The Beltway Snipers, Pt. 1
A Byte Out of History
The Beltway Snipers, Part 1
|This blue 1990 Chevy Caprice was used
as a rolling sniper’s nest.
This blue 1990 Chevy Caprice was used as a rolling sniper’s nest.
Five years ago this week—at 3:19 in the morning on October 24, 2002, to be exact—we closed in on the snipers who’d been terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area over the course of 23 long days.
During the month, 10 people had been randomly gunned down and three critically injured while going about their everyday lives—mowing the lawn, pumping gas, shopping, reading a book. Among the victims was one of our own—FBI intelligence analyst Linda Franklin, who was felled by a single bullet while leaving a home improvement store in Virginia with her husband.
The massive investigation into the sniper attacks was led by the Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Department, headed by Chief Charles Moose, with the FBI and many other law enforcement agencies playing a supporting role. Chief Moose had specifically requested our help through a federal law on serial killings.
That morning, the hunt for the snipers quickly came to an end, when a team of Maryland State Police, Montgomery County SWAT officers, and agents from our Hostage Rescue Team arrested the sleeping John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo without a struggle.
Timeline of Terror
October 2: Man killed while crossing a parking lot in Wheaton, Maryland
October 3: Five more murders, four in Maryland and one in D.C.
October 4: Woman wounded while loading her van at Spotsylvania Mall
October 7: 13-year-old-boy wounded at a school in Bowie, Maryland
October 9: Man murdered near Manassas, Virginia, while pumping gas
October 11: Man shot dead near Fredericksburg, Virginia, while pumping gas
October 14: FBI analyst Linda Franklin killed near Falls Church, Virginia
October 19: Man wounded outside a steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia
October 22: A bus driver, the final victim, killed in Aspen Hill, Maryland
October 24: Muhammad and Malvo arrested in Maryland
Just a few hours earlier, at approximately 11:45 p.m., their dark blue 1990 Chevy Caprice—bearing the New Jersey license plate NDA-21Z, which had been widely publicized on the news only hours earlier—had been spotted at a rest stop parking lot off I-70 in Maryland (see photos right). Within the hour, law enforcement swarmed the scene, setting up a perimeter to check out any movements and make sure there’d be no escape.
What evidence experts from the FBI and other police forces found there was both revealing and shocking. The car had a hole cut in the trunk near the license plate (see photo below, left) so that shots could be fired from within the vehicle. It was, in effect, a rolling sniper’s nest.
Also found in the car were:
- The Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle that had been used in each attack;
- A rifle’s scope for taking aim and a tripod to steady the shots;
- A backseat that had the sheet metal removed between the passenger compartment and the trunk, enabling the shooter to get into the trunk from inside the car (see photo below, right);
- The Chevy Caprice owner’s manual with—the FBI Laboratory later detected—written impressions of the one of the demand notes;
- The digital voice recorder used by both Malvo and Muhammad to make extortion demands;
- A laptop stolen from one of the victims containing maps of the shooting sites and getaway routes from some of the crime scenes; and
- Maps, walkie-talkies, and many more items.
You know the rest of the story. Both Malvo and Muhammad were convicted at trial or pled guilty in multiple court cases in Maryland and Virginia. Both were sentenced to life without parole; Muhammad also received the death penalty in Virginia.
Read part two of the series, which retraces law enforcement’s collective steps in tracking down the snipers, including the FBI’s multi-faceted role.