THE RED FLAGS WELCOMES JOHN SANFORD'S MYSTERY BOMBER AND THE AUSTIN SERIAL BOMBER'S SHOCK WAVE IN RETROSPECT

Weeks In Fear: A Timeline Of The Austin Bombings

Law enforcement officials search for evidence at the location where the suspected package bomber was killed.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The nearly month-long search for a serial bombing suspect in Austin, Texas, ended early Wednesday morning when the suspect exploded his own car. He died as law enforcement moved in.

Federal law enforcement identified him as Mark Anthony Conditt.

Two people were killed and five were injured during the weeks of his inexplicable attacks.

Five of the six bombs detonated or found so far were disguised as packages, reminiscent of those designed by Ted Kaczynski — also known as the "Unabomber." One of the bombs was anchored to a for-sale sign and triggered by a tripwire.

The packaged bombs exploding in Austin didn't show a clear pattern of attack — victims were racially diverse, package delivery method evolved and bomb triggers varied.

One thing is sure - March has been a fearful month for Austin residents.

The Austin Police Department warned citizens over and over to take precautions against unexpected packages. In fact, the department reported having responded to more than 1,250 calls about suspicious packages between March 12 and March 20.

The first bomb exploded on March 2. When two more package bombs exploded on March 12, law enforcement had to evaluate whether they were connected to the original bomb, and then if they were all connected to the SXSW festival going on in the city at the time. And because the first victims had been African American and Latino, law enforcement also considered whether the bombings were racially motivated.

Law enforcement agents eventually concluded the bombings were unrelated to the SXSW festival. And after another bomb went off and added white victims, Austin law enforcement expanded their investigation.

National

The investigation finally led to a suspect. Austin Mayor Steve Adler told NPR's Rachel Martin that the bomber's death is "an absolute relief."

Here's a timeline of how it unfolded:

March 2: First bomb explodes, killing first victim

Around 7 a.m. CT: Anthony Stephan House, 39, is killed in an explosion after handling a package left on his front porch of his home in Austin, according to multiple reports.

According to friends, House was quiet, humble and self-assured. He was a father and a graduate of Texas State University.

The scene near Galindo Street in Austin, Texas where a 75-year-old woman was injured in what was the second reported explosion on March 12 and the third in the city two weeks from package bombs.  Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

March 12: Two more bombs explode, one more dead and two injured

Around 6:45 a.m.: Seventeen-year-old Draylen Mason is killed when the package his mother brought in from the front porch to the kitchen to open explodes. His 41-year-old mother is injured in the explosion.

About 12 p.m.: A 75-year-old woman is taken to the hospital in critical condition after handling a package left near her home, which is less than a 15-minute drive from the home in East Austin where the earlier bomb exploded.

The Austin Police Department links the two explosions to the bomb on March 2 and begins investigating them as related incidents.

March 18: Fourth explosion, law enforcement raises the stakes

Law enforcement tries to talk to the bomber directly through media channels.

Around 8:30 p.m.: Two men are injured in an explosion while walking on a sidewalk in an Austin neighborhood. The explosion was triggered by a tripwire connected to a bomb that was anchored to a for-sale sign. Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley reports later that 22-year-old and and 23-year-old men have "significant injuries" but are in stable condition at the hospital.

The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Austin Police Department release a statement offering a $100,000 reward for any information and report that there are more than 500 law enforcement agents working on the Austin cases.

March 19: Investigation grows and changes

In a press conference after the fourth bomb, Manley confirms the fourth explosion is linked to the other three bombs. He notes that the bomber's use of tripwire "shows a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill" than they originally believed.

Manley urges Austin residents to stay away from any suspicious packages and instead immediately call 911.

Both FBI and ATF confirm that additional agents continue to come to Austin to help with the investigation.

FBI agents collect evidence at a FedEx Office facility following an explosion at a nearby sorting center on March 20 in Sunset Valley, Texas. The package was reported to have been shipped from this store.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

March 20: Fifth explosion and sixth package, another method

Around 12:30 a.m.: A package blows up while traveling along a conveyor belt in a FedEx sorting facility in Schertz, Texas. One person sustained a small injury, but wasn't taken to the hospital.

The package was addressed to go to Austin and was sent from Austin, NPR's John Burnett reported — even though it was at a facility in a town north of San Antonio.

Around 6:20 a.m.: A suspicious package is found at another FedEx facility by the Austin airport. Law enforcement agents determine that the package contains an explosive device and intervene.

FedEx says the package was shipped by the same person as the first package.

Around 7 p.m.: An explosion at an Austin Goodwill is confirmed to be unrelated to other bombings.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley speaks to the media near the location where the suspected package bomber was killed in suburban Austin on March 21.  Scott Olson/Getty Images

March 21: Suspect identified, kills himself

Law enforcement agents identify a suspect, later named as Mark Anthony Conditt, with help from video surveillance sources and witnesses.

Early morning hours: Police and federal agents trace Conditt to a car in a hotel parking lot in Round Rock, just outside of Austin.

While police and federal agents waits for backup, the car starts to drive away. Law enforcement agents follow the car, but the car pulls into a ditch. As members of the SWAT team approach the car, the car explodes.

The suspect dies at the scene.

Police continue to issue caution to Austin residents, emphasizing they "remain vigilant" because law enforcement doesn't know what Conditt had done in the time before his death.

President Donald Trump tweets his congratulations.

At an evening press conference, Manley says Conditt video taped a confession Tuesday night in which he described seven explosive devices. Including the device he detonated as police closed in, that indicates there are no outstanding bombs, KUT reports.

"It'll never be called a happy ending," Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said at the same press conference, "but it's a damn good one." https://www.npr.org/2018/03/21/595849834/weeks-in-fear-a-timeline-o...

SHOCK WAVES OF AUTHORSHIP

John Sandford, real name John Roswell Camp (born February 23, 1944), is an American novelist and former journalist.[1] 

Camp was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of Anne Agnes (Barron) and Roswell Sandford Camp.[2][3] His mother's family was German and Lithuanian.[4] He received a Bachelor's in American History and a Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa.[5]

From 1971 to 1978, Camp wrote for The Miami Herald. In 1978, he moved to Minneapolis and started writing for The Saint Paul Pioneer Press as a features reporter; in 1980 he became a daily columnist. That year he was a Pulitzer finalist for a series of stories on Native American culture.[6] In 1985, during the Midwest farm crisis, he wrote a series entitled "Life on the Land: an American farm family", which followed a typical southwest Minnesota farm family through the course of a full year. For that work, he won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing[6] and the American Society of Newspaper Editors award for Non-Deadline Feature Writing. He worked part-time at the Pioneer Press in 1989[7] and left the next year.

In 1989, Camp wrote two novels that would each spawn a popular series. The Fool's Run (Kidd series) was published under his own name, but the publisher asked him to provide a pseudonym for Rules of Prey (Prey series) so it was published under the name "John Sandford". After the Prey series proved to be more popular, with its charismatic protagonist Lucas Davenport, The Fool's Run and all of its subsequent sequels have been published under John Sandford.

In 2007, Camp started a third series, featuring Virgil Flowers, who was a supporting character in some of the Prey novels, including Invisible Prey and Storm Prey.

John Sandford is one of the few American mystery writers whose stories I enjoy.  His stories are set in the Midwest--mostly in the Minnesota's "great outdoors" fishing environs.  I must admit that I do not like his Prey series because they are too full of "imperialistic" bullshit.  I prefer Sandford's Virgil Flowers Novels.  Maybe I identify with Virgil Flowers is because he is always a loser in love.  He has been married three or four times and always ends up alone, but hopeful, and loves McDonald's' fast food.  And Virgil Flowers, also-known-as "fuckin' Flowers" to his superiors at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), is funny, irreverent and believes in God when it suits him.  Quiet as its kept, Sandford patterns Virgil Flowers physical description on himself: tall, blond, and handsome making sure his photograph is on the back of hard cover dust-jackets or back covers of his paper-backs for comparison.

When stories about the Austin serial bomber hit the airwaves, something said to me: this sounds too familiar.  Then as the bombings increased it dawned on me that this was action for action (with a caveat), down to the mention of the community college and FedEx as a delivery system: John Sandford's Sock Wave (2011).  The novel begins mundanely but soon picks up:

 

"From the boardroom windows, high atop the Pye Pinnacle, you could see almost nothing for a very long way.  A white farmhouse, surrounded by a scattering of metal sheds, huddled in a fir-tree windbreak a half mile out and thirty degrees to the right.  Another farmhouse, with a red barn, sat three-quarters of a mile away and thirty degrees to the left.  Straight north it was corn, beans, and alfalfa, and after that, more corn, beans, and alfalfa.

        Somebody once claimed to have spotted a cow, but that had never been confirmed.  the top floor was so high that the board members rarely even saw birds, though every September, a couple of dozen turkey vultures, at the far northern limit of their range, would gather above Pye Plaza and circle through the terminals rising off the concrete and glass.

        There were rumors that the vultures so pissed off Willard Pye that he would go up to the roof, hide in a blind disguised as an air-conditioner vent, and try to blast them out of the sky with a twelve gauge shotgun.

        Angela "Jelly" Brown, Pye's executive assistant, didn't believe that rumor, though she admitted to her husband it sounded like something Pye would do.  She knew he hated the buzzards and the saucer sized buzzard droppings that spotted the emerald-green glass of the Pinnacle.

        But that was in the autumn.

        On a sunny Wednesday morning in the middle of May, Jelly Brown got to the boardroom early, pulled the drapes to let the light in, and opened four small vent windows for the fresh air.  That done, she went around the board table and at each chair put out three yellow #2 pencils, all finely sharpened and equipped with unused rubber erasers; a yellow legal pad; and a water glass on a PyeMart coaster.  She checked the circuit breakers at the end of the table to make sure that the laptop plug-ins were live.

        As she did that, Sally Humboldt from food services brought in a tray covered with cookies, bagels, and jelly doughnuts; two tanks of hot coffee, one each of regular and decaf; and a pitcher of orange juice and one of cranberry juice.

        The first board members began trickling in at eight forty-fie.  Instead of going to the boardroom, they stopped at the hospitality suit, where they could get something a little stronger than coffee and orange juice: V-8 Bloody Marys were a favorite, and screwdrivers--both excellent sources of vodka.  The meeting itself would start around nine-thirty.

        Jelly Brown had checked the consumables before the board members arrived.  She'd put an extra bottle of Reyka in the hospitality suite, because the heavy drinkers from Texas and California were scheduled to show up.

        A few minutes after nine o'clock, she went back to the board-room to close the windows and turn on the air-conditioning.  Sally Humboldt had come back with a tray of miniature pumpkin pies, each with a little pig-tailed squirt of whipped cream and birthday candle.  They always had pie at the Pye board meeting, but they were special: Willard Pye would be seventy in three days, and the board members, who'd all grown either rich or richer because of Pye's entrepreneurial magic, would sing a hearty "Happy Birthday."

        Jelly Brown had closed the last window when she noticed that somebody had switched chairs.  Pye was a man of less than average height, dealing with men and even a couple of women on the tall side, so he liked his chair six inches higher than standard, even if his feet dangled a bit.

        She said, "Oh, shit," to herself.  Almost a bad mistake.  Pye would have been mightily pissed if he'd had to trade chairs with somebody--no graceful way to do that.  She then made a much worse mistake: she pulled his chair out from the spot at the corner of the table and started dragging it around to the head of the table.

        The Bomb was in a cardboard box on the bottom shelf of a credenza on the side wall opposite the windows.  When it detonated, Jelly Brown had just pulled the chair out away from the table, and that put her right next to the credenza.  She never felt the explosion: never felt the blizzard of steel and wooden splinters that tore her body to pieces....

 

More or less the same thing happened all over again, three weeks later and four hundred and fifty miles to the west, in Butternut Falls, Minnesota.  Gilbert Kingsley, the construction superintendent, and Mike Sullivan, a civil engineer, arrived early Monday morning at the construction trailer at a new PyeMart site just inside the Butternut Falls city limits.

        Kingsley, unfortunately for him, had the key, and walked up the metal steps to the trailer door, while Sullivan yawned into the back of his hand three steps below.  Kingsley turned and said, "If we can get the grade--"

        He was rudely interrupted by the bomb.  Parts of the top half of Kingsley's body were blown right back over Sullivan's head, while the lower half, and what was left of the top, plastered itself to Sullivan and knocked him flat....

 

The ATF--its full name, seldom used, was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives--instantly got involved.  An ATF supervisor in Washington called the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and asked for a local liaison in Butternut Falls.

        The request got booted around, and at an afternoon meeting at BCA headquarters in St. Paul, Lucas Davenport, a senior agent, said, "Let's send that fuckin' Flowers up there.  He hasn't done anything for us lately."

        He's off today," somebody said.

        Davenport said, "So what?"....      

 

The bomber sat in his basement--it had to be a basement--looking at the stack of bombs.  He'd already packed the Pelex, which had a rather nice tang about it: like aftershave for seriously macho dudes.  He'd packed in the last of the blasting caps, which looked a bit like fat, metallic ballpoint pen refills, and he'd already wired up all the arteries except the last one, because he was afraid of that one: afraid he'd blow himself up.

        He'd given himself two missions that night: the first would be to take out the water and sewer pipe the city was planning to run out to the PyeMart, as well as the heavy equipment that'd be used to lay the pipe.

        The second one . . .

For the second attack, he needed a bomb that would blow with motion--and since he didn't have access to sophisticated detonators, he'd made do with an old mercury switch.  To use it, he'd have to do the final wiring on-site, in awkward conditions, wearing gloves, with a flashlight in his mouth.  Possible, but tricky.

        The trickiness gave him a little buzz.  If anything went wrong, of course, he'd never know it, with his face a foot from the bomb.  When they identified him, wouldn't they be surprised?  Wouldn't they wonder?

        Made him smile to think about it....

 

        His first bombs were small.  He didn't need a big bang to know that they worked.  When he finished building them, he'd taken them out in the country, deep in the woods, buried them, and fired them from fifty feet away, with a variety of triggers.  There'd been a thump, which he'd felt more than heard, but the thump had proved the pudding: he could do it.

        The bombs worked.

        After that, the bomb-making was the least of it.  Everything he needed to know about switches he could find on the internet, with parts and supplies at Home Depot.

        Getting into the Pye Pinnacle had been simple enough; in fact, he'd done it twice, once, in rehearsal, and the second time, for real.

        Having the bomb go off too early . . .

        He'd made the assumption that ferociously efficient major corporation would have run their board meetings with the same efficiency.  When he learned that the board members had been in the next room drinking--the Detroit newspaper hadn't said they were drinking, but had implied it clearly enough--he'd been more disgusted than anything even more disgusted than disappointed.  What was the world coming to?  Cocktails at nine o'clock in the morning?  All of them?'"

BEFORE THE DENOUEMENT

Authorities say the suspected bomber responsible for two deaths and several injuries in Texas has died from a self-inflicted explosion. USA TODAY

How do you catch a bomber: Fast-acting Austin suspect gave authorities cluesBart Jansen and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY Published 5:15 p.m. ET March 20, 2018 | Updated 11:10 a.m. ET March 21, 2018

While serial bombers are rare, the rapid-fire pace of explosions in Austin this month gave authorities clues to chase a suspect who was organized, sophisticated — and acting faster than in previous high-profile cases.

A 24-year-old suspect in the bombings that killed two people and injured others died in a car explosion early Wednesday as SWAT officers approached him in a hotel parking lot in Round Rock, Texas.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said authorities were tipped to the man — identified as Mark Anthony Conditt — about 36 hours before the confrontation. But police don't know the motive for the four bombings since March 2 that investigators had said Tuesday were linked.

Danny Defenbaugh, a former FBI bomb technician who helped supervise more than 150 bombing investigations including the 1995 Oklahoma City attack, said such serial campaigns are unusual and can take years to solve.

Defenbaugh said the devices involved in the explosions — and the range of apparent sophistication — probably had investigators trying to narrow a field of possible suspects who have some formal engineering experience in the military, law enforcement or from other sources.

“That fact that someone could build these devices, including the one with the tripwire mechanism, and not blow himself up, that means something," Defenbaugh said. “That’s why they have hundreds of people working on this."

Weldon Kennedy, a former FBI deputy director, called the Austin serial bombings “highly unusual’’ for the army of federal and local authorities who descended on central Texas to solve the case.

Yet Kennedy said investigators benefited from the recovery of one unexploded device that could provide a multitude of clues — from its engineering to the type of components used in its construction.

Kennedy said authorities also are likely to learn something from the locations where the devices were planted.

“The fact that these explosives appeared to target individuals or were sent through the mail and did not target a crowd of people makes me think that this is an individual and not a group with a particular political leaning or cause,” Kennedy said.

About 500 law enforcement officers are working on the case. Austin police are working with San Antonio and Houston police, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Manley said evidence collected from all of the bombings is being sent to the ATF lab in Virginia, where they will be reconstructed to determine any links in materials and methodologies.

“We are clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber at this point,” Manley said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state is committing $265,000 in emergency funding for police and the state bomb response team.

An unusual case

Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that her department was working with FBI to support the investigation.

Nielson said the case wasn't unprecedented because of previous bombers who mailed explosives. But she said the Texas case is unusual because the explosions  have come in a relatively tight geographic area and a faster time frame.

“Not like this, not with packages, not in a geographic limited area and certainly not within this time frame," Nielson said.

The explosion early Tuesday occurred at a FedEx facility near San Antonio, about 60 miles southwest of the capital, while the package sent from Austin to an address in Austin was moving on a conveyor belt. A second bomb was found at the facility that hadn’t exploded, investigators said.

A bombing Sunday injured two men. The trigger was a tripwire along a road that investigators said was more sophisticated than the first three attacks.

The others were each package bombs left on doorsteps. The two people killed were Draylen Mason, 17, on March 12 and Anthony Stephan House, 39, on March 2.

“It would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it’s related,” said FBI Agent Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman.

More on Austin bombings:

Austin bomb suspect kills himself in explosion as SWAT team moved in

Second bomb found at Texas FedEx facility as link to Austin grows

'Serial bomber' blamed in Austin explosions after 4th blast rocks city

Tracing a bomber 

Investigators say tracing a serial bomber to a person working for a specific cause is rare. Examples include Ted Kaczynski, who was known as the Unabomber; Eric Rudolph, who bombed Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996 during the Summer Olympic Games, and George Metesky, nicknamed the “mad bomber” while terrorizing New York from 1940 to 1956.

Kaczynski mailed explosives that killed three people and injured 24 during a campaign against modern technology that ran from 1978 to 1995. His FBI nickname, Unabomber, stemmed from early targets at universities and airlines.

The FBI-led task force included the ATF and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service with 150 full-time investigators, analysts and others. They ultimately learned that victims were chosen randomly.

His brother identified Kaczynski to the FBI after recognizing the language in a manifesto that The New York Times and The Washington Post published at the request of Attorney General Janet Reno.

A 1996 indictment charged Kaczynski with killing two people. He was charged with bringing a bomb from remote Montana to Oakland, where he mailed it to an office and the man who opened the package was killed in 1995. Kaczynski also was charged with placing a bomb behind a computer store in Sacramento, where it killed the man who moved it in 1985.

Kaczynski pleaded guilty to all pending charges in 1998 and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Rudolph was sentenced in 2005 to four life sentences for bombings that included the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Explosives in a backpack killed one woman and injured more than 100, and a journalist suffered a heart attack rushing to the scene.

Rudolph also acknowledged bombing two gay bars. His final bombing in 1998 was at a women’s health clinic in Birmingham, where he left a box with explosives and shrapnel in bushes near the entrance. An off-duty Birmingham police officer spotted the package, which detonated when he touched it, killing him.  

Rudolph set off the bomb from nearby and was tracked down by witnesses who got the license number of his truck. But he fled authorities for five years before being caught and pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty.

Rudolph posted a statement in 2005 describing his motivation for the bombings to oppose global socialism at the Olympics, homosexuality and abortion.

Defenbaugh, citing the Rudolph case, said one reason it took so long to solve was because authorities initially suspected the security guard who found the backpack.

Not easy to solve

Brian Michael Jenkins, an analyst with Rand Corp. who has studied bombings, told NBC News that serial bombers often want to communicate their motivations. But such bombings aren't easy to solve without a message or other events to provide clues, he said.

"This requires reconnaissance," Jenkins told NBC. "This requires target selection. They have to think about building a device that works. They have to build that device. They have to think about delivering that device in a way that enables them to conceal their identity."

Metesky terrorized New York City for years by planting explosives in phone booths, storage lockers and restrooms of public buildings such as Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station, Radio City Music Hall and the New York Public Library.

He planted at least 33 bombs, including 22 that exploded and injured 15 people.

Metesky had been injured in an accident at the utility company where he worked, but his claim for workers’ compensation was rejected because he filed too late, according to a New York Times story marking an anniversary of the case.

Police tracked down Metesky after he wrote letters to The New York Journal-American newspaper explaining his grievances, with language matching complaints in the utility’s personnel file. Police enlisted a psychiatrist to help them, and the case became one of the earliest examples of criminal profiling.

In court, Metesky was  declared a paranoid schizophrenic and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane. He died in a state hospital in 1994.

Contributing: Eliza Collins and John Moritz https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/03/20/experts-serial-bombe...

Of course this is now how John Sandford's Sock Wave ends.  For me to give away the ending would be a spoiler.  But to see how literature and real life crime interface to me is exciting.

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Comment by mary gravitt on April 12, 2018 at 12:40pm

I was bothered by the narrative of the Austin Bomber because it reminded me too much of John Sandford's Shock Wave.  Literature has a way of forecasting the future.

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