Gunman barricades self in church Salisbury police capture him after five-hour standoff; He wanted back surgery; No one injured in incident at St. Peter's


SALISBURY -- A man armed with a deer rifle barricaded himself inside St. Peter's Episcopal Church yesterday, asking for back surgery, before police captured him five hours later.

Paul Bailey Taylor, 61, of Parsonsburg spent part of his time at St. Peter's talking on the telephone to a police doctor about surgery on his lower back, police said. He also spoke with several parishioners, who called either on church business or to see what was going on in the historic building in the heart of downtown Salisbury.

Police said Taylor had a .30-.30 lever-action rifle, commonly used for deer hunting, and two boxes of ammunition when he was captured about 2 p.m. Although he told one caller he had an incendiary device, no bomb was found, police said.

"I was calling about Keynoters, our news magazine," said Betsy Hancock, a longtime parishioner at St. Peter's who was one of at least four people who spoke to Taylor.

Expecting to hear one of the church's female staff pick up the phone because St. Peter's minister is out of town, she was disconcerted when a male voice answered and told her the church was closed.

"I asked him why he was there and he gave me no satisfactory answer," Hancock said. "But he seemed to want to talk and I let him talk."

During their 10-minute conversation, she said Taylor mentioned legal and medical problems he was having but did not provide specific details. Their conversation ended, she said, when Taylor told her, "I have another call."

Taylor also spoke with church treasurer Michael Wessels and parishioner Sara Belle Larmore, who called the church when they heard something was going on there.

"Not knowing what was going on, I just called the church," Wessels said. Taylor answered the phone and the two men spoke for about five minutes. "He said it was not a robbery and there were no hostages. He said he had an incendiary device and he intended to detonate it."

No bomb was mentioned when Larmore called. Instead, Taylor told her that he had a list of grievances against St. Peter's and that his lawyer could tell everyone what he planned to do.

"He said, 'The church is being held hostage.' I don't know what his grievance was. I was hoping he would tell me," Larmore said.

Parishioners said Taylor was not a member of St. Peter's and they didn't know why he chose the church.

The church, a landmark on U.S. 50 as it winds through Salisbury, recently got its bell back after the county borrowed it for more than a century in the wake of the 1886 fire in Salisbury.

Taylor told police he wanted to get into the bell tower but apparently could not find the trap door 16 feet above the church foyer.

Why he wanted to get into the tower remained unclear after he was taken into custody yesterday afternoon.

Salisbury police Capt. Elton "Buddy" Harrington said that Taylor apparently had taken a taxi from his home in nearby Parsonsburg to downtown Salisbury about 4: 30 a.m.

With him, he had the rifle in a carrying case and a duffel bag, Harrington said. What he did in the early morning hours after arriving in Salisbury was not entirely clear, Harrington said.

Before he went to the church, Taylor stopped at the law offices of Henry Vinyard and spoke with a receptionist there. Vinyard, who planned to represent Taylor at a bond hearing last night, said that he had met Taylor for the first time last week but had not talked to him yesterday.

"I'm somewhat at a loss," Vinyard said last night before the hearing. "I've only met him once before this. What happened today was a surprise to me."

Taylor left the law office and went to St. Peter's, which is about a block away, Harrington said. At gunpoint, he ordered the church secretary, Mary Scarborough, outside.

"He pulled out a rifle from a case and pointed it at her and said he was taking over the church," Harrington said. Two other women in the building left, too, although they did not see Taylor, Harrington said.

Scarborough called police after she was out of the church and officers arrived on the scene.

As word spread through Salisbury about trouble at St. Peter's, the church phone began to ring.

Taylor answered it at least five times, talking to parishioners and a police negotiator.

"He said he had a medical condition and no one in the area would help him. He apparently is in pain and has to sit on pillows," Harrington said.

While he was in the church, Taylor told police he wanted surgery performed on the nerves in his lower back, near his coccyx. Police eventually lured him out of the church office by putting medical forms under the church's front door, Harrington said.

When Taylor came to get the papers, tactical officers, who had hidden in the church, captured him, Harrington said.

He said Taylor was charged with assault, reckless endangerment and several weapons violations and was being held without bond at the Wicomico County Detention Center last night.

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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