'Collar bomb' victim relieved at arrest

2011-08-17 12:01
Madeleine Pulver talks with reporters after backing out of the family garage in Sydney Australia. (Channel 9 Sydney, APTN, AP)

Madeleine Pulver talks with reporters after backing out of the family garage in Sydney Australia. (Channel 9 Sydney, APTN, AP)

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Sydney - An Australian teenager who spent 10 hours with a fake bomb chained to her neck said on Wednesday she is relieved the FBI has arrested a man accused of breaking into her home and tethering the device to her as part of an elaborate extortion plot.

Paul Douglas Peters was arrested in Kentucky on Monday in connection with the attack on 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver, who was studying at home when a masked man carrying a baseball bat broke into her house and attached the bomb-like device to her neck.

The man left behind a note demanding money, along with an e-mail address that appeared to refer to a novel about a ruthless businessman in 19th-century Asia.

Bomb specialists spent 10 hours working to remove the device, which was later found to contain no explosives.

A smiling Pulver told reporters outside her home in the wealthy Sydney suburb of Mosman that she was "very relieved" to hear of Peters' arrest.

"I'm glad it's all over," Pulver said.

Range of charges

Asked whether she was wondering why she'd been targeted, she replied: "I think we're all wondering why."

Peters, a 50-year-old Australian investment banker who travels frequently between the US and Australia, was arrested by the FBI at his ex-wife's house in a well-heeled suburb near Louisville, Kentucky. On Tuesday, US Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin ordered Peters jailed pending an extradition hearing set for October 14 in Louisville.

Australian police said they plan to charge him with a range of offenses, including kidnapping and breaking and entering.

What ties Peters has to the wealthy Pulver family remain unclear, although federal court documents released on Tuesday say he once worked for a company with links to the Pulvers.

William Pulver, Madeleine's father, was once the president and CEO of NetRankings, a pioneer in tracking online exposure and readership for companies advertising online. He left after the company was sold to ratings giant Nielsen in 2007. He is now CEO of Appen Butler Hill, a company that provides language and voice-recognition software and services.

New details of Pulver's chilling ordeal were unveiled in the arrest complaint released on Tuesday. According to the documents, the teen was studying for her high school exams on August 3 in her bedroom when she saw the intruder walk in carrying a black aluminium baseball bat and wearing a striped, multicoloured balaclava. "Sit down and no one needs to get hurt," he told her.

Elaborate hoax

Pulver sat on her bed and the intruder placed the bat and a backpack next to her. She noticed he was holding a black box. He forced the box against her throat and looped a device similar to a bike chain around her neck.

The gray-haired intruder, dressed in beige trousers and a light-coloured dress shirt, locked the box around her neck and placed a lanyard and a plastic document sleeve around her neck. It contained a handwritten note with demands, the e-mail address and a USB digital storage device.

"Count to 200," he said as he left, taking the bat and the backpack with him. "... I'll be back ... if you move I can see you I'll be right here", she told authorities, according to the complaint.

After a few minutes Pulver texted her mother, and soon after that she called her father. After telling both of them to call the police, she saw that the attacker's note warned not to contact authorities.

Pulver was "crying and hysterical" when bomb technicians, negotiators and detectives rushed to the scene, but she eventually calmed down, the complaint said.

The note around Pulver's neck said the fake bomb contained "powerful new technology plastic explosives" and was booby trapped. Details for delivering "a Defined Sum" would be sent "once you acknowledge and confirm receipt of this message", it said. The USB device contained the same note.

Cyber trail

The e-mail address the attacker left is dirkstraun1840@gmail.com. Dirk Struan is the main character in James Clavell's 1966 novel Tai-Pan, about a bitter rivalry between powerful traders in Hong Kong after the end of the First Opium War.

Australian authorities determined that the e-mail account was established on May 30 from an Internet Protocol (IP) address linked to a Chicago airport. Travel documents obtained from immigration authorities showed that Peters had been at the airport that day.

The e-mail account was accessed three times on the afternoon of August 3, beginning almost two hours after the hoax device was placed around the teenager's neck, the complaint said.

The first access took place at 16:09 from an IP address registered to a library in Kincumber, about an 80km drive from the girl's home in Mosman. The account was accessed twice more before 18:00 from an IP address registered to a video store a few kilometres from the library.

Surveillance cameras at the library and at a liquor store next to the video store recorded a man matching Peters' description around that time, the complaint said. A video store employee said a "well-dressed" man came in twice to use one of the store's internet computers because he was "waiting for an e-mail".

Records from two stores show that in July, Peters bought a black baseball bat, and a USB device and lanyard identical to those left with Pulver, the complaint said.

Court appearance

The arrest complaint said Peters left Australia on a one-way flight from Sydney to Chicago on August 8 and then flew to Kentucky the next day. Peters is an Australian citizen who has lived in the US, including Kentucky.

On August 11, a Louisville FBI agent spotted Peters in the backyard of his ex-wife's house, the complaint said.

The FBI arrested Peters without incident on Monday in the normally tranquil subdivision of Heather Green near La Grange, about 48km northeast of Louisville.

Peters was bound at the legs when he made a brief court appearance on Tuesday, then bound at the wrists after the hearing ended.

He showed no emotion, spoke quietly to his attorney and glanced briefly at his ex-wife, Debra, who sat alone in the front row, weeping quietly.

Asked by reporters if he had any message for Pulver, Peters said, "I hope she's well" as he was placed into a police van.

Ex-wife in shock

His attorney, Scott Cox, said Peters will contest the charges in Australia, but he did not know whether his client will fight extradition.

Authorities said Peters has been involved in various businesses, but they would not elaborate. Cox said Peters is an attorney who makes his living as an investment banker in Australia and owns his own company.

Peters and his ex-wife divorced in 2007 and have three school-age children together, Cox said. He didn't know how long they were married.

"She's in shock," Cox said of Debra Peters. "This is hard on her and her children. ... She's not involved in any respect to this, at all."


- AP

Read more on:    australia

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