Norman David Mayer, the 66-year-old man killed after threatening to blow up the Washington Monument in a desperate one-man campaign against nuclear weapons, spent more than a year in a Hong Kong prison following a 1976 arrest for possessing 44 pounds of marijuana, according to U.S. State Department records.
Jack Bauer, a Miami Beach car repairman and longtime friend of Mayer, said yesterday that Mayer had turned to drug dealing as a way of raising money because he suffered from a job-related leg injury and needed cash. But Bauer said the deal collapsed when Hong Kong police arrested Mayer.
"He was broke and he needed some money, but instead he got caught in the midst of it and went to jail," Bauer said.
A State Department spokesman said yesterday that the department's files show that Mayer was arrested on April 8, 1976, convicted on March 3, 1977, and sentenced to three years in prison. Before he had served his full sentence, the spokesman said, Mayer was released on April 4, 1978, and was deported from Hong Kong.
The State Department's records do not indicate if Mayer was held in jail from the time of his arrest until his conviction, but Bauer said Mayer told him that he spent two years in jail.
He returned to the United States and worked at a variety of jobs in Florida and elsewhere, while pursuing his interest in nuclear weapons reduction. It is not clear how Mayer first became involved with the nuclear issue, but Bauer said yesterday that Mayer's obsession with the subject began about 10 years ago.
Bauer and others who had met Mayer said that his distrust of politicians, government officials and established antinuclear groups led him to pursue his mission alone.
After a 10-hour siege at the Washington Monument Wednesday, during which he demanded a ban on nuclear weapons, Mayer was killed when police opened fire as he attempted to drive his truck away from the monument.
Park police have not yet officially identified the dead man, but law enforcement sources have identified him as Mayer.
Officers found no trace of the 1,000 pounds of dynamite that Mayer had claimed to have in the truck. But officials said they had taken his threat seriously because a check by federal firearms agents disclosed that Mayer had attempted to buy dynamite in the past.
One such effort occurred in May in Hazard, Ky., a small coal-mining town about 200 miles southeast of Louisville. A Kentucky state police detective said yesterday that he interviewed Mayer and a young companion there on May 28, after a man told police that Mayer had offered him $1,000 to purchase dynamite for him.
Working from a description of Mayer's truck provided by the informant, Det. James Caudill said he had found Mayer and his companion in the parking lot of a motel across from the state police barracks. Mayer admitted that he was trying to buy dynamite, the detective said.
"He said, 'I heard Hazard is the place to get it,' " Caudill recalled. Caudill said that Mayer had told the informant he needed the dynamite to blow up some tree stumps on farmland Mayer said he owned in Florida.
Caudill said that he did not believe Mayer's story, but no arrest was made because there was no evidence that he had purchased any dynamite.
An itinerant worker with few roots or family ties, Mayer had drifted from job to job over the years, both in the United States and in parts of Southeast Asia. His work included a stint as a civilian employe in Vietnam during the war there and work on an oil drilling rig in tiny Brunei on Borneo.
Eventually he landed in Hong Kong, and there he wound up in jail. Bauer said that Mayer claimed he had "beaten the case" after successfully defending himself before the Hong Kong court.
The State Department spokesman said that the department's records do not indicate whether Mayer appealed his conviction. graphics 1: Photo by Luci McDonald Norman Mayer, right, had demonstrated daily before the White House, discussing his cause with passersby. At left is another antinuclear weapons protestor, William Thomas, who spoke with Mayer at the monument Wednesday.