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Joseph Wesbecker
Joseph Wesbecker
Background information
Birth name Joseph Thomas Wesbecker
Occupation Pressman
Born (1942-04-27)April 27, 1942

September 14, 1989(1989-09-14) (aged 47)
Louisville, Kentucky, United States

Cause of death Suicide
Parents Martha Wesbecker
Attack information
Date September 14, 1989
8:30 – 9:00 a.m. (EDT)
Location(s) Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Target(s) Workers at Standard Gravure
Killed 8
Injured 12
Weapon(s) Polytech AK-47S
9mm SIG Sauer P226

Joseph Thomas Wesbecker was an American pressman who killed eight people and wounded twelve others at Standard Gravure, a printing company in Louisville, Kentucky, United States on September 14, 1989, before committing suicide.


Wesbecker was born on April 27, 1942 and when he was 13 months old, his father, a construction worker, died in a fall.[1] After his father's death he was raised as an only child by his mother Martha, herself only 16-years old at that time, and her family, though he was often passed from place to place during his early childhood, and at one time deposited in an orphanage for almost a year.[2][1][3] His grandfather, to whom he felt closely attached, died when he was four.[2]

As Wesbecker was a poor student he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, but he later managed to earn his G.E.D..[2][1] In 1960 he started to work as a pressman at a printing plant and married one year later. With his wife he had two sons, James and Joseph.[1] In 1971, finally, he moved to Standard Gravure, where he soon earned a reputation as a determined, hard-working, loyal and reliable worker.[2][1]

The year 1978 marked the beginning of the downward slope of Wesbecker's life. His marriage ended in divorce and a bitter battle over custody and support for his two sons ensued.[1] It was also the year he admitted himself for the first time to a hospital to seek psychiatric treatment.[4] In 1983 Wesbecker married again; Wesbecker's second marriage also ended in divorce after one year.[1] As a consequence he became increasingly reclusive and suicidal, separated from most of his family members and lived an overall lonely life, in whose center his work remained.[2]

After the selling of Standard Gravure and the subsequent management change in 1986, Wesbecker was assigned to a mechanical folder. He soon complained about stress and undue pressure and asked to be placed back at his old job. His request was declined, and he grew increasingly hostile against the new management, became wary of conspiracies aimed to harass him, and began to complain about policy changes at the company.[2][1] He started complaining that exposure to toluene at work caused him memory loss, dizziness and "blackout spells".[4]

The hostility culminated in May 1987, when Wesbecker filed a complaint with the Jefferson County Human Relations Commission, charging that he was harassed and discriminated for his psychological state and deliberately put under stressful conditions. The following examination indeed diagnosed that Wesbecker suffered from depression and manic depression, thus substantiating his claim of discrimination, and he was put on Prozac.[2]

In August 1988, Wesbecker stopped working and was finally put on a long-term disability leave in February 1989, though there was also an agreement to re-employ him as soon as he recovered sufficiently.[2][1] Between August 1988 and May 1989 Wesbecker bought several weapons, among them the AK-47 and pistol he later used in the shooting.[5] Shortly before the shooting at Standard Gravure, where he showed up the last time on September 13, Wesbecker presumably received a letter from the company, announcing the cancellation of his disability income.[2][6]

Psychiatric historyEdit

Wesbecker had a long history of psychiatric illness and was treated for it in hospitals at least three times between 1978 and 1987. He was diagnosed as suffering from alternating episodes of deep depression and manic depression, was beset, among others, by confusion, anger and anxiety and made several attempts to commit suicide.[2][4] Hospital records also suggested that Wesbecker posed a threat to himself and others.[4]

According to CBS's 60 Minutes, "In 1984, five years before he took Prozac, Wesbecker's medical records show that he had this conversation with a doctor. Have you ever felt like harming someone else? 'Yes,' Wesbecker said. Who? 'My foreman.' When? 'At work.' The same medical records show Wesbecker had already attempted suicide 12 to 15 times." [7]

In the years prior to the shooting Wesbecker more than once threatened to "kill a bunch of people" or to bomb Standard Gravure and at one point considered hiring an assassin to kill several executives of the company. Apparently he even discussed these things with his wife before their divorce.[2] When he left Standard Gravure in August 1988 he told other workers that he would come back, wipe out the place and get even with the company and shortly before the shooting he told one of his aunts that he was upset about things at work and said they will get paid back, but as he said these things all the time, she didn't take the threat too seriously.[1]

One of the employees at Standard Gravure said after the shooting: "This guy's been talking about this for a year. He's been talking about guns and Soldier of Fortune magazine. He's paranoid, and he thought everyone was after him."[8]

Three days prior to the shooting, on September 11, Wesbecker told his psychiatrist that a foreman had forced Wesbecker to perform oral sex on him in front of his co-workers to get off the folder. In his notes, the psychiatrist wrote "Prozac?"[9]


Standard Gravure was a major Louisville, Kentucky printing company founded in 1922. Reduced revenues led to an employee wage freeze in 1982, and in 1986 the company was sold. Standard Gravure's customers were retailers, many of which were in the process of going out of business, and at the same time, paper shortages were occurring in the marketplace. It was a time of cutbacks, stress and difficulty.


On September 14, 1989, Wesbecker, who was nicknamed "Rocky" by his colleagues, parked his car in front of the main entrance of Standard Gravure and entered the plant at 8:30 a.m. carrying a Polytech AK-47S, (a Chinese-made semi-automatic [[Wikipedia:AK-47]|AK-47]] derivative), a SIG Sauer P226 9mm pistol and a duffel bag containing two MAC-11, a Snub-nosed .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Model 12 Airweight revolver, a bayonet and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

He took the elevator to the executive reception area on the third floor and, as soon as the doors opened, began firing at receptionists Sharon Needy, killing her, and Angela Bowman, leaving her paralyzed by a shot in the back. Searching for Michael Shea, president of Standard Gravure, and other supervisors and bosses of the plant, Wesbecker calmly walked through the hallways, deliberately shooting at people. He killed James Husband and injured Forrest Conrad, Paula Warman and John Stein, a maintenance supervisor who was shot in the head and abdomen. Wesbecker then headed down the stairs to the pressroom, where he killed Paul Sallee and wounded Stanley Hatfield and David Sadenfaden, two electricians from Marine Electric who were working on a broken machine.

Leaving the duffel bag under a stairwell Wesbecker walked down to the basement where he encountered pressman John Tingle who, alerted by the loud noises, went to see what was going on. Tingle greeted his colleague, asking him what was happening. Wesbecker replied: "Hi John... I told them I'd be back. Get away from me." After Tingle had gone out of the way Wesbecker continued his path through the basement, shooting Richard Barger in the back, killing him. According to witnesses Wesbecker approached Barger's body and apologized, apparently he killed him accidentally, as he did not see who he was shooting at.

Back on the press floor he shot at anyone in his way, killing James Wible and Lloyd White and finally entered the break room where he emptied his magazine hitting all seven workers present and killed William Ganote with a shot to the head. Wesbecker then reloaded and resumed firing, fatally wounding Kenneth Fentress.

When Wesbecker stepped out to the pressroom he pulled his SIG Sauer, put it under his chin and shot himself, ending his shooting spree that had lasted for about half an hour. He had fired about forty rounds, leaving eight people dead and twelve wounded. Additionally one person suffered a heart attack.[10]

Joseph Wesbecker's weapons

Police showing Wesbecker's weapons.

When police searched Wesbecker's house they recovered a shotgun, a Colt 9-millimeter revolver, a .32 revolver and a starter's pistol, and found Wesbecker's last will, as well as a copy of Time Magazine on the kitchen table, featuring an article about Patrick Purdy who had killed five children and injured thirty others with a Type 56 assault rifle, the same weapon as used by Wesbecker, at a school in Stockton, California earlier the same year.[2][5]


  • Richard O. Barger, 54
  • Kenneth Fentress, 45
  • William Ganote, 46
  • James G. Husband, 47
  • Sharon L. L. Needy, 49
  • Paul Sallee, 59
  • Lloyd White, 42
  • James F. Wible Sr., 56


In August 1989, less than a month before the shooting, Wesbecker had started taking Prozac. The wounded and the families of those killed filed a lawsuit against manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company, claiming that Wesbecker's use of Prozac contributed to his actions. The jury decided 9-3 for Lilly. Not until several years later was it revealed that Lilly had arranged a settlement with the plaintiffs in exchange for setting legal precedent.[11][12]

Wesbecker is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.


External linksEdit

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