Mystery surrounds shooting spree by gunman in San Francisco office Mortgage broker is identified as culprit

July 03, 1993|By Robert Reinhold | Robert Reinhold,New York Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO -- He appeared to be a portly middle-aged professional carrying an attache case and wheeling a lawyer's case on a dolly. But when he stepped into the law offices on the 34th floor of a downtown office building here, he shed his jacket, donned a pair of orange ear protectors and went to battle with three semi-automatic pistols.

The question yesterday in San Francisco was what drove the gunman, identified as Gian Luigi Ferri of Los Angeles, into a murderous spree on Thursday afternoon, in which he killed eight people, wounded six others and then ended his own life with a bullet from a .45-caliber Colt placed under his chin.

He was a mortgage broker down on his luck and had recently approached a law office in Hollywood seeking to file for personal bankruptcy. He told the lawyers there he had lost $300,000 in a land deal in Leadville, Colo., near Aspen. "Somebody did a real number on him," Elias Francisco, a paralegal at E. Francisco & Associates, a law firm run by his brother, Emilio, said in an interview yesterday.

But it was unclear what connection, if any, there was to the law firm attacked by Ferri, Pettit & Martin. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that he had been interviewed earlier Thursday by lawyers at the firm, but the police would not confirm that.

But investigators said they could find no definite link to the firm after interviewing survivors. "We have found no one who knew him there," said Inspector Napoleon Hendrix. "No one could remember his name on typed memos."

There were calls yesterday for tighter controls on the 9 mm Intratec DC9 semi-automatic machine pistols Ferri carried under his jacket. "Believe it or not, they are legal," said Mayor Frank Jordan, the former police chief. "There is absolutely no place for them in an urban society. They are used for only one purpose, warfare."

The county coroner, Boyd Stephens, identified the gunman as Ferri, 55, of the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles, owner of ADF Mortgage Inc., which was incorporated in Nevada in 1987. The San Francisco police found his 1986 or 1987 Cadillac in a parking garage in the Embarcadero Center, a block from the 48-story glass and granite tower where he spread carnage.

"No one I've come across has known him," said Richard E. Climan, a partner in the Pettit firm, which has 160 lawyers in six offices and practices mostly business law. "His name didn't mean anything to me." The chairman of the firm, Theodore Russell, could not be reached for comment.

In Woodland Hills, neighbors of ADF, which occupied a second-story curtained office in a shopping strip, described Ferri as a quiet man who spoke in an Italian accent, when he spoke at all. He appeared to be in financial trouble, they said, and would sometimes sit in his car for two hours at time.

"He always stayed by himself and seemed lonely and sad," said Marilyn J. Petlack. "I never saw any clients going in there. I knew he was not doing well financially, but he didn't seem like a criminal type." At the nearby Oakwood apartment complex where he rented a furnished one-bedroom apartment, the manager said Ferri had not paid his June rent.

The police said they found a list of names on Ferri's body, but no one on the list appeared to be among the victims. And at least two of the dead appeared to have been entirely unrelated to any issue he had with the firm: Jack Berman, a 36-year-old partner in another San Francisco law firm, Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon, and a client of his, Jody Sposato, 30, who were there to give a deposition in a lawsuit she had brought against a former employer over her dismissal.

Last October, Ferri walked into the Hollywood offices of E. Francisco & Associates, bankruptcy lawyers based in Irvine, Calif., in Orange County, to ask about filing for bankruptcy. "He was very gentle, very friendly, a chubby little guy," recalled Elias Francisco. "But he was hard up. He was hurting."

He said Ferri described losing $300,000 when he was not allowed to build on land in Leadville. "I got the feeling he had a lot of money at one time," Mr. Francisco said. The firm never proceeded with the bankruptcy filing.

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