But behind his easygoing, neighborly veneer, Stanford Augusto Douglas Jr. had been boiling over what he perceived as a racially insensitive joke a man told him seven years ago.
He apparently spent years tracking the man down—even hiring a private investigator to help him, authorities said. Until this past Easter Sunday, when, police said, he finally knocked on the man’s door, pulled out a gun and opened fire.
William Berkeyheiser, 62, who barely knew Douglas and who perhaps didn’t even recognize him, died on his front doorstep. He had been shot multiple times.
“How someone could do something like that, I’ll never understand,” Berkeyheiser’s wife of 26 years, Viola, said yesterday, following Douglas’ arraignment on first-degree murder charges.
Viola Berkeyheiser, who is part Okinawan, said her white husband would have never told a racially offensive joke.
“He was a kind man,” Berkeyheiser said. “He was not a racist. He just wouldn’t have said anything like that. He must have been misunderstood, or [it was] taken something the wrong way.”
Bucks County District Attorney Diane Gibbons, in announcing the arrest yesterday, said Douglas had confessed to killing Berkeyheiser, saying he had been offended by the long-ago joke. He refused to tell police what the joke was.
She called the motive the most “baseless” reason for a murder that she had seen in her 22 years in law enforcement.
Douglas worked as a custodian, and Berkeyheiser was director of plant operations, for the Baptist Home in Philadelphia in 1998. The two did not work together, and Berkeyheiser was not Douglas’ supervisor, Gibbons said.
But Douglas never forgot Berkeyheiser, and carried his anger about the joke with him for years, telling police that he often thought about killing Berkeyheiser, according to the police affidavit.
This past March, he apparently hired a private detective firm, A-Plus Investigations, of Levittown, to help him track down Berkeyheiser’s address.