VanPac News History

Copyright 1990 The Times Mirror Company  
Los Angeles Times

January 4, 1990, Thursday, Home Edition

SECTION: Part A; Page 16; Column 1; National Desk

LENGTH: 1166 words





Federal investigators said here Wednesday that they have "no shortage" of leads in the recent mail-Bomb murders of a federal judge and a lawyer in the South, but they acknowledged that the cases could remain unsolved for some time.

Tom Moore, an FBI spokesman in Birmingham, Ala., noted that the 1979 murder of John Wood, a federal judge in Texas, "took almost five years to solve," but added that "we're cautiously optimistic that this won't take that long."

Such was the mood -- a mixture of hope for a quick break and resignation that it might not come for a while -- as investigators began meeting here Wednesday to assemble evidence on the two bombings and two bombing attempts in which devices were safely defused.

As the sessions began, officials said they have identified the type of explosives used. Also, they said they continue to believe the bombings were racially motivated and that recent letters threatening more bombings were written by the person or persons who sent the devices.

"There's no shortage of leads in this case," said an official familiar with the investigation.

Officials acknowledged that they have a trove of evidence -- the two bombs and the letters are known examples of the potentially rich material -- but they said it takes time to run down the many leads produced by such evidence. Assisting investigators in sorting out the information is the FBI's most advanced computer system. Installed in Birmingham, the computer allows investigators from all over the South to feed in texts of interviews, driver license data, prison records and other information.

Despite the sophisticated system, numerous investigators working around the clock, and what Moore called "a most substantial reward" for helpful information on the bombings, one federal official conceded that as far as finding the bomber is concerned, investigators remain in "no-wheresville."

In order to get somewhere on the bombing cases, one investigator said, officials might have to rely on the bomber or bombers deliberately dropping clues to reap notoriety. "Or for his wife to get disgruntled" and turn the bomber in, said the investigator.

Meanwhile, said Diader Rosario, FBI spokesman in Atlanta, "we just keep plugging away."

Although the analysis of the explosive type yielded valuable information, it leaves investigators far from closing the cases. Even if the explosives involved can be traced to their source of manufacture and distribution, the trail might not lead to a suspect, one investigator noted.

"So you trace it to a dynamite theft," the investigator said. "I'm not sure that's a fruitful line of investigation."

Another investigator said the identification of the type of explosives would be more significant "if it were the last link in a chain of evidence." But, he said, "It's just one more link."

Of the links among victims and possible suspects, race hatred seems the strongest. On Dec. 16, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Vance was killed at his home in Mountain Brook, Ala., by a powerful Bomb when he opened a package delivered through the mail. Two days later Robert Robinson, a Savannah, Ga., attorney and alderman, died after opening a similar package delivered to his office. Bombs also were delivered to the 11th Circuit headquarters building here and to the NAACP office in Jacksonville, Fla., but they did not explode.

Letters sent to victims and potential victims since the bombings indicate that the sender was seeking to retaliate against alleged crimes committed by black people against white people -- specifically cited was an Atlanta area case in which two black men are accused of raping a white woman -- and for victories blacks won in court cases in the 11th Circuit, which covers Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

While investigators believe a white supremacist group or individual probably committed the crimes, they say no leads point to a specific organization or person.

Investigators are trying to draw connections between court cases involving the slain judge and Robinson, and they are scrutinizing reaction to court-ordered school desegregation in suburban DeKalb County, Ga., which inflamed some whites. Vance, who was white, was on the panel that ordered the DeKalb County school system last summer to initiate a lottery system transferring 120 teachers from mostly white to predominantly black schools in order to balance teacher experience.

Robinson, who was black, represented the Savannah NAACP in a long-running school desegregation case there.

Last week, a group calling itself Americans for a Competent Federal Judicial System claimed responsibility for the bombs and threatened to send more. FBI officials and organizations that monitor hate groups say they have no knowledge of this alleged group.

"This bomber could be just one nut or a few nuts sitting around the kitchen table making bombs," said one federal investigator.

Once a suspect or suspects are identified, the FBI likely would use electronic and physical surveillance before attempting an arrest, a routine often followed in similar cases. The surveillance, which could include wiretaps, could help investigators determine if others are involved.

The FBI's behavioral science unit at Quantico, Va., has drawn up a "working profile" of a possible suspect, based on the targets of the bombings, the letters and the explosive devices. Officials declined to discuss any specifics of the profile.

Meanwhile, reverberations of the bombings and attempted bombings continue around the nation.

Security remains tight at courts and other government buildings. And Bomb scares make raw nerves even worse.

On Tuesday night, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, attending the mayoral inauguration here, called on the Bush Administration to offer a bounty to capture the bomber or bombers. "Just as President Bush is willing to issue a bounty for (Panamanian fugitive Manuel A.) Noriega," Jackson said, "it must be done for this."

Bush on Tuesday assured Benjamin L. Hooks, NAACP executive director, that the federal government was doing all it can. "The recent bombings make it clear we have not totally beaten back the evils of bigotry and racial prejudice," Bush said in a letter. "Please assure your members I will see that the federal government does not let up as it works to bring the perpetrators of these hideous crimes to justice."

Lee May reported from Atlanta and Ronald J. Ostrow from Washington.

The recent wave of bombings has focused new attention on hate groups, which are among prime suspects. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 "hard-core" white supremacists belong to hundreds of groups nationwide and that an additional 150,000 people are sympathizers. The Klanwatch Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., says that the groups, including neo-Nazis, Aryan Resistance, Skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan, were responsible for 11 murders and 60 cross-burnings during the last two years.