Ashcroft: Waagner suspect in anthrax hoax
The Derrick, 11/30/01 From staff and wire reports

A special thank you goes out to The Derrick for allowing this article to be posted


WASHINGTON - U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft confirmed Thursday that local fugitive Clayton Lee Waagner is a suspect in a string of anthrax hoax letters sent to abortion clinics, including several in western Pennsylvania.

Ashcroft said the FBI had obtained information over the Thanksgiving holiday indicating Waagner had claimed responsibility for sending more than 280 letters to clinics across the United States.

"The Department of Justice considers Waagner's threats and all anthrax hoaxes to be serious violations of federal law," Ashcroft said at a press conference. "Perpetrators of anthrax hoaxes and those who threaten abortion providers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

His announcement came in the wake of reports that Waagner visited the home of Georgia anti-abortion activist Neal Horsley to take responsibility for sending phony anthrax hoax letters to hundreds of abortion clinics and unveil a plan to kill 42 selected abortion clinic workers.

Ashcroft's announcement also comes after U.S. Postal Service inspectors, U.S. Marshals, the FBI and state police searched Waagner's family home near Clintonville on Nov. 14, seeking information about his whereabouts. Authorities at the time told the newspaper that Waagner, 44, was suspected of using the mail service to commit crimes, but declined to confirm that they were seeking to link Waagner to the hoax anthrax letters.

A Pittsburgh postal inspector on Thursday, however, told The Derrick that the U.S. Postal Inspections Service has been investigating Waagner in connection with the letters for several weeks.

"We've suspected him from the onset," said John Wisniewski. "We knew Mr. Waagner's past and his attitude toward abortion.

"We couldn't comment until we came up with whether we had sufficient probable cause to make an announcement.

"Over the last week, we've been able to uncover real strong evidence," Wisniewski said.

"(Ashcroft) made the announcement nationwide. We feel Mr. Waagner is a strong suspect."

Wisniewski declined to comment the nature of the evidence against Waagner, noting that Waagner has not been charged in connection with the mailings. He termed the search of Waagner's home two weeks ago "beneficial," but declined to comment further citing the ongoing investigation. Officials have repeatedly noted that Waagner's wife and children who live in the Clintonville area home were not the target of that search.

Wisniewski said that officials have investigated Waagner's alleged visit in Georgia. But he said the investigation had been focused elsewhere, as well.

The Pittsburgh postal inspections office has devoted 10 inspectors, about a third of its workforce, to the case, he said.

The case has particularly urgency because of the fear and costly disruption that such hoaxes cause both the public and postal workers, Wisniewski said.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the FBI said it "received information" that Waagner "took credit" for sending more than 280 of the threatening letters to abortion clinics on the East Coast. The envelopes were marked "Time Sensitive" and "Urgent Security Notice Enclosed" - with the return addresses of the U.S. Marshals Service or the U.S. Secret Service, according to an FBI memo.

Earlier this month, a second wave of 270 threatening letters was sent via private delivery service to abortion clinics.

Scores of family-planning clinics in at least 12 states have received letters containing anthrax threats, according to officials of feminist and abortion-rights organizations.

The Feminist Majority Foundation said more than 450 clinics and advocacy organizations received letters in envelopes carrying white powder and letters signed by "the Army of God."

None of the powder sent to the clinics has tested positive for anthrax.

Waagner's name has been linked to the "Army of God" term in the past. Following his escape from federal prison in June, a letter purportedly written by him appeared on Virginia minister Donald Spitz's "Army of God" Web site. The writer threatened to kill those who worked for abortion providers.

Ranked among the FBI's 10 Most Wanted with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and suspected abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, Waagner faces a host of charges ranging from escape to robbery to weapons violations in several states. The U.S. Marshals Service has been leading the search for Waagner, but he is also wanted by the FBI in connection with a Harrisburg bank robbery and other offenses and on warrants for burglary and other charges filed by state police in Venango County.

Although listed on both the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service's most wanted lists and repeatedly profiled on the television show America's Most Wanted, Waagner has eluded capture since his escape from federal prison in February.

He last surfaced in September after he allegedly abandoned a wrecked car containing a pipe bomb and anti-abortion literature on the side of a Memphis, Tenn., freeway. Hours later, a man believed to be Waagner committed a carjacking in Tunica, Miss., some 40 miles southwest of Memphis, authorities said. He released the driver after paying him $1,650 for his van, according to the victim, Harold Wayne Baker. A casino there was evacuated after a tip that he was there.

Waagner's years-long alleged crime spree began here in 1999 with the theft of a GMC Yukon from A. Crivelli Chevrolet in Reno.

Though his accomplice, former Kennerdell resident Jason M. Miller, was captured after a robbery, Waagner escaped and stayed on the run for four months during which time he said he committed robberies and stole weapons and vehicles while stalking abortion clinics.

He was captured in September 1999 on the side of an Illinois highway when a stolen Winnebago carrying him, his wife and their eight children broke down.

At trial in December 2000 in Urbana, Ill., on weapons and theft charges, Waagner testified he had been watching abortion clinics for months and was stocking up on weapons to kill doctors who provided abortions because God had asked him to be his warrior. He has not, however, taken any direct action against them.

Two months later he used a comb to open a door and escape through the ventilation system in a new DeWitt County, Ill., jail. Authorities believe he timed his escape so he could leap onto a passing train and avoid detection.

Since then Waagner has been indicted for robbing a Harrisburg bank in May and the FBI in Erie has indicated Waagner is likely to be indicted for a bank robbery in August at the Millcreek Mall.

Waagner was born in North Dakota and uses numerous aliases, including Jack Avery, Mike L. Buchanan and Allan Waagner. He sometimes walks with a limp and may have limited use of his left hand from a frostbite injury.

A reward of more than $75,000 is being offered for information leading to Waagner's arrest.

Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts should call the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or their local law enforcement.

(Staff reporter Lisa Thompson contributed to this article.)