Special Reports

Extortion a likely motive; snipers' cunning 'overstated'

The cover page is neat and impressive. "For you Mr. Police," it says. "Call me God." The words are surrounded by five stars placed in an orderly way.

The letter left at the penultimate sniper shooting in Ashland, Va., on Oct. 19 is chilling in its detail and its threats, but it also provides a treasure trove of clues for investigators.

It contains phone numbers and locations that the snipers called in a half-dozen unsuccessful attempts to contact authorities. It also lists account information about a stolen platinum Visa card that the assailants wanted reactivated with $10 million that they could freely access.

"We will have unlimited withdrawl at any atm worldwide," reads the letter, which continues for three pages after the cover.

It provided the Bank of America card's 16-digit account number, its four-digit personal identification number, the activation and expiration dates and the name of the woman who legitimately owned the card.

Experts said the letter indicates that the snipers may not have been as clever as originally thought. Some also said that the demand for money probably was a real motive.

The copy confirms earlier reports that the letter angrily complains about six calls that were dismissed by operators at the police command center in Rockville, Md., the Montgomery County, Md., police department and the FBI - and that it contains a terrifying postscript, "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time."

But the letter is surprising in how specific it is - providing, for example, the last name of an officer who supposedly took one of the calls to Montgomery police.

"These people took (our) calls for a hoax or joke, so your failure to respond has cost you five lives," it said.

One telephone number the snipers claimed to have called is CNN's Washington bureau. "To our knowledge, no one at CNN received such a call," a CNN spokeswoman said.

The letter was found sealed, wrapped in plastic and tacked to a tree in the woods behind a Ponderosa steakhouse in Ashland, where a 37-year-old man was shot and wounded.

The letter was neatly printed in ink on lined notepaper and had grammatical, syntax and spelling errors, including omitted letters, words and punctuation and irregular capitalization.

Authorities say the letter and corresponding phone communication with the snipers provided them with key clues that led to the arrests of John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, a Jamaican national.

Authorities believe that the two carried out the three-week series of sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., region in which 10 people were killed and three others were wounded.

The phraseology on the cover is similar to writing that was scrawled on a tarot card discovered in a wooded area in Bowie, Md., near where a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded Oct. 7.

Investigators and outside experts believe the terms "Mr. Police" or "Mr. Policeman," which is believed also to have been penned on the tarot card, could be regular Jamaican parlance.

The body of the letter concludes with the line, "Word is Bond," a phrase similar to the one used by Montgomery Police Chief Charles Moose during a media briefing late Wednesday in which he again tried to communicate with the sniper.

"If you are reluctant to contact us, be assured that we remain ready to talk directly with you. Our word is our bond," Moose said.

The woman whose credit card was stolen is a Greyhound bus driver in Flagstaff, Ariz., whose driver's license and credit cards were taken March 25.

The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the cards were stolen from a pouch behind her seat while she was driving a bus on the 337-mile route between Nogales, Ariz., and Flagstaff.

She did not realize the Visa card had been stolen until Bank of America's fraud control branch wrote her April 11, saying it had automatically closed the account after the Visa was used for a $12.01 gasoline purchase in Tacoma that the bank believed to be fraudulent.

"That was the end of that, until last Sunday when I had the FBI calling me at Greyhound, saying that through this credit card they (had a link to) the people involved with the sniping," she said.

The Ashland letter suggests in a pair of sentence fragments that the shootings would stop if authorities wired the money and ended the manhunt.

"Try to catch us withdrawing at least you will have less body bags," the author writes. "If we give you our word that is what takes place. 'Word is Bond.'"

Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist at New York University's School of Medicine, said, "I think the most important significance ... is that the extortion motive was more meaningful to the suspects than many have been willing to consider."

He pointed out that the demand for the money does not preclude the possibility of other motives.

"The implausibility of the idea that they are just going to get $10 million, and that they will get carte blanche at any ATM around the world, is significant," he said. "The cunning attributed to these people was substantially overstated."