4 • THE WHITE VAN
On October 9th, the sniper targets Virginia. And the hunt for a white van intensifies.
Speaker 1: 00:00 Welcome to Monster – DC Sniper, a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the podcast author or individuals participating in the podcast and do not represent those of iHeartMedia, Tenderfoot TV, or their employees. Listener discretion is advised.
Speaker 2: 00:25 911 state your emergency.
Speaker 3: 00:25 Someone got shot. Right outside Sunoco.
Speaker 2: 00:25 Okay. Somebody got shot?
Speaker 3: 00:27 The guy is dead. He’s laying on the car. And there was a white van that just went by with two guys in it. The van just went back, now it’s going forward. It’s getting on the 234 right now, the white van. There it goes, there it goes. He’s going now. On route 234.
Speaker 2: 00:45 Towards which direction.
Speaker 3: 00:45 Towards 1456.
Speaker 2: 00:46 Okay sir, I’m typing in the information we have. We have officers on the way. I just have to give…
Josh white: 00:59 I got a call in the evening on October 9th from a source saying you need to get out to Manassas. There’s been another one.
Tony Harris: 01:10 This is Washington Post reporter, Josh White.
Josh white: 01:13 There was nothing more than that. I was given a location. I knew the area, so I knew that they would have shut down the intersection right by the gas station. So I went past the gas station, got off onto a side road and came up the back way. And I thought, well, if you wanted to get a really good view of the crime scene, you would go up onto this hill. There was a Bob Evans that overlooked the gas station from across the road. Standing there on that hill and looking down at that crime scene. It was lit up at night. Somebody standing there would have been framed fully in light. It’s like a lit up target with a million access points.
Josh white: 01:51 They had shut down the parking lot and they were interviewing everyone who was leaving. I drove up, I got into an adjacent parking lot and I walked right to where I thought would be the best view. That too was something that the snipers realized that that was the best view of that gas station because I’m fairly certain I stood directly next to the vehicle that they had been using to kill tons and tons of people facing the gas station below.
Speaker 6: 02:20 There is a ruthless person on the loose.
Speaker 7: 02:22 What unnerves this community the most is the randomness of the murders. Ordinary people doing ordinary things.
Speaker 8: 02:30 They kill the five people in one day and then went on the rampage for the next month.
Speaker 9: 02:35 It is quite a mystery. The police say they have never had a crime quite like this.
Speaker 10: 02:40 Be careful. These guys are using weapons that are going to go right straight through our Bulletproof vests.
Speaker 3: 02:48 There’s a white van just went by with two guys in it.
Tony Harris: 02:48 From iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. This is monster DC sniper.
Speaker 11: 03:02 Nine sniper attacks in eight days have the Washington metropolitan area on high alert. Since last Wednesday, seven people have been killed and two wounded. One was a 13 year old boy who was critically wounded in Maryland middle school. The latest shooting took place just after eight o’clock last night about 30 miles West of Washington, DC.
Tony Harris: 03:24 October 9, 2002. It has now been a full week since the spree of sniper killings began in the DC Metro area. Most of the attacks have taken place in Maryland except for one shooting at a Michael’s in Spotsylvania, Virginia. But now the snipers were on the move.
Dave Statter: 03:42 On October 9th the week following the Montgomery County shootings. A man who worked in an office building in Manassas was out pumping gas not too far from where he worked. Guy named Dean Myers.
Tony Harris: 03:54 This is Dave Statter reporter for channel nine news.
Dave Statter: 03:58 So on suddenly [inaudible 00:03:59] in Prince William County, Virginia, and he’s just pumping gas and shot and killed.
Tony Harris: 04:05 Bob Myers, the victim’s brother, spoke about the shooting at a press conference.
Bob Myers: 04:11 I would like to know the reason. That would help me, but I recognize that whatever reason it is, it won’t be a good one.
Tony Harris: 04:21 This attack sent a ripple through the region. It was the third shooting to take place at a gas station. As channel nine reporter Dave Statter points out, now the people of Virginia had a lot to worry about.
Dave Statter: 04:35 This is where you’re really starting to notice how cautious people are filling up with gasoline. People are being extremely cautious and once again, like the people the first day we knew about this, the woman vacuuming her car, the taxi driver who’s pumping gas, this happened to Dean Myers. He’s filling up with gasoline. So now the real focus is what do I do when I’m pumping gas? I have to get gasoline for my car. There are gas stations that are starting to put up barricades or tarps to block you. People are ducking around the other side of their vehicle or putting the nozzle into their vehicle and walking away from the vehicle trying to get some sort of cover. So people are clearly scared filling up with gasoline. And this shooting of Dean Myers just added to that fear.
Tony Harris: 05:19 Who could have imagined that somewhere as mundane as a gas station could become the impetus for such crippling fear? I visited the Sunoco station in Manassas, Virginia where Dean Myers was killed and the scene brought back some vivid memories from that October in 2002.
Speaker 14: 05:38 Maybe one of the indelible images that I have in my mind from those days. I mean it really is of seeing the blue tarp that was serving as a bit of a barrier protecting people. So people are pumping gas and they are essentially under, around, behind this blue tarp. And the other thing I recall is hearing stories of cops being asked by folks who needed a fill, “Hey, I’ll give you some extra money to fill up my gas tank because I’m so afraid. I’m afraid to do it myself. Would you take this extra $20 the fill up my gas tank?” That sort of speaks to how much fear there was at the time.
Speaker 14: 06:17 I think the other thing that we can’t imagine today, someone getting away with all of these episodes, all of these attacks and not clearly being established on some kind of surveillance cameras, some kind of CCTV in 2019. Come on. You couldn’t even attempt something like what we’re talking about now. Shooting someone dead in a Sunoco gas station, but we’re talking about 2002. We’re also talking post 9/11. So you’re talking about putting more of those systems in place at that point.
Speaker 15: 06:54 We still have officers at the scene searching for evidence, going over it very meticulously.
Tony Harris: 07:01 Police believe they were on the snipers trail. At a press conference following the Dean Meyer shooting officials revealed what type of vehicle they thought the snipers were using.
Speaker 15: 07:11 The only information we have on a possible vehicle was a white minivan described as a panel vehicle, meaning it had only front passenger windows. The rest was solid.
Tony Harris: 07:25 Officials thought the snipers might still be in the area. So police had up roadblocks on the streets near the crime scene. Nearby parking lots were shut down. No one was allowed to leave. Hundreds of people were stopped and questioned, but no suspects were detained. Officer Steven Bailey’s job was to scout the Bob Evans parking lot for potential witnesses. He remembers approaching one specific vehicle. The driver inside said he was on vacation. This man also said he’d been directed into the parking lot by another officer. Bailey said the man was quote, “Very polite and very courteous.” And so with no reason to detain him, Bailey let the man leave. It would be months later that officer Bailey had a terrible realization. The man he met that day was the killer they were looking for.
Josh white: 08:18 I think that in a lot of ways is a microcosm of the challenge that was facing everybody.
Tony Harris: 08:24 This is Washington post reporter Josh White. He told the story of standing near the killer’s vehicle at the beginning of the episode, but like officer Steven Bailey, he didn’t think anything of it at the time.
Josh white: 08:36 Nobody knew who they were looking for. Nobody knew what vehicle to look for. Nobody knew the mechanism of the shooting. Was it coming from a car? Was it coming from outside? Ultimately when they found the vehicle, it was obvious to everyone why the vehicle was so difficult to detect. It was an engineered killing machine. It was built in a way to avoid detection. It was altered in a way that if you were to walk right up to it, you wouldn’t think twice. It wouldn’t strike you externally as anything to worry about.
Josh white: 09:07 I thought, I don’t know how they’re ever going to catch this person. It really showed the vulnerability. It showed that if somebody wants to go after someone who they have no connection to, randomly, in a metropolitan area that has millions of people, what’s stopping them? For me, that was one of the scariest moments. That shooting highlighted how difficult this all was and how frightening it all was.
Tony Harris: 09:31 This shooting also marked another major shift in the case. One that greatly raised the stakes for the snipers.
Josh white: 09:39 They, I think unbeknownst to them, obviously, they had committed a crime in a County that had one of the more aggressive prosecutors from a capital punishment perspective. Paul Ebert.
Paul Ebert: 09:55 It’s a dubious distinction, but not a lot of unusual cases have happened in my jurisdiction.
Tony Harris: 10:01 This is Paul Ebert, Virginia’s longest serving prosecutor. I spoke with him at his office in Prince William County. He remembers when Dean Meyers was shot in his district.
Paul Ebert: 10:11 My daughter had strayed a nothing but about half a block where it happened. What had happened, she’d was at the bank. I want you to see like I normally do on a murder case. We don’t have that many murderers and helps me to be able to visualize what’s going on. A lot of press, a lot of people. The body was gone, searched around. Of course, it was pretty high that the snipers had done this because of the history leading up to it. Anyhow, I had no idea if and when we would ever get the case to try. And I told him a couple of reporters that I knew, and I did say that if this is a sniper and it looks like it is, it’s a death case. Absent some kind of great mitigating factor, it was a capital case.
Tony Harris: 10:56 Paul Ebert was issuing a direct threat to the snipers. He went on television that day to say that quote, “This case, if I have anything to do with it, will be prosecuted in this jurisdiction to the full extent of the law.” Ebert has sentenced more inmates to death row than any other Virginia prosecutor. So if the sniper was following the news, they would have known that if caught, they would eventually face the death penalty.
Tony Harris: 11:38 The snipers weren’t done in Virginia. As the area was still reeling from the death of Dean Harold Myers. Tragedy struck once more. Channel nine reporter Dave Statter was there.
Dave Statter: 11:51 On the morning of October 11th two days after Dean Myers is shot pumping gas in the Manassas area of Virginia. Further South in the Fredericksburg area, there’s another man shot. 53 year old Kenneth Bridges. He shot dead pumping gasoline at an Exxon station. This is just off interstate 95. A heavily traveled roadway between Richmond and Washington. This portion of i95. We worked our way down there to just off the highway and it was difficult getting to that scene. The traffic was just horrendous because the roadway was shut down just off i95. police were probably stopping vehicles coming and going.
Dave Statter: 12:29 As we’re traveling down to the scene, we’re being passed by convoys of federal agents heading down there and police from other jurisdictions trying to get through the same traffic, but they at least have lights and siren. We finally went on to some alternate routes and work our way up to the scene and we see police. There’s tons of police there. We get there and here we are watching, now which to us, is almost eerie and bizarre. Yet another person pumping gasoline, shot dead, doing what we all do every day and the tension is continuing to grow.
Tony Harris: 13:05 Shortly after the crime scene was secured, Virginia police held a press conference. They described how they responded and what they were searching for.
Speaker 17: 13:15 We are looking for a white van that may have had a ladder rack on top of it. We do not, and I stress, we do not know if it was involved in the shooting or not. It was seen in the area by several people and we do want to talk to those people. We had a Virginia state trooper, uniform trooper, was across the street from the shooting working a traffic accident. He heard the shots. He ran directly across the street and rendered aid to the victim until the rescue squad arrived. Once at the hospital, the victim was pronounced dead.
Tony Harris: 13:47 The victim, Kenneth Bridges, was a family man. He had six children and a wife of 25 years.
Speaker 18: 13:54 Obviously everyone was devastated at this horrendous act and this horrendous event losing a loving husband and a strong giving, caring father. Since that time, however, I have seen the family become stronger and stronger as the hours go by.
Tony Harris: 14:11 Bridge’s was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He had just been passing through the DC area when his life was tragically cut short. Friends say Bridge’s was a pillar of his community. He co-founded Monta, a nonprofit company which fosters black owned businesses.
Speaker 19: 14:27 I’m telling you, this was a near perfect man who loved his family, who loved his people. Kenny was a visionary, a man with great purpose, single minded purpose that he had built his entire world around. Ken Bridges has infected thousands and thousands of people all across the country with this vision of his.
Tony Harris: 14:50 The impacts of the DC sniper attacks were spreading further and further. Families and communities all across the country had now been affected in various horrible ways.
Dave Statter: 15:02 We’re realizing that this thing is not getting smaller. It’s not getting narrower. It’s getting larger.
Tony Harris: 15:10 This is channel nine reporter Dave Statter again.
Dave Statter: 15:13 All along this 95 carter people are being attacked. We see it in Montgomery County, Maryland, Prince George’s County, Maryland. We’re still trying to figure out what’s going on? Why is this happening? We’re talking to police every day and it was clear they were having a bit of a time making sense of why these attacks were occurring at these locations. And that just really added to the fear of everybody because nobody could make clear sense of it.
Tony Harris: 15:38 By this point, 10 people had been shot for what seemed like no reason, and the public had very little information to go on. All anyone knew was to be on the lookout for a white van or white box truck. The public was losing confidence in law enforcement’s abilities. Police were under tremendous pressure to catch these killers, but nothing seemed to be working. So what was their plan?
Drew Tracy: 16:05 We had strategies. I mean I started out and I had a mission.
Tony Harris: 16:10 This is Drew Tracy, retired assistant chief of police from Montgomery County.
Drew Tracy: 16:15 We had to protect our first responders, we had to protect the citizens, but we also had to have that investigative role and that ability to stop what was going on. And that was our mission.
Tony Harris: 16:28 But how would they find the shooters? Tracy says they employed a tactic known as a dragnet. It starts with police creating a large perimeter around a crime scene to ensnare any potential suspects.
Drew Tracy: 16:40 We actually had circles that we put it on a map. So if a shooting went out, we knew that vehicle could only go in 15 or 20 minutes so far. So we tried to slow things down. Slow it by slowing traffic, almost type of roadblocks. And what we did is we had immediate action teams. We need to be on scene in two to three minutes of any critical incident or possible incident.
Drew Tracy: 17:07 Then we worked on predetermined roles. I went over a game plan and showed if the shooting is within this district, here’s everybody’s predetermined location they had to go to. And then what we would do is bring in air support. We’d get plain clothed units, who look like normal people, try to get closer in to try to pick out a suspect or a vehicle. So then we could bring in the tactical officers and utilize a take down in a safe way. So we wouldn’t put people in danger.
Drew Tracy: 17:38 The thing that I think was… Well I know for a fact was really holding us back is we didn’t get good suspect information. They would put out multiple lookouts because people would just scatter from a certain area, and you had vehicles going in every direction, and no one knew exactly if one was involved or not. So we had a pretty good game plan, but the problem was we weren’t being provided good intelligence and suspect information from lookout. That hurt us.
Tony Harris: 18:08 One incident directly after the shooting of Kenneth Bridges highlights this issue. Police searched nearby motels looking for a suspect. They had a somewhat fuzzy picture of the suspect from a security camera, and with a description from that police detained and questioned a man at one of the motels, but it was quickly determined he wasn’t the sniper. And so by the end of the day, no viable suspects had been arrested.
Tony Harris: 18:32 As the shooting spread further from DC, nearby jurisdictions were biding their time. Fearful that at any moment an attack what happened in their area.
Bruce Gooth: 18:58 I was absolutely sure that we were going to get a shooting. My name is Bruce Gooth. I’m a retired Lieutenant from Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia.
Bruce Gooth: 19:09 Fairfax is 400 square miles at 1.2 million people, and I was sure we were going to get hit sooner or later. Sure enough, on October 14th one of my guys who was working called me on my cell phone and said, “Hey, I think we just had a sniper shooting down at the Home Depot.” Which is the Falls Church area of Fairfax County, which is right at the border of Arlington County and Fairfax County. He said that a woman had been shot in the head underneath the parking garage.
Tony Harris: 19:41 The victim was 47 year old FBI analyst, Linda Franklin. She was loading shopping bags into the trunk of her car right before she was shot. Linda was with her husband, Ted Franklin, who then called 911 in distress. A warning, the following audio could be upsetting to some listeners.
Ted Franklin: 20:04 [inaudible 00:20:09].
Dispatcher: 20:13 Where are you at?
Ted Franklin: 20:14 I’m at the Home Depot.
Dispatcher: 20:15 Home Depot.
Ted Franklin: 20:17 On route 50.
Dispatcher: 20:20 On route 50?
Ted Franklin: 20:20 Yes.
Dispatcher: 20:24 Your wife is shot?
Ted Franklin: 20:25 Yes.
Dispatcher: 20:27 Where has she been shot?
Ted Franklin: 20:28 She’s shot in her head.
Dispatcher: 20:28 Okay.
Bruce Gooth: 20:37 So I got in my car and I drove down to Falls Church. I was one of the first detectives there. My first memory was the smell of diesel, diesel fuel from the ambulance. There was an ambulance parked underneath the parking garage. Inside the ambulance was Mr. Franklin. They had put him in there. Obviously he was quite distraught. It was a catastrophic head injury that he witnessed and he had been spattered with blood.
Tony Harris: 21:07 Channel nine reporter Dave Statter also rushed to the scene.
Dave Statter: 21:12 After a long day of working on the sniper case on October 14th, my pager goes off. It’s my colleague, Greg Gueis, telling me there’s a shooting right up the street at the Home Depot at the top of our street. I race up to the top of the street in my car, come in to the shopping center and apparently I came in from the opposite side of police and fire, and go into this cupboard parking area outside the Home Depot and I pull up and I see a grocery cart. And it’s full of stuff and I looked down from that grocery cart and there’s a woman’s body lying on the pavement. Her head is covered with some kind of yellow sheet. And I realized, well I’m way too close and I immediately pull out to just outside the covered area and there are police running with police tape to secure the scene. I pulled out my home video camera and you see in my first video the ambulance pull up and go up to look at Ms. Franklin’s body.
Dave Statter: 22:06 And the next thing I see are police officers running with their guns drawn across route 50, a six lane highway, to an apartment complex across the street where there’s a white vehicle that looks sort of like a box truck. They have their guns drawn on what turned out to be painters who were coming out of the apartment building and they put their hands up immediately.
Tony Harris: 22:37 The painters were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So police let them go.
Dave Statter: 22:43 We were reporting, I went live on the air with a phone report because I didn’t have a live TV truck with me and no other crews were there. We broke into coverage with what appeared to be another shooting. Police obviously had a plan for the next shooting. They shut down a good portion of the capitol beltway that brings Washington DC. They wanted to make sure that they could get the vehicle and the lookout that they knew they were looking for that evening was a white box truck. They shut down route 50, they shut down 495, 95 and it created an enormous traffic jam that evening.
Tony Harris: 23:14 According to Virginia detective Bruce Gooth, it was quickly clear to them that this was a sniper shooting and they had limited time to catch the vehicle before it was too late.
Bruce Gooth: 23:24 I don’t think there was a soul in law enforcement that didn’t think for a second that it wasn’t them. It was clear that it was a somewhat long range shot. We had our SWAT team put a perimeter up around where we were to kind of protect us while we were working a crime scene. We had preplanned that.
Tony Harris: 23:44 Once again, the night ended with no real suspects, but perhaps for the first time law enforcement had a viable witness who said he’d seen not just a vehicle but the actual shooter. The witness was a man named Matthew Dowdy.
Bruce Gooth: 23:59 And he described the vehicle and he said the guy was leaning out like on the driver’s side mirror. He saw the rifle, saw the shot go off. He was inside the parking lot. This guy, we had to investigate and had two detectives take him back to the station and get a statement from him. You know, that was the first lead where someone had actually seen somebody.
Bruce Gooth: 24:23 That next day after the murder, we had a debrief with Montgomery County and all the other jurisdictions.
Tony Harris: 24:30 Virginia officials shared the specific details of Matthew Dowdy’s story. He said he saw an olive skinned man step out of a cream colored van. The man then shot Franklin with an AK assault rifle. Dowdy said the man then got back into the van and drove away. Dowdy described the vehicle as a Chevy Astro van with a broken taillight.
Bruce Gooth: 24:53 I’ll never forget this. Chief Moose, 10 minutes in knew what we were trying to get everybody settled in and he waved me over and he sat down and he goes, “You are absolutely nuts for having this meeting and putting out all you’re going to put out. You know as much as everybody is leaking, all this stuff is going to get out that there’s a witness.” And I said, “Well you know that’s just the way it is because I’m not holding back information from other homicide detectives. And you know, we’ll take our lumps if it leaks, it leaks and we’ll deal with it.” But I’ll never forget him shaking his head like “you’re crazy.” But we made up our mind. We were going to share whatever we had with surely the homicide detectives that we were dealing with and they had helped us in the past with other cases. So they were people I could trust.
Tony Harris: 25:43 This incident was especially puzzling to investigators. Had the sniper specifically targeted an FBI agent? If so, was this shooting some sort of message sent to law enforcement that not even they were safe? Up to this point, there had been nothing to suggest that these attacks were anything but random, but now investigators were unsure. On top of all this, the witness, Matthew Dowdy, described the suspect as an olive skinned man with an AK. This reinforced the notion that the snipers were potentially terrorists from the Middle East, but profilers had determined by this point that that was incredibly unlikely. So what was going on here?
Dave Statter: 26:27 My thought process was maybe different than some others. What’s going through my mind, not what I’m reporting, but what I’m thinking clearly at that time is that this is some sort of international terrorism. Because what I’m quickly realizing is that with a few bullets and a vehicle, somebody is shutting down commerce in the area, panicking hordes of people in and around the nation’s Capitol. And I’m thinking here we are a year after 9/11, this is likely some sort of international terrorism. That’s just a gut I had from watching it.
Dave Statter: 26:59 You know, if you live in Israel or a place where there’s lots of bombings, and car bombs, and bombs on buses and in restaurants, you’ll live a certain way and you’re used to it. We’re not used to that in the Washington area where there’s a lot of random shootings where people are just shot doing their routine business. So it’s just going through my mind. What an unusual way to shut us down and to really impact us?
Tony Harris: 27:24 Channel nine reporter Dave Statter kept up with the Linda Franklin story for the next few days, hoping that the witness identification might lead to a break in the case.
Dave Statter: 27:34 The next morning they continued doing the lookouts for the white van. More stopping of white vans, white box trucks, but they find out soon that the information they got was bad.
Josh white: 27:45 In suburban Virginia today where the killer last struck a frantic search for clues touched off by a phony witnesses confession last night, about his story that he’d seen the killer, his van, his gun was all a lie. And task force leader Chief Charles Moose was especially worried about that.
Chief Moose: 28:02 Maybe we didn’t hear from some people because they saw that picture and they said the person I was thinking about doesn’t have one of those.
Dave Statter: 28:11 You can see in the back of my video, a gentleman in the video that I didn’t realize who he was until later. This guy named Matthew Dowdy, he was 37 years old at the time. And Matthew Dowdy said he witnessed the shooting of Linda Franklin at the Home Depot. And what he said was a white box truck sped from the scene. Police investigated further Matthew Dowdy’s claim and what they determined was that Matthew Dowdy, thanks to security camera video they could tell was still inside the store when Linda Franklin was shot. He was not outside the store in the parking lot area where this occurred in the covered parking area. And they quickly discounted his information. Matthew Dowdy, they also found out had a long criminal record.
Dave Statter: 28:51 He like others had heard of the white box truck in the news. It was prominently out there and thought he would interject himself in the case. Why he did it? I don’t know, other than I’m sure he didn’t have a lot of love for police because he had a long criminal record and actually had escaped from jail or prison many years earlier on another charge.
Dave Statter: 29:11 Not too long after the shooting of Linda Franklin, the police chief of Fairfax County, Tom Manger held a press conference and said they had the wrong information. Made it very clear that they were charging this person who gave him the wrong information, apologized for letting the public in on this information, and it was a bit of a setback for this case.
Dave Statter: 29:32 An interesting note about Matthew Dowdy. About two years later and a mile and a half away, he murdered and raped a woman at a motel in the city of Falls Church, Virginia and was arrested and convicted for that murder. So his criminal activity continued after providing bogus information to police at the Home Depot shooting.
Tony Harris: 29:52 Following this incident, journalists and police alike began to doubt earlier witness accounts. What if the first description of a white box truck was false and police were on a wild goose chase? Some experts came forward with ideas.
Gary Wells: 30:08 At the time of the DC sniper case, I was following the events just as anyone else was. I tended to look at them a little bit differently, I think, because I’ve been doing this research. My name is Gary Wells. I’m a professor of psychology at Iowa State University and my main line of study is the reliability of eyewitnesses. So I’m looking at it differently and I’m looking for what are witnesses going to be able to tell.
Gary Wells: 30:45 Really, people process a lot less information than we think. When they scan in their environment, they’re really only taking in a very small fraction of information. They get this sense that they’re seeing everything when in fact they’re seeing very little and so therefore a lot doesn’t get stored. Moreover, we now know that memory changes some over time. You take in new information and you kind of stick it in with what you remembered and now you’ve got a new memory.
Gary Wells: 31:18 So I guess my biggest interest and concern was how the investigators of the DC sniper shootings were proceeding here. And I was particularly concerned about this relatively early report about a white truck or a white van. The reason I was concerned about that was because I thought it was premature. I didn’t think that law enforcement, under the circumstances, should have given much credibility to that report. Somehow the investigators decided to release that information and in effect, sort of say, we’re looking for a white van. I think that was a huge mistake.
Gary Wells: 32:03 There’s two reasons to really be concerned about that. One is that you’re creating a situation in which it’s very difficult for law enforcement to win this game. If it was a white van, then you can pretty much guarantee that this person’s going to switch vehicles because they’re, “Oh, they’re onto the white van. We can’t use that.” If on the other hand, it wasn’t the white van, that gives a lot of cover, a lot of comfort to the shooters because it’s sort of like, “They have no idea what they’re looking at.” Right? So you just gave them permission to continue with their standard MO because everybody’s looking for a white van.
Gary Wells: 32:50 From a witness perspective, it’s a bit particularly bad thing to do because it turns out I did a little bit of homework at the time to find out that white vans are pretty close to the most common vehicle on the road in urban environments. And the reason they are is because there’s so often used a service vehicles. So you know those appliance repair man, and those roofers, and those plumbers, and all these companies are driving all over the place in white vans. So what happens then is as soon as you discover there’s been a shooting and you look around, you’ll always see a white van.
Gary Wells: 33:34 So of course the next shooting white van. Next shooting, somebody reports white van. Of course somebody’s always going to report a white van in any urban setting. You’re taking away their opportunity to see anything other than a white van at that point. And everybody knew to be looking for that. I think that was a pretty bad mistake.
Tony Harris: 33:55 But if not a white van or white box truck, than what? Had police seen any other vehicles at the crime scenes?
Greg Geiss: 34:05 You know, I’ll never understand that. How did they rule out all other vehicles? And they being policed as departments, FBI, officials, everyone.
Tony Harris: 34:15 This is Greg Geiss, a photographer and videographer for channel nine news. On October 3rd, the second day of the shootings, Greg was covering the attacks.
Greg Geiss: 34:26 I was with reporter Gary Reels. We’re driving southbound on Connecticut Avenue. I kept the fire and EMS dispatch channels locked on several different radios, and what will stick with me forever are two different police officers in two different cars key their mic and say, “You know, I see this a dark colored, a crownvic or a capri. Sort of an old police looking vehicle driving with no lights on heading North.” And I turned to the right and said to reporter Gary Reels, “I wonder if the sniper’s driving a war wagon or a hoop-d.” A war wagon being a term used for old cars that are sometimes used in gang like violence by some of what, at the time, were called crews in the Washington area. And a hoop-d being just an old junk car that are often used sometimes by folks who’ve stolen a car for a joy ride or somebody who’s using a stolen vehicle to commit a crime.
Greg Geiss: 35:29 I left that evening with the feeling that in some way a dark, older model, police style sedan may have been involved in these crimes. The powers that be arrived at the fact that they’re looking for a white box truck. I never bought into that. Everything I heard indicated a dark, old model, sedan. And we would engage in conversation, different officers and myself, and I would relay that story about the older vehicles that I heard from metropolitan police in Washington. And the cops were perplexed that they never got that information. They never heard the nuance of the cops keying their mic, and if you will, flashing a lookout for what they viewed were suspicious vehicles leaving a scene.
Tony Harris: 36:22 In a press conference, Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose, conceited, maybe the white box truck identification was a misfire.
Chief Moose: 36:33 It’s not beyond any reality that the person or people involved in this would have numerous vehicles that they could be using.
Tony Harris: 36:41 If law enforcement had missed the drop on other suspect vehicles, what else could they have missed? Little that they know the shooters had actually been trying to contact them for the past week. The day after the Linda Franklin shooting the police in Rockville, Maryland, got a phone call from the snipers.
Sniper: 37:01 Hello. We are the people that are causing the killings in your area. Look on the tarot card. It says, “Call me God.” Do not release to the press.
Tony Harris: 37:12 Next time on Monster DC Sniper.
Speaker 31: 37:16 The first time that this area so far South has been brought into what seems to be another case of a serial sniper attack.
Speaker 32: 37:24 When I arrived, our victim was laying in the parking lot and his wife was sitting on the sidewalk, and had her husband’s head in her lap.
Speaker 33: 37:33 To the rear of where the shell casing was found. It was some type of message that was attached to a tree.
Speaker 34: 37:39 Do not release to the press. Five red stars. You have our terms. They are non negotiable.
Speaker 35: 37:46 No self-respecting terrorist is going to do that, number one. Number two, we finally get a demand.
Speaker 36: 37:53 At that point, the sniper task force took this information and followed it up and the pieces began to fall into place.
Speaker 1: 38:05 Monster DC Sniper is a 15 episode podcast hosted by Tony Harris and produced by iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. Matt Frederick and Alex Williams are executive producers on behalf of iHeartRadio, alongside producers, Trevor Young, Ben Kebrick and Josh Thane. Payne Lindsey and Donald Albright, our executive producers on behalf of Tenderfoot TV. Alongside producers, Meredith Stedman and Christina Dana. Original music is by Makeup and Vanity Set.
Speaker 1: 38:35 If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first two seasons, Atlanta Monster and Monster, the Zodiac Killer. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com or you can call us at (833) 285-6667. Thanks for listening.