On September 14, 1989, forty-seven-year-old Joseph Wesbecker entered the Standard Gravure printing plant in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. A half hour later, he had killed or wounded twenty people, then turned the gun on himself. "Spree killings," especially in stressed work-places, make the news every day; in the Louisville case, though, an unusual court proceeding provides that rare chance to go beyond the headlines to try to unravel the ...
On September 14, 1989, forty-seven-year-old Joseph Wesbecker entered the Standard Gravure printing plant in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. A half hour later, he had killed or wounded twenty people, then turned the gun on himself. "Spree killings," especially in stressed work-places, make the news every day; in the Louisville case, though, an unusual court proceeding provides that rare chance to go beyond the headlines to try to unravel the story not just of one man's actions, but also of America's approach to mental health and community responsibility. Working from extraordinary case documents, interviews, and his own coverage of events in Louisville, an award-winning writer extracts Wesbecker's tragic story, embedded in the crises of blue-collar life in takeover America, as well as the larger story of the debate over human nature itself.
Cornwell (Earth to Earth) reconstructs the story of Joseph Wesbecker, on medical leave from his job in a Louisville, Ky., printing plant, who returned to his workplace in 1989 and shot 20 fellow employees, killing eight of them before killing himself. He also relates the battle by the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company to fight the damage suit brought by the survivors of Wesbecker's murder spree and the families of the dead, who alleged that his action had been caused by his use of Prozac. The antidepressant drug accounted for about a third of Lilly's multibillion-dollar sales, and eventually the company settled the case via a payout kept secret even from the judge. Cornwell discusses questions being debated by neuroscientists and psychopharmacologists about the link between brain states and human behavior, with some affirming the Cartesian dualism of mind and body, others believing in a narrow reductionism in which the brain is seen as a "meat machine" capable of being controlled, still others asserting the nonmechanistic opinion that human beings have a measure of mental freedom. Cornwell presents a profound analysis of the fundamental question of human identity and of epistemological matters sure to be ongoing concerns as pharmacology becomes even more prevalent in treating the emotionally unstable. (Oct.)
In 1989, Joseph T. Wesbecker went on a shooting spree at his former place of employment, Standard Gravure, in Louisville, Kentucky. After killing eight people and injuring 12, he took his own life. Wesbecker, on long-term disability leave owing to work-related stress and a history of mental illness, was taking the antidepressant Prozac. The survivors of his rampage sued Eli Lilly, the manufacturer. Journalist Cornwell, a senior research fellow at Cambridge University and visiting fellow at the Neurosciences Institute at Rockefeller University, covered the trial for the London Sunday Times Magazine. Here he addresses not only the trial but also Wesbecker's personal life, the stress faced by blue-collar workers in postindustrial America, the nature of depression, and the development and marketing of Prozac. Cornwell does an excellent job of making the science of psychopharmacology understandable to the lay person and conveying the drama of the trial. He does slightly less well in his attempt to analyze the larger questions raised by the trialthe nature of mental illness, personality, and identity, and the ethics of pharmacological tampering. Transitions between chapters are a bit choppy, but the story itself is gripping. This title will appeal to true-crime readers as well as anyone concerned about the widespread prescription of mood-altering drugs.Eris Weaver, Marin Inst. for the Prevention of Alcohol & Other Drug Problems, San Rafael, Cal.