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The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers

November 27, 2018

If you lived in the D.C. Metro Area in October, 2002,  you remember the terror you felt as the Beltway Snipers killed people randomly on the street, in a store, filling gas, loading groceries into a car—17 killed  in all with 10 wounded. I was afraid, as we all were, to walk from my car to my house or anywhere else. If you were at the gas pump, you stooped to hide behind your car. You ran zigzaggedly into a store, kept your kids home from school, and prayed you wouldn’t be the next victim.

So this month I had the pleasure of being a panelist at the Mechanicsburg, PA, Mystery Book Shop. I sat next to David Reichenbaugh, also a panelist and author of In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers. Dave served as the criminal intelligence operations

 

commander for the Maryland State Police and as the commanding officer at the scene during the Beltway snipers’ capture in Myersville, MD. I found him an enthusiastic, pleasant, entertaining, and knowledgeable fellow panelist. He didn’t talk “copspeak” and he never once called me “ma’am.” Of course, I bought his book.

And what a read it is. I couldn’t put it down till the last page. This is a behind the scenes, first-person account, from day one to the capture and ultimate fate of two psychopaths, written by a man who was a leader in the local, multistate and FBI search across three states for the killers. The account conveys the frustrations, anger, and helplessness felt by the police officers with each murder. Everyone involved worked long hours, sometimes around the clock, in a race to prevent another killing.

The investigation involved organizing and coordinating the efforts of local police units, the state police, and the FBI despite territorial claims and ego interference The investigators had to deal with the media, too, scrambling after every scrap of information, insisting on more, giving the killers media attention, and offering media time to any self-proclaimed authority to second-guess what the investigators were doing.

As killing after killing occurred, the investigators realized they needed software that linked the various databases kept by the different departments. Computer programmers were hired to streamline and digitize the data collected.

Profilers were used who concluded that the killer was a white man working alone. The killers turned out to be a black man and a black teenager working together. After each killing, witnesses said they saw a white van with two men drive away.  The killers’ car was actually a blue Caprice, but the witnesses’ reports of a white van put investigators on the wrong track for weeks.  

The author writes in a straightforward, highly readable style, and he doesn’t use “copspeak.” He expresses the rage and fear and frustration he felt as the investigators explored one blind alley after the next. He does give full credit to the other organizations and people involved in the investigation. I found his account fascinating and highly recommend this book.

I also recommend the Mechanicsburg Mystery Book Shop in Mechanicsburg, PA. This is a well-organized, neatly arranged shop with pleasant staff.

 

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