And then I stop myself. And I realize I’ve made a mistake that grates on me.
We did have another attack on our soil, not too long after the attacks — the anthrax mailings that killed five and infected 22.
Each time I let it slip, I feel like I’ve disrespected, or simply forgotten, the dead – Robert Stevens in Florida, Kathy Nguyen of New York City; Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford, Connecticut, and Thomas Morris Jr. and Joseph Curseen, employees of the Brentwood mail facility in Washington, D.C..
Once we’re reminded, we remember those days well. White powder being reported in just about every major office building and spurring evacuations. Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, putting white power in an envelope and showing how it could puff out with the slightest of movements. People speculating whether they ought to microwave their mail. Celebrities clamoring for Cipro. Crashing airplanes had traumatized us already; now we had to worry that someone was exposing us to a silent killer we could breathe in, obliviously.
I admit, I take this a bit personally. The path of my life and the path of the anthrax investigations have crossed from time to time. I had a good, close friend in Sen. Tom Daschle’s office who was among the first to be exposed, who had to go on Cipro. I was among the first reporters to reenter the reopened Hart Building, a dusty time capsule of midday October 15, 2001. A close relative ended up working on the decontamination and redesign of the Hamilton, New Jersey postal facility.
And here we are, on the eve of five years later, and the guy who did it remains unknown, and presumably at large, or unmolested. I had figured at some point we would have found some guy in a house outside Trenton, keeled over from accidental exposure to his own poisons.
But the case remains a mystery. I’m reminded of the moniker “Rollo Tamassi” — the name that a cop in L.A. Confidential gives to the unknown, never-caught suspect who killed his father. The Guy Who Gets Away With It.
Read enough true-crime novels and talk to enough cops and law-enforcement folks, and you come to the conclusion that despite what we see in pop culture, there are no criminal masterminds — or they are so exceedingly rare as to be almost nonexistent. Most criminals take up crime because they want something — usually money — and they can’t figure out a legitimate way of getting it. The vast majority of criminals are stupid, greedy, and sloppy. There are no Kaiser Sozes. If you’re really that smart, you figure out how to make money in a way that doesn’t get the cops chasing after you.
There are no unsolvable crimes. It’s just a matter of resources and intellectual capital spent on the case.
Wait long enough, and just about everybody gets caught. Eric Rudolph. The Green River Killer. The Unabomber. Someday, somebody will get James J. “Whitey” Bulger. D. B. Cooper’s bones are probably hanging in some tree in an Oregon forest.
So how did Anthrax Guy manage to terrorize America for weeks, kill several people, and leave no clues?
I can’t help but wonder if this guy had help from powerful friends — maybe a foreign-intelligence service. This is entirely speculation. If somebody wants to offer forth evidence pointing to Joe Scientist with an Axe to Grind, I’ll hear ‘em out (but really, the FBI’s the one who needs to hear it).
But could Joe Scientist with an Axe to Grind to pull off, arguably, the biggest unsolved crime in the last half century? To outwit everybody at the FBI, the intelligence community, every cop, and amateur sleuth?
I’m skeptical. It strikes me as beyond the capacity of an ordinary crook, pulling this stunt for the first time. The 9/11 hijackers, perpetrators of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, left behind tons of evidence.
But that leaves us wondering out loud if the person had help from a hostile foreign government. There’s no direct evidence of that, but just… it makes a bit more sense than the Lone Nut or Lone Evil Genius theories.
This Theoretical Hostile Foreign Government would only have needed to send one person, if they were trained well enough. In November 2001, after the last mailing, he could fly from Philadelphia or Newark or New York to Islamabad or Tehran or Baghdad or wherever never to be seen again. Or it could be a government’s intelligence service, operating without orders from their leaders.
Who knows? But the unsolved case, the lack of closure, of answers, of even a working theory amongst those who have the duty of protecting us — nags at me, and I’ll bet many other folks as well. This is a wound that won’t quite heal.
I’m glad we remember 9/11, and that we pledge, year after year, to never forget. I just hate the thought that the other horrifying terror attack of that year could disappear down the memory hole.