Advertisement
 
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsArrests

Abortion 'Warrior' Arrested in Anthrax Hoax Case

RESPONSE TO TERROR

Crime: Jail escapee mailed hundreds of letters containing harmless white powder to clinics, authorities say.

December 06, 2001|STEPHANIE SIMON and ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ST. LOUIS — An escaped convict suspected of mailing hundreds of anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics was arrested Wednesday outside a suburban Cincinnati copy shop after employees recognized him when he came in to use the store's computers.

Clayton Lee Waagner, one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives, was taken into custody as he tried to flee from a Kinko's in Springdale, Ohio.

Federal marshals had sent wanted posters to Kinko's outlets across the nation, suspecting that Waagner was using their computers to check his e-mail from time to time as he dodged an intensive manhunt. Employees in Springdale recognized the fugitive and called police, who then staked out the store and captured Waagner after a brief foot pursuit. Authorities said Waagner, who was armed with a handgun, put up no further resistance. He also had $10,000 cash in his vehicle, a stolen Mercedes-Benz.

"Clayton Lee Waagner's run from justice is over," Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said in Washington on Wednesday. "We can write across the face of that [wanted] poster: 'Apprehended.' "

Added Ben Reyna, director of the U.S. Marshals Service: "The most wanted man in America is behind bars."

A wily survivor who calls himself "God's warrior," Waagner has been on the run since escaping from an Illinois jail in February. But he hardly has kept a low profile. Authorities say he robbed a bank in Pennsylvania without bothering to disguise his face and boasted as he carjacked a vehicle in Mississippi that he soon would be featured on "America's Most Wanted."

He also managed to keep in contact with zealous supporters in the anti-abortion movement, posting Web site messages vowing to kill not only doctors who provide abortions but also anyone else connected to a clinic. "It doesn't matter to me if you're a nurse, a receptionist, bookkeeper or janitor, if you work for the murderous abortionist I'm going to kill you," he wrote in one such posting.

Just last month, Waagner appeared at the door of an anti-abortion activist in Georgia to announce that he had spent months gathering "intelligence"--including the addresses and license plate numbers of 42 clinic workers he had targeted for assassination. The activist, Neal Horsley, said Waagner also boasted that he was responsible for the anthrax hoax letters, which were sent to clinics after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

The phony anthrax mailings came in two waves. In late October, more than 280 clinics received letters purporting to contain deadly spores. Most had as a return address the U.S. Marshal's office and were labeled: "Urgent security notice." A few weeks later, 270 letters were sent out--this time in Federal Express packages with the return addresses (and FedEx account numbers) of the Planned Parenthood or National Abortion Federation headquarters.

The white powder contained in many of the letters turned out to be harmless. But in a few cases, initial field tests indicated presence of the potentially deadly bacteria. Some clinics were shut down, their doors sealed with yellow crime tape. A few workers were rushed to decontamination showers. Some even started taking antibiotics until further testing showed no sign of anthrax.

The hoax letters coincided with, but were not connected to, the lethal anthrax mailings to politicians and the media in Florida, New York and Washington, D.C. That timing made them even more alarming.

"It's been terrorizing," said Laura Knudson, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of North-Central Florida. "It's been really hard to live like this." Waagner's arrest, she said, was "a real relief."

But it was not cause to let down her guard. On the contrary, Knudson and several of her colleagues worried aloud Wednesday that Waagner's apprehension could spur other anti-abortion extremists to take up his mission.

"Now is not the time to relax," said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood. "We know we have to be even more vigilant."

Feldt and others called on Ashcroft to intensify efforts to identify anyone who may have helped Waagner survive nearly 10 months on the lam.

Authorities have said the 45-year-old father of nine was constantly on the move, leaving a trail and committing crimes in state after state while still finding time to put together more than 500 hoax letters and post mission statements on the "Army of God" Web site. His targets have questioned whether Waagner could have pulled it off alone.

"There are individuals who have publicly praised him," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, which represents 400 abortion providers. "We need to be absolutely certain who, if anyone, aided and abetted him."

The Rev. Donald Spitz, one of Waagner's most ardent backers, was not about to answer that question. "It would be illegal [to help a fugitive]," he said, "so I'm going to say I just don't know." But he indicated that Waagner had plenty of fans: "There were a lot of people supporting him."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|