tv Hunting a Serial Bomber MSNBC February 20, 2016 12:00am-1:01am PST
>> a series of terrifying bombs follows. >> throw you in the building and where was the explosion? >> oh, my god! >> we clearly believed that we are dealing with a deranged killer. >> in the bottom of my heart i knew we had a serial bomber. >> the man behind the attacks is labeled a far right activist. a member of a national anti-government movement. but this bomber works alone. >> a lone wolf declaring war on the institutions and symbols of society that he believes is at war with the traditional way of life. >> using rarely seen evidence, investigators describe what drove the bomber to kill. >> he wasn't going to be somebody who really mattered. he really needed to be that. he needed to matter in the
world. >> and the chase that became the largest domestic manhunt in fbi history. >> we realize that this is like nothing we've ever done before. >> the hunt for a serial bomber. through the eyes of those who lived it. >> at the end of the day, he's a murderer, just like any other murderer. >> there is a bomb in centennial park. you have 30 minutes.
>> terror at the olympic games. the hundred hurt in a pipe bomb explosion. >> people are bleeding. people were crying. people were screaming. people were howling in pain. >> july 1996. a bomb explodes at the olympic games in atlanta, georgia. >> at about 1:00 a.m. police discover what they said was a suspicious package. authorities said the device appeared to be a pipe bomb loaded with nails and screws, designed to penetrate human flesh. >> at the time of the bombing, i was a supervisor on an intelligence detail during the olympics.
by the time we heard about the phone-in threat, the device already detonated. >> the blast injured 111 people, and claims the life of one woman alice hawthorne, visiting the games with her daughter. >> on the scene, dr. john vogel a first-year hospital resident tried to resuscitate a female victim with the help of a nurse. >> she started doing chest compressions while i continued to mouth-to-mouth, but it was not successful. >> the bomb in centennial park was the largest pipe bomb in u.s. history. it spewed a mix of shrapnel, predominantly of case-hardened nails. they're masonry nails for driving in brick, stone or concrete.
miss hawthorne was killed when one of the nails struck her in the head. these are traveling at over 2,000 feet per second so it's like a small missile. other people were struck by pieces of the pipe that the explosive was contained in. >> when you find something like nails in a device, it's put there for a purpose. that's called anti-personnel. if you're going to just blow up something and do the damage, you don't need added shrapnel, things like that. when you put that in there, it's definitely designed to kill or injure people. >> a little more than 24 hearse after the bomb, investigators zero in on a person of interest.
>> at the time of the blast, the question came up about a person who discovered the bomb richard jewel. richard was a security officer at the olympics. he discovered the bomb. he brought it to everyone's attention and it detonated a short time later. in a natural course of an investigation, you, of course, will look at the person who found the bomb. >> when i heard from my friends at the profiling unit that they thought they had their guy and it was this security guy richard jewel, i thought, oh, no, this is going to get them in terrible trouble because we didn't have enough information at the time. a lot of people say a lot of things during investigations. you hope that they don't all get into the media. >> as authorities continue their investigation, richard jewel is no longer a viable lead. >> the issue, the timing of the
911 call alerting atlanta authorities to the bomb. police records show that call came in at 12:58 a.m. and state phone logs show a georgia investigator called the bomb squad at 12:57, just one minute before. the state investigator says he made that call immediately after richard jewel pointed out the backpack that contained the bomb. jewel's lawyer says there's no way jewel could have pointed out the backpack then made that 911 call one minute later at the pay phone several blocks away. >> with jewel cleared, investigators are forced to make up for lost time. they focus their efforts on the mysterious 911 call. >> to me, that call tells you to get the people out of the way, which our people tried to do. so if everybody's gone, who is left? nobody but law enforcement and bomb tags. if it blows up now, that's who rye going to get killed.
>> the search for a new suspect yields a promising lead. the public gets its first look at the man that may be behind the bombing. >> the fbi released a sketch of a man between 20 and 30 years old about 6 feet tall with dark hair, wearing a dark cap. several witnesses have told investigators they saw him sitting on the bench where the bomb was planted. >> investigators race to find the mystery man in the sketch before the bomber strikes again. we've got a bomb.
we've got a bomb. >> sitting there at work, and the next thing we knew, the building was trembling. >> six months after the olympic park bombing, another attack. this time, the bomb rocks a family planning clinic in an atlanta suburb sandy springs, less than 14 miles away from the olympic bomb park site. >> we are not ruling out the possibility of domestic terrorism unrelated to clinic violence. >> as rescue crews and media rush to the scene, the unthinkable happens. >> where were you in the building and where was the explosion? >> my god! >> about an hour after the first bomb, a second bomb explodes. >> the responding personnel showed up, had people move cars from the site of the first bombing and brought them around to that area near the dumpster and parked it. that device had a lot of number four cut floor nails and had
that car not been there, there would have been several people probably killed. it just so happened that the majority of the nails went into this automobile. >> this bomb and the bomb at centennial park seemed to share a target. law enforcement on the scene. >> putting that bomb there, it's designed to get these responders who are going to be working the scene. there is no other reason. >> in atlanta last night, a bomb sent shrapnel flying into a night club popular with homosexuals. five people were hurt. >> there was a bunch of people in there shooting pool, dancing about, having drinks, having a good time. all of a sudden you hear bam! >> a buck shotgun. that's how it was.
>> there was nails everywhere. >> investigators make their way through the night club, attempting to secure the area. quickly discover something suspicious. a backpack containing a second bomb. >> the law enforcement this time were looking for a secondary device and they actually found it. >> the bomb squad uses a robot to remove the second bomb. saving the live of law enforcement working the scene. >> so it did go off, but while they were trying to disarm it. it blew up a robot. >> the bomber's methods and evidence left at the scene bring investigators closer to an ominous realization. >> in 25 years of police experience told me i don't believe in coincidences, especially when we've got the forensics from the bomb realized that nails were used, a steel directional plate was used. at that time, that information
had not been released to the public. there wasn't any way the bomber would have known. i knew in the bottom of my heart we had a serial bomber. >> investigators say they're on the verge of concluding the three atlanta bombings are linked. whoever set off the bomb at the last summer olympic games is very likely from atlanta. and behind the bombing in an abortion clinic in january and a gay night club a month after that. >> we believe they are very likely to be linked together and the work of one individual or a small group of individuals. >> three bombings in the atlanta, georgia, area in under a year. with authorities no closer to naming a suspect, the media hands them a promising lead. a local cbs affiliate, reuters and nbc news receive identical letters that claim to be from the bomber. >> today investigators showed parts of a letter sent after the most recent bombing in february from a group that federal agents now believe may be responsible for the attacks.
a group calling itself the army of god says it targeted the abortion clinic because of the murder of 3.5 million children will not be tolerated. and bombed the lesbian night club calling it the sodomite bar. >> he showed he was not necessarily part of an organization where you get a membership card and a baseball cap, but rather part of an ideological movement where you join this army by committing an act of violence. >> these lone terrorist bombers who fashion themselves or style themselves as a group almost never are. first of all, to present yourself as a group is to present yourself as a much stronger entity. there's strength in numbers. the real, real truth of it is though that these people are socially unable to connect to a
>> the bombing in birmingham, alabama, the morning it occurred, officer sanderson approached the device. the device was camouflage. he approached, extended his baton, bent over it and it detonated. subsequent investigation revealed fairly quickly that it was a command-detonated device, which meant the bomber was standing there watching the officer approach the bomb. >> a row moat control is like me having a rifle and i'm sitting in the woods watching to shoot somebody and they come by. i'm in control. i'm the one that's going to pull the trigger. >> i think the cop happened to find it too soon and he was forced to set it off before he wanted to. >> centennial olympic park,
sandy springs abortion clinic and the lounge, they were all timed devices. he was not getting results he wanted. he did not get the injuries, the fatalities he's wanted. >> this command-detonated device places the killer very close to the crime scene, a mistake that may lead to his capture. >> one of the most amazing stories i've seen in law enforcement history, i think, and it's a story about instincts, following your instincts, getting involved, doing your civic duty, this college student hears all this noise. he looks out the window and he sees all these people running towards the scene of smoke. as these people are going towards this explosion, he sees one lone male walking away. he decides that's suspicious. then he made the decision that
it's suspicious enough for me to follow that person. >> birmingham 911. >> hello, this is really important. you know that explosion downtown? i seen a guy walking from that direction and he had a wig on. i was following him and he took the wig off. i think this is him. i don't know. >> what's he got on? >> i don't know. he's in the woods. he just walked in the woods. >> when he's about to give up, who pops out the other side of the line of trees, but this lone male. >> authorities say right after the bomb blast witnesses saw a man run away, take off a wig and then jump into a gray pick-up truck parked nearby. >> the 1989 pick-up has north carolina plates knd-1117. it's registered to a man named eric robert rudolph.
a little more than 24 hours after the birmingham bomb blast, federal agents arrive in the rural town of murphy, north carolina. the home of eric rudolph. unfortunately, the news travels faster than they do. >> the investigation of a deadly bombing at a clinic in alabama that performs abortions is centering on a gray nissan pick-up and a man who may know something about it. just moments ago investigators announced they have issued a material witness warrant for eric robert rudolph. they say he may have information about that truck. >> investigators rush to eric rudolph's last known address,
hoping to catch him before he hears the news. >> by the time law enforcement authorities, both local and the local sheriff's office and the fbi and atf showed up at the trailer, the door was swinging in the wind. when you step inside here, you could tell that the individual who had left this trailer left in a big, big hurry. >> there were guns left in the trailer. there was a fairly substantial amount of cash that was hidden behind a picture frame that was left in the trailer. some of the same type clothing that the bomber in birmingham was supposed to have worn. there were disguises in there. we were pleased that some of the things that would immediately tie him back possibly to birmingham were found. that was our main focus at that point. we wanted to catch the guy who killed the police officer and injured the nurse. >> then, investigators find a clue. >> today investigators in north carolina hope to get a warrant to search a truck found over the weekend. the truck belongs to eric robert rudolph, a man sought as a some of the same type clothing that the bomber in birmingham was supposed to have worn. there were disguises in there. we were pleased that some of the things that would immediately tie him back possibly to birmingham were found. that was our main focus at that point. we wanted to catch the guy who killed the police officer and injured the nurse.
>> then, investigators find a clue. >> today investigators in north carolina hope to get a warrant to search a truck found over the weekend. the truck belongs to eric robert rudolph, a man sought as a material witness in the fatal bombing of an abortion clinic in birmingham, alabama. >> a search of the truck reveals no sign of eric rudolph. police prepare to head into the mountains of north carolina for what will become the largest domestic manhunt in fbi history.
as the search for eric rudolph enters its third week, today federal authorities announced he is more than just a material witness, but the man believed responsible for the deadly bombing of that birmingham women's clinic last month. a $100,000 reward is being offered. the massive search for rudolph believed armed and dangerous has been focused on his hometown in cherokee county, north carolina. >> based on eyewitness accounts on the scene and also found in the trailer, authorities officially charge eric rudolph for the birmingham clinic bombing. though where he's hiding will make finding him no easy task. >> we brought in an army officer who specialized in this type of tracking.
he said, look, you could literally have an army out here walking side by side across the entire 500,000 acres of the forest, and eric rudolph could be in the middle of that and you would walk right over him. he said i've seen situations where you could literally hide an army in some of these types of places. we realized that this is like nothing we've ever done before. >> adding to the difficulty of the terrain, some residents of rural north carolina seem unsure about playing host to hundreds of federal agents. >> we had s.w.a.t., srt guys from new york city, from chicago, from detroit. did we stand out? obviously, we stood out. these people lived here all their life and they knew who was from here and who wasn't. >> it's changed things. there's not as much privacy as there used to be.
>> fear is something we can't live with right here. >> people aren't used to being bothered, particularly they're not used to being bothered by hordes of federal agents. people simply didn't want to see feds in the woods. we had at least two dozen agencies, federal, state and local. we had at any one time probably about 200 people working in the mountains of north carolina. it literally looked like a traveling road show. >> adding to their concerns, this rural area of north carolina has a small percentage of armed residents in the form of militias. by the spring of 1995, the militia movement reaches 39 states, including north carolina. >> there were a variety of factors that helped sculpt and actually give birth to the militia movement.
in the early to mid '90s, we had a war. we had a recession. we also in the united states had the ascension of the democrats to both houses. the appointment of left leaning supreme court justices and the election of a southern liberal, leaving traditional conservative white males feeling disenfranchised. what came out of that was a notion that the government itself was selling america out and going after violently against citizens who merely were different and dissented. >> authorities worry that local sentiment will be on rudolph's side, and some residents seemed to support that fear. >> you started getting some t-shirts. you've got bumper stickers, the hunt for rudolph, run, rudolph,
run, that type of thing. again, that was portrayed in the media, i think, as support for rudolph. >> despite having the support of some of the locals, eric rudolph isn't one for company. by all accounts, he's preferred solitude since childhood. >> we put on a full court press to determine and learn as much information as we could about eric rudolph. >> eric rudolph is raised in a kind of counterculture background, big family. they had a lot of kids and they became more extreme in their religious beliefs as time went on.
the only thing i know about eric rudolph's mother was that she was a very, very strong influence on him. he was very, very close to her. she has a strong internal compass on what's right and what's wrong and she transferred that to her son. >> eric's mother patty certainly believed, and i'm sure still believes in holistic medicine. whether or not patty's distrust of doctors and the medical field, traditional medical field in general was tied into her distrust for authority, i really don't know. but i do know that eric never went to a doctor. >> when eric rudolph is a teenager, his father is diagnosed with malignant melanoma. despite the severity of his diagnosis, rudolph's father refuses conventional medical treatment.
>> patty and bob sought the nontraditional way of combatting cancer, which in the 1960s was considerably more radical than it is now. >> rudolph's parents seek out a cancer treatment called laetrile made from crushed apricot pits. during his father's illness, rudolph's mother sends him to north carolina to live with a family friend tom branom. >> patty and bob had met tom in florida at some religious gathering. tom was more or less a surrogate father at a very fragile time in eric's life. when his father was dying.
they talked a lot. they talked about philosophy. they talked about religion. they talked about anything and everything. and certainly, a much older tom branom who is clearly intelligent with extremist view , certainly influenced him in a profound manner. >> shortly after rudolph begins living with tom, his father died. though rudolph denies it, some investigators feel this loss solidifies rudolph's resentment of the federal government. >> here a kid had been preached to by his family members for years about how his father had died from cancer. he could not get treatment in the united states because of the federal government. and i think all this flavored and shaped his philosophy. i still believe in my heart that's what turned him into the person he was. >> he was, as someone who had difficulty making connections with other people, really intent on making a relationship with someone who had a unique view point that he shared about the >> shortly after rudolph begins living with tom, his father died. though rudolph denies it, some investigators feel this loss solidifies rudolph's resentment of the federal government. >> here a kid had been preached to by his family members for years about how his father had died from cancer. he could not get treatment in the united states because of the federal government. and i think all this flavored
and shaped his philosophy. i still believe in my heart that's what turned him into the person he was. >> he was, as someone who had difficulty making connections with other people, really intent on making a relationship with someone who had a unique view point that he shared about the world which was your beliefs are your own and you don't have to conform. that would have appealed to rudolph in a paternalistic way but also would have appealed to him in a justification for not being like everybody else. >> after her husband's death, rudolph's mother moves the entire family to the woods of north carolina. there she is close to tom and his family. and further away from mainstream society.
>> there was a real feeling in the family that the government and the health establishment and medical establishment failed them and failed their father so they become more and more isolated from mainstream society, and more and more distrustful. >> craving solitude over company, rudolph spends nearly all of his free time in the woods surrounding the town. >> eric would sometimes while in north carolina disappear for days, even a week or so at a time. and he clearly learned survivalist skills because i think he had an interest in. i think it challenged him and he was just so good at it. >> in conversations with eric's girlfriends and family members, we learned that he grew up in the woods in western north
carolina. he loved to play with the manner to escape and invasion games, an adult form of hide-and-seek in the woods. >> when rudolph is 20, he joins the military. >> we learned that he had military training. we learn that he had a lot of explosives training that did not normally take place, but his company commander had an interest in explosives and got his troop to additional training. >> eric rudolph was looking for a purpose in his life from a very young age. he wanted to be in some special forces capacity in the army, but washed out of it. he was somebody who couldn't find his purpose in the military. he wasn't going to be somebody who really mattered. that he really needed to be that. he needed to matter in the
hundreds of agents, volunteers and bear hunters have combed these western north carolina woods in search of the suspected serial bomber. >> three months into the largest domestic manhunt in fbi history, eric rudolph is added to the fbi's most wanted list. with no sightings of the fugitive, some speculate that he is dead. >> people can't conceptualize of someone like this having this level of resolve and dedication to this mission.
eric rudolph is not like everybody else. his anti-government and anti-abortion philosophy and ideology was the motivating force for him. doing something that would achieve the objective of furthering that cause trumped other needs that he might have had in his life for companionship or money or anything like that. >> he had the skills to survive a long, long time. and he had the will. because in his mind, if he had died in the wood, then in a sense to him, the government would have won. >> as the investigators' frustration mounts, their fugitive makes a mistake that
hands them the biggest break of the case. >> this morning, police and the fbi are intensifying their search in north carolina for suspected abortion clinic bomber eric rudolph. they're concentrating on the home where rudolph is believed to have taken some food and a pick-up truck. >> the local citizen named george norman told the atf agent eric rudolph was in my driveway. he came out of the mountains. he wanted supplies. he wanted me to give him food. he wanted him to give him a pick-up truck to make a get away in because he had a place he was going to stash all this food and some of these supplies in the woods. rudolph had actually come back and stolen the truck, and he took food. we marshaled the resources of the task force and spent that weekend looking for that truck.
>> this was the first time that we had confirmation that he was still in the area. we had a hot trail and we hadn't had one for a long time. >> it was a real big moment in the task force because now up to now, this is in july of 1998, people are saying he's long gone, he's not in the woods. the task force, all these city slickers have no idea what they're talking about. and now we're really, we feel, close. we feel like we're within hours, minutes, days of finding rudolph. we did finally find that truck several days later abandoned at a campground in the forest. but rudolph was nowhere to be found. >> to find a fugitive this
elusive, investigators need an expert who has studied bombers who have evaded capture. >> by the time i got involved in 1998 with the eric rudolph case, we had just come off of the unabomber investigation. after kaczynski, rudolph was the most wanted. not because he wanted to keep the heat off a group or be a loyal servant to ideology, it was because he connected to the ideology itself instead of the group. >> committed to staying in the woods, rudolph lives like a hunted animal. as described in his personal writings, he resolves to stay alive. >> it was a brutal starving time, burying food, digging shelters, freezing, hunting and eating acorns and salamanders. i had an improvised bed which
was made of leaves and plastic. i used a small dugout underneath a rock to avoid helicopters and their heat-sensitive equipment. in defiance, i looked toward the ridge over which the chopper had just gone and said, "i am still here." >> i don't know that he could have stayed out in the woods indefinitely, but i don't think that he had any intention of surrendering himself to the authorities. >> i believe after a period of time, he would put down another bomb mainly to excite the game again.
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>> early morning in murphy, north carolina. all is quiet as a local police officer nears the end of his patrol. >> it was a young rookie officer, jeff postell, who was working the night shift, taking his marked unit behind a grocery store parking lot and happened upon an individual that was going through the dumpsters. individual looked homeless. he looked like he had a stick in his hand so he was concerned about his safety. he called for backup. when backup arrived to help get postell out behind the grocery store, one of the backup units
was a county deputy who had been familiar with eric rudolph. >> he knew. he'd gone to school with eric. he glanced at him, and he told jeff, he said, "i think that's eric rudolph." so they loaded him up in the patrol car, carried him up to the sheriff's office, printed out one of the posters on the internet. >> eric says "you got me. i'm eric robert rudolph." >> this is a nbc news special report. >> nbc news has confirmed that one of the fbi's most wanted fugitives, eric robert rudolph, charged in a series of bombings including the olympic park bombing in atlanta in 1996 has been arrested in north carolina. >> my only and initial contact with eric rudolph was that monday morning when we were transporting him to ashville.
they had already put a vest on him. i walked around the corner. i think it was probably the only time in this investigation i had on an atf jacket. and you could hear him before we walked around the corner. he was just talking to the local deputies, talking to the jailers. and we walked around the corner and he immediately stiffened up, quit talking. eyes forward. basically looking straight ahead. >> when the federal government agent would come in, he knew that they, the government, intended to kill him. >> extremist eric rudolph now admits he did it. it's part of a deal that will spare his life. he'll get four straight life sentences. >> can you please explain why eric rudolph was able to make a deal like this in the first place, avoiding the death
penalty? >> it really boils down to one word, and that's dynamite. he had stolen a lot of dynamite from the murphy, north carolina area. and that dynamite he had hidden underground. he actually made a bomb had the government gone for the death penalty it would have been a hollow victory if on appeal some two years from now, let's say a boy scout troop driving a stake in to set up a tent blew up. >> professionally, the plea deal i can understand the reason it was made. it expedited things, ensures he'll never harm anybody else. it shortened the whole procedure by years. personally, i wish that it had been a trial, he'd been sentenced to death, because i have a strong belief in retribution. >> i think had rudolph had an opportunity to commit more bombings, had he not been arrested, not been found and arrested, that he would have in fact done that.
>> eric rudolph is sentenced to six life terms, plus 120 years, for the bombings in birmingham, alabama and atlanta, georgia. but his motivations may never be entirely understood. >> eric rudolph was at war. and he was at war in the classic sense of the radicalized extreme right wing domestic terrorist. a lone wolf, declaring war on the institutions and symbols of a society that he believes is at war with the traditional way of life. and in that sense, eric robert rudolph in so many ways as a fugitive, as a lone wolf, in the targets he selected, was a microcosm of a movement that was much bigger than he was. >> somebody like eric rudolph wasn't distracted by a wife, children, anything else but his goal.
that's what these people share is their single-minded determination to act violently on a large scale to make a huge impact because they're true believers in the ideology that they believe they're serving. should we be worried about lone wolves? we should be prepared. >> rudolph was a coward. those people that he injured and killed didn't know. he didn't have a vendetta. he didn't have an issue with them. they were innocent people who had nothing to do with eric rudolph. but at the end of the day he's a murderer just like any other murderer out there.