Col­lared!*

Reader's Digest (India) - - Contents - SI­MON BOUDA

A masked man claims he’s put a bomb on a young girl’s neck.

AN IN­NO­CENT SCHOOL­GIRL, A MASKED IN­TRUDER, TER­RI­FY­ING THREAT… WHAT WENT BE­HIND THE SCENES OF A SHOCK­ING COL­LAR BOMB AT­TACK IN AUS­TRALIA AND THE ADROIT PO­LICE WORK USED TO SOLVE IT

Sit­ting in the bed­room of her spa­cious Syd­ney home, Mad­die Pul­ver con­tem­plated the task a head — study­ing. It was never fun, but on 3 Au­gust 2011 the Higher School Cer­tifi­cate ex­ams were close. Like her class­mates, the Year 12 stu­dent was hit­ting the books.

It was 2:30pm that Wed­nes­day and the 18-year-old was alone in the house. Mad­die’s mother was out shop­ping, and her fa­ther, the CEO of a global soft­ware com­pany, was at work; her two younger brothers were at school and her older brother was away. From her bed­room desk Mad­die could gaze out across Syd­ney Har­bour, but this was a time for con­cen­tra­tion, not day­dream­ing.

Sud­denly, Mad­die heard a noise be­hind her. When she turned, a man stood in the bed­room door­way wear­ing a rain­bow-coloured bal­a­clava. He was armed with an alu­minium base­ball bat and wore a small black back­pack. The in­truder had en­tered the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar house through the un­locked front door.

“I am not go­ing to hurt you,” he de­clared.

Mad­die leapt from her chair and backed away, to­wards her bed. “What do you want? What are you do­ing?” she de­manded.

Plac­ing his base­ball bat and back­pack on the bed, the man sim­ply warned: “No one needs to get hurt.”

Next the man re­moved from the back­pack a black metal box the size of a small lap­top. Hold­ing it against Mad­die’s throat, he se­cured it around her neck with a bi­cy­cle lock. The teenager sim­ply couldn’t com­pre­hend what was hap­pen­ing.

Mad­die again asked the in­truder what he was do­ing. He said he would tell her in a minute and placed a pur­ple string over her head. At­tached to it were a USB flash drive and a plas­tic sleeve with a doc­u­ment in­side. A la­bel with a typed e-mail ad­dress, dirk­struan1840@gmail.com, was stuck to the box around her neck.

Turn­ing to leave, the man told Mad­die to “count to 200.” “I’ll be back,” he threat­ened. “If you move, I can see you, I’ll be right here.”

Ter­ri­fied, Mad­die re­mained stock­still. Af­ter a few mo­ments, she called out for help. Si­lence. She called out again. Noth­ing.

With t he de­vice strapped to her neck, Mad­die moved slowly to­wards her mo­bile phone. With­out dar­ing to jolt the con­trap­tion, she sent text mes­sages to her mother and fa­ther, ask­ing them to call the po­lice.

It was only then that Mad­die left her bed­room and re­moved the doc­u­ment from the plas­tic sleeve at­tached to the string. When she glimpsed the word “ex­plo­sives,” the she burst into tears.

Mad­die called out again. Si­lence. She punched in the num­ber for her fa­ther. Bill Pul­ver, at 52, was head of a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar firm that pro­duces speech soft­ware and other lan­guage tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts. Mad­die asked her fa­ther to call the po­lice from his city of­fice. Re­turn­ing to her room, she con­tin­ued read­ing:

Pow­er­ful new tech­nol­ogy plas­tic ex­plo­sives are lo­cated in­side the small black com­bi­na­tion case de­liv­ered to you. The case is booby-trapped. It can ONLY be opened safely, if you fol­low the in­struc­tions and com­ply with its terms and con­di­tions.

If you dis­close th­ese In­struc­tions, fu­ture in­struc­tions, any cor­re­spon­dence, Re­mit­tance In­struc­tions en­clo­sures.... to any Fed­eral or State agency, the Po­lice or FBI, or to any non-fam­ily mem­ber, it will trig­ger an im­me­di­ate BRIAN DOU­GLAS WELLS event.

You will be pro­vided with de­tailed Re­mit­tance In­struc­tions to trans­fer a De­fined Sum once you ac­knowl­edge and con­firm re­ceipt of this mes­sage.

If the Re­mit­tance In­struc­tions are ex­e­cuted COR­RECTLY... I will im­me­di­ately pro­vide you with:

The com­bi­na­tion that can open the case WITH­OUT trig­ger­ing a BRIAN DOU­GLAS WELLS event, and

An in­ter­nal key to com­pletely dis­able the ex­plo­sive mech­a­nisms em­bed­ded in­side. CON­FIRM re­ceipt of th­ese In­struc­tions by CON­TACT­ING:

dirk­struan1840@gmail.com

Brian Dou­glas Wells was a pizza de­liv­ery­man seized by a gang in Au­gust 2003, in Penn­syl­va­nia, USA. They put a col­lar time bomb around his neck and or­dered him to rob a bank. Wells did as he was told but, when he was leav­ing the bank, po­lice turned up. The bomb went off with cat­a­strophic con­se­quences.

Mad­die Pul­ver had no idea what a “Brian Dou­glas Wells event” was. She was also un­aware that Dirk Struan— the name used for the e-mail ad­dress — was the main char­ac­ter in James Clavell’s novel Tai-Pan. Struan was the “Tai-Pan” — the leader — a wealthy, vi­o­lent and shrewd head of a trad­ing com­pany in China who was hell-bent on de­stroy­ing his ri­vals.

Re­al­iz­ing the dan­gerr shee was in, Mad­die rang her dad again and told him not to call the po­lice. But he had al­ready done so and was rac­ing home. The po­lice were also on their way to the Pul­ver’s.

The Aus­tralian po­lice had never seen a case such as this be­fore. When the f irst re­spon­ders ar­rived soon af­ter 2: 45pm they found Mad­die cry­ing un­con­trol­lably. Im­me­di­ately they sealed off the street, set­ting up road­blocks to di­vert traf­fic and cu­ri­ous neigh­bours. Paramedics and fire res­cue of­fi­cers were brought in just as the me­dia be­gan gath­er­ing at the road­block, ea­ger for in­for­ma­tion.

As care­fully as they could, bomb squad tech­ni­cians tried to de­ter­mine what sort of ex­plo­sive they were deal­ing with. Por­ta­ble X-ray equip­ment showed that the box was filled with me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal com­po­nents. But po­lice couldn’t be sure if there were ex­plo­sives or not.

To take the weight off her neck, Mad­die had to phys­i­cally hold the box with her hands. Scared for her life and in tears, she needed some­one to talk to. Po­lice had kept her par­ents at a mo­bile com­mand post out on the street. Con­sta­ble Karen Low­den was one of the first po­lice of­fi­cers on the scene and took on the task of try­ing to com­fort the ter­ri­fied teen. She knew she was plac­ing her own life at risk by sit­ting with Mad­die, but she asked about the up­com­ing ex­ams, Mad­die’s art stud­ies,

SHE TO TAKE THE WEIGHT OFF HER NECK, HAD TO HOLD THE BOX WITH HER HANDS.

her hob­bies … any­thing to keep their minds off the hor­ri­ble predica­ment Mad­die was in.

As the bomb squad fig­ured out if the bomb was real or not, a team of de­tec­tives led by De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Luke Moore from the Rob­bery and Se­ri­ous Crime Squad got to work for­mu­lat­ing a plan.

The po­lice de­cided to re­spond to the ex­tor­tion­ist and care­fully con­structed a short and sim­ple re­ply, which Bill Pul­ver would send.

Just af­ter 6pm, Pul­ver wrote an e-mail from his cell­phone to the ad­dress at­tached to the black metal box.

“Hi, my name is Bill. I am the fa­ther of the girl you strapped the de­vice to. What do you want me to do next?”

While po­lice and Mad­die’s fam­ily waited in the com­mand post for a re­ply to the e-mail, the ex­tor­tion note was sent for foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion for fin­ger­prints. De­tec­tives ques­tioned neigh­bours and friends, try­ing to piece to­gether what had hap­pened. Mean­while, the bomb squad con­tin­ued with their anal­y­sis.

Just af­ter 11pm the bomb squad were con­fi­dent the box posed no im­me­di­ate threat and cut the col­lar bomb away. Mad­die was free.

The or­deal had been al­most nine ag­o­niz­ing hours of hell for Mad­die and her fam­ily. And t he would-be ex­tor­tion­ist seemed to have gone to ground.

Al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter be­ing handed the note, Moore’s team had con­tacted Google’s head off ice in the US to de­ter­mine if the Gmail ac­count had been ac­cessed. The in­ter­net gi­ant was able to look up its data­base records and told de­tec­tives that the ac­count, dirk­struan1840@gmail.com, had been cre­ated on May 30 from an in­ter­net server linked to Chicago’s O’Hare Air­port.

That night Google data re­vealed the ac­count had been ac­cessed three times late that af­ter­noon—twice from a com­puter at the Kincumber Li­brary on the New South Wales ( NSW) Cen­tral Coast, which is a few hours drive north from Syd­ney, and a third time from the nearby Avoca Beach Video Shop. Moore sent de­tec­tives to check it out.

Google could tell the de­tec­tives the pre­cise times the ac­count had been ac­cessed. Then, by view­ing the Kincumber Li­brary’s car park CCTV footage, they were able to pin­point the ar­rival of a car and its driver. A cam­era scan­ning the car park showed a me­tal­lic gold SUV, a Range Rover, but de­tec­tives couldn’t read t he ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion plates. They did, how­ever, have an im­age of the man who got out of the Range Rover and en­tered the li­brary.

Mad­die had told po­lice her at­tacker wasn’t young. She had no­ticed grey chest hair as he reached round her

to at­tach the col­lar box. Through the eye­holes in his bal­a­clava she’d seen wrin­kles. She’d guessed he was aged be­tween 55 and 60. The man in the CCTV footage wore a col­lared shirt and trousers sim­i­lar to what Mad­die re­mem­bered.

De­tec­tives checked car maker spec­i­fi­ca­tions against the footage to es­tab­lish the Range Rover was a 2001 to 2006 model. Then, by check­ing Roads and Traf­fic Au­thor­ity records, they nar­rowed their search to ve­hi­cles reg­is­tered in the state. Next, they sys­tem­at­i­cally checked the reg­is­tra­tion de­tails of each pos­si­ble Range Rover with pho­tos of their own­ers—from their driver’s li­cences.

Within 48 hours of get­ting hold of the li­brary footage, they had a name—Paul Dou­glas Peters. It was seven days since the would-be ex­tor­tion­ist had walked into the Pul­ver’s home. But de­spite the speed of the break­through, Peters had slipped the net. CCTV footage and im­mi­gra­tion records showed the 52year-old Aus­tralian pass­ing through Syd­ney Air­port be­fore board­ing a flight to Los An­ge­les on 8 Au­gust. Po­lice were then able to re­quest US flight records show­ing Peters then caught a con­nect­ing flight to Chicago and on to Louisville, Ken­tucky.

Fur­ther en­quiries re­vealed Peters had ar­rived in Syd­ney two months pre­vi­ously on 1 June, hav­ing been on a con­nect­ing flight that de­parted O’Hare Air­port, Chicago, USA, on 30 May 2011—the day and lo­ca­tion that the Gmail ac­count was set up.

De­tec­tives also fol­lowed a money trail, which pro­vided more links to the crime. Peters’ bank records showed that he made pur­chases at a cloth­ing and sports store in the weeks be­fore Mad­die was attacked. CCTV footage from the shop­ping cen­tre showed

him buy­ing a base­ball bat. He paid for a rain­bow-coloured bal­a­clava with his debit card.

Peters had de­grees in eco­nom­ics and law; he was a busi­ness­man, fa­ther of three and self-pro­claimed au­thor. He’d planned the elab­o­rate ex­tor­tion piece by piece, like writ­ing a novel.

Twelve days af­ter the at­tack on Mad­die, on 15 Au­gust, an FBI team stormed Peters’ ex-wife’s home in Ken­tucky. There on a ta­ble as they rushed in was a James Clavell novel— Tai-Pan.

A few weeks later, NSW Po­lice De­tec­tive Sergeant An­drew Marks had the job of ques­tion­ing Paul Peters. In a room at FBI head­quar­ters in Louisville, he chipped away at the sus­pect.

Marks: “Is there any­thing you want to tell me about the ex­tor­tion, kid­nap­ping, and the bomb placed around young Madeleine Pul­ver’s neck on the third of Au­gust?” Peters: “No.” Marks: “Are you re­spon­si­ble?” Peters: “No.” Slowly, de­lib­er­ately, the de­tec­tive led Peters through the elec­tron­i­cally recorded in­ter­view.

Marks: “Do you know any­thing about an e-mail ad­dress with that name, Dirk Struan?” Peters: “Yes.” Marks: “What can you tell me about that?”

Peters: “I had a … or had set up an e-mail ad­dress with ... Dirk Struan.”

And then there was the USB flash drive that had been at­tached to the col­lar bomb. Foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion un­earthed three deleted files. One was a Word file that was a let­ter of de­mand in the same terms as the saved file and the hard­copy doc­u­ment in the plas­tic sleeve placed around Mad­die’s neck.

That “deleted” f ile di­rected the re­cip­i­ent to con­tact the Dirk Struan Gmail ad­dress. The anal­y­sis of the Word f ile also re­vealed that it had been cre­ated on a com­puter iden­ti­fied as “Paul P.”

Marks pushed the point but Peters was un­able to ex­plain why or how the doc­u­ment had been on a “Paul P” com­puter. He claimed it was “a hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble co­in­ci­dence.”

Dur­ing ques­tion­ing, Peters talked about a James M. Cox Trust, claim­ing he had US$12 mil­lion tied up in it. What he didn’t re­al­ize but po­lice did, was that another of the three deleted files on the USB con­tained a let­ter of de­mand ad­dressed specif­i­cally to the trus­tee of the trust. It in­di­cated that per­haps Mad­die Pul­ver wasn’t the in­tended tar­get of the ex­tor­tion plan, that the masked in­truder had meant to tar­get a ben­e­fi­ciary of the trust. De­tec­tive Sergeant An­drew Marks pro­duced the trump card, hand­ing Peters a copy of the deleted doc­u­ment re­fer­ring to the trust.

Marks: “Have you seen that note be­fore?”

Peters coughed: “I have no com­ment.”

Paul Dou­glas Peters was soon on a plane be­ing ex­tra­dited back to Aus­tralia to face the charges of ag­gra­vated break and en­try, and

de­tain­ing for ad­van­tage. De­spite his ini­tial de­nials, Peters pleaded guilty to the crime.

Dur­ing his sen­tenc­ing in the New South Wales Dis­trict Court, just over 12 months af­ter Peters’ ar­rest, Prose­cu­tor Mar­garet Cun­neen de­scribed the ex­tor­tion at­tempt as “ur­ban ter­ror­ism, which would strike fear into the heart of ev­ery par­ent.” But Peters’ le­gal team tried to build a case sug­gest­ing that he was suf­fer­ing a psy­chotic episode at the time he attacked Mad­die.

Foren­sic psy­chi­a­trists agreed that Peters did suf­fer de­pres­sion and overused al­co­hol af­ter the col­lapse of his busi­ness and his di­vorce. One said he had a bipo­lar dis­or­der.

Ac­cord­ing to his le­gal team, Peters had be­come ob­sessed with a novel he’d been writ­ing and was “liv­ing” the role of a main char­ac­ter.

But Judge Peter Zahra wasn’t con­vinced.

“The weight of ev­i­dence es­tab­lishes be­yond rea­son­able doubt that the of­fender set in train a plan to ex­tort money,” Judge Zahra said. “There are lim­i­ta­tions to which the ex­tent of the ter­ror ex­pe­ri­enced by the vic­tim can be hu­manly un­der­stood.”

He sen­tenced Peters to 13 years and six months in prison and to a non­pa­role pe­riod of ten years.

Out­side the court Mad­die bravely faced the me­dia.

“I am pleased with to­day’s out­come and that I can now look to a fu­ture with­out Paul Peters’ name be­ing linked to mine,” Mad­die said. “For me it was never about the sen­tenc­ing but to know he will not re­of­fend and it was good to hear the judge ac­knowl­edge the trauma he’s put my fam­ily and me through.”

It’s a saga her mother, Belinda, sums up best. “We’ve re­al­ized what’s im­por­tant in life. We don’t worry about the small things now.”

Bomb dis­posal squad of­fi­cers and other emer­gency ser­vices on the night of Mad­die Pul­ver’s or­deal.

CCTV shows Peters buy­ing a base­ball bat; (inset) Paul Peters’ book­ing photo at Old­ham County Jail, Au­gust 2011.

Mad­die and her par­ents ex­pressed relief at know­ing her at­tacker “

will not re­of­fend” and arenow

look­ing to the fu­ture.

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