Copyright 1994 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
December 13, 1994, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section B; Page 8; Column 1; Metropolitan Desk
LENGTH: 758 words
HEADLINE: BOMBING IN NEW JERSEY: THE INVESTIGATION; A Task Force Comes Alive Once More
BYLINE: By JOHN MARKOFF
DATELINE: SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 12
When the bomber struck twice, within days, last year, the agents and detectives and inspectors were summoned together with great urgency in a task force called Unabom. But as the days dragged on and the leads ran dry, just as they had repeatedly over the years, some investigators who once spent full time pursuing leads in the case were reassigned, one after another, to other cases.
Until Saturday, when the bomber struck again.
The agents were rapidly reassembled to resume their frustrating pursuit -- a chase made all the harder, investigators say, by the feeling that they are so physically close to their target as he remains tantalizingly out of reach.
After the twin bomb attack of June 1993, the task force was formed and grew to more than 45 full-time investigators. But more recently the number had been scaled back to 25 or 30. Today, Jim R. Freeman, the special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the F.B.I., where the investigators are working, said the task force was being rebuilt, although he would not say to what size.
This search has taken on a personal flavor for members of the special task force, assembled from three Government agencies -- the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Postal Service.
They are pursuing an attacker they have never seen, yet they act and talk as if he is out there watching them.
At a news conference, Mr. Freeman, who heads the task force, was pressed for details about the investigation. "I'm not only speaking to you in the press and to the general public, but to the Unabom suspect as well."
At the news conference convened after the bomber struck last weekend for the 15th time, killing Thomas J. Mosser, an advertising agency executive in North Caldwell, N.J., Mr. Freeman said there was little more concrete to go on other than a brief glimpse a woman caught of the bomber seven years ago and postmarks on the packages sent to victims.
Attempting to find patterns in that brief sighting and the shards of evidence collected from blast sites, the task force, which is based in the Federal Building here, has been using computers extensively to seek patterns in the vast array of clues they have compiled, but without success.
"This investigation is very complex," Mr. Freeman said. "We have been using computer support to pull together millions of bits of information."
"When everything comes together, it will seem so obvious," said one former member of the Government task force. "It will be like a jigsaw puzzle."
Mr. Freeman noted several times today that many of the threads in the investigation lead back to northern California. The bomber has attacked people in the San Francisco Bay area and in Sacramento, and 7 of the 15 bombings in the case can be identified as having a link to the region.
He also said investigators believed that the bomber had been on the move during the last 16 years. He has possibly lived in Illinois, Salt Lake City, Sacramento and the Bay area at different times.
Today, Mr. Freeman appealed to the public to come forward with useful leads in the case. Next to his lectern was a photo blowup of one intriguing hint -- an impression of a writing sample lifted from a letter sent to The New York Times after two bombing attacks last year. In clear handwriting it says, "Call Nathan R Wed 7 pm." Nathan R., if he knows the bombing suspect, has never come forward.
Mr. Freeman was not willing to talk about some of the likely blind alleys that investigators have gone down. For a while during the 1980's they followed a hint that the bomber was a technician who worked in making prosthetic devices, law-enforcement officials have said. That clue came from the packaging material used in some of the devices.
He also declined to comment on what the political outlook of the bomber might be. The letter to The Times, sent last June, said the bombs were the work of an anarchist group called FC.
The initials FC have been found in many of the bombs, but today Mr. Freeman said F.B.I. experts had not yet found the initials in the bomb that killed Mr. Mosser.
The case has been a personal one for Detective Bob Bell, a Sacramento police detective who has been gathering material on the case for almost a decade.
"There's a sense of frustration here," he said. "For myself it's very frustrating that this person lives not to far from me. It's not like he's beyond my reach."
"There are a thousand theories," he added. "They all make sense." GRAPHIC: Photo: A task force that has investigated a string of bombings that date from 1978 is being rebuilt after a mail bomb killing in New Jersey. It is headed by Jim R. Freeman, agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s San Francisco office. (George Olson for The New York Times)