The accused L.A. gunner drove into town on a high of delusion and self‑destruction.
August 23, 1999
Director of Photography: Charles H Borst

Down on his luck and mad at the world, Buford Oneal Furrow Jr., 37, decided to drive to Los Angeles and go hunting for Jews. The way police tell it, on Aug. 7 he bought a used Chevro­let van in Tacoma, Wash., and stocked it with five assault rifles, two pistols, 6,000 rounds of ammunition and a flak jacket.

Furrow cased several well‑known Jewish institutions, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but decided security was too tight. He finally chanced onto the North Valley Jewish Community Center in suburban Granada Hills, Calif. On Aug. 10, authorities say, he walked in and opened fire, wounding a receptionist, a camp counselor and three little boys. Then he roared off and, after carjacking a Toyota, spotted mailman Joseph Ileto, 39, making his rounds in nearby Chatsworth. Deciding that Ileto was a good "target of opportunity" because he was a federal employee and nonwhite, Furrow shot him nine times with a Glock pistol. After that, investigators said, he got a haircut, bought a new shirt and went looking for a prostitute.

The next morning, after an $800 cab ride from L.A. to Las Vegas, Furrow strolled into an FBI office and reportedly said, "You're looking for me ‑I killed the kids in Los Angeles.” He was wrong about that: all five shooting victims from the Jewish center survived. But that was a gift of fortune, not of the violent misfit who, sources say, confessed to attacking them.

Furrow is not unintelligent. He is a graduate engineer who worked for several years on the B‑2 stealth‑bomber project for Northrup Grumman Corp. before his life began to spin out of control. He has a long-standing obsession with guns and kept a number of them, despite the fact that since May, when he became a convicted felon, he was prohibited from owning firearms. Last year, evidently near the end of his rope, Furrow tried to get help at a psychiatric hospital outside Seattle. The encounter turned nasty; Furrow pulled a knife and was charged with assault. "Yesterday I had thoughts that I would kill my ex‑wife and some of her friends, then maybe I would drive to Canada and rob a bank. I wanted police to shoot me," he wrote in a statement to police at the time. "Sometimes I feel like I could just lose it and kill people. I also feel like I could kill myself"

What distinguishes Furrow from other stressed‑out loners is his avowed belief in the violent racism and anti‑Semitism of the American Nazi movement. Furrow was a member of Aryan Nations, the notorious neo‑Nazi group based in Hayden Lake, Idaho. According to a former federal informant interviewed by NEWSWEEK, Furrow showed up at Hayden Lake as early as 1989. By the mid‑'90s, despite his lack of police or military experience, he was made a security guard and was videotaped wearing the uniform of an Aryan Nations "lieutenant.' He got to know Richard Butler, founder of Aryan Nations, and he met Debra Mathews, widow of a neo‑Nazi leader who died in a 1984 shoot‑out with the FBI.


A pattern of Hate. Debra Mathews, on the right in this 1986 photo of three women in KKK robes, married Furrow in 1995; they split up in 1997. Richard Kelly Hoskins's  book 'War Cycles/Peace Cycles' was found in Furrow's van.

"She was the Jackie O of the neo‑Nazi movement," says a staffer with the Anti‑Defamation League. In 1995, Furrow and Mathews were "mar­ried" at Hayden Lake and settled down in Metaline Falls, Wash.

It didn't last, neighbors say, because Furrow is a control freak with an uncontrollable temper. He and Mathews split up sometime in 1997, and Furrow, who had been working as a tractor mechanic, lost his job. He moved to western Washington, got another job and tried unsuccessfully to patch things up with Mathews. He began to drink heavily and fantasize about suicide and mass murder. In October 1998 he slashed his thumb and arm in what seems to have been an act of self‑mutilation. Several days later he went to Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland, Wash., and tried to check in. When he threatened two women staffers with a knife, the police were called and he was arrested. Charged with second­ degree assault, he served 165 days in jail and was released last May.

The issue now is what may have prompted Furrow to run amok in Los Angeles last week. Was he just another angry loser going over the edge, or did his race‑war fantasies inspire him to kill? A more basic question is how he avoided going to a psychiatric lockup when there was so much evidence of his capacity for violence. The answer is simple: Furrow chose to plead guilty to the assault charge rather than plead not guilty by reason of insanity. As a result, the court sentenced him to jail as an ordinary offender. Meanwhile, his ideology clearly played a role. Last week police found a book by Richard Kelly Hoskins in Furrow's van. Hoskins is well known among neo‑Nazis for dreaming up the Phineas Priesthood, a mythical underground that sets out to kill Jews, nonwhites and homosexuals. A Phineas Priest is a lone avenger who risks martyrdom for the cause‑someone like Buford Furrow, perhaps, a hero in his own mind.

With Marx Hosenball in Washington, D.C., Brad Stone in Olympia, Wash., and Tara Weingarten and Ana Figijeroa in Los Angeles