FBI usually does get its man, even if tardily
Saturday's capture of Eric Rudolph offers a lens on the tools - and twists - of manhunts.
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As Rudolph continued to elude the police, he become a folk hero for many locals, and the fact that he was clean-cut at the time of his arrest may indicate he'd received some aid. The FBI has not ruled out bringing charges against anyone who sheltered him.Skip to next paragraph
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Murphy is a town of 1,568 people, rimmed by the gentle slopes of the Smoky Mountains. Rudolph may have been living nearby for years. Police believe they've located his campsite on the east side of Will Scott Mountain near Cherokee High School - just a quarter of a mile from the home of former Cherokee County Sheriff Jack Thompson, who told the Asheville Citizen-Times with a laugh: "He's probably been eating out of my garden."
A footpath used by high school students leads from the school to Valley River, 200 yards from the Valley Village shopping center where Rudolph was apprehended.
"Mountain folk take care of mountain folk," says Jack Allen Powell, a former IRS "revenuer" who spent his career putting axes through moonshine stills all through Appalachia. "Old folk still hanging around, moonshiners, farmers, and people like that, may have some feeling for him, and there's a real possibility that they did aid and assist him."
When Rudolph was 13, his father died - a loss that, some say, left the boy angry. Soon after, his mother introduced him to the Christian Identity movement, a radical faith that sat well with an avowed loner seeking not only to remove himself from American society, but to wage war against it. Rudolph isolated himself at an early age, enlisting in the Army apparently only to bolster his survival and weaponry skills.
Experts say he had trouble maintaining relationships with women, farmed trout in a pond, and grew marijuana, which he smoked regularly. In high school, Rudolph wrote an essay denying the Holocaust. He grew increasingly distant from the Murphy community after being forced to sell the family home in 1996.
"This was something he enjoyed, that he could hit the beast with his remote-control bomb and evade the best American law enforcement had to offer," says Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. "His targets and tactics were all part of this belief system, and not only made him the terrorist that he was, but made him an extremely effective fugitive."
The lush crags of Cherokee County were familiar to him: They're where he grew up, fished, and learned to survive without the umbilical cord of society. He didn't use phones or credit cards, and stayed away from surveillance cameras. After escaping into the hills, he simply outwaited, outmaneuvered, and outfoxed his would-be captors.
Even when the FBI pulled most of its agents off the search, freelancers, armed with handcuffs and shotguns, kept looking, in hopes of getting the $1 million reward. Bounty hunters as far away as Duck, N.C., on the Outer Banks, scoured beaches for him.
Rudolph's arrest came five years after police found nails in a storage locker that matched those used in the bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic in January of 1998.
Over 200 federal agents searched the Nantahala Forest near the Tennessee border for months. Soon after the manhunt began, a natural-foods store owner said Rudolph had grabbed six months of supplies - and left five $100 bills behind. All authorities found were discarded oatmeal tins and cans of tuna.
After months of frustration, at least one federal agent said publicly that he thought Rudolph had died. Others believed he'd finagled his way to Mexico or West Virginia. Still, many never gave up hope of his capture, suspecting a local police officer might eventually crack the case.
"This sends a clear message that we will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in a statement confirming Rudolph's capture.