Car of Missing Antiabortion Activist Found
By Roberto Suro
Law enforcement officials have found an automobile at the Newark, N.J., airport belonging to an antiabortion extremist wanted for questioning in the sniper murder of a Buffalo doctor two months ago and are combing the vehicle for clues, the FBI announced yesterday.
Investigators believe that the wanted activist, James Charles Kopp, known as "Atomic Dog" among antiabortion radicals, spent several days in the New York area immediately after the Oct. 23 murder of Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, an obstetrician-gynecologist who performed abortions, but they have found no hard leads on his current whereabouts, said Bernard Tolbert, special agent in charge of the FBI's Buffalo office.
Kopp's 1987 black Chevrolet Cavalier appears to have been left at a large parking lot at the Newark International Airport on Nov. 4, Tolbert said. That was the day the Justice Department issued a warrant for Kopp as a material witness in the Slepian murder and widely publicized his name for the first time. The car and its contents are undergoing a detailed examination for any clues as to where Kopp has been and whether anybody was with him, Tolbert said.
Kopp has not been named as a suspect but is wanted for questioning to explain the presence of his Cavalier around Slepian's home in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst on the day of the shooting and on several days preceding the crime.
Slepian, 52, delivered babies and provided reproductive health care to women in addition to performing abortions at a clinic in Amherst. He had just returned from attending services at a synagogue with his wife when he was killed while standing in his kitchen. He was shot through the window with a high-powered rifle fired from nearby woods.
Investigators believe that Slepian's murder is linked to four previous sniper attacks on doctors who perform abortions in Canada and upstate New York. None of the other shootings was fatal.
The possibility of a connection among these crimes, along with a pattern of increasing antiabortion violence elsewhere in the country, prompted Attorney General Janet Reno last month to establish a multi-agency federal task force to investigate antiabortion crimes.
Kopp has a decade-long history of arrests in the blockading of abortion clinics in several states. Although he most recently lived in Vermont, investigators consider him an itinerant who can take advantage of a wide range of contacts among antiabortion radicals across the country.
Previous investigations into Kopp's antiabortion activities indicated that he had the potential to commit violent acts, FBI officials have said. Although investigators have searched for him at several places he has been known to frequent, so far he has escaped detection.
The black Cavalier, which was discovered Dec. 18, has provided some of the best clues as to Kopp's whereabouts before and after the Slepian murder. The car helped investigators track his movements in the Buffalo area. Tolbert said yesterday that there is evidence Kopp was there from Oct. 18 to 21.
Investigators are trying to nail down information on Kopp's movements on the day of the shooting, Tolbert said.
The car has also shed light on Kopp's actions in the days after the shooting. Investigators have developed information indicating that Kopp was employed as a construction worker in the Newark area in late October, Tolbert said. He is believed to have been in the New York metropolitan area since shortly after the Oct. 23 shooting, and the discovery of the car suggests he was there Nov. 4, when it was left in the airport parking lot. By examining the car, Tolbert said, investigators hope to discover whether Kopp drove it to the airport and whether he was in the company of anyone else.
Investigators have no firm indications whether Kopp boarded an airplane at the Newark airport or even whether he parked the car there himself, Tolbert said. An international manhunt is underway in the United States and Canada.
"I would urge Mr. Kopp, if he is within the sound of my voice, that he do come in and talk with us," Tolbert said at a news conference yesterday morning.
Investigators do not entertain much hope that Kopp will give himself up, but they do hope someone will come forward with information about him in a bid to collect the $500,000 federal reward for help in solving the Slepian murder.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post