In episode 8 of our true crime podcast series "Three Weeks of Hell: the DC Snipers," two women share their life stories impacted by the infamous killing spree 20 years ago.
One is Mildred Muhammad. She was the ex-wife of sniper John Allen Muhammad, sentenced to death for his role in the shooting deaths of 10 people in the DC area over the course of three weeks in October 2002.
The other woman you’ll hear from in the episode "Tale of Two Wives" is Sandy Moose, the widow of former Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose. He was the public face of the frustrating investigation. Charles Moose died of an aneurysm at their home in Florida last Thanksgiving.
Sandy talks about their life before, during and after the sniper case. Mildred Muhammad shares the story about finding out her ex-husband, the father of her three young children, was about to be named the sniper just hours before Muhammad and his accomplice, then 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo were captured sleeping in their car at a rest stop 50 miles north of Washington, DC.
"October 23rd (2002), the ATF and the FBI knocked on my door and said, 'when was the last time you heard from John Allen Muhammad?'," says Mildred Muhammad. "And so my palms started sweating and I said, 'Why are you asking me about John?'"
Turns out, police had finally identified the suspected serial snipers and were about to go public with their names. They wanted to give Mildred a heads up and offer her family protection. This was three weeks into the killing spree that was making headlines worldwide.
"My head hit the table," Muhammad explains. "They (asked), 'Well, do you think he would do something like this? I raised my head. I looked in the corner.' I said, 'yeah.' He said, 'Well, why would you think that?' And I said, 'Well, we were watching a movie (once and) he said ‘I could take a small city, terrorize it. They would think it would be a group of people and it would only be me.’ I asked him, 'why would you do something like that?' And he changed the subject.
After agreeing to go into protective custody, but before fleeing their Clinton, MD home, Mildred shares how she broke the news to her children. "The first person I see when I walk in is my son and I pull him in the bathroom. I say, 'Honey, they're going to name your dad as the sniper.' He starts to melt down to the floor and I say, 'You can't break down right now. We got to go.' So I brought him downstairs with my daughters and tell them the same thing and they started crying. I said, 'you can't, we can't, you can't cry. We’ve got to get some clothes. We’ve got to pack and we’ve got to go. We’ve got to go.'"
Mildred also tells us about seeing her ex-husband’s picture on the news that night soon after they settled into their hotel room. "I walked up to the TV screen, put my hand on it and said, 'what happened to you?' My (12-year-old) son was crying on one bed, my daughters were crying on the other. I pulled them together until they cried themselves to sleep." She goes on to tell us, ‘I got a pillow. I went into the bathroom, turned on the water in the tub, turned on the water in the sink, closed the door, sat on the floor, and screamed into the pillow because I didn't know what to do and I didn't know who to call.""
Mildred Muhammad goes on to tell us how she was able to raise her children to be superb adults even with that cloud hanging over them. We also talk about her experience going on to write a dozen books and speaks out about surviving domestic violence.
We also interviewed Sandy Moose from her home in St. Petersburg, FL. She was married to Charles Moose for 34 years. Sandy says his death in November 2021 was sudden.
"The day he passed, he already made his drinks for his 20-mile bike ride the next day...that’s a guy who is planning on living," Sandy tells us. "He was watching football, and I just heard him say my name but instead of Sandy he said ‘Nandy’ and I had this immediate dread and went into the room he was in and he was in the middle of leaving. Neither one of us was prepared."
Charles Moose was police chief in Portland, Oregon when he was hired by Montgomery County in 1999. That was 3 years before the sniper killings. We ask Sandy what it was like for Charles to be one of the people in charge of the investigation. "It wasn’t like it was daunting or he wasn’t up for the task (though) he did have a bit of a why me, why now?"
Chief Moose left his job with Montgomery County after writing a book about his experience during the sniper case. it was titled: "Three Weeks in October: the Manhunt for the Serial Sniper." Moose was criticized for writing the book and going on tour promoting it just a year after the shootings while the cases against the snipers were still working their way through the court system. That controversy is what led to his resignation from the Montgomery County police department.
Sandy says Charles kept not a journal but notes with reflections on his feelings at different times in his life. In one she read recently he’d written: "no regrets." "He didn’t live his life regretting," Sandy tells us. "He looked at the next opportunity. Opportunity means more than landing another job."
After leaving Montgomery County, Sandy and Charles moved to Hawaii. She says he actually entered the police academy there to re-start his career in law enforcement. She says it wasn’t because he wanted to become a junior police officer again, but because they needed health insurance.
Charles Moose would later apply for his old job when Portland, OR was looking to hire a police chief. He didn’t get it. Sandy says that stung.
She also tells a poignant story reflecting on the shooting of the youngest sniper victim, Prince George’s county middle schooler Iran Brown. "The tear he shed when he was talking about Iran Brown," Sandy explains about the day the 13-year-old Brown was shot and severely wounded outside of his school. "He called me right after the press conference and said ‘I might have blown it. I couldn’t stop my emotions.’ And I'm like you know people that see you know your commitment and your passion and you’ll be ok." Sandy goes on to say, "and when he died, he was in his recliner and a tear rolled down the same cheek. Just one tear. It made me so sad."
Sandy Moose shares more stories about her life with the man the world came to know as "Chief Moose" for those terrifying three weeks in the Fall of 2002. Mildred Muhammad explains how she was able to help her children cope with the loss of their father - in ways most young people would find hard to fathom.
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.