How authorities tracked the Australia collar-bomb suspect to Kentucky (video)
A string of clues has led to the arrest Tuesday of the man suspected of locking a hoax collar bomb around a teenage girl's neck in Australia two weeks ago.
Paul Douglas Peters is facing charges that he locked what appeared to be an improvised explosive device around the neck of an 18-year-old high school student and demanded money from her family to disable the device.
Police said the girl’s family had links to a business that had formerly employed Mr. Peters. He is described as an attorney and investment banker in Australia.
The girl, Madeleine Pulver, was hysterical as police conducted X-rays and other tests to study the device. After more than nine hours, authorities concluded the collar bomb was a hoax and that the device contained no explosives.
The investigation immediately turned to finding the suspected extortionist. A 12-page complaint filed in federal court in Louisville, Ky., details the investigation and reveals how authorities were able to quickly track Peters from Ms. Pulver’s bedroom in Australia to his ex-wife’s home in Kentucky.
An account of the crime
The alleged crime occurred at 2:15 p.m. on Aug. 3, when a man in a hooded mask walked into Pulver’s bedroom with a backpack and a black baseball bat. “Sit down and no one needs to get hurt,” the man told the alarmed teen.
He quickly used a chain and lock to attach what appeared to be an explosive device around her neck. He placed a lanyard with a computer flash drive and a hand-written note in a document sleeve around her neck as well. The man then left the house.
Before she even read the note, Pulver phoned her parents who notified the police. The note advised her not to call the authorities. It read in part: “Powerful new technology plastic explosives are located inside the small black combination case delivered to you. The case is booby trapped. It can ONLY be opened safely, if you follow the instructions and comply with its terms and conditions.”
The note continued: “You will be provided with detailed Remittance Instructions to transfer a Defined Sum once you acknowledge and confirm receipt of this message.”
The note demanded that receipt of the instructions be confirmed with an e-mail to a particular Gmail address.
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Tracking the suspect
Police were able to determine that the e-mail account had been set up on May 30 at the Chicago Airport. They also discovered that the account had only been accessed three times, all within hours of the bomb hoax on Aug. 3.
One contact was traced to a computer at a public library. The two other contacts were traced to a public computer at a video store. Authorities reviewed recordings from security cameras at the library and at a liquor store adjacent to the video shop. The individual caught on camera matched the victim’s description of the attempted extortionist.
Investigators also examined the USB flash drive. In addition to instructions for payment, the drive contained a deleted file that had been written on a computer with an identified owner of “Paul P.”
The video at the library also captured the suspect arriving and departing in a Range Rover sport-utility vehicle. Police examined vehicle registration data for all similar make Range Rovers located near the library and video shop.
The police located registration and license information for Paul Douglas Peters. His photograph matched the security videos.
Trail leads to America
Armed with a name, police discovered that Peters had left Australia on Aug. 8 on a United Airlines flight to Chicago and that he transferred to another flight on to Louisville, Ky.
Security video at Sydney Airport matched earlier video and the drivers’ license photo.
Police also discovered that roughly a month before the alleged extortion attempt, Peters used his MasterCard to purchase a USB flash drive and purple lanyard similar to the drive and lanyard recovered around Pulver’s neck. Two weeks before the alleged attempt, he used the same credit card to purchase a black baseball bat.
The major break in the US part of the investigation came when Australian authorities found documents showing that Peters had wired money in 2009 from Australia to the home of ex-wife in the Louisville suburb of Le Grange, Ky.
An FBI agent was dispatched to the location and observed a man matching Peters’s description in the back yard. A substantial force of heavily armed FBI agents surrounded the house. Peters was arrested without incident.
Peters made his initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday. He has been given two months to prepare for a hearing to determine whether he should be extradited to Australia. His lawyer says Peters intends to fight the charges in Australia.
According to federal documents, Peters is charged in Australia with “aggravated break and enter with intent to commit a serious indictable offense,” “demand property by force with intent to steal,” and kidnapping.