ROCKVILLE, Md. – The news media have become an integral part of the Beltway Sniper story, with the Montgomery County, Md., police chief using press conferences to communicate with a note writer and telephone caller who apparently claims to be the shooter.
But Police Chief Charles Moose, who has publicly railed against leaks and keeps a tight rein on information flowing from sniper task-force headquarters in Rockville, Md., could not have been too happy Tuesday morning as new reports and theories abounded about the identity of the Beltway Sniper and communications he may have made with police.
Someone claiming to be the sniper has called police at least twice, the New York Post reported, the first time alerting police to the message found at the Ashland, Va., shooting scene. This message was a three-page letter tacked to a tree behind the Ponderosa steak house that the victim was leaving, the paper reported.
A senior law enforcement official speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the message suggested the killer wants several million dollars.
Two other law enforcement sources told the AP the letter also contained information that police interpreted to be a vague threat to children. One of the sources, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the letter was "lengthy."
The letter demanded money and warned that the attacks would resume unless police met a specified deadline, the New York Post and New York Daily News added.
Sources told the New York Post that the money demand led them to believe that terrorists were not involved. ABC News reported that the deadline had passed by the time the FBI opened the letter.
The threats against schoolchildren prompted Richmond-area schools to shut down Monday and Tuesday, the New York Post, Los Angeles Times and Richmond Times-Dispatch said.
The Los Angeles Times also reported Tuesday that unidentified federal agents said the letter was "very lengthy" and poorly worded, bordering on broken English.
The caller disguised his voice for at least one call, and was characterized as having a heavy, indeterminate foreign accent, cable news reports said.
The Washington Post said the caller at one point repeated the words "I am God," originally found on a tarot card left near the site where a 13-year-old was shot in Bowie, Md.
Tarot cards have been found at more than one sniper scene, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Monday.
The French defense ministry notified Interpol on Monday that a French army deserter and known marksman had gone missing while on vacation in North America.
Fox News learned Monday that the soldier, described as 25 years old and with the first name of Georges, went missing on Sept. 2 after making cash withdrawals on his credit card in the United States.
He had seen active duty as a peacekeeper in former Yugoslavia, and friends characterized him as a secretive, solitary type who had spent a previous vacation alone in the Corsican mountains.
As for the dramatic seizure of a white minivan and two suspects just outside Richmond Monday morning, the entire episode turned out to be a case of very bad luck for two illegal immigrants.
SWAT team police officers wearing bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles swooped in on an Exxon station on a main suburban road at about 8:30 a.m. EDT, handcuffing a man who had been talking on a drive-up pay phone, witnesses at a neighboring car dealership said.
A second man was taken into custody soon afterward, although police would not say where he had been detained.
Cable news channels aired repeated footage of the seized white Plymouth Voyager, which bore temporary Virginia license tags and stickers reading "Bush/Cheney," "United States Marine Corps" and "Mexico," being hauled away on a police flatbed truck.
By the end of the day Monday, the case fell apart. A Justice Department official said deportation proceedings had begun against two men, who turned out to be a 24-year-old Mexican and a 35-year-old Guatemalan.
Several newspapers reported Tuesday that the men apparently made the mistake of driving the white van up to a phone booth being watched by police. The phone booth had been traced to one that the letter writer had used.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the person who left the note at the Ashland steak house included the number of the Richmond pay phone and wrote he would call someone in law enforcement there.
One television commentator summed up Monday's events in Richmond: "Wrong phone booth, wrong time."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.