By the time we get to the third week in our true crime podcast series, 'Three Weeks of Hell: The DC Snipers," 10 people had been shot, 8 of them killed.
Thousands of calls were coming in to the tip lines, and task force members scrambled to put together puzzle pieces left behind by the snipers: tarot cards, notes, phone calls.
The murder of Linda Franklin on the evening of October 14 was a gut punch for investigators who had been trying as best they could to hold their emotions in check so that they could focus on the manhunt.
Linda was 47 years old, a breast cancer survivor and worked as an FBI analyst fighting cyber crimes. She and her husband Ted had gone to the Home Depot on Rt. 7 in Falls Church to do some shopping for an upcoming move.
In our podcast, you'll hear a portion of the heartbreaking 911 call from Linda's husband, moments after a sniper's bullet dropped her to the ground. We understand this call is difficult to listen to, but we decided to include it because it pierces right to heart of the anguish these families had to go through.
The Franklin family prefers that Linda is remembered for her adventurous spirit, her tenacious mind, and her life full of love and friendship. Her daughter, Katrina Hannum, told us her mother was "an intelligent, loving, kind and giving person whose legacy is carried on through her grandchildren."
Today, Linda's granddaughter, named Linda in her honor, is a kid scientist, active on Facebook and Instagram at "Linda's Lab" - and at 10 years old is in the process of becoming the CEO of her own non-profit corporation. Katie says young Linda "is incredibly gifted in math and science, just like my mother was, and she is so proud to be named after a woman who wanted to do good in the world as she does."
Though Linda worked for the FBI, it was determined her murder was just as random as all the others. Still, retired ATF Special Agent Mike Bouchard, one of the lead investigators on the case, took it kind of personally.
A crack in the case came on October 17, with another call from the snipers to the tipline, telling police to look into a previous shooting in Montgomery, Alabama. The liquor store shooting on September 21, 2002 killed Claudine Parker and wounded Kellie Adams. Alabama police had collected evidence including a shell casing and a print magazine for gun enthusiasts. Montgomery County, MD States Attorney John McCarthy says this was another frustrating failure to connect the dots.
On Saturday, October 19 - 2 days after that call and unfortunately before detectives were able to get evidence from the Alabama shooting, Jeffrey Hopper was shot leaving the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, VA. Hopper and his wife were driving home to Florida, and decided not to stop in DC for dinner because of the sniper shootings there. Ashland, VA police officer Tim Meacham was first on the scene that night. He says he had to provide armed escort to the ambulance crew - so they'd feel comfortable getting out to aid Hopper.
He recalls: "I was making myself a target, you know, by providing the armed escort of the ambulance and making them feel safe so that they can come in and grab Jeff and get him to where he needs to be, which was the trauma center. So, you know, I'm thinking this and right after we had established the final perimeter for the crime scene, investigators from the sheriff's office start to arrive."
Jeffrey Hopper survived. His wife was able to point investigators to where the shot came from, and in that wooded area, a 4-page note from the snipers was found. They demanded $10 million dollars loaded onto a canceled Bank of America card... and made another chilling threat.
"They said, 'if catching us is more important. Get your body bags.', remembers Meacham. "They did. They said, 'get your body bags.' And they made this threat to the children. 'Your children are not safe anywhere, any time.'
The note also told police the snipers would call a phone at the Ponderosa. It was intercepted and re-routed to an FBI line. You'll hear this too in our podcast. A voice, now identified as Malvo, says: "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 one, 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 two, be sure to remember he will not deviate. P.S. Your children are not safe."
Investigators knew they were racing the clock. And an FBI agent from Mobile, Alabama was racing to task force headquarters in Rockville Maryland, arriving on Monday, October 21 with evidence from the Montgomery Alabama liquor store shooting. The fingerprint taken from a magazine, and the shell casing. But not before another unsuspecting victim was cut down.
Conrad Johnson was a 35 year old father of two, and a Ride-On Bus driver. He was shot and killed before dawn on October 22, standing near the driver seat of his bus as it was parked in the Aspen Hill area of Montgomery County.
We learned from State's Attorney John McCarthy of a strange coincidence that initially had investigators wondering if a fellow bus driver was connected to the killing.
"He and the other bus driver would meet each morning. They had a stage at a particular location. And then you left from that staging area to run your various routes so that you got to the locations at the right time. They would sit, drink their coffee, get on the bus, and then go, go do the routes, " said McCarthy.
"The woman who he was having coffee with was Rayful Edmonds' sister. Rayful Edmonds is the biggest drug dealer in the history of Washington, DC. When he was killed, people initially at some point in time thought, 'does this tie back to Rayful Edmonds and drug dealing in Washington D.C.?' McCarthy says the theory didn't last long, as another tarot card was found near the scene on Connecticut Avenue.
Hours later, the FBI fingerprint database would produce a match for Lee Boyd Malvo. But by then, despite heroic measures by trauma surgeons at Bethesda's Suburban Hospital, Conrad Johnson passed away.
More tips were coming in, and finally it appeared that investigators were getting the upper hand as more puzzle pieces began to fall into place. That included a call the snipers made to a priest in Ashland, VA - corroborating the snipers' own tip off to the Montgomery Alabama shootings, and information trickling in from Tacoma, Washington from people who knew John Allen Muhammad and had suspicions about his activities.
On Wednesday, October 23, FBI investigators knocked on the door of a modest white townhome in Clinton, Maryland - and informed Mildred Muhammad that her ex-husband was going to be named the DC Sniper. Mildred's account of that night, and the days after... is in our next episode.
Episodes of "Three Weeks of Hell: The DC Snipers" come out on Wednesdays. You can find episodes on FOX5DC.com in addition to YouTube, and wherever you get your podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeart, and TuneIn. You can also view an interactive timeline here.