Crime profile: The Washington Snipers

Crime profile: The Washington Snipers

During October 2002 America was shocked by a series of shootings across the mid Atlantic/Washington area, during which ten people were killed and three injured. The shootings appeared to be entirely random in nature with a high powered rifle used in what appeared to be sniper style attacks on innocent people.

The victims were shot at shopping centres, in service stations, on the streets and in car parks, with the randomness of the acts creating widespread fear and anxiety across the adjacent communities.

The killer – or killers – left behind clues and demands near the shooting locations, including a Tarot death card, a four-page letter demanding $10 million dollars, and a written threat to start shooting children.

It was the entire unpredictability and apparent lack of motive that proved to be a special challenge to the investigating police but a breakthrough came through the discovery of the same fingerprints at two shooting sites. They belonged to 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, whose fingerprints were on file because he had been an illegal immigrant from Jamaica. It was further known that Malvo had close connections to John Allen Muhammad, a 41 year old ex Army veteran who was an expert military marksman.

An Army photograph taken of John Muhammad, taken circa 1985

Police arrested the pair on 24th October 2002, when they were found asleep in their blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. Investigators soon discovered that the vehicle had been modified to allow a shooter to lie prone across the back seat and boot, with a rifle able to fire back out through a hole cut in the body just above the license plate. The rifle itself was identified as the murder weapon and was positively linked to Muhammad.

In the subsequent trial, nearly one year later, Muhammad was sentenced to death and Malvo to six consecutive life sentences with no parole.

The motives for the killings remained unclear with some believing that Muhammad was intending to kill his ex wife and was using the other murders as diversions. It was also suggested that the pair intended to extort money from the US Government by demanding large payments to stop the shootings.

Muhammad was executed by lethal injection on 10th November 2009, after more than 6 years on “Death Row”.