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Four Killed in Post Office, Home; Ex-Postal Employee In Custody

October 10, 1991

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. (AP) _ A fired postal employee killed his former supervisor and another person in their home, then killed two workers at the post office and set off explosives before surrendering this morning after a 4 1/2 -hour standoff, authorities said.

The suspect, Joseph M. Harris, 35, of Paterson, was arraigned on murder, attempted murder, attempted kidnapping and weapons charges. Superior Court Judge Charles R. DiGisi in Hackensack ordered him held on $1 million bail.

Harris shook his head and smiled as the charges against him were read. He blurted out ″It’s wrong 3/8″ and ″I didn’t shoot 3/8″ before DiGisi told him to be quiet.

Authorities said he was heavily armed, including hand grenades and an Uzi machine gun, and had left his apartment in Paterson booby-trapped before starting his rampage.

Two mail handlers were found dead in the basement of the Ridgewood Post Office after the siege there ended, authorities said.

The victims in nearby Wayne included Carol Ott, 30, who was Harris’ former supervisor. She had filed a harassment complaint against Harris last year.

″In my opinion, considering the way he was armed and given the circumstances as they are now, he intended to kill more people,″ Ridgewood police Chief Frank Milliken said.

Ott was found dead in her home about 4:20 a.m. along with Cornelius Kasten Jr., who lived with her.

Ott had been stabbed and Kasten shot in the head, said Passaic County Prosecutor Ronald Fava. Ott was partially disrobed but it was not immediately determined if she was raped, Fava said.

The men found dead at the post office were identified as Joseph M. VanderPaauw, 59, of Prospect Park and Donald McNaught, 63, of Pompton Lakes, Fahy said in a news release.

Ridgewood, Wayne and Paterson are all are in northern New Jersey, northwest of New York City.

Fahy said the siege at the post office began when a postal service truck driver arrived to deliver mail at 2:15 a.m. and was surprised to find the building dark and the loading bay door closed.

The driver entered the building and saw Harris in the basement wearing a gas mask. Harris fired a gun at the driver, who managed to flee, Fahy’s statement said.

When police arrived, two officers entered the building and Harris lit and threw what appeared to be a pipe bomb or a stick of dynamite at one of them, Fahy said. The officer ducked for cover and was not hurt by the explosion, the statement said.

The officers fled the building, and seconds later heard a second explosion. Police surrounded the building and a stand-off continued until shortly before 7 a.m., when Harris surrendered, Fahy said. The explosions caused minimal damage.

Milliken said Harris had a 9mm Uzi semiautomatic, a .22-caliber MAC 10 machine gun with silencer, a samurai sword, three or more hand grenades, several homemade bombs and ammunition.

Harris was fired from the post office in April 1990, two months after Ott filed a complaint with Ridgewood police alleging that Harris had threatened her on the job, Fahy said. Ott later decided not to press charges, Milliken said.

Harris, a postal employee since 1981, had been reprimanded in 1984 for harassing other employees, Fahy said.

In Paterson, police Chief Richard W. Munsey said a search of Harris’ apartment turned up a letter in which Harris wrote of injustices he felt and a booby trap.

″There was an accellerant with gunpowder,″ Munsey said. ″It was wired with fishing line to the door, if you opened up the door it would go off.″ Harris had warned officers of the booby trap, authorities said, and officers were able to get into the apartment without injury.

Anthony Lo Prinza, a supervisor at the post office, described Harris as quiet and strange.

″You knew something like this was going to happen,″ Lo Prinza said.

In 1986, a part-time letter carrier in Edmond, Okla., killed 14 people in the post office there before taking his own life. In 1989, a postal worker in Escondido, Calif., killed two co-workers at the post office and fatally wounded himself after slaying his wife at home.

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