Published October 25, 2002
In the end, it wasn't the white van. Or the white box truck. It was a blue Chevrolet Caprice, the favored undercover car of police departments across the country.
On Thursday, after arresting Gulf War veteran John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, investigators said their 1990 sedan was the vehicle from which they killed 10 and wounded three.
It was equipped with four doors and a special trunk platform that allowed someone to lie inside and fire a rifle, investigators said.
A four-door Caprice was previously mentioned in the sniper case, but never received a fraction of the attention bestowed on stories of a white truck and a white van witnesses saw at two shooting sites.
On Oct. 12, the day investigators released a wanted poster of a white truck, Washington, D.C., police chief Charles H. Ramsey said investigators were also looking for a Chevrolet Caprice seen leaving the fatal shooting of Pascal Charlot, 72.
The car's lights were off.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who leads the sniper investigation, was also asked about the car, but seemed to brush it aside.
"There's been more law enforcement focus on that; not a big push for public feedback about that," he said Oct. 13 on national TV.
On Oct. 8, police approached the Caprice on a Baltimore street and found Muhammad sleeping in the vehicle, police spokeswoman Ragina Averella said. That was the day after a 13-year-old boy in Bowie was wounded as he arrived at school.
But investigators were looking for a white van, and Muhammad was told to move on, The (Baltimore) Sun reported.
Investigators focused on all-too-human witness recollections, criminal experts said.
"Eyewitnesses are not reliable," said James Starrs, professor of forensic science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Carrie Parks, a forensic consultant, said mammoth investigative teams, like the one hunting the Washington-area sniper, are prone to infighting.
"In these big task forces, there's going to be a lot of disagreement about what gets out, what gets released," she said. "There's a lot of egos involved."
Reid Meloy, a forensic psychiatrist, said human frailty affects witnesses and investigators.
"In the frenzy of these kind of investigations, evidence gets pushed aside, things get ignored, mistakes are made," he said.