Authorities have shelved an investigation into the bombing of a van belonging to Navy Capt. Will Rogers III and have all but ruled out the possibility that terrorists planted the bomb two years ago this month, sources told The Times last week.
Officials in Washington and in California said investigators remain unable to develop a lead solid enough to support charges in the bombing.
And, sources added, since the intensity of the investigation has slackened significantly, it is unlikely that the case will ever be solved.
Where once there were dozens of investigators from federal agencies who made the case a full-time priority, virtually no work has been done on the case since last spring, sources said.
The sources also said that terrorism essentially has been discarded as a working theory, in favor of the notion that the attack was the result of a personal grudge against Rogers or his family.
The only way the case will be solved, sources said, is if someone comes forward with more information about the bomb, which exploded March 10, 1989, at a busy La Jolla intersection. Will Rogers' wife, Sharon Rogers, who was driving the van, narrowly escaped injury when she jumped out of it moments before the blast.
"It's one of those very frustrating crimes," one source said. "But it's not at all unique. It's not unique that some crimes remain unsolved for very long periods of time or never get solved. Who killed Jimmy Hoffa?"
Four sources familiar with the investigation told The Times last week of the virtual halt in the investigation of the case and of the shift away from suspicions of terrorism.
The sources asked to remain anonymous, saying that the last flurry of press reports on the case--last March, around the first anniversary of the bombing--launched an intense internal drive at federal and Navy agencies to find out who had talked to reporters.
Although investigators hope for new leads, Will Rogers said last week that he and his wife are trying to put the whole thing behind them. He is now teaching tactics to senior Navy officers. She is again teaching grade school.
Because of concerns about terrorism, Sharon Rogers was dismissed within weeks after the bombing from La Jolla Country Day, the school where she had taught for 12 years.
Unable for months after that to land a full-time job, she is back at work this school year, teaching at a North County school, according to a friend of the family who asked to remain unnamed.
"We're trying to rebuild our lives, and I don't see any point in revisiting this," Will Rogers said last week.
Because the attack was aimed at a van owned by Will Rogers, it whipped fears that international terrorism had arrived on U.S. soil.
Investigators believed it might have been a retaliation by Iranian extremists seeking to avenge Capt. Rogers' order in July, 1988, aboard the guided missile cruiser Vincennes, to shoot down what turned out to be a civilian Iranian jetliner. A total of 290 civilians were killed.
Initially, speculating that the bombing was a terrorist strike, the Federal Bureau of Investigation rushed 15 extra agents to San Diego to assist in the probe. Will and Sharon Rogers ventured into public only under heavy security.
Nearly two years later, after tracking countless tips, the FBI has not yet determined why the Rogers' van was singled out for attack. It assumed jurisdiction of the case only because of the possibility of terrorism and, at one time, ranked the bombing as one of its top priorities.
Except for a few shards that appeared to be bomb fragments, authorities recovered little hard evidence at the scene. Still, in November, 1989, seven months after the explosion, FBI Director William Sessions expressed confidence that the case would be solved.
About that time, the investigation turned away from terrorism. Attention focused on two American men, brothers with ties to Southern California.
Investigators zeroed in first on H. George Marxmiller, an out-of-work Eastern Airlines pilot who was in the midst of divorcing his wife. Will Rogers was listed as a witness in the Georgia divorce case, though the divorce was concluded without Rogers' testimony.
Marxmiller's name surfaced in the investigation of the van bombing when he contacted the FBI with allegations that Will Rogers was involved sexually with a friend of Marxmiller's wife. Marxmiller alleged that the affair provided Will Rogers with a motive to kill Sharon Rogers.
Sources said Marxmiller failed a lie detector test about his knowledge of the bombing, prompting investigators to consider him a suspect.
Marxmiller told investigators that he visited his brother, Tom Marxmiller, who was then living near Los Angeles, about two weeks before the blast.
That angle remains the most promising, sources said in recent interviews. But it has not panned out.
George and Tom Marxmiller said in separate phone calls last week, as they have many times before, that they know nothing about the bomb.