Secret life of the Empire State killer

The fatal shooting of two men is just one more episode in America's summer of gun sprees

New York

He had lost his job at a women's clothing and accessories importer across from the Empire State Building over a year ago. Yet every morning the shy 58-year-old would emerge from his Upper East Side home in the same tan suit and melt unnoticed into the Manhattan rush.

His was a kind of invisibility that is hardly rare in great metropolises like New York. He never had guests in his modest flat on East 86th Street. Nobody could recall seeing any girlfriends, or indeed any friends at all. He did, however, find solace in watching the birds and ducks in nearby Central Park.

On Friday, however, Jeffrey Johnson broke his routine. Instead of heading to his neighbourhood McDonald's as he had every day since being laid off and returning home half an hour later, he went to his old place of work, Hazan Import Corp on West 33rd Street. From a canvas bag, Johnson drew a pistol, identified a former work colleague crossing the street, approached him and shot him in the head.

Thus the awful pattern of gun violence in the summer 2012 in America has continued. Bullets sprayed into an audience up late in a Colorado cinema to catch the first screening of the new Batman movie. Mayhem was unleashed inside the walls of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. And now the tourist heart of Manhattan is turned into the Wild West.

That was how it was for a few brief moments here on Friday. The murder victim Stephen Ercolino, 41, a vice-president of Hazan against whom Johnson had seemingly held a long-time grudge, fell instantly to the ground. Johnson then shot him again, even after he was down, then turned and walked away, hoping again to vanish.

Not this time. Two construction workers who had witnessed the killing rushed after him as he turned left on to Fifth Avenue, past the entrance to the Empire State Building, where they alerted police officers.

Exactly what happened then is now under investigation by the police department. What they will have to determine is whether the injuries suffered by nine bystanders were the result, as suspected, of bullets fired by the officers.

Nothing is predictable when guns are drawn, including the fate of the shooter. If they survive, they become top billing in the US judicial calendar like the Colorado shooter, James Holmes, or Jared Lee Loughner, the young man who almost killed Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Or they perish at the scene of their crime.

Johnson is in the latter group. It is now for the public records and a few neighbours to define him. We know a little already, about his years in Sarasota, Florida, where he studied art and where, by the way, he purchased his gun. After moving to New York, he got the job at Hazan in 2005. He had a cat, was very neat and talked to very few people aside from the birdwatchers he would occasionally join in Central Park.

Aside from the finding of a website filled with fantasy drawings of curvaceous women, fighter planes and fast cars, those few people who had even noticed Johnson were left to wonder what they had missed. The usual question arose. How could a man who looked so, well, ordinary, have done so terrible a thing?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us