CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!
Return to Transcripts main page


Manhunt: Cracking the Case

Aired October 27, 2002 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN PRESENTS, MANHUNT: CRACKING THE CASE. From out of nowhere, a murderer is free.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And my mother called me saying that your brother's been shot.


ANNOUNCER: One shot after the other.




ANNOUNCER: Anywhere, anytime, anyone.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I was worried because I didn't want to die like that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Parents frantically running to the building and grabbing children.


ANNOUNCER: A sniper out of control.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish the person would just stop.


ANNOUNCER: A region under siege.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know where's my family safe?

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: And a task force pushed to the brink.


MOOSE: And I beg of the media, let us do our job.


ANNOUNCER: Three weeks of death and dead ends, cryptic messages and chilling threats and then, a lightening chain of events from coast to coast.


MOOSE: A federal arrest warrant has been issued for John Allen Muhammad.


ANNOUNCER: Suspects named, warnings posted and arrests made. Just who are John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo? Tonight, a CNN PRESENTS special investigation, MANHUNT: CRACKING THE CASE OF THE SNIPER ATTACKS.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeanne Meserve. It was an assault, an attack on the fabric of life here in the Washington area, a renegade sniper on the loose, killing at random. For three weeks, mundane activities -- shopping, jogging, pumping gas -- became tests of nerve. That feeling of safety we all take for granted hijacked in a reign of terror.


MESERVE (voice-over): The first shot missed.

ANNE CHAPMAN (ph), VICTIM: All of a sudden, you heard this loud bang.

MESERVE: Five twenty p.m., Wednesday, October 2, at a Michael's store in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington D.C. The bullet passed above cashier, Anne Chapman's (ph), head and through a check out marker.

CHAPMAN (ph): I had just taken a step to the left just seconds before it came through the window and it just -- to me, it's close enough that it -- the pressure -- I felt the pressure.

MESERVE: The next shot did not miss -- 6:04 p.m., two miles away, an analyst for the Weather Service buying groceries for his church gunned down in the supermarket parking lot. Ominous words from local police chief, Charles Moose.

MOOSE: One person dead, no suspects, no motives.

MESERVE: By sunrise, slaughter stocked the suburbs.

MOOSE: This morning, 7:41, a shooting near White Flint.

MESERVE: A man mowing this strip of lawn behind an auto dealership as a favor to a friend, cut down on a short side street.

MOOSE: Shot and killed, again, no suspects.

MESERVE: Barely half an hour later...

MOOSE: Eight twelve, another shooting at the Mobile station across the street.

MESERVE: ... one shot again, a cab driver from India killed on his 25th wedding anniversary. And Chapman drove by, going back to work a block away.

CHAPMAN (ph): And I just found out someone else had just been shot at through the thin, blue air. So then, I started really getting nervous. I saw the blood on the ground and on the van and I was like what the heck is going on.

MESERVE: As cops combed over one scene, the killer struck at another, two miles up the road.

MOOSE: Eight thirty-seven, another shooting.

MESERVE: A young mother from El Salvador sitting on a shopping mall bench.

MOOSE: Hispanic female shot and killed.

MESERVE: A single shot, a bullet hole left in the window behind here and concerns spreading the suburbs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have never, ever witnessed such crazy acts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's September 11 all over again.

MESERVE: Another hour, another death.

MOOSE: Nine fifty-eight, I don't have a lot of information at this point, but the person is deceased.

MESERVE: She, too, was a young mother who had stopped to vacuum her van at a Shell station, the fourth person to die on that bloody morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the people don't seem to be connected at all. The victims don't seem to be connected, but the shootings do. So these are apparently random acts of deadly violence here in Montgomery County.

MESERVE: County executive, Douglas Duncan, was in Chicago when he got the phone call, one death after another.

(on camera): What did you think you were facing? DOUGLAS DUNCAN, MONTGOMERY COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Terrorism certainly leapt to the forefront. Is this a further attack from outside forces? I really didn't know.

MESERVE: Neither did police. Not the who nor the why.

DR. N.G. BERRILL, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: The serial killer is a predator. They have a lust for the kill. What kind of a guy wakes up one morning, is brushing his death and decides that, you know, maybe today's the day I'm going to run out and start shooting people.

MESERVE: In Dr. N.G. Berrill's criminal behavior class, the students echo questions we all have -- who would do this and why.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Maybe he's one of those guys that was always beaten up.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: He's just showing that I am better than you guys after all.

MESERVE: Serial killers have acquired a perverse star status. There's even a market for murderabilia, art by child killer, John Wayne Gasey, a dental mold from cannibal Jeffrey Dammer. Books about them are bestsellers. We want to know what separates them from us.

BERRILL: I think traditionally the serial killer is someone who has a very intimate relationship with his victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew I was sick or evil or both.

MESERVE: Dr. Berrill says there are distinct types of mass murderers. The first type, the most notorious often driven by sexual obsession.

BERRILL: The serial killer embarks on a path, which permits him access, for example, to prostitutes or young children or whomever. But decidedly, there's a taste for a certain kind of victim.

WESLEY ALLEN DODD, SERIAL KILLER: I kidnapped three little boys, a 4-year-old, a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old. Two of them were raped and I killed all three of them.

MESERVE: Wesley Allen Dodd was executed shortly after this interview. He molested dozens of children before killing three of them.

DODD: These kept aggressing. They kept getting labeled to all of these crimes while -- what if I do a little bit more. I wasn't doing what I was doing.

MESERVE: Unlike a sniper who strikes from a distance and disappears leaving few traces, the traditional serial killer leaves a trail of clues.

BERRILL: It's not uncommon at all that they take trophies following a kill. And the trophies could be anything from a piece of jewelry to an undergarment to literally, a body part.

MESERVE: The second type of killer, the rampage killer, is less plotting, more explosive.

BERRILL: I think the term, which unfortunately has become popularized, you know, in this culture, and that is going postal, really emanates from that type of individual. And they've had enough of their life. They've had enough of the circumstances, which frustrate them and they're going to blow away a bunch of people.

MESERVE: Like Colin Ferguson. In 1993, he randomly shot commuters at Long Island railroad car, killing six and wounding 25 before being subdued while reloading his gun.

BERRILL: He is someone who was sitting on an awful lot of rage, an awful lot of confusion.

MESERVE: The sniper, if it fits at all, could be a third type, the spree killer, more careful, harder to catch.

BERRILL: I think the thing that differentiates the third type, the spree killer, is that they don't have a specific interest in their victims. And what really is at work is the flexing of one's muscle -- look at me, look how wonderful and powerful I am and I just want the culture at large and society to real in their fear and their anxiety about, you know, what I'm capable of doing.

MESERVE: This long day of death has not ended. Two hours into darkness, a 72-year-old carpenter from Haiti was shot down on a street corner in Washington D.C. just beyond the Maryland line. County Executive Duncan flew home to pursue a sniper who showed no sign of stopping.

DUNCAN: Why is this happening in a very peaceful community? Who in the world is doing this and what are they trying to achieve?

MESERVE: Up next, a new target enrages the public and doctors rush to save a life.

DR. MICHAEL HOLDER, CHILDREN'S NATIONAL MEDICAL HOSPITAL: For him to have any chance at all, we had to act fast and be accurate.




MESERVE (voice-over): Even before the blood was cleaned away and the first day's massacre, Police Chief Charles Moose offered one assurance.

MOOSE: I think the school kids are safe.

MESERVE: Was someone listening to those words and these?

MOOSE: We won't create a situation of panic.

MESERVE: Two thirty the next afternoon, another shooting, this time an hour away from Washington. A woman shopper wounded outside a Michael's store in Fredricksburg, Virginia. She lived. Then came Monday morning, a gray autumn day for schoolchildren -- 8:09 a.m., a 13-year-old boy got out of his aunt's car and started toward the door of his middle school in Buoy, Maryland. A bullet cut him down. It was hard not to panic.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: All the teachers told us to run into the building and a lot of kids were crying.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I was worried because I -- because this never happened like this before at my school.

MESERVE: This time the gunshot came from the woods next to the school. A shell casing, the first one found, showed the rifleman had been hiding a 100 yards away.

MOOSE: Someone is so mean spirited that they shot a child. Now, all of our victims have been innocent and have been defenseless, but now we're stepping over the line because our children don't deserve this.

MESERVE: Doctors battled for the boy's life. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us to the frontline of that fight.

DR. TOM LYONS (ph): In trauma, they talk about the golden hour. If too much time is wasted, you could easily hemorrhage, you know, on the point of recovery within an hour.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Tom Lyons (ph) was used to treating fevers, sore throats, chest pains, the usual complaints at a suburban emergency room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, it's extremely busy here.

LYONS (ph): We had just opened up. I was probably drinking coffee at my desk, about 8:15 in the morning when I heard somebody from the front office say there was a gunshot wound in the front.

GUPTA: On that Monday morning, Dr. Lyons (ph) would need to make every second of the golden hour count.

LYONS (ph): Before I even had time to respond, our security guard, who sits by the front door had scooped this child up and put him in a wheelchair and brought him to the back treatment area immediately.

We obviously saw that there was a significant injury because he had a white shirt on and there was a lot of blood pooling on it.

GUPTA: The 13-year-old middle school student was conscious but scared.

LYONS (ph): He was overwhelmed. He said, "Hurt." He said, "I think I've been shot." The injury had a lot of potential of being very serious. It wasn't just a flesh wound. We ended up putting him on a ventilator. We put multiple IVs into him. We gave him a blint (ph) while he was here. And finally, we put a chest tube in to expand his left lung, which was injured by the bullet.

GUPTA: Dr. Lyons (ph) knew that the boy was in trouble, more trouble than he could handle at the clinic.

LYONS (ph): I knew right away that I needed a chopper. I needed a Medivac.

DOUGLAS VERRALLO (ph), FLIGHT PARAMEDIC: We were alerted that there was a shooting in Buoy and we basically started getting ready just in case we were called.

GUPTA: Douglas Verrallo (ph) is a flight paramedic on what may be the world's busiest Medivac helicopter.

VERRALLO (ph): This allows us to take patients who are not breathing adequately...

GUPTA: Last year, Trooper 2 transported over 1,100 patients.

VERRALLO (ph): Well, we immediately launched the aircraft and were there within, I believe, about 10 minutes of the request, which considering flight time is extremely quick. We were able to deliver him to D.C. Children's Hospital in a matter of seven minutes.

HOLDER: We were actually listening to the radio in the communications center. And I usually stop in there at the beginning of my shift just to kind of say, "Hi, I'm here, what do we have cooking?" The minute we heard that, the first thing we all thought was "Oh, my Lord, this might be the sniper."

GUPTA: In a desperate race against the clock, the staff at the children's hospital rushed the boy down to the emergency room just as the final moments of the golden hour passed.

HOLDER: I wasn't able to really determine if he was going to make it or not. I just knew that for him to have any chance at all we had to act fast and we had to be accurate.

GUPTA (on camera): This was the room where the 13-year-old boy was brought. He had a tube in his mouth to help him breath. He had a tube in his chest to help treat a compressed lung. Several IVs in arms with blood hanging. There was also an x-ray hanging in the room, an x-ray that showed a lot of metal throughout his body. Why? Because of a bullet wound, a bullet wound the size of this pencil eraser, which actually entered the left side of his body, shattered one of his lower ribs and actually damaged his left lung. What doctors are most concerned about though, what laid beneath, the heart. This boy was lucky. His heart was not damaged. The bullet did, however, take out the front part of his stomach and two organs beneath that, the pancreas and the spleen.

From the emergency room, the goal is to get the boy to the operating room. That is where the boy was stabilized, his organs were fixed, the blooding was stopped and ultimately, the fragments of bullet were removed that identified the weapon.

(voice-over): The boy is alive, but still in serious condition. For the doctors, a small victory in a war the sniper seemed to be winning.

LYONS (ph): I thought about this. I think -- you know, I think he took three minutes to get here. He was here a total of 45 minutes. And the flight to Children's was six minutes. So we're still less than an hour and he's at Children's Emergency Department. We're within the golden hour now.

MESERVE: Up next, the first time we hear from the sniper.




MESERVE (voice-over): For the first time from the sniper, a message left behind in the woods after he shot the schoolboy.

MIKE BUCHANAN, WUSA-TV, WASHINGTON, D.C.: I heard it from a relative of a police officer who was on the scene.

MESERVE: Twenty-five phone calls later, WUSA reporter, Mike Buchanan had confirmation and a scoop.

BUCHANAN: Well, the killer left a calling card.

MESERVE: A tarot card with the symbol for death and the words, "Mr. Policeman, I am God."

MOOSE: Good morning.

MESERVE: The sniper had made contact, but now everybody knew it.

MOOSE: It is inappropriate to comment about this card.

MESERVE: The next morning, Police Chief Charles Moose erupted. He said if the media wanted his job, well, then...

MOOSE: We will go and do other police work and we will turn this case over to the media and you can solve it.

BUCHANAN: And I said, "Oh my God. What have I gotten myself into?"

MESERVE: The police outburst may have been an act to try to placate the killer.

BUCHANAN: And I found later it was programmed. It was programmed by the FBI people who said, "You got to go out there and you got to be irate." MESERVE (on camera): So the real audience for that outburst wasn't the media. The real audience was the sniper.

DUNCAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know what, he did this knowing he was going to be criticized for it. He did this knowing that he was going to be the bad guy and he portrayed that way by the media.

MESERVE: That Wednesday night, October 9, the next murder, 8:15 p.m., a Vietnam vet getting gas in the Virginia suburbs killed by a shot out of the dark, from the same .223 rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ballistic evidence has concluded that these cases are linked.

MESERVE: Friday morning, 9:30 a.m., back in Fredericksburg, Virginia, well south of Washington, a black business leader from Philadelphia, who stopped to phone his wife and fill the tank, the eighth to die. But back at the investigation headquarters, police were no longer answering most media questions.

MOOSE: It would inappropriate for me to talk about any of those details that you just asked.

BUCHANAN: I've worked in this town for 35 years now and I've never seen it so scared. And the way you -- the way you fight fear is with knowledge, with facts. You know the facts won't kill you. They really won't.

MESERVE: Without facts, often the media seemed to feed on fear. CNN's Brooks Jackson puts TV under the microscope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, ABC News has learned that at yesterdays' bus stop shooting...

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: As it had at Waco, at Columbine, and elsewhere, the global news apparatus converged for another deathwatch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The serial sniper may have struck again.

JACKSON: The sniper became the story, almost the only story. Networks pushed aside threats of war, a struggling economy, the looming and possible history-changing elections. Day after day, hours at time, only the Washington sniper mattered. Too much coverage some said. Psychologist, Joel Devaska (ph)...

JOEL DEVASKA (ph), PSYCHOLOGIST: We had very good reason to believe that in general, this saturation publicity in fact creates a market for mass murder, a climate for additional serial spree and mass murders.

JACKSON: Devaska (ph) says at Columbine the young killers had been motivate in part by a desire for fame, which news media delivered. Would this coverage cost lives or would the news media help end the killing, like the Unabomber case, broken only after the news media's publication of his manifesto, let his own brother to recognize him and turn him in.

Whatever the consequences, the growing body count simply demanded attention, especially by local media.

SUSAN TRUITT, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, WUSA-TV: We live in this community. When we go to the grocery store, we're afraid. The people who live next door to us, my children, my grandchildren, they're afraid. We're telling this story because it's on everybody's minds. It's gone off the charts.

JACKSON: Whatever facts they knew, police kept mostly to themselves.

MOOSE: To talk about any strategies or details of this investigation just doesn't help us.

JACKSON: So networks filled the information void...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are a couple of young men. They are white. They're in their early 20's.

JACKSON: ... with speculation at a price, according to psychologist, Devaska (ph).

DEVASKA (ph): There's never been a crime just like this, so all these so-called profilers and mental health experts who were holding forth about this person had best -- or irrelevant or silly and at worst, they're harmful. But if they did know anything, by sharing it with the killer and by contributing to this circus of drama and aggrandizement of the crime itself...


JACKSON: Too much speculation or too little hard reporting.

ALICIA MUNDY, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER MAGAZINE: I don't think the press has been aggressive enough. I think early on, there were questions they really should have asked and that's part because this about public safety. This isn't about some argument over the First Amendment.

JACKSON: Reporters struggled to find a balance point between informing the public without aiding the killer, even censoring traffic reports during a massive morning dragnet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and the area is completely shut down. I know that we're not reporting exactly where...

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Another shooting, no official confirmation. I was incensed from the very beginning that almost every word I was reporting could have caused problems in the investigation and could cause more people to be killed or injured.

JACKSON (on camera): Through it all, national audiences grew. At their peak, ratings of CNN, FOX NEWS and MSNBC all more than tripled. (voice-over): They packaged the awful story with fancy logos and theme music. To some, it was too much, too commercial.

MUNDY: People are dead and you know you just can't package it like it's some kind of game show where you spin the wheel to figure out where the next victim is going to be.

JACKSON: Marketing murder or serving a public need? In fact, it was both.




MESERVE (voice-over): Nine fifteen p.m. Monday, October 14, the darkest hour of the investigation. An FBI analyst shot and killed as she reached her car in a Home Depot parking garage in suburban Virginia. For the first time, a witness said he saw the sniper, rifle to his shoulder standing next to a van nearby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a cream-colored Astro van. It has a tail light out.

MESERVE: Two days later, police said the witness had lied. He was jailed. But police continued to circulate sketches of a white van reported at other shooting scenes. They paid less attention to an aging Chevrolet Caprice; witnesses had spotted near the Home Depot, the same kind of car seen leaving an earlier murder with its lights out. In hindsight, it was a serious mistake.

DUNCAN: The challenge here was that no one saw who was doing this. And as was sort of mentioned several times, we're chasing a ghost here. No one's seen who's doing it and that made it very difficult.

MESERVE: Saturday night, just before 8:00 p.m., another shot from the dark, a motorist badly wounded, leaving a steakhouse along an interstate in Ashland, Virginia, almost a 100 miles south of Washington. The shot came from the woods behind the parking lot. Investigators found a letter tacked to a tree, but they kept it secret. It demanded $10 million to stop the killings.

The case was about to take an unprecedented twist, a police chief using the media to talk directly to a serial killer.

MOOSE: And we are going to respond to a message that we have received. We will respond later. We are preparing our response at this time.

MESERVE: FBI profilers were probably helping write Chief Moose's words. Previous serial killers have said they followed their crimes in the media.

JIM WRIGHT, FORMER FBI INVESTIGATOR: They listen to what was being said by investigators, by task force commanders. And so, knowing that, then the next logical step is to use that as a mechanism to communicate. At the very least, at least, not use it to inflame.

MOOSE: The audio was unclear and we want to get it right. Call us back so that we can clearly understand.

MESERVE (on camera): Was it a stalling tactic to keep that dialogue going from the podium?

DUNCAN: I think there's a lot of things involved with that. And we just wanted to make an arrest before someone was killed.

MESERVE (voice-over): The sniper answered with another message and another bullet. An hour before dawn the next day, back in the Maryland suburbs, a 35-year-old bus driver waiting to start his morning run, shot from a nearby park. Another note left in the woods. Each time, the killer asked police not to tell the media, but one newspaper said the Virginia letter had carried a threat to schools. Reluctantly, Chief Moose revealed the exact words that night.

MOOSE: It is in the form of a postscript. "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time."

MESERVE: Fear had come home in the suburbs. Bruce Morton visits one family.

MOOSE: "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time."

MOLLY MORRESCO (ph), RESIDENT: OK, are we going to run through that?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Morrescos -- Molly (ph), 12-year-old Devon (ph), 8-year-old Delia (ph), and Rich -- live in McLean, Virginia. Like millions in this area, they've had a new neighbor these past few weeks, fear.

M. MORRESCO (ph): You know I've put a lot of trust in the schools -- bye, love you too, buddy -- but nonetheless, you're driving your kids to school thinking I'm trusting the school to make the right decision to protect them and keep them safe. And it is a very nervous feeling.

Do have the Sesame baguettes yet?

MORTON: Simple things like grocery shopping became risky, she thought.

M. MORRESCO (ph): I didn't go shopping for several days and when I did, I was careful to do it at what I thought might be a safer time of day, in the middle of the day and not in the evening.

MORTON: Molly (ph) buys gas this day like a normal person. She had a different technique during the fearful time.

M. MORRESCO (ph): I never do this, but I put the pump in the car and I sat in the car. And I got out and grabbed my receipt and left. I was going to stand next to the pump.

MORTON: And she worried -- how much did the kids know, should they know. Eight-year-old Delia (ph)...

M. MORRESCO (ph): We'd be talking about different things, you know, doing homework or what's for dinner, whatever. And then, in the middle, she'd say, "Did the sniper shoot anybody today?" And I'd say, "No." And she'd go right on to the next thing.

RICH MORRESCO (ph): When are the cameras going to be installed...

MORTON: Rich Morresco (ph) owns a business, 28 stores that sells kitchen and bathroom furnishings, wholesale and retail. Fear was bad for business.

R. MORRESCO (ph): Many of our installers are in white vans and they would come back with stories of sometimes being almost interrogated by people, but looked at funny. I would say for us, $2 million probably in loss revenue.

M. MORRESCO (ph): Cinnamon, Russian, coffeecake.


M. MORRESCO (ph): Want some?

MORTON: Molly's (ph) fears were closer to home. She worried most when the sniper threatened children.

MOOSE: It is in the form of a postscript. "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time."

M. MORRESCO (ph): Fortunately, I don't think my children knew it. I was careful to keep the news at a low level when they were around. And I was careful to put that headline where they couldn't see it. I didn't want them going off to school having heard that report.

MORTON: In fact, they did know.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Well, a person told me at school and I was pretty worried about. I was kind of scared.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I heard that there was a threat to kids and that was pretty scary because I knew that the first shooting was against a child. So that was then my fear kind of ranked up.

R. MORRESCO (ph): I think the hardest part, quite frankly, was really not knowing all day after an event had just happened that morning what was going on next, what was the next step, anticipation without being able to get home and put my arms around the guys again.

MORTON: The Morrescos (ph) are all home now. Trick-or-treating is on!

(on camera): Who are you going to be?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I think I'm just going with some friends and so; I'm going to be their black cat.

MORTON (voice-over): Soccer practice is indoors, a remnant from the sniper siege. But things have changed since fear moved into the neighborhood.

M. MORRESCO (ph): Certainly, there are lots of people whose lives won't go back to normal and I think ours will. We won't ever forget it though. I think it has made us a little more aware of our surroundings.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'll certainly remember it. Like, I wasn't that cautious like I am now. And so, it changed me a little.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Now, I'll definitely be more cautious about everything I do.

R. MORRESCO (ph): Most kids that I -- you know and their friends, I would say, are very much aware and unfortunately, a lost innocence is there for most of them.

MESERVE: Coming up, a liquor store in Alabama, a priest in Virginia and finally, a break in the case.




MESERVE (voice-over): A series of seemingly random shootings, no apparent connections, no apparent motive, the feeling that no one was safe.

MOOSE: We have not been able to assure that anyone, any age, any gender, any race -- we've not been able to assure anyone their safety.

MESERVE: Law enforcement officials were on a desperate quest to catch a killer...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little scary.

MESERVE: ... and put a community's fears to rest. The scope of the investigation was unprecedented. White vans were scrutinized from Maryland to Virginia to D.C. Roadblocks turned freeways into parking lots as officials searched inch-by-inch car-by-car hunting for a sniper. The result, nothing.

BERRILL: By merely flexing his muscle and sort of randomly choosing his victims and not providing any clear sense as to what his agenda might be, it makes it extremely difficult to track this person.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This was very emotional, I mean, not only for the people within the community, but for the people working this case because every day they had to come out and face the public and say that they still didn't have anybody in custody.

MESERVE: But behind the manhunt, behind the cryptic conversations carried out in public...

MOOSE: "We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose" -- end quote.

MESERVE: Authorities got a private message, one that would change the entire investigation.

ARENA: The first break in the case, at least according our sources, came when a phone call came in believed to be from one of the snipers, Lee Malvo, saying, "Hey, you know, I killed the four. I'll kill again. You need to look at an unsolved murder in Montgomery."

BERRILL: When an individual starts to talk to the police, starts to leave notes, start to make telephone calls, that they're opening themselves up to be caught and leaving -- they're leaving evidence.

MESERVE: That's exactly what happened. Authorities got a tip about a priest at a church in Ashland, Virginia. Someone had called him claiming to be the sniper. He also mentioned the killing in Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama. The investigation shifted south.

CHIEF JOHN WILSON, MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA POLICE DEPARTMENT: And they were trying to verify things that they knew and said that you may want to check on a case that happened in Montgomery, Alabama, where a murder occurred at a liquor store. They wanted us to send them some of our evidence.

MESERVE: That evidence included a pivotal clue, a fingerprint found on a magazine about guns at the scene of the Alabama killing.

ARENA: When the FBI got a hold of that evidence it was able to have all of the agencies run it through their databases and bingo!

MESERVE: The fingerprint belonged to a 17-year-old Jamaican, then identified as John Lee Malvo. He'd been fingerprinted by the INS last December, after a domestic incident in Washington State, which involved himself and his mother.

ARENA: Then, they were able to really get the ball rolling and move very quickly after they had that information.

MESERVE: The incident report gave police a photo of Malvo and something more, another name, Gulf War veteran, John Allen Muhammad. The two had lived together in Tacoma, Washington. The investigation picked up speed and went bicoastal.

In Washington State, agents obtained handwriting samples from Malvo's school to compare to notes found at the sniper scene. In Ashland, Virginia, the site of the October 19 shooting at the Ponderosa restaurant, police canvassed the area with photos and sketches of Malvo and Muhammad. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They asked for all the rooms of every individual's names. And then, they went and checked every single car in the parking lot.

MESERVE: As a result, authorities also determined that Malvo had stayed in a hotel in the area using a stolen credit card in the days surrounding that shooting.

DUNCAN: It was old-fashioned police work, gathering the information and then using sort of new fashion technology to melt that information into recognizable form so that they would point to these two people in particular.

ARENA: You could really sense that something was happening because it was almost as if a cone of silence had been placed over many of the people that we had been dealing with on a daily basis.

MESERVE: Investigators would also make a stunning discovery. They had already crossed paths with Muhammad, caught sleeping in his car on a Baltimore, Maryland street the day after the eighth victim, a 13-year-old boy, was critically wounded. Officials questioned Muhammad, but without any reason to detain him, told him simply to leave. In fact, it was one of at least three times Muhammad had been stopped by police and let go.

By late Wednesday night, investigators believed they knew who they were looking for and what they were driving. The word went out to the public.

MOOSE: A federal arrest warrant has been issued for John Allen Muhammad, also known as John Allen Williams.

MESERVE: An hour later, the car was spotted by a truck driver at a rest area 50 miles northwest of Washington D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told us that if it was any other guy, they towed the truck up to the -- to the -- where you go out to the end and block the road, so they couldn't get out because they had them cornered. They couldn't get out no way.

MESERVE: SWAT teams converged on the scene. At 3:19 a.m., Malvo and Muhammad, who had been sleeping, were taken into custody without incident. Inside the Caprice, a .223 caliber rifle, which was linked to the attacks. The car's backseat and trunk altered for use as a sniper's perch.

Three weeks of death, three weeks of terror, three weeks of desperate searching were over.

MOOSE: We feel very positive about being here. We have the weapon. It is off the street.

DUNCAN: There's a family out there somewhere out there, maybe more than one family, that's going to have a Happy Halloween, that's going to have a Happy Thanksgiving because our police caught these people before they could kill again. MESERVE: When CNN PRESENTS continues, two suspected killers in custody, but who are they?




MESERVE (voice-over): So many faces, so many victims, so many theories.

KIM ROSSMO, GEOGRAPHIC PROFILER: There is a pattern. They are not random.

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI INVESITGATOR: This certainly seems to be a bit more sophisticated than a couple of teenage boys.

MESERVE: So much, so wrong about the sniper attacks and the real lives of John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo.

ARENA: Much more is know about John Allen Muhammad than is known about Malvo. He is ex-military. He served in the Gulf War, a member of the Nation of Islam, provided security at the Million Man March here in Washington in 1995.

MESERVE: John Allen Muhammad was born John Williams. He was raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in a neighborhood called The Avenues. Williams' mother died when he was young and he was taken in by relatives, aunts, who still call him a good boy, who still can't believe.

YVONNE CRAWFORD, MUHAMMAD'S AUNT: I can't imagine what could have wrong in John's life that caused him to even think about doing something like this.

MESERVE: Something almost certainly did happen to John Williams between Louisiana and Washington State, between two failed marriages and court documented custody battles, between a military career and homelessness.

HARVEY GOLDSTEIN, POLICE PSYCHOLOGIST: There's some major, major life disappointments and loses that attempt to trigger the kinds of incidents that we saw in this kind of extreme behavior.

MESERVE: But in the mid to late 90's, at this home in Tacoma, Washington, John Williams, his second wife, Mildred, and their three young children seemed the picture of suburban tranquility.

KAY WHITLCOK, MUHAMMAD'S FORMER NEIGHBOR: You'd see him out there watching the kids playing football and cheering them on, and telling them to go get them.

MESERVE: But this time, in this neighbor, Williams had already converted to Islam, but he hadn't changed his name to Muhammad, not officially. WHITLOCK: I know that their name's were Williams when they moved in and that all of a sudden, you know, after a couple of years, it was Muhammad. They had changed it.

MESERVE: And there were more changes in the Muhammad family home as the 90's came to a close. From court documents, by early 2000, Mildred had filed for divorce and eventually sought a protection order against her husband, saying, "John came to inform me that he will not let me raise our children." She wrote, "His demeanor is such that it's a threat to me. I do not want him around. I am still fearful of him." And later, a more ominous revelation, "I am afraid of John. He was a demolition expert in the military. He is behaving very, very irrational. Whenever he does talk with me, he always says that he's going to destroy my life and I hang up the phone."

Mildred Muhammad was granted a divorce in 2001 based on a finding of domestic violence. And she moved with her children to this townhouse in Clinton, Maryland, just outside Washington.

John Muhammad, it seems, drifted, angered and put out by the loss of his marriage, his children, his home. It is during this time that Muhammad met a young Jamaican named John Lee Malvo, possibly as they both traveled in Antigua. The details are murky, but both stayed for a time at this homeless shelter in Bellingham, Washington, where Muhammad referred to Malvo as his son.

ARENA: His relationship with the younger Malvo is still a mystery as well. He introduced him as his son and so, at first, you know, everyone was reporting that this was a stepfather/stepson relationship. And then, you find out there's absolutely no legal connection between the two and so far, no family connection that has been determined.

MESERVE: Back in Baton Rouge, Muhammad's relatives are confused too. After years away, this summer, he returned to The Avenues neighborhood on three separate occasions. He had a Jamaican teenager with him that he called his son and Muhammad seemed disheveled, disturbed.

ED HOLIDAY, MUHAMMAD'S COUSIN: He was sleeping at bus stations and you don't even have a car.

MESERVE: As for Lee Malvo...

SHERON NORMAN, MALVO ACCOUNTANT: You could that he was really depressed. You could tell that he was a loaner. You could tell he didn't like living the way he's been living, you know, from town to town.

MESERVE: The two of them desperate and drifted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody, you got to keep walking northbound. Everybody, come on!

MESERVE: "Their relationship," says psychologist, Harvey Goldstein, "had elements of a classic criminal tandem." GOLDSTEIN: In many respects, it's very common behavior. Just because the profilers weren't right doesn't mean that the patterns aren't common. There are plenty of tandem criminals who wreck havoc and kill people. The history in the United States is filled with stories of these kinds of guys.

But I want to make the point that this is not Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid with regards to equal footing. These guys were not on equal footing in terms of their companionship and comradery in the sense of being in charge. We clearly had a complimentarity or a congruence, if you will, of someone who's highly dominant and someone who is highly impressionable, a sycophant.

MESERVE: Understanding who John Muhammad and Lee Malvo are is important, but it doesn't totally explain their suspected role in the killing spree.

GOLDSTEIN: The twisted motives and the twisted minds that perpetrated these crimes are not going to be so easily unraveled with, you know, with a few simple questions. See, the problem is this -- they probably don't fully understand themselves why they did what they did.


MESERVE: In the end, knowing why the sniper attacks took place, knowing the accused isn't nearly as important for those of us who live here as knowing the shootings are finally over.

That's it for this special edition of CNN PRESENTS. From Montgomery County, Maryland, I'm Jeanne Meserve. Thanks for joining us.


© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.