Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amerithrax 2001

Unofficially Suspected

One year after the anthrax outbreak, the FBI investigation into the letter poisonings had seemed to come to a stand still. There was no hard evidence pointing to a single person and investigators wondered if they'd ever apprehend their man. Then their curiosity was aroused in early 2002 by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, an environmental science teacher at the State University of New York.

Rosenberg knew quite a few prominent biological weapons experts from her volunteer work with the Federation of American Scientists. A few of these fellow scientists mentioned a person they suspected might have been involved in the anthrax poisonings. Rosenberg submitted the person's name to the FBI, but was surprised when the FBI failed to respond to what she believed was a critical piece of information.

So, Rosenberg decided to pursue the matter on her own and desperately tried to steer the FBI's attention towards the individual whose name had come up in the scientific community as a potential suspect. According to Laurie Barrett's article A Lack of Teamwork, it was believed that the person was Steven J. Hatfill.

Steven J. Hatfill
Steven J. Hatfill
Hatfill is an attractive, adventurous American microbiologist with extensive knowledge of biological agents and their use in warfare. According to Marilyn Thompson's article The Pursuit of Steven Hatfill, he spent years researching and training under his friend and mentor Bill Patrick, "one of America's bioweapons pioneers and the holder of five classified patents for the weaponization of anthrax." Hatfill worked with some of the world's most deadly bioweapons, including Ebola and smallpox. Thompson wrote that Hatfill also conducted counterterrorism training for the Defense Intelligence Agency, designed programs and training equipment for the Navy SEALs and was hired by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) in McLean, Virginia to work on classified projects concerning mobile biological production laboratories.

While in the employment of SAIC in 1999, Hatfill asked his close friend Patrick to work on a project concerning the weaponized use of anthrax and the dangers associated with it being sent through the mail. Needless to say, it was a study that caught the attention of the FBI following the anthrax poisonings. Although Patrick was cleared of having any connection with the anthrax-laden mailings, Hatfill became a "man of interest" to the FBI investigation.

Hatfill likely gained the attention of the FBI for two primary reasons. The first was that he obviously had knowledge of anthrax and other biochemical weapons.

Second, Hatfill graduated from medical school in Zimbabwe, which was located close to a suburb named Greendale. The name Greendale sparked considerable interest because written on several of the 2001 anthrax-laden letters was a fictitious return address that read the "4th grade, Greendale School, Franklin Park, N.J." There was never a Greendale school in the African suburb or in New Jersey. Yet, the fact that Hatfill's medical school was located close to an area with the name generated suspicion.

In 2002, FBI agents searched Hatfill's Fredrick, Md., apartment for anything related to the anthrax poisonings. They were unable to find any evidence connecting him with the crimes. Then the FBI searched his girlfriend's apartment and told her that he had "killed five people." The girlfriend, who was the widowed mother of two children, then also became an object of official scrutiny. Information was leaked to the press and Hatfill lost his SAIC position and a lucrative post at Louisiana State University.    Hatfill's apartment was searched a second time. The FBI even drained a pond near the apartment and searched all the rubble at the bottom of the pond. No sign of anthrax was found in the pond. Surveillance of Hatfill was so intense that an agent accidentally ran over Hatfill's foot.

Steven Hatfill's apartment complex
Steven Hatfill's apartment complex
 

This surveillance of Hatfill went well beyond an annoyance – it was reminiscent of the obsessive harassment of Richard Jewell, who was the victim of the FBI investigation of the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta.   To get the FBI off his back, he took a lie detector test, which apparently came out okay. He produced his timecards from SAIC in northern Virginia to prove that on the day that the two most dangerous anthrax letters were mailed from New Jersey, he was nowhere near that state.

Claiming that the FBI had harassed him and disrupted his life, Hatfill has since filed suit against the bureau. He vigorously maintains his innocence and believes that his civil rights have been violated during the ongoing FBI investigation. The FBI continues to look for any evidence in relation to the anthrax letters hoping to solve the case. According to a Newsday article by Laurie Garrett, the FBI claimed that Hatfill was, "merely one 'of hundreds' of people" being looked at by agents. However, there is little doubt that he has been the one of the most scrutinized.

Many have wondered if the anthrax terrorist will ever be brought to justice. Some believe that the perpetrator has remained free because of the gross mismanagement of the investigation from the beginning, causing a valuable loss of time, information and money. Others believe that the terrorist was just too clever to get caught. Regardless of the reasons, the anthrax killer remains on the loose. Many wonder if and when he will strike again. If he does, will we be better prepared?

 

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