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Clayton Waagner's gone but not forgotten

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Got a letter from Clayton Waagner, 2001 Fugitive of the Year and virtuoso of the fake anthrax threat.

Our correspondence is spotty because, while no longer self-employed as a desperado, he maintains a busy schedule of trips between prisons. On Aug. 15, for instance, he was sentenced in Ohio for firearms violations at 3 p.m. and by nightfall was bedded at the Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa.

"Seems they didn't like finding that I'd removed two concrete blocks from my maximum security jail cell," Clayton writes. "Nearly did it again. Can you just imagine ... "

I can.

In February of 2000, Waagner, who had stalked abortion clinics throughout the East and mid-South while stealing cars, trucks, guns and robbing people, slipped through the roof of a jail cell in Clinton, Ind. For 18 months he cut a swath across the political psyche, dispatching e-mails to his comrades in the Army of God, threatening to kill anyone who worked in a clinic and then, at last, sending fake anthrax and billing the shipments to abortion rights groups.

I called a source in federal law enforcement to check out Waagner's story.

"I heard that," my guy said. "He got two blocks out of the cell."

Could have been quite a moment, given that Waagner enjoyed status on both the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service most-wanted lists.

"I'm trying to forget about him," my source sighed.

Waagner plans to make himself hard to forget. A recent letter asked about reprint rights on the many news stories about him because he's at work on his autobiography. He will have time. A career criminal who served time for robbery, theft, escape and who still faces three counts of bank robbery, a convenience store holdup, burglary, kidnap and bomb toting, Waagner is an unlikely candidate for a prison room with a view outside.

Last month a grand jury in Philadelphia indicted him on multiple counts of terrorism for sending out the anthrax threats while on the run.

He wrote to tell me the grand jury has hauled Army of God stalwarts before it.

"It seems to be a fishing expedition in which they are trying to tie others to my actions," Waagner said. "I know this to be a waste of time and money because no one else was involved. But the FBI won't take my word for it. Go figure."

Waagner has admitted publicly that he dug up Federal Express billing numbers by phoning Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation and tricking clerks into handing them out. Then he obtained a powdered insecticide that gives a false positive reading for anthrax in field tests and enclosed it with a nasty letter. When police caught up with him at a Cincinnati Kinko's, Waagner was programming a computer to fax out multiple bomb scares to abortion providers around the country.

Federal agents seem to think that the complexity and timing of the threats were too much for one person to carry out.

"Like I had anything else to do," Waagner told me.

Clayton plans to turn his Philadelphia trial into a media event. He will defend himself, a relief for defense lawyers who so far have found him indefensible. In Illinois three years ago he tried an insanity defense because he said he heard God telling him to kill abortion providers. Didn't work. What did work was prying a door open and heading for the ceiling.

On the road he sought out abortion doctors but succeeded in stalking receptionists and clerical aides. Ever adaptable, he issued a communique declaring that in the future he'd shoot the janitor. Then he lost his nerve anyway.

His letters from jail are cheery. I am hearing from a man at peace with a sealed fate. The gun charges brought him 19 years. Theft charges ended with a sentence of 30 years, to be tacked on. Waagner is 44 and, after the anthrax trial he can expect to be out of jail at the age of 125.

"Whenever it comes, I will defend myself and look forward to it," he writes. He thanks me for my advice on the legal ins and outs of citing news coverage in his forthcoming book.

"I wouldn't want you guys suing me," he writes. Yeah. One wrong step and he could lose everything.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.

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