Search for Bombing Suspect Resumes
Associated Press Writer
Monday, July 12, 1999; 7:39 a.m. EDT
ANDREWS, N.C. (AP) — It was a year ago that serial bombing suspect Eric Rudolph slipped through a police dragnet, loaded up on food and gear at an acquaintance's home and vanished into the rugged Southern Appalachians.
Since then, tracking dogs, 200 searchers and infrared-equipped helicopters have failed to find Rudolph in the dense mountain forests.
The trail has grown steadily cold, and now only a dozen police remain to follow up leads.
``All that's left up here are some investigators,'' said Macon County Deputy Kenny Cope, who knew Rudolph when they were growing up and later helped search for him. ``If they get a hot lead, they can call in the search teams.''
Rudolph has been charged in three Atlanta-area bombings, including the 1996 Olympic park bombing in which a woman died. Investigators also suspect he was involved in a January 1998 explosion that killed a police officer and maimed a nurse at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham, Ala.
Task force leaders said Rudolph watched local resident George Nordmann's ridgetop home 10 miles east of town for several days before approaching it on July 7, 1998, to take some food.
Two days later, he reappeared, collecting oatmeal, batteries, dried fruit, cayenne pepper and other items. He left $500 and drove off in the truck.
Nordmann waited two days before notifying authorities. His truck was found at a campground a few miles away with a note left on the front seat.
Nordmann, who continues to work behind the counter at a health food store in downtown Andrews, said his brief encounter with Rudolph changed his life.
``It's been a year since all this baloney started,'' he said in a brief conversation with a visitor to his shop last week. He said federal agents leave him alone.
Rudolph put this small mountain community on the map early in 1998.
Hours after the Birmingham, Ala., clinic bombing on Jan. 29, 1998, a truck seen near the explosion site was traced to Rudolph. Authorities set about tracking him down for questioning.
Rudolph rented a video in nearby Murphy that night, bought a large cache of food and supplies and vanished. Searchers found his pickup truck outside Andrews several days later.
Scores of law enforcement officers converged on the area. Rudolph quickly became the prime suspect when nails and other evidence were found in his home, pickup truck and a rented mini-warehouse. Charges were filed.
Later, he was charged in three Atlanta-area bombings, including the 1996 Olympic Park bombing. Rudolph was placed on the FBI's 10 most wanted list and a reward of $1 million was posted for information leading directly to his arrest.
For weeks, search teams aided by tracking dogs disappeared into the thick forests, trying to pick up Rudolph's trail. They explored caves deep in the mountains. Helicopters cruised the ridgetops day and night.
By last July, the manhunt had ebbed as the thick summer foliage and heat rendered much of the task force's high-tech equipment useless.
Then Rudolph visited Nordmann, and everything changed.
Some 200 law enforcement officers soon returned to the woods. In August, James ``Bo'' Gritz, the former Green Beret colonel and leader of the right-wing Patriot Movement, led about 40 volunteers into the woods to try to find Rudolph. They left empty-handed.
In March, Woody Enderson, leader of the Southeast Bomb Task Force, said investigators were studying about a dozen break-ins over the winter in which food, toilet paper and other supplies were stolen. Sometimes, the intruder wanted only a shower and shave.
Last week, a task force source said the mission will not be dismantled until Rudolph's capture or proof he has left the area.
Residents have learned to take it all in stride -- the large task force command post behind the town hospital, the occasional helicopter flyovers, the federal agents in the restaurants and at weekend flea markets.
At the Bob Allison Campground, Pat Bonanno and Ronnie Davis were loading their two mules, Sadie and Daisy, and their horse, Sam, onto a trailer after camping about 200 feet from where Nordmann's truck was discovered.
Bonanno, who works for the Clay County Sheriff's Department, joked that they must have run into Rudolph while riding the horse trails leading to Nantahala Lake.
``I swear I've seen him before all this,'' said Bonanno, who works part-time at a barber shop in nearby Warren. ``I might have cut his hair once or twice.''
Cope wants Rudolph, 32, to get his day in court. ``All we have is one side of the story. We don't know his side yet.''
Whether he is guilty or not, Rudolph has impressed Cope with his resiliency.
``Love him or hate him, I'd like to walk up to him and shake his hand,'' he said. ``I'd tell him he's done a hell of a job.''
© 1999 The Associated Press