Man arrested in killings at New Jersey post office

March 23, 1995|By New York Times News Service

MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- A 29-year-old town laborer was arrested yesterday and charged with killing four men and wounding one in a robbery at a post office here where he once worked. The authorities said he forced his victims, two of whom he knew, to lie face down before shooting them at close range in an act of violence that unnerved this bedroom community.

The laborer, Christopher Green, told the police after he was taken into custody at his apartment in nearby East Orange that he had stolen more than $5,000 from the small post office Tuesday afternoon because he needed money to pay his back rent, said the U.S. attorney in Newark, Faith S. Hochberg.

A phalanx of federal and local law enforcement agencies homed in on Mr. Green, a public works employee in Montclair, after the police here received a tip from an acquaintance of his that he might be involved in the killings, officials said.

Neither Ms. Hochberg nor other senior law enforcement officials could explain why Mr. Green felt that he needed to shoot the two postal workers and three customers in the small post office after he had taken the money, though some speculated that he might not have wanted to leave witnesses.

"I think that you can determine something of his mental state that after the killings he went and paid off his debts," Ms. Hochberg said at a news conference in her office in Newark.

Mr. Green had worked at post offices in Montclair as a temporary employee from July 16, 1992, until April 25, 1993, officials said. It was not immediately clear how much time he spent at the tiny office where the crime was committed, in a typical suburban shopping area, or why he left the job.

"Christopher Green stated that he committed the robbery because he had a mountain of debt," Ms. Hochberg said. "This was not a case to our knowledge which involved a disgruntled postal worker."

When confronted at his apartment shortly before noon yesterday, Mr. Green did not try to flee. He was calm and soft-spoken, police said, and readily described how he had killed the two longtime postal employees, Ernest Spruill, 56, and Stanley Scott Walensky, 42; and the two customers, Robert Leslie, 38, and George Lomago, 59.

Both postal workers recognized Mr. Green, and at least one of them apparently called his name before the shots rang out, authorities said.

The other victim, David Grossman, 45, another customer, was listed in guarded but stable condition last night at University Hospital in Newark. He was shot twice in the face, and apparently saved his life when he abruptly turned his head as he was shot. He was able to communicate with investigators Tuesday night by wiggling his fingers and toes, giving them a description of the suspect and the gun that helped corroborate other police leads.

Mr. Grossman was able to speak to the police yesterday morning.

After he was arrested, Mr. Green led investigators to his refrigerator, where he had concealed part of the money, and gave them a garbage bag that was outside his apartment, said Thomas J. Russo, chief of the Montclair police. He said that in the bag was a gym bag containing his bloodied clothing from the night before, as well as three postal money orders and 13 rounds of ammunition for his gun.

Officials recovered about $2,000 from the apartment. Mr. Green had apparently used the rest of the money to pay the back rent on his apartment Tuesday night, police said.

Mr. Green had no arrest record as an adult and one minor offense as a juvenile that did not appear to foreshadow what he is charged with doing, investigators said. His co-workers at the town's Department of Public Works described Mr. Green as a conscientious employee who came from a longtime middle-class Montclair family that is well-respected in the community.

On Tuesday, the police responded to the scene after receiving separate reports from a customer and a postal worker who had gone to the post office to pick up a load of mail. An investigator with the Essex County prosecutor's office said the customer had called ahead, asking either Mr. Spruill or Mr. Walensky to remain open a few minutes past the normal closing time of 4 p.m. so she could bring in a package.

The worker agreed and told her to knock on the front door when she arrived. But when she did, either Mr. Spruill or Mr. Walensky rushed to the door and told her to go away, saying that there was a plumbing problem in the building. As she walked away, the woman heard shots, the investigator said.

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