Mercilessly Plan, Relentlessly Prepare,
©Copyright 1997, Douglas E. Stanton, All rights reserved.
Warning! Some readers may find this story disturbing! Be warned!
"I'm going upstairs to call Mary Ann," said Judy Stanton, as she headed to the second floor bedroom. "Okay, tell her I said hi," replied her husband Doug. Doug rose from his chair as he punched the tv remote off. Looking up at the clock, "9 pm, the day was coming to a close," he thought. Sunday November 19, 1995, had been a quiet, uneventful day. The Stanton's thoughts that day had been with family. They were still coming to terms with the death of Judy's mother a year before in a car accident with the sadness and turmoil it had caused.
It was at the funeral that Jerry Hessler had read the vehicle license number of the Stanton's van and had thus discovered that they had moved from Michigan to Ashland, Ohio. The Stanton's had been stalked by Hessler in Ohio and Michigan since 1981 when Doug and Judy were married. Jerry had threatened Doug's life in November just before the Stanton's were married. When they moved to Ohio, they had left no forwarding address in hope of losing Hessler. This worked for 4 years, until Judy's mother's funeral. It had started again.
Kira, 8, had just gone to bed. Ben, 11, was up in his room. Greg, 4, was in the living room playing on the floor next to the couch where Amber, 13 was reading a book. "Amber, I'm going down in the basement to work on my BBS," Doug said as he headed toward the basement and his computer. Doug ran a free computer bulletin board service. It was a hobby that allowed him to relieve stress.
Jerry Hessler had had a busy day. It had started with his preparations for war. War against those he had nursed his hatred. Eight names were on his list, compiled and stalked over the last 15 years. He had been on a mission, to kill, hurt and to cause as much pain as was possible to those he felt slighted by. He was dressed in a long trench coat. He wore combat boots and a bullet proof vest. He carried with him a survival kit, compass and combat knife. His illegally obtained Smith and Wesson 9mm gave him the capacity to fire 15 rounds before reloading. With him that night he had over 250 rounds of ammo, several hundred dollars in cash stolen from the Stevens', and travel plans to Mexico. He carried 25 gallons of gasoline to burn out his victims if needed.
His first stop that night had been the home of Brian and Traci Stevens, their 5 month old daughter Amanda, and Brian's eight year old son, Reid. Also in the house was Ruth Cantor, a close family friend. Hessler had waited and watched for over an hour before getting up the nerve to commit his cowardly assault on the defenseless innocents inside. He carried a container of gasoline and placed it on the porch, ready for the conflagration he planned. Inside, Brian Stevens and Ruth Cantor had looked out the door and had spotted the gas container while waiting for Ruth's daughter to arrive. Brian opened the door and spotted Hessler. Running back inside, Brian warned everyone back and bolted the door.
Hessler, seeing his surprise was spoiled, kicked the door in. As Hessler came through the door he saw Ruth Cantor running up the stairs. He shot her in the leg and turned toward Brian. Brian stepped toward Hessler in an attempt to stop him. He didn't stand a chance. Hessler thrust the gun into his belly and fired once, ripping a hole through Brian's Aorta, fatally wounding him. Hessler turned to Traci who held Amanda in her right arm. He chased her across the room, firing again and again. When he was sure the woman he once loved was dead, she had been shot six times, Amanda twice. Hessler left the Stevens' home. Three dead, one wounded. Reid had escaped by hiding under a table, out of the way from Hessler's wrath.
Hessler's next stop was his former supervisor's apartment. Mark Campolito let Hessler into his apartment to talk to him. Seeing his agitated state, Mark turned to go into his room to get his shoes, thinking he might get into a scuffle with Hessler. Hessler fired three shots toward Campolito's back, one shattered Mark's left arm and spun him out of the way of the next two. Hessler left when Campolito grabbed a rifle and fired a round into the ceiling.
Hessler's next stop was the home of P. Thane Griffin. Thane was the father of Laurie Stacey, who lived in Hawaii. Laurie had refused to date Hessler years before. Coincidentally, Laurie was talking to her parents on the phone when Hessler came calling at their front door. Thane answered the door and invited Hessler in. After talking with his victim for several minutes, Hessler turned like he was leaving. Thinking to himself, "Its now or never," he pulled his gun and fired three times at point blank range. He couldn't get Laurie, but she would suffer. Sue Griffin came into the living room to see what the noise was, only to find her husband laying on the floor, dying.
Hessler listened to the radio in his car and felt four dead would not even make the front page of the paper. The police knew it was him. He had made the mistake of leaving witnesses. He decided to drive the hour to Ashland and take care of Judy and Doug Stanton. They were the main cause of all his problems. If only they had let him be their friends. Many times he had watched their house. This time they would all die! He could come back later for the others on his list.
In Westerville, Ohio, Police Sergeant Denise Reffitt, an old friend of the Stanton's had heard on her police radio of a multiple homicide involving Jerry Hessler. This news was "accidently" broadcast on the wrong channel allowing her to hear it. She knew Hessler had to have a plan. She went to the house where Jerry Hessler's brother Jody was in hiding with his wife Cindy and their family. Sgt. Reffitt talked with them and came up with several names of who Jerry might be after.
Among the names thought of was Judy Stanton. Jody didn't think his brother would go the 75 miles to Ashland to go after Judy. He didn't know Jerry had been stalking the Stanton's for years. He had even made the trip to Battle Creek, Michigan (over 250 miles) to watch their house when they lived there. Cindy was adamant, "You've got to contact the Stanton's!" Sgt. Reffitt got the number of a Douglas E. Stanton in Ashland, Ohio from information and proceeded to call. "The line's busy," she said exasperated! Again and again she hit the speed dial trying to get through. "What if this isn't the right Doug Stanton?", Reffitt said.
Debra Stoutenburg had just put her youngest son to bed. He had been playing in her and her husband, Jeff's bedroom next to the phone. She wouldn't realize it until morning, but the little boy had turned off the ringer to the phone.
Jody and Cindy Hessler told Sgt. Reffitt, "Call Jeff Stoutenburg, Judy's brother. He'll know if we have the right phone number!" Jeff Stoutenburg answered the phone when it rang(despite the ringer being turned off) and confirmed to Sgt. Reffitt that she had the correct phone number. She informed him what was going on.
Again Sgt. Reffitt called the Stanton's, again it was busy. At that point she called an operator and identified herself and that the operator needed to break in on the phone of Doug Stanton as it was a police emergency. The operator was reluctant, but finally relented and agreed to ask the users of the phone to hang up for an emergency call. After hanging up from the operator, she called again, and again....it was busy!
Judy and her sister Mary Ann Waldron, had been talking about an hour on the phone. Suddenly the operator broke in on the line and said, "There is an emergency and someone is trying to call you, will you vacate the line?" Not knowing what to think, Judy agreed and told her sister she would get back with her." Upon hanging up the phone immediately rang. It was her brother Jeff. He said, "Judy, Jerry Hessler has gone on a rampage. He has killed three people and shot several others. He may be on his way there! Get out of your house and go somewhere safe." Judy wrote down what he said and agreed and then hung up.
Jerry Hessler paced back and forth in the driveway of the Stanton's home. He had been here about 10 minutes and was trying to get up the nerve to go in. He had already killed four people and shot two others. Now it was time to go for the Jackpot. Judy should be his wife! Those should be his kids! This should be his house! He could see into the house through the dinning room windows. Soon, very soon!
Judy flew down the stairs in near panic and into the basement where Doug was working at his computer. She blurted, "We've got to leave, now! Jerry Hessler has gone on a rampage. He's killed at least 3 people and is on his way here! Judy was interrupted by the phone ringing. She picked up the basement extension as Doug arose from the computer.
Doug walked across the basement to where he kept his Walther PPK .380 auto hidden. He glanced at the clock, it was 10:05pm. Doug retrieved the pistol, checked it, loaded it, placed it on safety and put it in his belt. As he was doing this he could overhear Judy on the phone. It was Denise Reffitt on the phone. Jerry Hessler had killed several people and wounded others. He may be on his way here. He may have a bullet proof vest on! We need to flee to a safe place and call the local police when we were safe. Call her after we had contacted the police and were safe. Judy wrote down her phone number as well as Jerry Hessler's license number and car description. Judy then hung up the phone. Doug and Judy stood and stared at each other for a few seconds.
Doug broke the silence and gently pushed Judy toward the stairs, "Go up and get Kira out of bed, gather all the kids together and have them get their sleeping bags. We're either going to the Cooks or the Dojo." They looked at each other briefly and at the same time said, "Cook's!" They raced up the stairs grabbing Greg and Amber as they passed the living room.
As Judy gathered their children, Doug retrieved his .45 Govt. pistol, loaded it, then went to his Gun Safe. Unlocking it, he pulled out his 30-30 deer rifle. It hadn't been used in years but he knew it would go through a bullet proof vest. "It was like a little voice in my head," Doug said, "It will go through him and the vest...and the neighbors and the house beyond that." Doug put the rifle back and locked the safe. Doug started turning out the second story lights and met the rest of the family at the top of the stairs. Judy had told the children they were going to the Cook's to get away from a bad man. Amber grew nervous when she saw her father armed, she knew he wouldn't be armed unless there was danger.
The Stanton family quickly and calmly walked down the stairs into the living room turning off lights as they went. Doug wondered to himself how many times had they practiced as a family, with the kids for just this situation? It was like another drill. Jerry Hessler, the dark and sinister stalker had haunted their family over the last 15 years. Those drills seemed to be paying off with the orderliness of the children. Doug thought he needed to check out the windows to see if he could see any cars outside. The phone rang again.
Jerry Hessler could see Doug through the window as he walked over and picked up the phone. Doug was on the phone for just a few seconds then he hung up. He thought, "Something was wrong!" Now, now is the time! Hessler walked around the back of the house, past the steps to the north side of the house. The lights went out in the house. It was completely dark. The only light was from neighboring houses and the street light in front of the Stanton's house. After checking out the north side of the house and the door there, Hessler walked back toward the back porch. The back door suddenly opened a few inches and he could see a shadow in the doorway for just a second. The door immediately slammed.
The phone startled Doug causing him to forget to check outside. He rushed over to the phone, shutting off the living room light on the way. He picked up the phone. "Doug, this is Mary Ann," she said. "Is everything all right?" Doug curtly replied, "No, everything isn't all right! I have to go! We'll call you in a little while." He then hung up and turned off the last of the lights in the house.
The Stanton's all gathered in the kitchen, bumping into each other in the dark. Doug passed the clock on the microwave as he walked over to the door. It was 10:15. Everyone was bunched up behind him as he prepared to open the door. He turned to Judy and said, "Stay in the house for 15 seconds to give me a chance to check to make sure the way was clear." Doug then drew his .45, cocked it and made sure the safety was off. When Doug opened the door, he saw Jerry Hessler come around the corner of the North side of the house by the back porch stairs. Doug looked right into Hessler's eyes and knew instantly who it was. Hessler was illuminated by the street light in front of the Stanton house. Doug thought, "That's odd, he's wearing a long coat like you see in the old westerns." Then the anger welled as he thought, great, why did this S.O.B. have to do this, if I have to shoot him, then I'll be arrested and have to get a lawyer and we don't need that financial expense right now."
Doug immediately slammed the door and pushed Judy and the kids back into the kitchen. He stood in the doorway with the .45 aimed at the back door. "Everyone on the floor!" Doug commanded. "Amber, go down into the basement." The little voice in Doug's head returned. This time it screamed, "NO!" Doug immediately said, "NO! Get down on the floor. Amber laid down on the floor right next to the basement door. Judy was in the doorway to the dinning room, with Greg next to Doug, Ben next to Greg and Kira next to Ben. Doug waited in front of the door where he could cover the back door, the kitchen porch window and the front door.
Jerry knocked on the door and said, "Will you please help me?" Doug responded, "No, Go away!" Hessler then said, "Please, will you help me?" Doug again replied, "No, go away!" Hessler plead a third time, "Please, won't you please help me?" Doug then replied, "Go away, I'm armed!"
Lying on the floor between the basement door and the kitchen wall, Amber could see the shadow of her father illuminated by the microwave oven clock. He was standing directly between her and the back door. This whole situation was like a bad dream. She had seen the man at the base of the back porch steps, but didn't recognize him. She could hear the man talking through the door to her father. Just as her father said, "I'm armed", his body contorted to the right. It looked like someone shoved him, hard! He went down on one knee to the side of the back door behind the refrigerator.
Hessler pointed his Smith and Wesson 9 mm at the back door. Obviously the trickery he had used to enter the homes of two of his previous victims was not going to work here. He would use his military training. His vest would protect him. After all, bullets capable of penetrating body armor were illegal. Besides, Doug wasn't the type to have a gun! Jerry fired three shots into the door, then he kicked the door open, shattering the door jamb and embedding the door knob in the plaster wall. He stepped into the house firing again and again into the darkness ahead of him. He could see his muzzle flashes reaching out for more victims. A muzzle flashed to his left. Hessler turned his weapon toward the flash while continuing to spray lead hoping to kill the objects of his hatred.
As soon as Amber saw her dad down on one knee, she heard three loud gunshots. She could hear the bullets hitting the kitchen cupboard next to her. It felt like someone was laying on top of her preventing her from moving. The door came flying open and she could see the shape of a man standing in the doorway. Amber looked right up into the barrel of the gun and saw it belch streams of fire again and again. She couldn't breath, she hurt all over. Fire spewed from her fathers gun and the monster in the doorway was gone.
One second, Doug was standing in the Doorway, the next thing he knew he was kneeling beside the refrigerator. He heard three shots ring out and the back door flew open with wood splinters flying. Greg screamed and burrowed under a bag of clothing on the floor. Doug steadied his handgun on the refrigerator door handle and instinctively aimed at the figure silhouetted in the doorway by the neighbors garage light. Suddenly, to Doug, it was like he was dreaming. It appeared He was looking down at the whole scene from near the ceiling from the opposite end of the kitchen. He could see himself and Jerry Hessler. The next realization Doug had was Hessler was gone and the gun was empty. Doug dropped the emptied .45 to the floor and pulled his .380, releasing it's safety and cocking it. Getting up he slammed the door and threw the dead bolt.
Hessler was standing in the doorway firing toward the flashes to his left. A .45 Super Vel hit his vest just over his heart. It failed to penetrate his bullet-proof vest although the bullets impact was equal to the impact an eight pound sledge hammer with a baseball swing. Hessler stumbled backwards and fell down the seven concrete porch steps. The pain in his chest told him he had been shot. He got up and staggered back to his car, hunched over with pain, clutching his chest. He thought to himself, "Man, the guy's good. He got me from a cross position, center mass, just like they teach you." Starting his car, he drove to the end of the street with his headlights off and turned left, toward the freeway.
Doug stood pointing the PPK at the back door. He knew that if Hessler came back, his family's only chance was to shoot him in the head. The .380 was no match for body armor! Doug grabbed the phone and fumbled for "0" while pointing the gun at the back door. The Interstate operator came on the line. After telling her the situation and asking for the Ashland, Ohio Police, she said, "You should call 911." Doug replied, "We don't have 911!" Doug waited an eternity to be connected to the police.
He did a roll call to make sure everyone was okay. "Judy, are you okay?" she said,"Yes." "Greg, are you okay?" He sobbed, "yes." "Kira, Ben, are you okay?" Both wispered, "Yes." Doug then asked, "Amber, are you alright?" There was no answer. For the first time that evening fear pierced Doug's heart like a knife. Again he called, "Amber, are you alright?" The only reply was Greg's sobbing and the distant sound of sirens. As the nausea and panic started to rise in his throat, Doug screamed, "Amber, are you okay?" Very quietly she said, "Yes, Daddy, I'm scared." Doug replied, "So am I, punkin, so am I." Doug's hands started to shake.
Upon connection to the police dispatcher, Doug told her they were being attacked by a man with a gun. Shots had been fired and he had shot at the intruder. He told her their address and that everyone was okay. She told him help was on the way and that their call was the fifth one to report the shooting. She then told him she would call back.
Doug lead his family in a very quick prayer thanking God for sparing their lives, and asking for help to quickly arrive. Everyone felt a little better after the prayer. Doug shakily held the gun pointed at the back door, ready to shoot anything that came in.
Sirens in the distance grew louder and flashing lights appeared coming though the Stanton's living room blinds. The phone rang. Doug answered. It was the Police dispatcher. The dispatcher asked where his gun was. He responded, "One is in my hand." She asked if he had another one. He told her it was somewhere in the kitchen on the floor, empty. It was too dark to see where. She instructed Doug to put his gun down and to come out the front door with his hands up and to give the phone to Judy.
Doug placed the .380 on the computer digitizer pad next to his computer and handed the phone to Judy. He then walked to the front door, unlocked it and opened it. He raised his hands as high as he could and walked out the front door onto the porch. There were several police cars in front of the house. The officers were standing behind the cars with their guns pointed at him! To his left and to his right two officers had their weapons leveled at him. As he walked off the porch and down the steps, a Police officer, not sure of what was going on told Doug, "Get your hands higher. You'll be sorry if you lower them even a fraction of an inch."
Doug was trembling like a leaf, weak in the knees and sick to his stomach. He softly chuckled to himself as he was struck by some of the humor of this situation. He thought of possible newspaper headlines....Ashland man shot by police when he falls down the stairs.
An officer had Doug lay on the street. Doug was then hand cuffed, searched, and moved to a kneeling position behind one of the police cars and sat on his feet. The police then had Judy and the children come out with their hands up. When Judy saw her husband of nearly 15 years hand cuffed, Doug heard her swear for the first time. Judy was a little upset about seeing Doug with wrist bracelets on. She shoved one of the officers out of the way, ran over to her husband, grabbed him around the neck and said, "why in the Hell does he have handcuffs on". She hugged him as he knelt on the ground until she was escorted to a neighbors house, away from her trembling husband.
Doug was taken into custody for questioning and released at about 1:30am. No charges were filed against anyone in the Stanton family. Their actions were ruled as self defense by the prosecutor. Twelve shots were fired into the Stanton kitchen by Hessler. Seven were fired by Stanton. Had Amber gone into the basement, she probably would have been hit by four bullets that went through the wall into the basement way where she would have been standing. None of the Stanton's were physically wounded, although Doug, Greg, and Amber were missed by as little as two inches.
Psychologically, the wounds vary. Doug has difficulty sleeping and to this day cannot remember firing on Hessler. He also has frequent nightmares and rarely sleeps through the night. Kira is much more quiet and reserved. Amber has had many nightmares and does not like to be separated from her parents for long. Greg talks about being shot in the eye (apparently the light from the muzzle flashes). He is nervous around police or anyone with a gun. On several occasions, Greg has grabbed his father and begged him not to shoot the person knocking on the door. He is also nervous around people he doesn't know and asks if they are good or bad. Ben seems unaffected.
In the News Release the Stanton's issued immediately after the shooting, they attribute their survival to three things: "1)turning off and keeping off all lights in our house when we felt our safety was in jeopardy; 2)owning a firearm for our personal protection and receiving thorough training on how to properly use it; and, 3)Divine Intervention.
Jerry Hessler killed Columbus residents Brian Stevens, 36; Steven's wife, Tracy, 25, and their 5 month old daughter, Amanda. Brian's 7 year old son survived by hiding under a table. The Stevens friend, Ruth Canter, 33 was wounded. Hessler also killed Worthington resident P. Thane Griffin, 64. Also wounded was Columbus resident Mark Campolito, 33.
Jerry Hessler's life was saved by his bullet proof vest. He was caught about a mile from the Stanton's house on his way out of town. He was treated at a local hospital for his injuries and released to the police. He was found guilty on 6 counts of Aggravated murder, 3 counts of attempted murder, 1 count of felonious assault, 1 count of burglary, and 1 count of firing a firearm into a dwelling. Each with firearm specifications. He was sentenced to death on October 29, 1996. The sentence was scheduled to be carried out on November 19, 1997, the second anniversary of his night of carnage. The Ohio Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution pending appeals. Appeals are expected to delay his execution for a minimum of 5-10 years. For the attempt on the Stanton's he received 15-25 years and a $15,000 fine. Since his incarceration, Hessler was involved in the escape attempt and riot in the Mansfield Correctional Institution(MANCI) in 1997.
The Stanton's have been both praised and vilified by individuals and the press. Doug has been praised for protecting his family, as well as condemned for shooting the "Poor mentally disturbed man". Doug's character has also been called into question. "After all, what kind of person must he be if someone would try to kill him?" The Stanton's have also been condemned for having a gun and exposing their children to them. People are quick to espouse the virtues of gun restrictions; "if it saves one life it will be worth it". The Stanton family having a gun saved six lives. Had there been restrictions on gun ownership, the Stanton's would be dead. This is a fact, not a hypothetical situation! (The .45 and the .380 were confiscated as evidence. The .380 was returned after 2 months, the .45 was returned 11 months after the shootings.)
Some insight to how much of a monster Jerry Hessler really is can be seen in his cell wall writtings.
Cell Wall Writings
No Fear, No Pity, No regret, No remorse!
Am I sorry?
Yea, I'm sorry I didn't get them all!
Oh well, better luck next time.
A bad day in jail is better than any day dead.
Treat me like trash, find out I'm toxic.
Mercilessly plan, relentlessly prepare, violently execute,ruthlessly finish.
F*** them all!
They're dead. Just do it. Just pull the trigger.
No tooth for a tooth, No eye for an eye,
but an eye for a tooth and a life for an eye.
Everyday above ground is a good day and one more than they have.
I'm in a cell but they're in a box.
Right now the score is 4-0.
If they execute me the score is 4-1.
I may not be at the award ceremony but I have the higher score!
The first ones to die lose.
How sad, too bad!
I'm eating a bologna sandwich while the worms are eating them. Cool!
I'll never walk in the park, drive a car, or see my home again.
But every day I do something, they can't.
I breath and listen to my heart beat.
They told me to go to hell, but I took care of them first!
Brian dead, Tracey dead, Amanda dead, Thane dead.
Reid orphaned, Sue widowed, Mark Crippled, Ruth unstable.
Countless friends and family stricken with grief.
Not a bad day's work.
The score is 4 to 0.
Even if they execute me it will still be 4-1.
**Note Jerry Hessler wrote this during his murder trial on his holding cell wall. The Jury was only allowed to see the line in italics, not the whole text.
©Copyright 1997, Douglas E. Stanton, All rights reserved.
Postscript - Jerry Hessler died of a heart attack in his jail cell on death row on January 14, 2003 of an apparent heart attack. He is now before the greatest judge of all. The Lord's will is done.
I first learned of Doug Stanton's story a few years back. He has graciously allowed me to republish his account here. Doug is now an NRA Certified Senior Training Counselor. He is Certified to teach NRA Courses for Training Counselor, Instructor and Begining courses in Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Muzzle Loading Rifle, Personal Protection in the Home, Personal Protection Outside the Home, Home Firearm Safety, and Range Safety Officer. Doug also holds the NRA Distinguished Expert Rating in Handgun Shooting. His website can be found here.
Labels: Why I Carry a Gun