|“||Don't say anything. Just listen. Dearest police, Call me God. Do not release to the press. Five red stars. You have our terms. They are non-negotiable. If you choose Option 1, you will hold a press conference stating to the media that you believe you have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose. Repeat every word exactly as you heard it. If you choose Option 2, be sure to remember we will not deviate. P.S.-Your children are not safe.||”|
— The Snipers
John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, a.k.a. "The Beltway Sniper", "The D.C. Sniper", and "The Washington Sniper", were a pair of spree killers who murdered several people on the U.S. East Coast in October 2002.
HistoryMuhammad was born as John Allen Williams on December 31, 1960, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He and his parents, Ernest and Eva Williams, moved to New Orleans when Eva was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time of her death, he was three years old. After his father left him, he was mostly cared for by his grandfather and an aunt. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard and went on to volunteer for active duty in 1985. In 1987, he joined the Nation of Islam, changing his surname to Muhammad in 2001. During his time in the Army, he served as a mechanic, truck driver, and specialist metalworker and earned the Expert Rifleman's Badge, the highest possible marksmanship medal for a basic soldier in the U.S. Army. He was married twice. When his second wife, Mildred, divorced him, a bitter custody battle over their three children ensued, culminating with him taking them and moving with them to Antigua in the Caribbean in 1999. Muhammad tried to establish himself as a businessman there but ended up making a living selling false identity papers to locals who sought entry into the U.S.
Around 1999, Muhammad met Una Sceon James and her son, Lee Boyd Malvo, in Antigua. Una, who became a close friend of Muhammad, later moved to Fort Myers, Florida using false documents and left Malvo in his care. In 2001, Muhammad, who claimed Malvo to be his stepson, moved to Bellingham, Washington and tried to enroll him and his three children in a school and was caught up by the authorities, who returned them to their mother. Malvo was reunited briefly with his mother in Miami, but they were arrested by the Border Patrol. Malvo was released on a $1,500 bond the next year and caught up with Muhammad again.
While the two of them lived at a homeless shelter in Bellingham, Malvo enrolled in high school but made no friends. Muhammad could afford frequent flights around the U.S. One of those trips was to Tacoma, where they tried to kill one of Mildred's friends but ended up killing her niece instead. After a trip to Muhammad's relatives in Louisiana, the two bought a 1990 Chevy Caprice and began a series of robberies and shootings in Louisiana, Alabama, and Maryland. During this time, they are believed to have committed another murder followed by seven more by the end of September. In 2002, Malvo shoplifted a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle from a firearms shop. Muhammad took up target practice at a gun range near the shop.
On October 5, 2002, the duo began what became a full-scale spree of random shootings across Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Over the course of 23 days, they shot and killed 10 people and injured an additional three. One of those days, they were pulled over, but, since Muhammad had no outstanding warrants, were let go. At the peak of the rampage, people were afraid to leave the house. It was initially believed that the shootings were the work of a single man. The day after the last shooting, the police, acting on a phone tip, searched a house in Tacoma where Muhammad and Malvo had once lived. In January the same year, neighbors had complained that he had used the backyard for target practice. When the yard was searched, police found bullets and shell casings which were matched to those of the victims of the Beltway shootings. A nationwide alert for Muhammad and Malvo's car was issued.
On October 24, they were found sleeping in the car and arrested. A month-long trial with hundreds of pieces of evidence, including a series of pictures implicating the two as being terrorists, took place. In the end, Muhammad was sentenced to death in September 2003 and executed by lethal injection on November 10, 2009. He declined to make a final statement. Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole in October, 2003, a sentence he is currently serving at the Red Onion State Prison. Since then, he has made apologies to Cheryll Witz, the daughter of victim Jerry Taylor, and survivor John C. Gaeta for his role in the shootings. In 2012, he was interviewed by The Washington Post, expressing remorse for his crimes. Eventually, Malvo appealed to the court, saying that his sentence is inapplicable to him because he was seventeen at the time of the shootings. In May 2017, a judge agreed and overturned the sentence, with a new trial on Malvo's new sentencing being scheduled.
Modus OperandiDuring the Beltway shootings, Muhammad and Malvo killed their victims with the .223 semi-automatic Bushmaster XM-15 sporting rifle stolen by Malvo. The victims were all completely random and of different ages and sexes and were killed with single shots from a distance of 50-100 yards, and many of them were shot at or near gas stations. The shots were fired from their car, which had been fitted with a small hole in the trunk just above the license plate from which they aimed. They left tarot cards as calling cards at several crime scenes. One notable one, the Death card, had the phrase "Call me God" written on the front, and "For you mr. Police", "Code: Call me God" and "Do not release to the press" on the back. At some point, they also left a ransom note demanding ten million dollars. Prior to the Beltway shootings, they used different guns to attack their victims.
To date, the true motive of the Beltway shootings remains something of a mystery. According to Mildred Muhammad, it was meant to be an elaborate plan to later kill her so Muhammad could gain custody over their children. On the other hand, some prosecutors argued that it was meant to be an act of terrorism, using various jihad-related images in their possession as proof. According to Malvo's testimony, the shootings were meant to be a three-phase plan. The first phase was to plan the shootings, the second, which was intended to take place in Baltimore, was killing a pregnant woman by shooting her in the stomach, then killing a police officer and place explosive devices at his funeral to kill attenders. The third phase was extorting money from the U.S. government and using the funds to create a sanctuary in Canada for homeless black orphans and teach them the handling of firearms, a skill they would then use to commit shootings across the U.S.
To date, there have been two killers who emulated the Beltway shootings:
- Shawn Lester
- Shot and killed three people in a four-day span on August 2003
- Operated in West Virginia
- Used a .22-caliber rifle to kill at least two of his victims
- Was arrested on 2011 and indicted on all three murders
- Pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of one of his victims, while charges for the other two victims were dropped
- Sentenced to 40 years in prison
- Charles McCoy, Jr.
- Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1996
- Committed a total of 24 sniper shootings along the sides of highways in Ohio
- Hit only one person, 62-year-old Gail Knisley, who died
- Shootings began on May 2003 and lasted for several months, causing widespread fear
- Arrested on March 2004 and stood trial the next year
- Sentenced to 27 years in prison on August 2005 after legal complications
On Criminal Minds
The first reference to Muhammad and Malvo on Criminal Minds was in the pilot episode, Extreme Aggressor, when they were mentioned (but not by name) as one of the cases previously studied by the BAU. Malvo and Muhammad were then mentioned by name in L.D.S.K., where the BAU dealt with another sniper, who also shot his victims from the cover of his vehicle. When the profile is given, the screen shows images of a Death Tarot card, just like the one the Beltway Snipers left behind. Another noteworthy reference was in Lo-Fi, when a member of a terrorist group left behind the same kind of Death Tarot card that the Beltway Snipers left behind at a crime scene. They were later mentioned in The Apprenticeship, where their mentor-student relationship was compared to that of the current unsubs.
Yet another notable reference to them was in Final Shot, where the BAU compared the unsub's motivations of having a specific target and killing random victims just as a forensic countermeasure to a well-known theory that Muhammad committed the Beltway shootings to cover up the eventual assassination of his own ex-wife. Also, like Muhammad and Malvo, the unsub committed a sniper shooting at a gas station. The aforementioned theory was partially reused as a plot point in Unforgettable, in which Sara McLean committed a series of poisonings, in the vein of suspected assassinations committed by Russian agents, to cover up her motive for killing her husband.
The aspect of their original plan (them recruiting orphaned boys, training them in the usage of firearms and stealth, and using them to commit shooting sprees in Canada) also sounds similar to the M.O. of Wayne Gulino, who abducted boys and turned them into his own personal army, using them to commit a spree of shootings and bombings in Chicago, Illinois, as part of a personal campaign of retribution against the Chicago Police Department.
- Evil Beyond Belief's article about Muhammad
- Murderpedia's article about Muhammad
- Radford University's summary of Muhammad's life
- Clark County Prosecutor's website about Muhammad and Malvo
- Seattle PI article about Muhammad and Malvo
- Huffington Post article about Muhammad and Malvo
- CNN Law article about Muhammad and Malvo
- CBS News article about Muhammad and Malvo
- CNN article about Oberoi
- Los Angeles Times article about Waldemariam
- The News Tribune article about the shootings
- Baltimore Sun article about the shootings
- FOX 5 DC article about the overturning of Malvo's sentence
- Find a Grave:
- ↑ Time of shooting unknown