9 • THE DESCENT

The fates of John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are now intertwined. We trace the dark path they took that lead to the first murder.

Transcript

Matt Frederick:

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.

Tony Harris:

December 2000, the island of Antigua. 15 year old Lee Boyd Malvo lay alone in bed in a dark shack. He shivered, sick with rheumatic fever. He needed medicine, but didn’t know how to get it. He was all alone in a foreign country with no family and few friends. There was a knock at the door. A man came in. It was John Muhammad, the American, the man who had smuggled Lee’s mother into the United States. John had just come by to check on the boy who he knew was living alone, but when he saw Lee’s dire state, John brought him to the doctor. Lee got an antibiotic shot, and John stayed with him while he recovered.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

Muhammad, he stayed with me the entire time and nursed me back to health. And I told him my entire life story. My parents, my situation, from where I bounced around, what I felt. I told him everything. I left nothing out because I trusted this guy. He gave me his time. It’s that simple. He was one of the only people who listened. I leaned on him, I trusted him. I did not trust my mom. I didn’t trust anyone else, but I trusted him.

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Tony Harris:

Before long, Lee asked John if he could live with him. John agreed, and Lee moved in with him and his children.

Jonathon Mack:

He was so desperate to have a father figure. My name is Dr. Jonathan Harold Mack. I am a clinical neuropsychologist. Very quickly, Malvo starts calling Muhammad “dad”.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

He said everything that you’ve been taught from your religion, your morals, your education, you’ve basically been brainwashed. And he explained to me a mixture of his world view and relation to Islam. He twisted a lot of things.

Jonathon Mack:

It certainly wasn’t standard religion. He would have him listen to tapes even when he was falling asleep.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

Teaching me all sorts of stuff. Thousands of hours over and over again.

Jonathon Mack:

Giving him subliminal suggestions that there was essentially a war going on between blacks and whites.

Theme Song:

There’s a ruthless person on the loose.

Speaker 6:

What unnerves the community the most is the randomness of the murders. Ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Speaker 7:

They killed the five people in one day, and then went on the rampage for the next month.

Speaker 8:

It is quite a mystery. The police say they have never had a crime quite like this.

Speaker 9:

Be careful. These guys are using weapons that are going to go right straight through our bulletproof vests.

Speaker 10:

There’s a white van that just went by with two guys in it.

Tony Harris:

From iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV, this is Monster: DC Sniper.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

Very quickly when I met Muhammad, I assimilated everything about him.

Tony Harris:

At the beginning of 2001, after Lee had moved in with John in Antigua, friends and teachers remember seeing Lee change. His good grades began to slip. He started bringing a Quran to his Christian high school and arguing with other students about religion, and Lee also started talking a lot about guns.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

I just became [inaudible 00:03:39]. It was something I’m used to doing. I kept bouncing around from home to home, place to place, and I became what I call a “changeling”. Whoever I’m around, whoever the authority is, I change to suit that person.

Jonathon Mack:

The attachment to a mother or a father is really core to developing a stable, mentally healthy adult.

Tony Harris:

Dr. Jonathan Mack is a neuropsychologist and co-author of the book, “The Making of Lee Boyd Malvo.” Mack studied Lee’s life extensively. He thinks Lee’s readiness to trust John was due to an attachment disorder, a disorder in how kids connect with adults.

Jonathon Mack:

I felt that Malvo met the criteria for disinhibited social engagement disorder.

Tony Harris:

With disinhibited social engagement disorder, kids are so desperate for a caregiver that they are overly trusting of strangers. They will latch onto any authority figure they can, ignoring signs that the adult might not have their best interest at heart.

Jonathon Mack:

If you look at Malvo’s history, his father in the first years of his life was in his life, out of his life. His mother was also in and out, and had a habit of shipping off. And just as soon as he was developing an attachment to the new people, he was moved somewhere else. So, the fact that Malvo had so many broken attachments from so many of the people that he lived with, he had this social disengagement disorder, and was basically ready to attach onto anyone.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

I went to him because I felt alone in this world. I assimilated everything about him, from his mannerisms and religion. I lost my accent. I just became someone different. Once he gained my trust, I was a lost cause.

Tony Harris:

Throughout early 2001, John continued to forge documents and helped smuggle people into the United States. On April 14th, John was detained at Miami International Airport. He’d flown there from Antigua alongside two Jamaican women. The women were caught presenting forged documents to Customs agents, and the agents suspected John was helping the two women enter the United States illegally.

Tony Harris:

They couldn’t prove it, so they had to release John. But they contacted Antiguan authorities and relayed their suspicions. Lee says that John called him in a panic. John told Lee to hide the kids and the cash that he kept in the house. Lee took the children to John’s girlfriend’s place, but when he went back to get the money, it had already been seized by Antiguan authorities. Lee says John lost at least $160,000.00. Because of the raid, John feared he would be arrested if he returned to Antiqua. So, he decided to lay low in the US.

Tony Harris:

John instructed Lee, who was just 16 years old himself, to watch over his kids. John also asked Lee to help out with the business, by delivering fake birth certificates to clients. Lee dropped out of school to help. John then traveled back to Washington state, and on April 23rd, he legally changed his name from John Williams to John Muhammad. Perhaps, to try to avoid raising any red flags when he returned to Antigua.

Judge 1:

Okay, Mr. Williams, you’re petitioning to have your name changed?

John Muhammad:

Yes, ma’am.

Judge 1:

What is your current legal name?

John Muhammad:

My current legal name is John Allan Boyd.

Judge 1:

Okay. What is the new name by which you wish to be known?

John Muhammad:

John Allan Muhammad.

Judge 1:

Why do you desire to be known by this new name?

John Muhammad:

For a religion purpose.

Judge 1:

Are you changing your name for any other reason?

John Muhammad:

No, ma’am.

Judge 1:

Are you changing your name to defraud or mislead any person or creditor?

John Muhammad:

No, ma’am.

Judge 1:

Are you involved in any legal proceeding other than this name change?

John Muhammad:

No, ma’am.

Judge 1:

Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

John Muhammad:

No, ma’am.

Judge 1:

Are you under supervision of any probation department that requires you to report a change of address?

John Muhammad:

No, ma’am.

Judge 1:

I’ll go ahead and grant your name change then.

John Muhammad:

Thank you.

Tony Harris:

While in Washington state, John also visited Earl Dancey.

Earl Dancey:

I met John when I used to work for Horizon Airlines. I was actually interested in a printer that I saw at a store. This printer was an Alps MD5000 sort of printer. I had a big reputation during the early 90s of making counterfeit money. It had to use film as ink, so it was a really expensive printer, so I couldn’t afford it in time. This coworker of mine knew a friend that could get it, so I met John then.

Earl Dancey:

John was really flashy. He had nice suits. He’d come in different cars all the time: a Jaguar, a Diamante. He said, “I can get the printer for you, if you can help me out.” He wanted to know if I could alter some documents, because for a hobby I do graphic designs. Okay, so [inaudible 00:08:52] deal. So, John got it for me. I don’t know how he got it. He asked me to scan a birth certificate with his name on it. He asked me if could erase the name that was on the birth certificate.

Earl Dancey:

So, I used a simple program on the computer to erase the name. He asked me could I type another name in there. Yeah, sure. So, he wanted me to type, I’m guessing, it could have been Lee. This is where I realized that he was actually involved in the smuggling of people across the border. He was charging $1,000.00 a head, I think. Maybe more.

Tony Harris:

On May 20, 2001, John traveled back to Antigua with his new name and altered documents in hand.

Anthony Meoli:

When John returned to the island, the government had already seized over $160,000.00. But John did not scold Lee.

Tony Harris:

This is criminologist and co-author of Lee Boyd Malvo’s autobiography, Anthony Meoli.

Anthony Meoli:

When he got back, John pulled him tight, hugged him, and said, “Great job, son.” It was that very moment that really solidifies their relationship. Lee said, “From that moment on, I was willing to do anything for that man.”

Tony Harris:

A week and a half later on May 31st, John returned to the United States with his three children and Lee Boyd Malvo. They traveled through Puerto Rico to Fort Myers, Florida, where Lee’s mother was living and working at a Red Lobster restaurant. Lee says that John was planning on setting up a counterfeiting operation with friends from the Caribbean. John wanted Lee to watch over the kids while he traveled to get the equipment they needed to print fake currency.

Tony Harris:

According to Lee’s diary, John asked Lee’s mother if the boy could continue staying with him, but she was having none of it. Una thought John was a bad influence on her son. Lee remembers his mother saying, “He is my child. What I eat, he eats. If he cannot be satisfied with that, that greed will kill him.” She then looked at Lee and said, “You met this man no more than six months ago, and you’ve completely forgotten where you come from.” Reluctantly, John left Lee with Una and disappeared again with his kids.

Tony Harris:

Back in Washington state, Mildred Muhammad was still searching for her children. It had been 15 months since she had seen or spoken to them. Following her hospitalization, Mildred had moved into a women’s shelter, where her friend and former accountant, Isa Nichols volunteered. Mildred took a paralegal course to learn about what legal option she had to get her children back. She divorced John in his absence, and legally gained full custody of the children.

Tony Harris:

The problem was, no one knew where they were. So, she also filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus.

Mildred Muhammad:

Which meant that anywhere they found my children, they needed to pick them up and bring them back to me. So, I had all of my paperwork notarized, and my sister calls and says, “Mama’s sick. Can you come to Maryland?” I have not found my children, but I can wait over there.

Tony Harris:

Mildred moved to the town of Clinton in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Three more months passed without any sign of the children. It was now August 2001, and the shelter where Mildred had been staying got a call. Her friend, Isa Nichols, was volunteering there when it happened.

Isa Nichols:

We get a call and it is the Department of Social Health Services in Bellingham, Washington. They’re calling follow up an Application for Support that John had completed with his three kids. But what John didn’t know, the three kids were already in the system.

Tony Harris:

John Muhammad had returned to Washington state with his children, and tried to register them for welfare but authorities suspected him of committing welfare fraud, so they looked up the children’s previously listed contact information and tried calling Mildred at the shelter.

Mildred Muhammad:

I get a call from the executive director of the shelter I was in. She said, “Milly, I think we found your children. You need to fax all of your paperwork to Detective McCarthy.” So, I did that. I followed up with a phone call. I said, “Did you get my paperwork?” He said, “Yes, ma’am I did. But, Ms. Muhammad, do you know where we are?” I said, “You’re in Bellingham, Washington.” He said, “Correct. But, we’re on the border of Canada. If he gets across the border with your children, there will be nothing we can do.”

Mildred Muhammad:

I said, “I appreciate that information, but if you could just go get my children I would appreciate that too.” August 31st, 4:35 PM, he called and he said, “Ms. Muhammad, we got your children.” I screamed, and my brother-in-law came downstairs, “What’s going on?” I said, “They found my children. Can you please talk to him?” I’m running up and down the stairs, running outside and in. He said, “Mild, do you want to talk to them?” I stopped. I hadn’t had their voices in 18 months.

Mildred Muhammad:

So, the first person I talked to is Taalibah. She says, “Hi, mommy.” I said, “Hey honey, how you doing?” She said, “I’m good. Do you want to talk to my sister?” I said, “Yes, let me talk to your sister.” She said, “Hi, mommy.” I say, “Hey honey.” She said, “Guess what?” I said, “What, honey?” “I’m nine years old, and you missed two birthdays.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.” She said, “Okay, mommy. But John doesn’t want to talk to you because he’s angry.” I said, “Okay, that’s fine.”

Mildred Muhammad:

So, Detective McCarthy gets back on the phone and he said, “Ms. Muhammad, we need for you to come back to Tacoma for an emergency custody hearing.”

Isa Nichols:

Mildred flies out the next day and she calls me up that next morning. She says, “Will you go with me to the courthouse?” I said, “Sure.” I didn’t think anything about it. 18 months have gone by. I want to see the kids.

Mildred Muhammad:

Isa went with me to court. We’re standing in the hallway, and I said, “Oh my God, there’s John.”

Isa Nichols:

Mildred looks at John. John stares at Mildred. Mildred starts running and screaming. She’s just scared. She hasn’t seen John in 18 months. The sheriff’s department is in the courthouse, and they come out and they get her. They put us in a room somewhere until the court case.

Mildred Muhammad:

So, we walk in the courtroom and as soon as I get in the door, I see John on the back row to the right side. I froze. I just remember feeling that I was so scared, but he was just sitting there just all nonchalant. Isa said, “Mildred, just breathe.” “Breathe? What do you mean just breathe? Do you know how fast this man can move?” She said, “Mildred, we just have to breathe.”

Isa Nichols:

So, we’re calming her down. She’s holding my hand. We’re sitting by her attorney. They’re going over the paperwork, and the judge hits the gavel.

Judge 2:

Good morning, please be seated. This is in re: the marriage of Mildred Denise Williams and John Allen Williams. Counsel?

Heather Smith:

Your Honor, Heather Smith on behalf of the Petitioner, Mrs. Mildred Williams. She is present in the court.

Judge 2:

Let me swear both parties in before I begin. Sir, if you’d raise your right hand. Ma’am? Do you both solemnly swear and affirm that any testimony you’re about to provide will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Mildred Muhammad:

Yes, sir.

John Muhammad:

Yes, sir.

Judge 2:

Sir, what is your name?

John Muhammad:

Sir, my legal name is John Allen Muhammad.

Judge 2:

Ma’am, what is your name?

Mildred Muhammad:

Mildred Muhammad, but they said that we needed to use-

Heather Smith:

Yeah.

Mildred Muhammad:

The names that we were married under. That’s why it’s under Williams.

Judge 2:

Counsel, do you have, I believe, a return on a Writ of Habeas Corpus?

Heather Smith:

I do have a Writ. Commissioner Dickey issued it back in June 2000.

Judge 2:

And this is first contact with these children since that time?

Heather Smith:

Yes, it is, Your Honor. The Divorce Decree and Parenting Plans were entered in October 2000, after the Writ.

Judge 2:

And that final Parenting Plan gives who custody of the children?

Heather Smith:

The mother.

Judge 2:

All three children?

Heather Smith:

Yes.

John Muhammad:

Your Honor, can I say something?

Judge 2:

Just a moment, sir.

John Muhammad:

Okay.

Judge 2:

The concern I have right now, is I don’t know who’s got these children and where they’re at.

Heather Smith:

In speaking with Deputy Wright this morning, all they would need was an Order releasing the children from protective custody to the mother’s custody.

Judge 2:

Sir, what would like to say?

John Muhammad:

Your Honor, can you please tell me what’s going on?

Judge 2:

There is a Parenting Plan that was entered by the court on October 6, 2000, last year.

John Muhammad:

I was not aware of this.

Judge 2:

There was an Order of default taken against you because you did not respond to the Divorce Summons that was published against you. As part of that, the mother obtained on her own without the help of an attorney, a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which allows her to have the physical possession of the children.

John Muhammad:

Sir, the children was never missing.

Judge 2:

Their whereabouts were never known by mother. That’s why the court apparently issued the Writ. You never responded to the published Summons for Divorce.

John Muhammad:

Are you telling me the reason why I don’t have my children and won’t be able to keep my children, is because I don’t have the proper paperwork yet?

Judge 2:

No, I’m saying that you’ve been divorced. The court has entered Orders that mother has sole residential placement, care and custody of the children. You’ve got no visitation at present without further court order.

John Muhammad:

So, as I understand it, I am not able to see my children?

Judge 2:

By virtue of the prior court order. Not today’s court order. If you believe that the allegations are not valid, you should bring that to the court’s attention all right? If you do not have copies of the court orders, I suggest that, sir, you ask for copies of those documents so you can look at them and reflect on what you’d like to do next.

Heather Smith:

Thank you.

Judge 2:

Thank you.

Isa Nichols:

John finds all of that information out in the court room that day, that he is divorced from Mildred and she has sole custody of the children. He was so angry. He flipped. It was that look that I won’t never forget.

Mildred Muhammad:

John leaves the court room. We come out. We’re standing against the wall, and all of a sudden I feel a presence. I turn and it’s John. I take off down the hallway. My shoes go everywhere.

Isa Nichols:

Mildred takes off sprinting down the corridor. I look up and John passes by me heading towards Mildred. He was just so focused. He just had this dead stare. He was so angry.

Mildred Muhammad:

I looked back. John puts his hand on a courtroom door, looks at me and says, “Gotcha.”

Isa Nichols:

He turned around and he walked back the other direction. I was just up against the wall hoping he wouldn’t see me.

Mildred Muhammad:

My attorney said, “Oh, hell no. We got to get out of here.”

Isa Nichols:

I’m scared now. I’m letting my daughter know lock the doors. Don’t answer for anybody. If he comes to the door… Because I figured he would probably come there looking.

Mildred Muhammad:

So we take the stairs to go down to the police station, and we explained to them what happened, and can we please go out of their back door. They say, “No. You need to go out the front door just like everybody else.”

Mildred Muhammad:

John was no joke. I believed everything he said to me. He was going to kill me. It was going to be a head shot, and he was going to bury me where nobody would be able to find me. I was terrified. The terror came because nobody believed me. They thought I was being “dramatic”. They were actually going to let me die. And then what were they going to say? “Oh, she was a good ole’ girl. She loved her children. We did not see that coming.” Yes, you did.

Mildred Muhammad:

When I hear people say that, “Oh, I didn’t see that.” Yes, you did. Victims always give signs. They always tell somebody. So, we walk out of the court in like a triangle, where everybody’s watching each other’s back. We get to the car. I slouch down in the car so no one could see that I was in the car. We go over to the Department of Health and Human Resources, because that’s where my children were. The first person I see is my son. He’s tall, and he’s skinny. He’s trying to wear an Afro, but it’s in a dome. You know?

Mildred Muhammad:

I walk up to him, and he’s got his pants on his butt, sagging. I said, “Oh, gee whiz.” I should have said, “Honey, I’m so glad to see you,” but I’m pulling up his pants saying, “Is this going to be an issue?” He starts laughing. Then I hear my daughters, “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” They’re coming down, and I’m just so overwhelmed. I’m crying and wiping my eyes. “I can’t see you. I can’t see you.” And Selena said, “Mommy?” I said, “Yes, honey?” “Daddy said he was looking for you, but he couldn’t find you.”

Mildred Muhammad:

I said, “Really? I was trying to find you, but he changed your names.” “So, you were looking for us?” “Absolutely.” “Mommy, I just wanted to let you know that God answered my prayer because I was praying, and praying, and praying for him to send you back to me. And you’re finally here.” I said, “Honey, no one will ever take you away from me again, okay?” “Okay.”

Mildred Muhammad:

So we get in the car and we drive over to the airport. Security picked us up from the car, brought us to their security office. Once the pilot was ready to go, security took us to the plane. We landed at BWI on September 5, 2001.

Josh White:

Did you speak to John again?

Mildred Muhammad:

No. Why would I? No, for real, why would I?

Josh White:

Did he ever try to reach out to you?

Mildred Muhammad:

He didn’t know where I was. I was in hiding.

Josh White:

So the last thing you remember hearing from John was, “Gotcha.”

Mildred Muhammad:

Yes.

Jay Mills:

One story is that John is just a psychotic killer. I guess that’s plausible. But the other story is that he melted down under the pressure of not being ever able to either see his kids, or even get into court to talk about seeing his kids.

Tony Harris:

This is Jay Mills, a divorce attorney who took on John’s case.

Jay Mills:

At the court hearing, the kids were turned over to Mildred. The judge did that on a temporary basis, and told John Muhammad that he should come back and set up a hearing to discuss the kids further. So, it was after that hearing where he lost the kids that he came to see me.

Tony Harris:

Mills didn’t know much about John’s background. He thought John was just going through a rough divorce. Mills actually felt sorry for John, so he took on the case pro bono.

Jay Mills:

He was a pretty normal routine sort of person, fairly focused. He wasn’t very happy about how things had turned out in court, but he understood when he got on. The judge wasn’t permanently depriving him of contact with the kids. The judge wanted him to set up a hearing to discuss what sort of a Parenting Plan would be appropriate, and that’s very routine. I did set up a hearing, which would require Mildred to show up in court and then talk about the kids. But we never had a court hearing because we could never find Mildred. Mildred vanished with the kids.

Jay Mills:

After I had set up a couple of the hearings without being able to serve Mildred with papers, I went to him and said, “Look, we’ll have to find Mildred, because I can set up hearings all day, but what difference does it make if we can never locate Mildred?” So, he set off to do that.

Jay Mills:

I have given this story to other people, and sometimes the blow back is that I am trying to justify what John did, or that I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I mean, clearly the guy is a bad person with very, very severe problems. I wouldn’t try to justify that, but there’s more to this story. These preliminary decisions get made, and people freak out about them because you’re dealing with people’s real personal lives and their intimate relationships with kids. People who go through the process get really disturbed by that.

Jay Mills:

I’ve been involved in a number of cases where the end result is shootings. Tacoma was fairly famous for an incident where the Chief of Police shot his soon-to-be ex-wife and killed her. That was the Chief of Police, right? So, that guy must have had some degree of normal personality, but then he lost it and he melted down. It’s not uncommon for these things to result in a lot of violence.

Jay Mills:

One way to hopefully avoid that, if it’s possible, is to have people air their grievances in court. Win or lose, they’ve at least been able tell their story. Now I’m not saying that that should require Mildred to come stand with John by her side, but if John Muhammad’s out there, there was some process that could have played out where everybody could have had their day in court, and he never did. I try to make clear that I think what he did was horrific, and I think it’s just evil stuff.

Jay Mills:

The kind of background story to it that should be aired is that I think there were ways that the system failed to diffuse that kind of problem. Instead, it just sort of threw gasoline on a fire. If we do not address the systemic failures that occurred in this case, I worry that there are other people like that wandering the streets. People are going to die if this problem isn’t addressed in a better way.

Tony Harris:

Just a week after John lost the kids, tragedy struck.

News Clip:

Apparently, a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center here in New York City. It happened just a few moments ago.

Jay Mills:

I had been meeting with John in my office when the World Trade Center was burning to the ground. He had no interest in any of the politics. He wanted to see his kids.

Tony Harris:

John would later say that losing his kids was his own person 9/11. It was surely a low point in his life. He’d lost his money in the raid in Antigua. He was living in a homeless shelter. And now, he’d lost his children. John’s friend, Robert Holmes, the same friend who reported John to the FBI says, “John was devastated.” Holmes told Vanity Fair in 2004, “I think that after his kids got taken away, John had a nervous breakdown. I’m not a professor or a doctor, but John changed in a million subtle ways. He’d spend all day some days just crying. All he could think of was getting his kids back.”

Tony Harris:

Back in Fort Myers, Florida, Lee Boyd Malvo was also struggling. He was trying to adjust to yet another new living situation. Lee had enrolled as a junior at Cypress Lake High School. He was getting good grades in his classes, but he was struggling to navigate the American system. Lee wanted to go to college and one day become an airline pilot, but he didn’t have the necessary documentation to sign up for the SATs. So, he turned to John for help.

Tony Harris:

Una thought that John had been a bad influence on her son, and had forbidden Lee from talking to him. But on weeknights, while Una worked at Red Lobster, John would secretly call.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

I was unable to distinguish between Muhammad, the father I had wanted, and Muhammad the nervous wreck that was just falling to pieces.

Tony Harris:

John told Lee he could get him into college, but John wanted something in return, and he needed Lee to join him in Washington. John wired Lee money for a Greyhound ticket. Lee says that sometime late in 2001, after his mother fell asleep, he packed up his clothes, a tennis racket, and a portable CD player. He snuck out of the house at 4:30 AM and got on a bus headed northwest.

Tony Harris:

Lee arrived in Bellingham, Washington a week later.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

When I first arrived in Bellingham, he told me that he is searching for the children. He said, “In order to get the children, we’re going to have to do whatever it takes.” I looked at him as my family, and they as my siblings. So I’m like, “Okay, we’re going to do whatever it takes.” I didn’t understand what that meant at the time. I really didn’t.

Tony Harris:

In Bellingham, John introduced Lee to everyone as his son. Lee stayed with John at the homeless shelter, and soon enrolled at Bellingham High School. But once school was out for the day, Lee says John was in charge of his education.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

Day in, day out, he controlled what I read, what I did, what I ate, when I slept. Every single aspect, from diet, studies, my activities, every single aspect and facet of my life. And he didn’t give me a time to rest. He understood exactly how to motivate me by giving approval or denying approval. He was very subtle. He wasn’t violent at all. It’s like what a pimp does to a woman. That’s the best description I can offer.

Tony Harris:

Sometimes, they’d leave the homeless shelter in Bellingham and stay with John’s friends in Tacoma. One friend they would often visit was Earl Dancey, the friend you heard from earlier who Photoshopped a birth certificate for John.

Earl Dancey:

John didn’t dress up as much anymore. He wasn’t flashy anymore. He had come out here with a white truck. One time, he popped in my door and had Lee with him. He said, “Hey Earl, this is my son, Lee.” “Oh, how you doing?” Blah, blah, blah. [inaudible 00:33:01]. He turned out to be a nice kid after a while.

Tony Harris:

At Dancey’s Lee says they would play video games and watch movies. They’d watch some movies over and over. One favorite was “The Matrix”. Another was Carlos Hathcock, “Marine Sniper”. It was a sort of instructional video with advice for snipers.

Carlos Hathcock:

Continue your training. You cannot do it too much. You cannot do it too much. So, do it as much as you can. Put all your mind and body into it. Train, train, train.

Tony Harris:

And John and Earl began giving Lee shooting lessons as well.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

He had a friend, Earl. He just said, “I need for you to go to the range and just tell Earl to teach me how to shoot.” It’s amazing how quickly I would pick up on these things.

Earl Dancey:

We started shooting. I couldn’t go as often as he could because I had to work. He would say, “I’m going to take your gun to the range.” I’d say, “Okay.” I had a [inaudible 00:33:55] .45. I had a Smith & Wesson .44 caliper. I had an AK 47. I had a Winchester 270. And I had a Remington 700 model 308 series [inaudible 00:34:09].” And [inaudible 00:34:11].

Tony Harris:

Back in Florida, Lee’s mom, Una James, had been searching for Lee since he’d left. Una paged through her caller ID and found a strange number. It was for a homeless shelter in Washington state, and she had a feeling that Lee might be staying there with John. So for weeks, she called the number but could never get through to either of them.

Tony Harris:

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Una said that she kept calling and one day, finally, she heard John’s voice on the other end. She demanded that John send Lee back to her in Florida. She remembers John saying, “I have a job to do, and I can’t rely on some coke head to do it.” Terrified of what that meant, Una got on a Greyhound bus and headed for Washington state. When Una arrived, she confronted John at the homeless shelter, and someone called the cops.

Tony Harris:

When the cops arrived, they reunited Lee and Una. But the cops suspected they were both undocumented immigrants, and reported them to Border Patrol. They were arrested and fingerprinted. These were the fingerprints and arrest report that would later supply authorities with the names Lee Boyd Malvo and John Muhammad. Following the arrest, Una and Lee were separated and detained. Then, on January 23rd both were released into an INS safe house to await a deportation hearing.

Tony Harris:

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Una said that Lee told her, “Mom, we are being followed, and if I don’t go they’ll kill you.” Two days later, Lee climbed out of a bathroom window and ran off. Lee ran back to John. Now, Lee’s grooming began in earnest. Lee says he and John would go shooting for hours a day.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

He’d stand behind me. He would talk me through the process. He would explain to me all the things that I hated about myself, and why this has to die.

Tony Harris:

Lee Boyd Malvo says John told him to visualize his own face onto the targets to imagine that with each shot, he was destroying his own weakness.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

He had me kill myself over and over, and over, and over. He told me, “The old person has to die. Lee Malvo has to die because Lee Malvo cannot do this.”

Tony Harris:

Lee says they would go to nearby woods and pretend they were hunting each other with sniper rifles to practice stealth and camouflage techniques.

Tony Harris:

Lee says that on one of those outings when it was snowing, John stripped off Lee’s shirt and chained him to a tree. John left him there for hours and told him it was an exercise to mentally harden him.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

It’s like a woman messing with an abusive relationship. Someone looking from the outside said, “Man, there were multiple opportunities. Why couldn’t she leave? Why did she stay for 20 years?” It’s not that simple. The body is just a vessel. Once someone has you emotionally, they have your mind.

Tony Harris:

Lee Boyd Malvo’s training was almost over. Soon, John would give him his first real mission.

Tony Harris:

Not too far away in Tacoma, Isa Nichols had been keeping in touch with Mildred Muhammad.

Isa Nichols:

We were having different conversations probably maybe once or twice a month as she begins to re-establish her life after 18 months without her children.

Tony Harris:

Isa was glad all the drama with John seemed to be over, and that the kids were back with their mom.

Isa Nichols:

My life was so intertwined with hers in terms of her children, and keeping her alive, and keeping her safe. Now, I’m faced with where I left off in my life.

Tony Harris:

Isa had her own struggles at home. Her niece, Keenya Cook had just gotten out of an abusive relationship.

Isa Nichols:

Before, they had fought, but they had a baby now. Now she’s scared for the baby and she’d decided to leave. I said, “Yes, I’ll take her home. She can come with me.” So, now I have her, her three month old child, my teenage daughter whose now 14, and my husband. It’s working. I’m very proud of her. She’s enrolling in school. She had gotten a job and got up to a supervisory position. The baby’s thriving, and Keenya’s saving money. She was helping me around the house.

Isa Nichols:

We would go shopping together and different things of that nature. One day, February 16, 2002, we had went grocery shopping and I was going to make some chicken tacos that I do pretty good. We forgot the taco shells, and so I was going back to the store. I told Keenya to watch the food in the pot, because I was boiling the chicken. She said, “Okay, Aunty,” and I left. Then my 14 year old, who was at a sleepover, decided she didn’t want to stay. So, she called me and asked me to come pick her up, and I did.

Isa Nichols:

Then we went to the store. We were gone about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. I pull in, and our driveway remote control wasn’t working. So, I sent my daughter in to the house to open the garage door. I’m waiting. The garage door doesn’t open, and my daughter finally comes back to the car. She’s standing there. It’s starting to rain, and I said, “Hey, what are you doing?” My daughter has the look of trauma on her face.

Isa Nichols:

I said, “Baby girl, what is it? What’s wrong?” She said, “Mommy, Keenya’s lying on the floor and the house is all smokey.” So, I go to the house, and just as she said, my niece was lying on the floor in the doorway. The house was covered with smoke. The pot and it’s contents had disintegrated and melted. Somehow by the grace of God, I was able to get that stove turned off with all of that heat. My daughter’s standing in the doorway, just staring.

Isa Nichols:

I called 911. I ran upstairs to check on the baby, because I’m thinking that they had succumbed to smoke inhalation. So, I ran upstairs and the baby was on the edge of the bed. All around her was the diaper, the nighty, a warm bottle was still there. I didn’t know if the baby was alive or not. I didn’t know if the baby was breathing. So, I touched the baby gently and she jumps up and she’s screaming from where she left off.

Isa Nichols:

I grabbed the baby, the diaper and took the baby downstairs and handed the baby to my daughter and told her to go to the neighbors. I went back to Keenya. When I got over Keenya’s body, I saw a little bullet casing, and a little hole in her face. I stayed there. I had already called 911. I can hear the ambulance in the background. They’re on their way. I’m talking to Keenya. “Hang in there. I’m praying.” I’m telling her help is coming.

Isa Nichols:

The ambulance gets there and I’m sitting on the step. The come into the house, and they get her body and they pull her from the foyer into the living room where they start working on her, trying to revive her. They finally say, “She’s gone.” I just stared and looked in just dismay. I couldn’t process what they meant by saying she’s gone. I saw where Keenya’s head had laid. The bullet casing was still there. I just saw blood. The back of her head had just been blown out.

Isa Nichols:

I just went into a cold state. I was just on autopilot. I was just following commands.

Tony Harris:

According to Lee’s autobiography, that very same night John Muhammad gave Lee his first test.

Lee Boyd Malvo:

One night he says, “Okay, this is what I need for you to do. There is a house [inaudible 00:42:53]. I want you to go there. I want you to go through the door. I want you to talk to this person.”

Tony Harris:

Lee says John drove him to a house, ranting about politics and wars, and necessary sacrifices. John dropped Lee off and told him he’d be watching. Lee was wearing a dark hoodie, and he was holding a brown paper bag. He tried to calm himself as he walked up to the house. He knocked on the door, and after a short delay it opened. A young woman greeted him. He said, “Good evening. Is Mrs. Nichols in?”

Tony Harris:

He remembered that she seemed lonely and eager to talk. She gave him a long answer, explaining that Isa wasn’t home. John had prepared Lee for this possibility. “I have a message for her,” Lee said. He reached into the brown paper bag and pulled out a .45 caliper pistol, one they borrowed from Earl Dancey. John had told Lee to visualize his own face on top of hers, just like in the training.

Tony Harris:

Here is what Lee wrote about that moment in his autobiography, read by a voice actor:

Lee Malvo Voice Actor:

A voice deep inside me said, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” I thought, “Lee, you cannot face John unless you do this.” I pointed the .45 caliper gun to her face, and in an instant I saw not her, but me. My old self, that I hated, that scared, hurt self. That night, Lee Boyd Malvo died. I pulled the trigger. In an instant, she too was gone.

Tony Harris:

Next time on Monster: DC Sniper:

Isa Nichols:

All of sudden, there’re these helicopters flying all over the Tacoma community. They are actually saying the DC Sniper is linked to Tacoma.

David Reichenbaugh:

Again, a note is found. This time, it’s an angry note.

Sniper’s Note:

You did not respond to the message. You departed from what we told you to say. Your incompetence has cost you another life.

David Reichenbaugh:

We need to find these guys, and we need to do it now.

Dave Statter:

She’s got sources telling her that they’re getting close, that they have names and that they have a vehicle that they’re looking for.

David Reichenbaugh:

By about 9:30-10:00 at night, we had it. We knew who we were looking for. We knew what they were in. We just didn’t know where to find them. When do we release the information about the Caprice to the media?

Dave Statter:

Police were there to see if John Muhammad showed up. While we were down there, we got a call. On I-70 in northern Maryland, they believe that the snipers are there and they’re waiting to move in.

Matt Frederick:

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 Kuebrich and Josh Thane. Payne Lindsey and Donald Albright are executive producers on behalf of Tenderfoot TV alongside producers, Meredith Stedman and Christina Dana. Original music is by Makeup & Vanity Set.

Matt Frederick:

This episode included segments of a phone interview with Lee Boyd Malvo, conducted by Journalist, Josh White. This interview was from the Washington Post, copyright 2012 The Washington Post. All rights reserved. Used under license. This episode also included a passage from Lee Boyd Malvo’s autobiography, “The Diary of the DC Sniper,” re-enacted by actor Alec Bay. This episode included a recorded interview of Earl Dancy, provided by the Tucson Police Department.

Matt Frederick:

Earl Dancy was contacted by our team for this podcast, but he did not respond for comment.