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Before Area Sniper Attacks, Another Deadly Bullet Trail

Paul LaRuffa was shot six times, including in his left arm, outside his Clinton restaurant Sept. 5. Muhammad and Malvo are suspects. (File Photo/ Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

A map Dec. 15 showing the trail of sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo incorrectly highlighted New Mexico instead of Arizona when they arrived in Tucson from Los Angeles to visit Muhammad's sister.

Second Lawyer Appointed for Muhammad
_____MSNBC Video_____
Recording of 911 Call to Police in Sniper Case
Attorney Greenspun Speaks on Muhammad, Malvo Trials
Sniper Shootings: Interactive map shows details of victims and ballistics. (Flash 6)

_____Recent Stories_____
Suspect's Mother Is Taken Back To Jamaica (The Washington Post, Dec 15, 2002)
Young Sniper Victim Steps Forward (The Washington Post, Dec 13, 2002)
TV Barred From First Sniper Trial (The Washington Post, Dec 13, 2002)
First Lady Visits With Teenage Sniper Victim (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2002)
Judge Bars TV Cameras From Trial of Sniper Suspect (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2002)
More Shootings Coverage
_____From FindLaw_____
Indictment: Commonwealth of Virginia v. John Allen Muhammad (Prince William County)
Criminal Complaint: U.S. v. John Allen Muhammad (Federal charges)
Arrest Warrant & Charges (Maryland v. Williams [Muhammad])
Arrest Warrant & Charges (Maryland v. Malvo)
Warrant and Affidavit: State of Alabama v. Muhammad aka Williams (Murder charges)
Warrant and Affidavit: State of Alabama v. Malvo (Murder charges)
Warrant and Affidavit: State of Alabama v. Muhammad aka Williams (Attempted murder charges)
Warrant and Affidavit: State of Alabama v. Malvo (Attempted murder charges)
Search Warrant Application (for vehicle) (PDF)
Letter From Va. Attorney General Jerry Kilgore to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (PDF)
Arrest Warrant and Complaint (U.S. v. John Allen Muhammad) (PDF)
_____Photo Gallery_____
Sniper Shootings: The region's schools felt like fortresses as helicopters flew overhead and jittery parents walked their children to class.

___ Reward and Memorial Funds___
The Montgomery County Reward Fund, established to encourage tips leading to the arrest and indictment of those involved in the region's deadly sniper attacks, has reached the county's goal of $500,000. Any more money collected will go to support the families of shooting victims.
Find out how to donate to the reward and memorial funds.

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By Serge F. Kovaleski and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 15, 2002; Page A01

She is 21, a sweet-tempered single mom on the mend from a broken relationship. She manages a women's clothing store and takes business courses and dreams of owning a restaurant.

And these are the final seconds of her life.

It is a winter evening in Tacoma, Wash. As police and her family will later reconstruct it, Keenya Cook undresses her baby daughter for a bath while food simmers on the kitchen stove.

Rain streaks the windows of the two-story house. Cook has recently split with the child's father and moved in with an aunt and teenage cousin, who are not home at the moment. But they'll be right back. It's a dreary Saturday in February, about 7 p.m.

Now Cook hears someone at the door.

She leaves 6-month-old Angeleah on a bed and walks downstairs. The front porch light is on, and if she peeks through a narrow pane of glass, she may see who's out there.

She is a quiet young woman with soft brown eyes. Later, her loved ones will wear T-shirts bearing her picture and a plaintive query: "Who did it?"

Now she opens the door to the chill air, and to the muzzle of the .45-caliber pistol.

Nine months later, Tacoma police have publicly identified who they suspect was on the other side of that door: John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, who was two days shy of 17. America did not know them Feb. 16. Not until they were accused of the October sniper attacks in and around the nation's capital would they seize the world's attention.

But there was a long prelude to that October violence, investigators allege, a less noticed yet no less savage string of mayhem. Since their arrests in the sniper attacks, Muhammad and Malvo have been charged or suspected in nine earlier shootings, five fatal, in six states from February through September.

They were a pair of wanderers then -- Muhammad a native Louisianan barred from seeing his children, Malvo a Jamaican illegal immigrant adrift from his parents -- a misfit and his impressionable surrogate son, guided in their travels by a logic all their own.

From winter to autumn, from Tacoma to the Gulf Coast, in the Arizona desert and the gritty river towns of southern New Jersey, they roamed by bus and later in a worn down, 12-year-old Chevrolet Caprice.

When they paused here and there, often dirty and nearly penniless, it was the glib Muhammad who usually did the talking, spinning phony stories, insinuating himself and his companion briefly into other people's lives before moving on. Some people welcomed the inseparable pair; others found them unsettling and were happy to see them go. Some were frightened by them -- but most were not.

Usually they said they were father and son, and even one of Muhammad's cousins, Edward Holiday, thought it was true. "He played the role of son so good," Holiday said of Malvo. "When you can fool me, and I'm blood, you're good."

Whom they pretended to be appeared to hinge largely on whom they were with and what stories they thought people would lend an interested or sympathetic ear to.

For a group of college students who gave them a place to stay in Bellingham, Wash., Muhammad played the part of a carefree dad from Jamaica taking his college-bound son on a tour of the United States. To a Louisiana woman organizing a reunion of their 1978 high school senior class, Muhammad said he was a prosperous exporter with a home and loving family in the Virgin Islands. For the New Jersey auto dealer who sold him the Chevy, Muhammad assumed the role of a typical father buying an inexpensive car for his teenager -- until he changed his story and said he planned to use the Caprice as a taxi.

In the Baton Rouge home of a cousin, a campus police officer, Muhammad said that he was a covert Army operative tracking a quarter-ton of stolen explosives and that Malvo was a crack member of his undercover team. In a Bellingham supermarket, Malvo gobbled bite-size quesadilla pieces and told the woman at the sample table, who was from Alabama, that he and his dad were from there, too. In a Baton Rouge natural foods store, Muhammad distracted a clerk, holding forth on his career as a traveling health consultant from Canada. Meanwhile, Malvo roamed the aisles, wearing a baggy, knee-length coat on a steamy summer afternoon.

The lies apparently came on a whim. Muhammad told one cousin in Baton Rouge that he and Malvo had arrived by bus, another that they had flown in. Sometimes he went by John Williams, his birth name, and sometimes by John Muhammad, the name he legally took last year, long after converting to Islam. When he and Malvo visited Tucson in March, bus manifests listed them as John Muhammad and Lee Muhammad on the trip in -- then John Williams and John Williams Jr. on the way out.

Since being arrested Oct. 24 in the sniper cases, Muhammad and Malvo have been charged in four earlier shootings and described by police as strong suspects in five others. Committed mostly in communities hundreds of miles apart in a nation where gun violence is endemic, each crime initially caused ripples only in the place where it occurred. In each jurisdiction, local authorities concentrated on their own investigation, unaware of the others, and no one in law enforcement connected the dots until after Muhammad and Malvo were captured.

By then, in what amounted to a siege on the Washington area, the pair allegedly had shot 13 more people, 10 fatally, in three October weeks: eight men, four women and an eighth-grade boy, each killed or wounded in public by a single rifle bullet fired from hiding -- random targets cut down at ordinary moments in their daily lives.

Like Father and Son

As the alleged snipers await their first murder trials -- each facing a possible death sentence, Muhammad in Prince William County and Malvo in Fairfax County -- authorities seeking more evidence in the October shootings are investigating on two tracks, officials said.

One is focused on October and the questions still unanswered about the 13 attacks, including who pulled the trigger in each case.

The other is centered on the relationship and cross-country travels of Muhammad and Malvo, as authorities seek a fuller picture of the two. Although the timeline still has missing pieces, officials say, a narrative is emerging -- a bizarre, bloody travelogue.

A former Army mechanic with commando fantasies and a poor discipline record in the military, including in the Persian Gulf War, Muhammad had an unpredictable temper and a talent for mind games, which he played with disturbing intensity, according to Mildred Muhammad, who divorced him in 1999 after 11 years of marriage.

She said he could charm or frighten at will, depending on his mood or designs. He was lean and muscular, a gun-lover and weightlifter. And she said his brilliant smile masked smoldering resentments -- anger tied to his failures in the Army, in two marriages and in a court fight with her in which she won sole custody of their three children.

While living on the Caribbean island of Antigua for a few years, Muhammad met Malvo. Brought to Antigua by his itinerant Jamaican mother and left to fend for himself there when she departed for the United States, the youngster, who barely knew his father, found a mentor and surrogate parent in Muhammad, and the two lived together. When Muhammad returned to the United States, Malvo followed, entering the country illegally, and joined his new dad in Washington state last fall in a life of homelessness and alleged petty theft.

Several weeks after Malvo arrived, a pivotal court hearing took place Sept. 4, 2001 -- one that police now suspect had tragic implications for Keenya Cook. In a ruling that acquaintances say devastated Muhammad, a judge allowed Mildred Muhammad to relocate with her children without telling their father. She secretly took them across the country and moved in with her sister in Prince George's County.

About four months after he lost the right to see his children, Muhammad showed up at the Tacoma home of a longtime friend, Robert Holmes. The two had stayed in touch since serving in the Army together in the 1980s, and Holmes welcomed Muhammad's periodic visits. He said Muhammad was not the same man after the custody ruling.

"It was crushing, crushing him," said Holmes, who recalled his old friend's mood as "a cross between livid and very depressed."

Holmes was not surprised that Muhammad had a rifle with him during that visit; he had shown off assault weapons to Holmes in the past. What did surprise Holmes was the teenager with Muhammad, whom Holmes had not met before.

Muhammad introduced Malvo as Lee. "I knew it wasn't his son," said Holmes, though the youngster acted the part. "He was like a kid trying to win his dad's approval. . . . He was eager to get some love and support."

But Muhammad's mind was on his son and two daughters with his second ex-wife, especially the son, John Jr., who turned 12 on Jan. 17. "The only time I've seen depression on his face is when he said his son's birthday had just passed," Holmes said. "He had no way to even call him and wish him a happy birthday."

One witness who helped Mildred Muhammad in the custody fight was Isa Nichols, a former bookkeeper for a defunct auto-repair business the Muhammads had owned. Nichols knew the couple well. And she testified against John Muhammad.

Nichols was Keenya Cook's aunt.

On the rainy night of Feb. 16 when someone came to her Roosevelt Heights home with a .45-caliber pistol, Nichols happened to be out with her daughter buying fixings for chicken tacos.

Months later, after the sniper arrests, investigators learned that Muhammad and Malvo had been staying with a Tacoma man at the time. Police said the man, whom they declined to identify, told them he lent a .45-caliber pistol to the two. Ballistics tests recently showed it was the gun used to kill Cook.

"We all believe that bullet was meant for Isa," said Bill Gold, Cook's grandfather. But then, "we figure whoever . . . opened the door would've been killed because this guy was on a vendetta."

Whoever opened the door.

The porch light illuminated Cook.

The bullet pierced the thin bone below her left eye and lodged at the base of her skull. She crumpled in the doorway, where her aunt and cousin soon found her, smoke filling the house from burning food on the stove, the baby still on the bed upstairs, sleeping.

Of the nine pre-October shootings in which Muhammad and Malvo are charged or under investigation, that was the first. Police said they are the only suspects.

A Death in Arizona

They rolled east across the Sonoran Desert, hour upon hour, until the Greyhound bus hissed to a stop in Tucson and Muhammad and Malvo stepped off.

It was the second week of March, and they had traveled 450 miles from Los Angeles. Muhammad's older sister Odessa Newell picked them up at the Greyhound depot. She lived on a cul-de-sac of small, pink-stucco homes on Tucson's Southeast Side.

Newell drove them to an Econo Lodge, where they checked in on March 14, toting duffle bags. She cooked a dinner for them and took them sightseeing, then dropped them back at the bus terminal March 16.

It is unclear whether the two got on a bus that day. But police said they boarded a bus in Tucson nine days later, March 25, and headed northwest -- this time using the names John Williams and John Jr.

"We don't know if they remained in Tucson continuously [from the 16th] until the 25th or if they left and came back," said Robert Lehner, an assistant Tucson police chief.

Six days before the two departed, Tucson recorded its 19th homicide of the year -- a slaying much like the shootings that later roiled the Washington area.

Jerry Ray Taylor, 60, a salesman for a frozen-foods distributor, was an avid golfer who so loved the game that he made his own clubs. At lunchtime March 19, Taylor pulled his silver Nissan pickup into the parking lot of the Fred Enke Golf Course, a mile or so from Newell's house.

About a half-hour later, while Taylor was chipping balls alone in a practice area, a gunshot sounded in the distance. The bullet hit Taylor in the back, killing him on the spot. Two golfers discovered the body that afternoon; it had been dragged a short distance and partially hidden in a tangle of scrub brush. Taylor's wallet was found nearby, cash and credit cards inside. The slug that tore through his heart -- almost certainly from a high-powered rifle, police said -- hasn't been recovered and most likely shattered into minuscule fragments. There were no witnesses.

Lehner said police suspect Muhammad and Malvo in the killing not only because of their Tucson trip and the similarity of the slaying to the Washington area attacks, but because of a remark Malvo allegedly made to a friend in Bellingham several weeks later. The friend, Harjeet Singh, said Malvo boasted that during a trip to Arizona, he and Muhammad had shot two elderly golfers, robbed them and concealed their bodies. Lehner said that police knew of no other golfer being shot in the state.

Singh said recently that he did not believe Malvo at the time and that he did not tell police about the comment until after the sniper arrests.

That Arizona trip echoes in another way.

The woman at the wheel of the Greyhound bus that carried Muhammad and Malvo out of Tucson on March 25 said she does not remember the two. But she does remember March 25, because that was the day her credit cards were stolen. They were in a pouch in a knapsack that she left on a passenger seat behind her while she drove.

She canceled two of the cards but forgot to call Bank of America about her platinum Visa. A short time later -- when Muhammad and Malvo were back in Washington state -- someone used the Visa to make a $12.01 purchase at a Tacoma gas station.

Months later, after a sniper shooting in Ashland, Va., investigators found a note demanding $10 million for the attacks to stop. The note included an account number at Bank of America, where the money was to be placed: the bus driver's Visa account.

Back in Washington State

Washington state had a gravitational pull on Muhammad and Malvo; no matter how far they ventured, they kept drifting back. They were regulars at the Bellingham YMCA and passed time in the nearby Community Food Co-op, Muhammad often sipping herbal tea with Singh, a weightlifting buddy he had befriended at the gym.

After the Tucson trip, the two returned to their routines in Bellingham and continued spending occasional nights at the Tacoma home of the unidentified friend with the .45-caliber pistol, according to police.

At the Y in early April, Muhammad chatted with a student he had met at the gym nine months earlier, a kinesiology major at Western Washington University who shared Muhammad's zeal for physical fitness. When Muhammad mentioned that he and his teenage son were traveling the country, the student invited them to stay at his place, a townhouse he rented with three classmates in Bellingham's Happy Valley area.

They stayed about five days and were pleasant, appreciative guests.

"Happy-go-lucky," recalled one of the classmates, Jason Hamilton. The visitors showed up with one duffle bag apiece and seldom left each other's side; they slept on pull-out sofa beds and wore the same jeans and old sweat shirts most days -- though Malvo once wore a black T-shirt with the legend SNIPER, from the British Columbia Rifle Association.

"Initially we thought they were homeless," Hamilton said. But "even though their clothes were dirty, they were into hygiene. They bathed every day. Their hair was always combed and groomed." Muhammad said he was John Williams, that he lived in Jamaica, that he and his son Lee were touring the United States before the teenager started college. "They seemed totally respectable," Hamilton recalled, "like a father and son bonding."

They drank purified water and ate fruit, vegetables, bread, crackers, honey and not much else. Muhammad, who said he had served with the Army's Rangers, helped with household chores and was an engaging small-talker. He especially enjoyed discussing nutrition. Before the two left, "they invited us to stay with them in Jamaica, where they lived," Hamilton said.

One unexplained request, though: Muhammad asked one of his hosts for a long piece of lightweight metal tubing. The student did not have one.

Not long afterward, on a Saturday morning in early May, Rabbi Mark S. Glickman of Temple Beth El in Tacoma found a small hole in the back of the synagogue's ark, the chest where the scrolls of the Torah are kept. He blamed it on mice until a few days later, when he saw a second hole, in the front of the ark. It was aligned with the first.

He called police, who found two more holes -- in a fence outside and in a wall of the temple. They left the synagogue with two .44-caliber bullets, one found lodged in a wall, the other in the ark.

There were no suspects in the vandalism until after the sniper arrests, when the Tacoma man who told investigators that he lent Muhammad and Malvo the .45-caliber pistol said he also lent a .44-caliber handgun. That was the weapon used at the synagogue, according to ballistics tests. No one has been charged in the case.

A few weeks later, Muhammad and Malvo were in the Community Co-op with Singh. Muhammad had currency from the Bahamas, Grenada and Jamaica, Singh said, and claimed to have been using a credit card he had stolen. He said Muhammad also had something to show him: a piece of steel tubing.

He pulled it from a knapsack -- a greasy rod about eight inches long and two inches in diameter, with threads on one end. Singh said Muhammad showed him a book about silencers and designs for one and then asked if Singh knew of any machine shops across the border in British Columbia that could make a silencer.

There was more: Singh said Muhammad told him that he and Malvo planned to trigger a fiery explosion by shooting a fuel tanker on a highway, or maybe they would kill a police officer, then blow up the funeral home and kill the mourners.

On June 5, after Singh was arrested on a domestic violence charge, he told a police detective and an FBI agent about the alleged schemes. The investigators listened, Singh said. But nothing came of it.

Raising Suspicions

The rifle used in the sniper attacks -- the one that authorities say they found in Muhammad's Chevy after arresting the two suspects Oct. 24, the Bushmaster XM-15, a civilian version of the military's M-16 -- was delivered by a distributor to Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, a Tacoma gun shop, on July 2. And there the paper trail ends.

The semiautomatic weapon was outfitted with a bipod, a telescopic sight and a targeting laser. Priced at $1,600, it went on display behind the sales counter with scores of other firearms.

Then it disappeared, though exactly when is unclear. The store's owner said he did not know it was gone until police contacted him after Muhammad and Malvo were arrested. Since then, authorities say, two employees have said that they saw Malvo in the shop before the rifle went missing.

That summer, the two wanderers again visited Muhammad's Army buddy Holmes in Tacoma. Holmes said Muhammad showed him his silencer book, plus a silencer he had made, and marveled at "the damage you could do" with a sound suppressor.

He also brought his latest rifle -- a civilian version of the military's M-16. This one had a telescopic sight. They took the rifle out to Holmes's back yard to test the silencer. Muhammad aimed at a tree stump.

"The first time, it worked," Holmes recalled. "The second time, it was louder. The third time, it was like there was nothing on it."

Holmes said he was not sure what to make of Muhammad's fixation on sound suppressors and his remark about inflicting damage. Muhammad had always been a fountain of bravado and wild stories, said Holmes. But by last summer's visit, Muhammad's fourth since the start of the year, Holmes said, he could see that his friend was coming mentally unhinged. "The outer shell looked the same, but there were some little quirks in the armor," Holmes said. "Some of the things he was saying -- I knew there was something wrong."

On the road again in July, Muhammad and Malvo showed up unannounced in Baton Rouge, where Muhammad had a bevy of relatives. They stayed for a few weeks.

About 10 one night, Muhammad appeared at the home of his cousin Charlene Anderson, who lived with her two adult daughters in the part of Baton Rouge where Muhammad had grown up, a working-class, largely black neighborhood called The Field.

Anderson, 41, a Southern University police officer, was just home from work when Muhammad came to her front door, looking ragged in a gray Adidas T-shirt, bike shorts and old tennis shoes. He was lugging a big green duffel bag.

"He looked slimmer in the face," Anderson recalled, "like he wasn't eating well." He hugged her and asked where he could find a hotel, and she said: "Why do you need a hotel? You've got about 30 cousins. . . . You could stay here." Muhammad told her he had left his son at an aunt's house in the area. He said he would get him and be back. That same night, after he had returned with Malvo, Muhammad was sitting in the kitchen with the teenager when Anderson walked in.

Muhammad ordered Malvo out of the room. Then he turned to his cousin and explained why he had come to Baton Rouge: He was on a secret mission to find 500 pounds of stolen C-4 explosives. "We traced it back to drug areas," Muhammad said, according to Anderson. "We got a team out. We're working undercover and, you know, we don't share our information with law enforcement."

Muhammad asked if she could direct him to a drug area in Baton Rouge, and Anderson scoffed. "I said, 'Hell, you grew up in one.' " Maybe because she was mentally spent after a 16-hour shift, she said, she half-believed the story. She did not know that Muhammad had left the military in 1994, after eight years.

A while later, in the living room with Anderson, Muhammad opened his duffel bag and pulled out a rifle in a case and two boxes of bullets. He gestured to Malvo, who was on a sofa. "See that boy there?" Muhammad said. "He's not my son. He's on the team. He's highly trained."

The two went to bed, and by the time they got up at 4:30 p.m. the next day, Anderson was uneasy about them being in her house. "I had an uncomfortable feeling about Malvo," she said. "I said to my daughter, 'Something don't feel right.' " That evening, she made up a story about expecting a friend from out of town and asked her cousin and his companion if they could stay with her brother, Edward Holiday.

They slept at the homes of at least five of Muhammad's relatives. "He came to my house asking for food," Holiday said of his cousin. "He wanted to spend the night. He was dirty, and he didn't have money for food. He said: 'Ed, feed me. I'm hungry.' "

Muhammad ate until he was full, Holiday said, but did not shower or change clothes.

As for Malvo, Holiday said he believed the teenager was Muhammad's son by Mildred Muhammad. "John once had a 300ZX," Holiday said, referring to a Nissan sports car. "One day when Malvo came over alone, I mentioned the 'ZX. Malvo said, 'We still got that car in storage.' He schooled him good."

Malvo seemed a well-mannered youth. Holiday said that at the time, he wished he had a son like him. He was "like a breath of fresh air, like a kid from another time," said Holiday, who has two daughters. "When he left, he said, 'Nice meeting you.' "

While in Baton Rouge, Muhammad spoke by phone with Janet M. Scott, who was organizing their class reunion. Besides telling Scott about his "blessed" life in the Virgin Islands, he spoke briefly about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, voicing sympathy for the victims but saying the disaster was God's design. "You know, my sister, that didn't happen by accident," Scott recalled him saying. "Everything that happens, God has mapped out."

They also did some shopping. Muhammad and Malvo visited a Baton Rouge health food store, Our Daily Bread, where they aroused suspicion almost immediately.

Cashier Sharla Greenwood tried keeping an eye on them, but the two went separate ways in the store. As Malvo browsed, wearing a long black coat on a summer afternoon and carrying a knapsack, Greenwood felt Muhammad was trying to distract her by chatting her up, saying he was a Canadian health consultant.

He was solicitous. Greenwood said that when she coughed, Muhammad advised, "You need something to boost your immune system." And he tried to put her at ease when her attention turned to Malvo. "Oh, that's just my son," he said.

"They filled a little hand basket with bottles of supplements," Greenwood said. "But they never bought the stuff."

A few days later, on Aug. 4, the pair returned, purchasing only a 95-cent frozen treat. The day after that, a man called the store to say that he had met a consultant from Canada at a Baton Rouge YMCA and had bought health products from him -- one with a Daily Bread price tag on it. Suspecting the items had been stolen, a store worker notified police. Nothing came of it.

Before the travelers departed Baton Rouge on Aug. 9, Holiday drove Muhammad to a bus station and watched him pay for two tickets to Washington state with grubby bills. "Hard-time money that didn't come out of any ATM machine," recalled Holiday, who overheard a clerk ask Muhammad if he wanted round-trip fares. "No," said Muhammad, who had about $5 left after buying one-way tickets. "I have a flight out of Washington for the Caribbean."

When he got back to Washington state, though, he went car shopping. Muhammad eyed a white, 1965 Lincoln Continental with a black leather interior for sale at a Tacoma auto shop for $3,500. "He was interested in the trunk," said Todd Paulson, the shop's owner. "The car had a big trunk, about the size of the hood." But he decided to look elsewhere.

Finding a Car -- in New Jersey

After Mildred Muhammad moved with her children to her sister's townhouse in Prince George's, she said, she did not see her ex-husband again. But she said recently that she believes he knew where she was and intended to eventually kill her.

The townhouse is in Clinton.

Sept. 5: Outside Margellina's, his Clinton pizzeria, Paul LaRuffa strolled to his car at 10:30 p.m., his laptop computer in one hand, a black leather briefcase in the other. The briefcase held the day's receipts, $3,500. He put the bags in the back seat of his Chrysler 300M and slid behind the wheel.

Just before the shots rang out, LaRuffa, 55, glimpsed his assailant -- a slight figure by the driver's side window. There was a flash. Glass shattered and the gun kept firing, a half-dozen .22-caliber pistol slugs tearing little holes in his chest, back and left arm. Then the gunman grabbed the two bags and fled.

"I'm not going to die in a parking lot in Clinton, Maryland," LaRuffa promised himself aloud. He survived.

Police said Muhammad and Malvo are suspects in the Clinton shooting because, after their arrests in the sniper attacks, LaRuffa's Sony Vaio laptop was found in their Chevy. Shortly after the Clinton robbery, Muhammad and Malvo arrived in Camden, N.J., apparently by bus, hungry and wearing soiled clothes. They showed up at All Nations Cuisine, a Caribbean-style takeout restaurant, looking for a cook named Walford Osbourne, whom they had met in Antigua.

Instead they met the cook's brother, Nathaniel Osbourne, 26, a reggae singer waiting for fame. He was living above the restaurant and helping out. He said Malvo called Muhammad "Dad." Osbourne said he felt sorry for the two and let them stay in his room. He took Muhammad car shopping.

Muhammad looked at two used Hondas, one a hatchback and the other a coupe with a small trunk, but rejected both.

On Sept. 8, Osbourne drove him to a Trenton used-car lot -- Sure Shot Auto Sales. Muhammad, claiming to be from Canada, told salesman Fernando Maestre that he wanted an inexpensive, four-door car for his teenage son.

The 1990 Chevy that caught his eye was a former police undercover car with 146,975 miles on its odometer. Maestre said Muhammad was less interested in the battered Caprice's mechanical condition than he was in the spaciousness of its trunk -- which authorities allege was turned into a shooting platform for the sniper attacks.

The air conditioning was broken, and the car had no spare tire. They settled on a price: $250.

Muhammad showed up Sept. 10 with the cash, saying he planned to use the car as a taxi. "They changed their story four times," Maestre said.

Muhammad registered the Caprice in New Jersey on Sept. 11, with Osbourne as co-owner. Although Osbourne was later detained as a material witness in the sniper cases, authorities say they do not suspect him of wrongdoing.

"The feeling of compassion was my calling toward them," Osbourne said. He said he felt a special sympathy for Malvo, a fellow Jamaican whose evident hard life reminded Osbourne of his impoverished childhood on the island. They reminisced about Jamaica, Osbourne said, and when the teenager spoke wistfully of playing marbles with other boys, Osbourne realized that Malvo -- whom Muhammad said was an aspiring pilot -- was still a child in some ways.

The All Nations owner, Michael Clarke, said Muhammad and Malvo ate at the restaurant several times -- mostly veggie burgers and fish sandwiches -- and paid for their meals. He said Malvo spent a lot of time on a bar stool, absorbed in a laptop computer. Clarke said the teenager talked about being a vegetarian and "knew a lot about herbs and other natural things for the body."

As for Muhammad, "He seemed upset that he had not seen his kids in a while," Clarke recalled.

Then one day, he and Malvo were off. "They appeared and they disappeared," Clarke said. "They never said goodbye."

Liquor Store Shootings

They were motorized now.

Sept. 14: Arnie Zelkovitz, owner of Hillandale Beer and Wine in Silver Spring, was planning some time off. While he was gone, Rupinder Oberoi, 22, was to be in charge of closing up at night. Just after 10 p.m., they were standing out front, the boss showing the clerk how to lock the door.

Both heard the gunshot. Oberoi went numb on his right side, he couldn't breathe, and he folded to the sidewalk. Zelkovitz bent over him, lifted his T-shirt and saw the wound in Oberoi's lower back. The bullet had splintered inside him, the shards hitting an array of organs. But he recovered.

None of the fragments is suitable for ballistics analysis. In naming Muhammad and Malvo suspects, police cited the similarity of the shooting to the October attacks and other, unspecified evidence. Zelkovitz said a Safeway employee next door told detectives he saw an old, dark sedan leaving the scene.

The next night: The first two bullets came from behind, whizzing past Muhammad Rashid's head, missing by inches. When he turned, the third bullet struck him in the abdomen. He fell and played dead.

Rashid, 32, who lived to tell his story, was the night man at Three Road Liquor, a pool hall, bar and liquor store in Brandywine. Around closing time, 10 p.m., he saw an old, dark-colored car in the lot, but thought nothing of it. The shots were fired as he was standing outside, locking the door. Clutching his stomach, he lay still on the ground as the gunman stole his wallet.

Muhammad and Malvo are suspects, police said, because Rashid was shot with the same .22-caliber pistol used to wound LaRuffa, the pizzeria owner whose laptop later turned up in the Caprice.

Sept. 21, about 630 miles south: Another man working at a liquor store, in Atlanta, walked outside and was gunned down. Million A. Woldemariam, 41, wasn't employed by Sammy's Package Store; he was just helping the owner, a fellow Ethiopian immigrant, at closing time.

At 12:15 a.m., Woldemariam headed to the store's parking lot and waited for the owner to turn off the lights. He had seen a suspicious car in the lot earlier, and the owner had warned him not to linger alone outside. He waved her off.

One .22-caliber pistol bullet hit him in the head, another in the back, and he later died. "He had only gone a few steps" before the shots, said the owner. As he lay on the rain-soaked pavement, "I called his name, 'Million! Million! Million!' And he didn't answer."

Muhammad and Malvo have been charged with murder in that case based largely on evidence found after an attack that occurred the same day, 19 hours later and 160 miles southwest, in Montgomery, Ala.

Claudine Parker, 52, and Kellie Adams, 24, were closing a state-run liquor store. Parker was headed to a football game, Adams to pick up her young daughter. They were outside, locking the door.

Two shots -- one bullet each. Adams survived, Parker did not. A police officer arrived and saw a man standing over the victims with a pistol, but the man ran off. After Muhammad's arrest in the sniper shootings, the officer identified him as the man he had chased. A nickel-plated, .22-caliber revolver was later found along Muhammad's alleged escape route, and tests showed it was the gun that killed Woldemariam in Atlanta. The pistol had been stolen from a gun show in El Paso.

The Bushmaster sniper rifle also was used in the Alabama attack, police said. And Malvo allegedly left a fingerprint at the scene. His prints were on file with federal authorities because he had once been detained as an illegal immigrant, but police did not submit the Alabama print to the FBI for identification. Muhammad and Malvo have since been charged with murder and other crimes in the case.

Sept. 23: In Baton Rouge, Muhammad's hometown, a woman left work at the Beauty Depot, a supply store, just after 6:30 p.m. and walked toward her suburban utility vehicle. She died on the way.

Hong Im Ballenger, 45, who came to Louisiana after marrying an American GI in Korea, was struck in the head by a rifle bullet. Seconds later, a witness saw a large, blue car driven by a black man ease out of a field about 75 yards from Ballenger's body. It traveled one block east and picked up another black man, who was holding Ballenger's purse. The car sped away.

Ballenger was slain with the Bushmaster, and Muhammad and Malvo have been charged with murder. A day after the killing, the two again stopped at Our Daily Bread -- but this time employees followed them closely in the store, and the pair left in a huff.

Then they moved east. On Sept. 28, a police officer in Gulfport, Miss., ran a computer check of the Chevy's tag, and it came back clean. Muhammad and Malvo tried to rent a movie at a video store on Highway 49, but were turned away because of Muhammad's out-of-state driver's license.

They rode north.

A Fairfax County officer saw the beat-up Caprice on Oct. 1 and ran its tag. Montgomery County officers ran it twice more Oct. 2. It came back clean.

Then it began, on the night of Oct. 2. "I'm at Shoppers Food Warehouse on Randolph Road and a man just fell in the parking lot," a woman told a Montgomery 911 operator. "There was a loud noise, but we're not sure if he was shot."

He was. And so were 12 more over the next 20 days.

And no one saw it coming.

Staff writers Fredrick Kunkle, Sari Horwitz, Marcia Slacum Greene, Michelle Boorstein and Mary Beth Sheridan and researchers Bobbye Pratt and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

2002 The Washington Post Company