scurried for any cover they could find. The injured, including a critically-wounded Laura Black, were rushed away for treatment as members of the SWAT team eventually ushered Richard Farley from ESL for the final time.
The day after Farley’s rampage, Family Court Commissioner Lois Kittle declared the restraining order, obtained by Laura Black a few weeks earlier, as permanent. It was clearly a symbolic, but important, act. A tearful Commissioner Kittle, in making her pronouncement, said, "Pieces of paper do not stop bullets." On that day it was uncertain if Laura Black would survive to testify against Richard Wade Farley.
Farley went on trial in 1991, charged with 7 counts of capital murder and 4 additional felonies. In his testimony, Farley admitted that he knew he should not have harassed Laura Black, but claimed he could not help himself. He argued that he had "instantly" fallen in love with his former coworker, saying, "The more she tries to push me away, the more I try to not have her push me away." According to his testimony, Ms. Black’s final response to his incessant attempts to date her was that she would not go out with him even if, "I was the last man on Earth." During the course of the trial, Laura Black, still in obvious pain from her injuries, was able to testify that she had not encouraged Farley in any way but had, in fact, made extraordinary efforts to avoid him and deter his advances. Having been grievously wounded during the siege of February 16, 1988, Ms. Black made a compelling witness against the remorseless Farley. It was clear that Laura had truly been through hell with Richard Farley.
During closing arguments, Farley’s defense attorney, Gregory Paraskou, pleaded passionately for the life of his client, pointing out to the jury that Farley was "one of God’s children" and should be spared the ultimate penalty for his crimes. Assistant District Attorney, Charles Constantinides, countered with the argument that Richard Farley had obviously targeted his victims without passion and in a manner that indicated no regard for human life. Constantinides reminded the jury that Farley had made sure several of his victims were dead by shooting them in the back at near point-blank range with his shotgun, also recalling Farley’s statement after the murders that he would "smile for the cameras" if he should be sentenced to the gas chamber.
On October 21, 1991, the jury found Richard Wade Farley guilty of 7 counts of capital murder and 4 additional felonies. The following month, on November 1, 1991, the same jury, after only a single day of deliberation, recommended the death penalty for Richard Farley. On January 17, 1992, Superior Court Judge Joseph Biafore Jr., sentenced Farley to death in the gas chamber. In passing the sentence, Judge Biafore described Farley as a vicious killer who demonstrated a "complete disregard for human life." Richard Farley was remanded to San Quentin prison, north of San Francisco, to await his required appeals and eventual execution.
The incredible nightmare of Laura Black had finally reached a kind of conclusion and, in a legal sense, justice was served. But, for 7 of Ms. Black’s coworkers and friends, and for Laura herself, now permanently disabled as a result of the vicious attack, there may never be a final and satisfactory resolution to the heinous crimes of Richard Wade Farley. His legacy remains vivid and horrific.
Richard Wade Farley was born in 1948, in Texas. He was the oldest of six children, raised by an Air Force mechanic and his wife. During his early years the Farley household moved frequently as the Air Force would reassign Richard’s father. Later, the family settled in the small town of Petaluma, forty miles north of San Francisco.
Richard was an unremarkable and isolated child, born to a family that was not close. When testifying in his defense, one of Richard’s brothers stated that he had not talked to Richard in the ten years preceding the trial. In school, Richard was considered a "wimp" by his classmates and had no close friends. There were no known incidents of problems with the law or extreme behavior as Richard was growing. In fact, until the murders committed in 1988, Richard had no criminal record whatsoever.
In 1966, Richard Farley attended community college but dropped out to join the Navy the following year. While in the Navy, Farley was trained in computer technology and earned awards for good conduct and marksmanship. Those who knew him, though, found him to be a loner, egotistical and arrogant.
In 1977, Farley left the Navy and purchased a small bungalow in San Jose, California—at the southern edge of the booming "Silicon Valley". He later joined ESL to make use of the skills acquired in the Navy and pursue a promising career within a reasonable commute from his home. By the early 1980s, Richard Farley was a pudgy, bespectacled man with a puffy face beginning to show an approach to middle age. He was also a collector of weapons, power tools and numerous books dealing with sex and violence. All that was missing for Farley was an object for his latent, deadly obsession.
Park E. Dietz, MD., Ph.D. is an eminent forensic psychiatrist who is also a respected authority on mass murderers and stalkers. Dr. Dietz has defined three specific subtypes of the romantic stalker which can be practically applied in an attempt to better understand the motivations of such a criminal:
1. The spurned ex-lover or spouse, whose primary motivation is revenge against the person who has rejected or offended him or her.
2. The individual who is suffering from a delusional disorder, who will engage is bizarre and clearly unrealistic fantasies, often believing he or she is involved in a love relationship with a prominent or symbolic individual.
3. The individual suffering from a pathological dependence on another, who becomes obsessed with the target of his or her dependence and finds it difficult or impossible to function without the attention and companionship of that person.
In Dr. Dietz’s opinion, Richard Farley belongs to the last category and, based upon the evidence of the case history, this analysis appears to be correct.
There are several variations of behavioral characteristics and criteria which can be broadly defined as romance obsession among the burgeoning incidents of workplace homicide available in the literature. From a formal, diagnostic point of view, romance obsession is considered to be a delusional disorder (297.1, DSM IV) of the subtype erotomanic. This disorder "often concerns idealized romantic love and spiritual union rather than sexual attraction" (DSM IV)—a signification which is well suited to Richard Farley’s obsession with Laura Black. On the other hand, the strict definition of this subtype, as offered by DSM IV, is that the disorder, ". . . applies when the central theme of the delusion is that another person is in love with the individual"—a more specific interpretation which cannot be attributed to Farley with certainty. In the classical definition of delusional disorder, erotomanic type, the unwelcome behavior typically involves unsolicited and troublesome letters, telephone calls, gift-giving, visits and surveillance—all activities undertaken by Richard Farley. As to whether he was convinced that Laura Black was in love with him, there is much doubt. The evidence indicates that he was well aware that Ms. Black had no romantic interest in him and, in fact, desired not to be approached by him in any manner.
In the most strict interpretation provided by DSM IV, Richard Farley would be considered as suffering from a delusional disorder of the erotomanic type for lack of a more precise categorization. From a less clinical viewpoint, Richard Farley was locked in a struggle for power with Laura Black. It was his clear and obvious intention to dominate Ms. Black, to have her for himself and himself alone. When he was unable to cajole, harass or intimidate Laura Black into submission, he made the conscious decision to murder her, along with whoever might stand between them. Such brutal actions, even though they may be predicated upon a well-defined delusional disorder, demonstrate obvious pathological behavior of the most extreme kind.
Dr. Dietz’s opinion of Richard Farley as an individual suffering from a pathological dependence upon Laura Black is more appropriate to the facts of the case than the rather rigid DSM IV diagnosis of delusional disorder, erotomanic type. Lending credence to the argument of pathological dependence is the account of Farley’s behavior leading up to the murders. Much of this behavior is reminiscent of certain criteria of dependent personality disorder (DSM IV, 301.6), in relation to Laura Black. Farley apparently had difficulty in managing his personal affairs because of his obsession, evidenced by a significant deterioration in his financial condition; he was obviously in fear of driving Ms. Black away and consistently made greater efforts to maintain some relationship with her, evidenced by his actions; and, he went to excessive lengths to win her attention and felt helpless when he was unable to gain it, evidenced by many of the letters written to Laura Black. These behavioral characteristics are closely aligned with the classic criteria for dependent personality disorder. To complicate this pathologically dependent behavior, Farley demonstrated obvious traits of obsessive behavior which, in the end, deteriorated into threats and violence.
The categorizations used by Dr. Dietz fit well with many cases of occupational homicide where romance obsession is a clear theme. His opinion that Richard Farley suffered from a pathological dependence upon Laura Black, combined with Farley’s obviously obsessive behavior, account well for his actions and provide a strong working analysis of this type of occupational homicide. When these behavioral characteristics were combined with Farley’s fetish for weapons, his highly developed skill with a variety of firearms, additional personality traits which included social avoidance and a strong sense of dissociation from others, it seems, in retrospect, all too obvious that he was a man quite capable of the extreme violence be wrought upon Laura Black and her coworkers.
Profiling the Lethal Employee was published in February, 1997 by the Greenwood Publishing Group. A study of the the employee who turns to violence in the workplace.