Wendy's Massacre: Death Penalty Issue
To the Editor:
Queens, Shock at a
Methodical Massacre of 5" (front
page, May 26):
When we consider the deliberate
and calculated execution of these
murders, the horrific last
moments of the victims, the ready alternatives to their
deaths and the lifelong anguish of their families, we are
Shouldn't the more deliberate
and calculated planning
by the state, the similarly horrific last moments of the
condemned killers, the ready alternatives to their deaths
and the lifelong anguish of their families -- should the
State of New York eventually execute the killers --
cause us to be appalled, as well?
JOHN E. COLBERT
Chicago, May 26, 2000
To the Editor:
The horrendous execution-style
killing of five Wendy's
employees in Queens (front page, May 27) provides the
strongest case for the death penalty. If the suspects are
convicted and do not receive the death penalty, the
absolutist and indiscriminate position against capital
punishment will have triumphed.
Santa Fe, N.M., May 28, 2000
May 26, 2000
In Queens, Shock at a Methodical
Massacre of 5
Police Call Robbery at Wendy's
By DAVID BARSTOW and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
just past closing
time Wednesday night
at the Wendy's on Main
Street in Flushing, Queens.
Two men, one short and
one tall, knocked at the
locked front door, calling
out for the manager by
The 27-year-old manager,
Jean Dumel Auguste,
seemed to know the men,
and he led at least one of
them down to the store
basement where he kept a
small office near the
employee changing rooms
and a large walk-in
Not long after, Mr.
Auguste used the store's
intercom system to
summon his small night
crew down into the
basement for a meeting.
Six employees made their
way down the back stairs
into the cool, musty
It was a death trap.
Minutes later, on one of
the busiest strips in
Queens, a massacre began
to unfold -- a crime so
grisly, so ruthless that it
left some of the city's most
When it was over
Wednesday night, all
seven employees had been
shot, all of them at close
range, all in the head. Five
were killed, including Mr.
Auguste. A sixth was
fighting for his life last night, and the seventh
miraculously survived, his cheeks pierced by a bullet.
"This is the most horrendous
crime scene I've ever
witnessed in my nine years as district attorney of this
county, and as people know I've been to a lot of crime
scenes," Richard A. Brown, the Queens district
attorney, said yesterday, as hundreds of police officers
hunted the city for two suspects, and as relatives,
stricken with shock and grief, gathered at a nearby
Investigators said yesterday
that the crime appeared to
have been carefully planned and timed, and they thought
one of the gunmen either had worked at the restaurant or
knew someone who did because of their knowledge
about how the place operated. "They knew too much
about Wendy's and how things worked there," one
Law enforcement officials
said yesterday afternoon that
they were pursuing several possible suspects, including
a 36-year-old man, a former employee at the Wendy's
in Flushing, who was arrested last summer in
connection with a robbery at a McDonald's in Queens.
The man, who had also worked at the McDonald's, was
on probation at the time for a 1996 burglary of a
Manhattan fast food restaurant.
In the 1996 case, law enforcement
officials said, the
man used a cutting tool to break into the restaurant's
safe. In the 1999 case, the man was released in August
on $3,500 bail, but then did not show up for court
appearances and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Police officials offered
this description of the gunmen:
One was a black man in his 20's, about 6 feet tall, who
was wearing brown sweat pants and a brown
sweatshirt. The other was a black man in his 30's, about
5 feet 5 inches tall, who was wearing a black jacket
and blue jeans. The Police Department's leading
suspect, whose driver's license lists him as 5 feet 5
inches tall, has been identified by at least one witness
from an array of police file photos.
Another witness, however, could not identify the man.
Customers said yesterday
that in the moments before the
restaurant's closing time, there was no hint at all of
what was to come.
A young couple sat at a front
table, quietly finishing
their food. One employee went about emptying trash
bins. Others wiped down tables and counters. At 10:55
p.m., a regular walked in and ordered one of the night's
last meals, a junior bacon cheeseburger, a baked potato
with sour cream and chives and a salad.
By 11 p.m., the store was
empty but for seven
employees, and the front door was locked. In the most
haunting disclosure yesterday, investigators said that a
passing police officer tried to stop in for a hamburger
shortly after closing time but was shooed away. A
senior police official said the officer reported that he
was waved away by a man and a woman standing at the
"We think it's very possible
that could have been the
robber standing there with the female," the official said.
"The cop tells us there is a guy and a girl standing at the
door saying we're closed. His sense was they seemed
friendly. But could he have been standing there with a
gun at her back? It's possible."
Once in the basement, Mr.
Auguste and the employees
-- Ramon Nazario, 44; Anita C. Smith, 23; Jeremy
Mele, 18; Ali Ibadat, 40; Patrick Castro, 23; and
Jaquione Johnson, 18 -- were quickly subdued at
gunpoint, police officials said. The gunmen used duct
tape to bind hands behind backs and gag mouths. At
some point, plastic bags were slipped over the heads of
all seven employees, and they were forced into the
large walk-in unit that combines a refrigerator section
and freezer section. And then they began to shoot,
apparently determined to leave no witnesses to their
theft of as much as $2,000.
It was unclear last night
how the men made their
getaway. Police officials said they thought the two men
might have slipped out a side door. But a woman at a
nearby bus stop told the police she saw two men leave
from the front door.
Over the next 90 minutes
or so, two of the wounded,
Mr. Castro and Mr. Johnson, worked themselves free.
Mr. Castro called 911 from a basement telephone in the
manager's office. "We're in the basement," he managed
to say, despite the bullet wounds to his cheeks. "We're
Mr. Johnson considered Mr.
Castro his closest friend at
Wendy's, Mr. Johnson's family said. The two
sometimes walked home together. Now, Mr. Castro
dragged Mr. Johnson upstairs, where they waited for
the police by the front counter. Mr. Johnson, who had a
bullet lodged near the top of his skull, was in Mr.
Castro's arms. According to police investigators, Mr.
Castro was in such a daze that he did not even realize
he had been shot in the mouth.
The first officers arrived
at 12:52 a.m. The first
paramedics arrived a minute later. Seeing two
wounded men inside, the officers smashed the glass of
the locked front door.
As Mr. Johnson and Mr. Castro
were taken to the
hospital, the officers followed a trail of blood down the
stairs to the basement, where they confronted a terrible
carnage in the walk-in refrigerator. There was blood
everywhere -- on the walls, on the floor, on boxes of
food. Four of the employees were already dead. A fifth
died on the way to New York Hospital Medical Center
Four of the employees were
found inside the
refrigerator part of the walk-in unit. One of the dead
was found sitting on the floor outside the unit, propped
up against the wall. An investigator said it appeared as
if the man were taking a nap.
One of the first Emergency
paramedics on the scene described his reaction to a
superior. "He said to me, 'You trained for this, You're
prepared for this. But you're never prepared for this.
These were kids. They were teenagers. This was a
Police officials said that
based on shell casings found
in the basement, they thought the weapon used in the
shootings was a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
Police said they were unsure whether more than one
.380 was used in the attack.
One senior police official
said: "These certainly aren't
the smartest guys in the world -- to shoot seven people
to rob a Wendy's? I think they were going with the old
gangster philosophy of dead men tell no tales."
As the day wore on, and as
the hours ticked by without
an arrest, relatives were left to cope with the twin
burdens of grief and fear.
Yesterday morning, members
of Jaquione Johnson's
large family filed into the waiting room of the intensive
care unit at New York Hospital Medical Center of
Queens. Some roamed the halls, pacing and awaiting
word from doctors, who were still operating.
"Doctors said he can't move
his right side at all, but he
has sensation in it," his aunt, Regina Johnson, said. "His
teeth are completely shattered."
At the restaurant, a co-worker,
Olga Purdie, whose 2
p.m.-to-9 p.m. shift overlaps with the victims', rattled
off their names and burst into tears. "Jean, Ramon, Ali,
Jeremy, Anita, Jaquione," she sobbed. "They were my
co-workers. They were my friends."
Last night, two detectives
were sent to Mr. Castro's
home to protect their leading witness in the case. "We
fear for his life," a friend said.
Mr. Brown, the district attorney,
spent three hours at the
scene and promised "a full-court press" to arrest the
culprits. The killings were the worst in the city since
five Bronx relatives were shot and stabbed to death in
Mr. Brown noted that the
death penalty was one
possible punishment for Wednesday's shootings, and
Wendy's officials quickly pledged a $50,000 reward
for information leading arrests.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani
pledged another $10,000.
Mr. Giuliani did not visit the crime scene, but in a City
Hall press conference, he seized on the shooting to
defend his buildup of the Police Department.
At the crime scene, city
workers pumped out sewer
lines, searching for a weapon, clothing, anything that
might be a clue. Police dogs and their handlers
methodically searched for some faint scent of the
gunmen. A police van circled the neighborhood, its
loudspeakers blasting pleas for witnesses to come
A police helicopter hovered
over the scene and, for
reasons they would not disclose, officers searched for a
green 1994 Nissan Maxima.
Several factors hampered
investigators yesterday. A
security camera surveyed the front counter area of the
store, but the videotape from the camera was missing.
"If we were making an educated
guess at this point, it
would appear the tape was taken," an official said.
And the sound of gunfire
may have been muffled by
work crews who were jackhammering a sidewalk just
four doors down.
"I heard nothing because
of the construction," said
Muhammed Khalid, manager of the Flushing News
Outlet, a store four doors down from the Wendy's.
Even so, officials said they
had more than enough leads
to pursue, and they expressed confidence that they
would soon make arrests.
"It may be today, it may
be tomorrow, it may be later,"
one senior law enforcement official said, "but we will
get these guys. If we can't catch guys like this, then
shame on us."
June 1, 2000
An Atrocity's Mystery of
Open-and-Shut Case, but Suspect Is a Closed Book
By KEVIN FLYNN
eight hours after his
arrest last week, John
Taylor sat with investigators
in a second-floor squad
room at the 111th Precinct in
northern Queens, unwinding
the spool of his life, from his
childhood in a Brooklyn
housing project to what
prosecutors charge was his
role last week in the
execution-style slayings of
five people in the basement
of a Wendy's on Main Street
In a voice devoid of
emotion, Mr. Taylor detailed
the killings, explained how
he had acquired the gun, a
.380-caliber bought on the
streets of Jamaica, and
traced his escape route
home, cab by cab,
investigators said. But they
said he never came close to
answering the critical
question that hung in the
interrogation room all night:
how a 36-year-old man who
once displayed a devoted
work ethic, a love for his
children and an engaging
smile had evolved into
someone capable of the
carnage that ended an armed
"I spoke to a psychiatrist
afternoon, and even with all
the information we have,
who can say?" an
investigator said. "Maybe he
thought there was an easier
way than working."
Even as police and
prosecutors amass what they
characterize as an
overwhelming volume of
evidence against Mr. Taylor
and his accomplice, Craig
Godineaux, law enforcement
officials acknowledge that
they have gained little insight
into what motivated the cold
viciousness of the murders,
aside from the pair's
concession that they had
sought to eliminate all
John Taylor's previous
crimes, one burglary and a
robberies that the authorities
say he admitted to, were
brazen, but never violent.
The law-breaking began
recently, only a few years
ago, after Mr. Taylor had
built a reputation as a dutiful
manager who spent 14 years working in the same
McDonald's franchise in Manhattan.
Several investigators acknowledged
that perhaps no
amount of psychological theorizing could ever make
sense of what happened in the Wendy's in Flushing last
Wednesday. But they said the involvement of Mr.
Taylor, who is thought to have been the architect of the
crime, is particularly baffling. By all outward
appearances, his crimes had been aberrations in an
adult life unaffected by mental illness, drug addiction
or burning grudges.
He filed his income taxes.
He paid Social Security
taxes for his baby sitter. He took an accident prevention
course last year sponsored by the New York
Department of Motor Vehicles. He was known around
his former home in Lefrak City as the sort of person
who took his four children, two boys and two girls, 5 to
13 years old, to the video store to rent movies like "The
Big Green," a family soccer story; and Jackie Chan's
latest high-action thriller.
"John seemed like the kind
of guy you would trust with
your kids," said Edward Wills, who supervised him for
8 of the 14 years that Mr. Taylor worked as an assistant
manager at a McDonald's in Midtown. "I don't think this
is the same John."
Those who worked with Mr.
Taylor in five fast food
stores said that in recent years he had grown sullen and
withdrawn, with few close friends. They said he
became a strict manager, intolerant of small mistakes,
even as he was accused several times by his bosses of
But, as the Queens district
attorney, Richard A. Brown,
tries to decide whether these killings warrant the death
penalty, several investigators said they were most
struck by Mr. Taylor's chilling ability to distance
himself from the crime. On the day after the killings, for
example, he went back to work at a clothing store in
Queens, where he was a salesman. That afternoon, he
called a 26-year-old woman he had begun courting just
nine days before.
The woman, a receptionist
at a tax preparation business
in Queens, said Mr. Taylor had seemed to be a decent
person but his phone call, in hindsight, was hauntingly
odd. He talked briefly about the Knicks, she said, and
then he made plans to meet her for dinner either Friday
or Saturday night.
"You figure maybe somebody
would act different if
they just killed somebody," she said.
Although authorities have
said that Mr. Taylor has
confessed to shooting one of the seven people shot that
night, he has yet to enter a formal plea in the case. A
trial to determine his guilt is still many months away.
John Benjamin Taylor, who
often uses the nickname
Benji, was born March 10, 1964, in Kings County
Hospital, the first of four children of John and Audrey
Taylor. He, his younger brother, Vaughn, and two
sisters were raised in an apartment in the Ocean Hill
Houses, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
His parents, who divorced
in 1993 after being
separated for at least 10 years, declined to be
interviewed for this article, as did Mr. Taylor's lawyer,
John Youngblood. But the parents have told others that
they were stunned by their son's arrest.
Mr. Taylor's mother, who
now uses her birth name,
Audrey Saddler, had recognized the Flushing Avenue
Wendy's on the news as the place where her son had
worked, according to Roy Earl, her boyfriend. Within
hours, she was confronted by detectives seeking to
question Mr. Taylor.
"I tried to comfort her and
things like that, but she's still
in shock," Mr. Earl said outside Ms. Saddler's building
on East 23rd Street in Manhattan.
After his arrest, Mr. Taylor
spent hours talking to
Detectives Louis Pia, Brian Quinn and Elizaabeth
Curcio. By his own account, Mr. Taylor has always
been closer to his father. He moved from his mother's
apartment in Brooklyn to his father's apartment in
Lefrak City in 1982 after graduating from East New
York Vocational High School. He did not attend the
ceremony, he told investigators, because he did not
have the money for a cap and gown.
Mr. Taylor told detectives
that the move was prompted
by an argument with his mother, who feared he was
involved in gang activity and might lure his younger
brother into trouble. But residents of the Ocean Hill
Houses said they recalled that, during an era when gang
violence in the projects was growing, John Taylor was
routinely seen walking off to work in the uniform of a
fast food worker.
For years, John Taylor seemed
to be the more stable of
the two brothers. While John was working as an
assistant manager at a McDonald's at 34th Street in
Manhattan, his brother, Vaughn, was being arrested
repeatedly for minor crimes in Suffolk County, where
he lived. Since 1992, Vaughn Taylor has been arrested
more than three dozen times, according to police
records, in most cases on charges of petty larceny or
Mr. Taylor's relationship
with both of his parents has
deteriorated in recent years.
Last summer, when he left
jail after his arrest on a
robbery charge, Mr. Taylor filed a complaint with the
police, accusing his father of having stolen all the
furniture from his Lefrak City apartment while he was
He also told police he had
not seen his mother in at
least two years. Mr. Earl said Ms. Saddler kept
pictures of her other children, but not of John.
In the fast-food industry,
in which workers often change
jobs frequently, Mr. Taylor was a study in permanence,
commuting daily for years from Queens to his job as an
assistant manager at the McDonald's at 341 Fifth
Avenue, near 34th Street, in Manhattan. He was
punctual and polite, and several friends recalled that he
talked often of owning his own store.
But something seemed to change
in 1996. There were
whispers among co-workers that Mr. Taylor had placed
ghost employees on the company payroll. He was
transferred to another location at 22 East 42nd Street,
although Mr. Wills said the only problem had been that
Mr. Taylor's performance had slumped a bit and he
wanted to give him a new challenge.
Several months later, Mr.
Taylor was discovered at the
Fifth Avenue store at 6 a.m., trying to break into the
safe. Mr. Taylor, who said he needed the money for his
children, was sentenced to five years' probation. It was
his first offense.
By 1998, he was working as
an assistant manager at the
Wendy's in Flushing. Some former employees said he
was pleasant to work for, but authorities said he was
caught stealing in May 1999 and transferred to another
Wendy's in Jackson Heights for several weeks.
At the same time, the police
say they believe that Mr.
Taylor, armed with a starter's pistol, embarked on a
spree in which he robbed or tried to rob five fast-food
restaurants in Queens, beginning with a Burger King at
78-03 Queens Boulevard. In that incident, on June 15, a
supervisor went for the phone to call police and the
robber ran off.
"I guess we were lucky,"
said Edward Bryck, the store
manager, "because this guy doesn't seem to be playing
with a full deck."
Eight days later, Mr. Taylor
was arrested, the police
said, after he robbed a McDonald's in Sunnyside for the
second time in four days.
He was held until August,
when he posted $3,500 bail
and returned home to Lefrak City to find that his
apartment had been emptied of furniture, the authorities
Neighbors said he still had
a job, however, as a
manager at a Wendy's on Queens Boulevard in
Elmhurst. One neighbor, George Gross, said Mr.
Taylor amiably helped his daughter get a job at the
same store, but she soon found him unsettling.
"She never complained about
anybody the way she
complained about him," he said. "She just said: 'He's
not right. He is too serious.' "
Last October, within a few
weeks, Mr. Taylor was
evicted from his apartment in Lefrak City and
dismissed from his job at Wendy's, the authorities said.
At the same time, out on bail in his robbery case, in
which prosecutors were pushing for a 12-year prison
sentence, he failed to show up for court.
He then hid in plain sight,
taking a room at $85 a week
in a private house on 171st Street in Jamaica, only three
miles from Queens Supreme Court, where a bench
warrant was issued for his rearrest. His landlady, Ruth
Hancock, said that during his first weekend at her
home, Mr. Taylor's children came to visit him.
Otherwise, she said, he lived quietly and neatly and
paid his rent promptly.
He quickly found work a few
blocks away, first at a
leather goods store and later as a salesman at SC&R
Clothing, Mr. Taylor told detectives. He and Mr.
Godineaux were both working at the store last week
when, the police say, they robbed Wendy's of $2,400
and left seven people for dead in the basement.
The next day, Thursday, Mr.
Taylor showed up for
work, leaving at 7:30 p.m. to watch the Knicks game.
The following morning, according
to Mr. Taylor's
statement to police, he heard his name broadcast on
television as a suspect in the killings, and he decided to
But first, in an unusual
move for a suspect in a multiple
murder, he called in sick at the clothing store, said the
owner, Anna Biton. She said he told her his father had
died and he had to bury him in South Carolina.
He then went to the home
of his brother's wife in
Brentwood, N.Y., where he was arrested that day.
On the way back to Queens,
Mr. Taylor began telling
the first of several accounts of the killings, a law
enforcement official recalled. It was a story full of
facts, but one that shed little light on how Mr. Taylor
had come to participate in such violence, the official
Another investigator on the
case said he could not
imagine any account that would adequately explain the
"If I could think and understand
how someone could do
something like that," he said, "then it's time to quit."