Published October 29, 2002
SEATTLE – Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad got calls from his travel agent while living in a homeless shelter. A jobless drifter trying to support his children, he flashed a wad of cash at a woman when he offered to buy her a drink.
With no apparent means of support, Muhammad and companion John Lee Malvo traveled from the Caribbean to Tacoma, and points in between, over the past year and a half.
How they financed their activities remains a mystery, although evidence points to a combination of odd jobs and crimes that included human smuggling.
"We're looking into the angles and explanations," Montgomery County, Md., state's attorney Doug Gansler said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.
There is no evidence that Muhammad was funded by any organized terrorist groups, as some have suggested, Gansler said.
He also cautioned against making too much of Muhammad's finances, noting that he and Malvo appeared to be living in a car purchased for $250 when they were captured.
"They didn't have a lot of money," Gansler said.
District of Columbia police Chief Charles Ramsey has said police there are reviewing recent bank robberies for possible links to Muhammad.
Ten people were killed and three wounded in suburban Washington, D.C., in the sniper attacks. Muhammad, 41, and Malvo, believed to be 17, have been charged with murder and other crimes.
The pair were not typical residents of the Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham, where they stayed for a time last year. The Rev. Alan Archer, who runs the mission, was amazed to see Muhammad getting phone calls from a travel agent.
"You rarely hear of our people flying anywhere," Archer said Sunday, recalling that Muhammad said he flew to Denver or Salt Lake City and went skiing. He also took a trip to his home state of Louisiana.
Bellingham also was where Muhammad apparently flashed a wad of money at a singer when offering to buy her a drink at a coffeehouse.
"They may have all been [$1 bills]," said Hannah Parks, 20.
Before coming to Bellingham, about 90 miles north of Seattle, Muhammad lived in Antigua with three of his children. Although he didn't have a job, Muhammad sent his three children to one of the Caribbean island's few private schools.
Acquaintances in Antigua say Muhammad traveled often to the United States and returned with items to sell, including compact discs, batteries, over-the-counter medicines, power tools and cameras.
They said he lived on the island from 2000, and the government said it issued him an Antiguan passport in July 2000. But the government also said the first record it has of him entering the country is in May 2001.
He occasionally worked odd jobs as an auto mechanic, but money appears to have been a constant problem for the Army veteran, who started auto repair and martial arts businesses that failed in Tacoma in the 1990s.
On Feb. 12, Muhammad was ticketed for shoplifting meat and frozen foods from a Tacoma grocery store. He did not show up for a court appearance.
On Sept. 10, Muhammad and friend Nathaniel Osbourne purchased a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with 150,000 miles for $250 in Trenton, N.J. It was the vehicle in which Muhammad and Malvo were captured as they slept early Thursday.
Crime could have been one way Muhammad financed his travels and other activities. The most serious was the Sept. 21 liquor store robbery in Montgomery, Ala., that helped lead investigators to Muhammad and Malvo.
Muhammad has been charged in the robbery, in which two women were shot, one fatally. Police have identified him as the man who was standing over the two women, rummaging through their purses; police said the robbers were interrupted and didn't get away with any money.
Investigators also have found connections to more minor crimes.
Monday night, authorities in Washington state said that they had linked Muhammad to the Tacoma shooting death of a 21-year-old woman whose aunt once worked for Muhammad's auto repair business. Muhammad also is linked to a shooting last spring at a Tacoma synagogue in which no one was injured, police said.
A letter believed left by the sniper demanding $10 million included the number of a credit card stolen from a Greyhound bus driver as she drove between Nogales and Flagstaff, Ariz., in March, according to Saturday's Washington Post. Authorities told her the card had been used to buy gas in Tacoma.
Federal investigators are also looking into the possibility that Muhammad smuggled people into the United States for profit, The Miami Herald said. The government of Antigua will also investigate Muhammad for possible ties to a smuggling and fake documents operation there, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.