'Collar bomb' drama grips Australia: Girl is safe, but who was that masked man?

An Australian teen who said a home intruder strapped a live bomb to her in a suspected extortion attempt was freed after a 10-hour ordeal.

Tim Wimborne/Reuters
An ambulance arrives outside a house where bomb squad officers were working to protect an 18-year-old girl in the exclusive Sydney suburb of Mosman on August 3. A young Australian woman was freed from a suspected bomb strapped around her neck after 10 hours of drama and captivated the nation with police saying they were still investigating the incident.

Mosman is one of Australia’s wealthiest neighborhoods, with palatial houses overlooking Sydney Harbor. If residents have any complaint, it is that the area is … well, a bit dull. Nothing ever happens in Mosman. At least, it didn’t until Wednesday.

All afternoon and evening, Australians were gripped by a bizarre drama unfolding in a multi-million-dollar property in Mosman’s Burrawong Avenue. It began when an 18-year-old, Madeleine Pulver, telephoned her father, William, around 2:30 p.m. to tell him that a man wearing a ski mask had broken into their waterfront home and strapped a bomb to her neck.

Mr. Pulver, chief executive of the international software company Appen, is a high-profile businessman and one of Sydney’s richest men. Police, ambulances, and bomb disposal officers raced to his house, and the street – home to sporting stars and socialites including a leading horse trainer, Gai Waterhouse – was quickly sealed off. Curious neighbors gathered at the police cordon.

As Madeleine’s parents, William and Belinda, waited outside their four-bedroom home, explosives experts worked to remove the collar bomb, described as a “very elaborate, very sophisticated device.” The operation took some 10 hours, with four police officers stationed in the room, according to reports. Just before midnight local time, she was released unharmed.

Mystery, though, still shrouds the incident, with the identity of Madeleine’s assailant and the precise nature of the device – even whether it really was a bomb – unclear.

Local media quoted police sources as saying that the man had hung a note demanding money around Madeleine’s neck, and, before leaving, warned her that he could trigger the device by remote control.

"This type of extortion, this type of bomb, we have never seen before," a senior New South Wales police officer told the Daily Telegraph.

"There have been instances where similar-type bombs have been worn during attempted bank robberies in America, but not here."

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