Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Eric Rudolph: Serial Bomber

Birmingham Bombing

Birmingham, Alabama, has seen its share of political violence over the years. In the 1960s, many whites resisted racial integration and, at one point, President John F. Kennedy sent federal officials to try to calm the conflict. In 1963, a bomb exploded in a black church, killing four black girls. Some people sardonically nicknamed the city "Bombingham."

On January 29, 1998, a macabre echo of that 35-year-old tragedy took place when an explosion tore through an abortion clinic in Birmingham. An off-duty police officer, Robert Sanderson, who was moonlighting at the clinic as a private security guard, was killed, his body torn apart by the bomb. Sanderson left behind a widow with two children. A counselor and nurse at the New Woman All Women clinic named Emily Lyons was critically injured. The explosion knocked her right out of her shoes and left first-, second- and third-degree burns over the front of her body.

Abortion clinic after the bomb, Birmingham, AL
Abortion clinic after the bomb,
Birmingham, AL

The bomb shattered most of the windows of the clinic and those of an office building across the street. A thick cloud of dark smoke billowed from the building and debris was blown all over the street.

People felt the impact a block away. A volunteer at the nearby Summit Medical Care clinic said the bombing "knocked stuff off the wall."

Students at the University of Alabama-Birmingham both felt and heard the blast. One commented, "It felt like lightning had hit the building."

When the bomb squad reached the clinic, they cordoned off a two-block area. The fire department brought specially trained "bomb dogs" to sniff out other possible explosives. The police and firefighters were alert to the possibility that a second bomb, meant to target them, might have been planted. As it turned out, there was only one bomb, but that one had taken the life of a policeman and permanently disabled a nurse.

Although there was a pronounced resemblance to the Sandy Springs bombing in Atlanta, officials did not at first know with certainty that the attacks were connected.

Lyons did not die from her injuries but she was permanently scarred.

Emily Lyons
Emily Lyons

When Emily Lyons was in the hospital, her caregivers and her husband called her by a different name because they feared that someone might come back to harm her. She had no memory of the first two weeks but later described the months of agony in an online book entitled Life's Been a Blast.

The mother of two was completely blind and bedridden. She could only eliminate her body waste in a bedpan. She took food through a feeding tube. When they took out the tube, the only thing she could eat was "an 8 ounce can of Sustacal, which is something like the worst milkshake you have ever had."

The injuries Lyons had suffered were devastating. Her right eye orbit was broken and so were facial bones. Her eyelids had been torn off. They were surgically sewn back on. Her damaged tear ducts were repaired. Her left eye was ripped up; it had to be removed. She would eventually recover partial vision in her damaged right eye.

Both legs were horribly wounded: the left had bones shattered in several places, while the right had muscle and nerve damage.

When moved to a new room for painful physical therapy, she got four to six hours of fitful sleep in any 24-hour period.

A witness saw a man near the clinic take a blond wig off, then hurriedly drive away in a 1989 Nissan pickup. The witness got the license plate of the fleeing truck and authorities traced it to a man named Eric Robert Rudolph.

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