SNIPER: Inside the Hunt

Struggling for a Direct Connection

By Michael E. Ruane and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 6, 2003

This is the second of five excerpts from "Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation."

On the morning of Oct. 15, 2002, Amy M. Lefkoff was working the 7 a.m.-to-3 p.m. shift as a dispatcher for the Rockville City Police Department, where she had worked for 14 years. She was the only one on duty in the first-floor dispatch room of Rockville City Hall, 25 miles from downtown Washington, where the FBI's big call-taking center was located, and three miles from county police headquarters at the other end of town.

Calls poured in to her anyway, at the rate of about one a minute, 500 by the time she finished her shift. People saw the name "Rockville" on TV, got the number for the Rockville police and called Lefkoff -- one person even phoned from Australia. It was madness. Shortly after 11 a.m., four hours into her shift, the phone rang again.

"Rockville City police, Lefkoff," she said. "This line is recorded."

"Good morning," a male voice said. "Don't say anything. Just listen. We're the people that are causing the killing in your area. Look on the tarot card. It says, 'Call me God. Do not release to the press.' We have called you three times before, trying to set up negotiations. We have got no response. People have died -- "

"Sir," Lefkoff interrupted.

The male voice tried to continue. "Get your people -- "

"I need to refer you to the Montgomery County police hotline," Lefkoff said, following the instructions she had been given about sniper calls. "We are not investigating the crime. Would you like the number?"

It was a young man's voice, with a slightly clipped cadence. There were pauses with each sentence, as if the caller was reading from something written. He had a smooth, distinct voice. Police later concluded it was Lee Boyd Malvo. He was calling from a pay phone at a Texaco gas station right off Interstate 95, outside Dale City, about 30 miles south of Washington. He hung up.

What was that? Lefkoff wondered. A prank or the real thing? Calls continued to roll in, and she kept answering. When she got a break, she called her supervisor, Capt. Mike England, who was in an office down the hall. Lefkoff told him she'd had a strange call that he ought to hear. She rewound the tape for him when he came to her office. "Listen to this and see what you think," she said. England thought it was interesting enough to send to the sniper task force.

John Allen Muhammad and Malvo were trying to initiate the next phase of the strategy. First, they had left the tarot card with the message "Call me God," so the police would know it was really them when they called. With the code established, the two could simply call the cops, give the code and start things going. They had a financial arrangement they wished to discuss.

But then things got screwed up. "Do not release to the press," they had said, but the media had reported the code anyway. They got the wording wrong -- it wasn't "I am God." While Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose had launched a tirade against the leak, investigators were secretly relieved that the media hadn't gotten it quite right. The code was still potentially viable, but few knew its correct wording. With the task force worried about leaks, the wording was so closely held that people on the tip lines didn't know it.

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