Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amerithrax 2001

Fear Revisited

During the time doctors were struggling with a diagnosis for Huden's unusual skin infection, several other people throughout the country were checking into local hospitals with similar symptoms. One such person was Erin O'Connor, 38, a New York resident and assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.

Letter to Tom Brokaw
Letter to Tom Brokaw
Sometime between September 19 and 25, O'Connor handled a suspicious envelope with a "sand-like" powdery substance, addressed to Brokaw. After several days, O'Connor developed a lesion on her chest, which resembled that which Huden had on her finger. It wasn't until mid-October that it was determined that she had also contracted cutaneous anthrax. Luckily, she recovered from anthrax after treatment.

After an investigation, the FBI determined that the source of O'Connor's infection was the suspicious envelope, postmarked Trenton, N.J., which held a hate letter. The letter read,

O9-11-01

THIS IS NEXT

TAKE PENACILIN NOW

DEATH TO AMERICA

DEATH TO ISRAEL

ALLAH IS GREAT

The writing was in large block form and looked as if a child had written it. However, investigators knew that it was likely not a child, but an angry adult who probably had extensive knowledge of biological agents.

Envelope of Brokaw letter
Envelope of Brokaw letter
 

During the last week of September there were two other suspected cases of anthrax, this time in New Jersey. One of the cases, that of a 39-year-old mechanic named Richard Morgano, was never confirmed. Yet, the other case, involving 45-year-old West Trenton postal carrier Teresa Heller, was eventually confirmed. She also tested positive for cutaneous anthrax in mid-October, although she began to show symptoms on the October 1. Heller, like Huden and O'Connor was treated with antibiotics and recovered from the disease.

Richard Morgano
Richard Morgano
However, although the physical healing had begun, the emotional wounds would endure. The country was now on the verge of a nationwide panic. That fall, nothing seemed safe, especially the mail. Then on October 5, the anthrax outbreak turned deadly and claimed its first victim.

On September 19, 2001, America Media Inc. (AMI) employees had seen their colleague, 63-year-old photo editor Robert Stevens of Lantana, Florida handling a letter, which had on it an unusual powdery white substance. Not much was thought of the incident until almost two weeks later when things began to go horribly wrong. On October 2, Maureen Stevens brought her husband, Robert, to the emergency room in the middle of the night. Stevens was in a delirious and disoriented state when he was admitted. Shortly thereafter he fell into a coma from which he never regained consciousness. Three days later Stevens died.

Robert Stevens
Robert Stevens
A series of clinical tests determined that Stevens had died from inhalation anthrax, the deadliest form of the disease. Although the unusual letter with the powdery substance was never found, it was likely that it was directly related to Stevens' death. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article by Charles Seabrook, "the diagnosis would trigger the most intensive public health investigation ever carried out in Florida," one that would result in the discovery of one other anthrax infection in the state.

 

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