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Experts: Letter likely from sniper

Casey Jordan, criminologist
Casey Jordan, criminologist

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A look at why investigators are trying to establish communication with the sniper.
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CNN's Art Harris examines the sniper's patterns
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Between 1989 and 1993, a sniper terrorized Ohio -- until a letter from a victim's mother led investigators to his capture.
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• Interactive: The death penalty
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SUSPECT INFORMATION
Tip line:
888-324-9800
$500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people involved in the shootings.
Write-in tips:
P.O. Box 7875
Gaithersburg, Maryland
20898-7875
Reward contribution line:
240-777-8970

Suspect vehicles:
White Chevrolet Astro-type minivan with a ladder rack on its roof; Ford Econoline van with a ladder rack on its roof; white box-type truck

(CNN) -- Crime experts say that based on what has been reported so far, the letter found Saturday at the scene of a sniper shooting outside a restaurant in Ashland, Virginia, appears to be authentic.

Police sources Tuesday told CNN that certain words or phrases in the letter found after Saturday's attack at the Ponderosa Steakhouse were similar to those on a tarot card left near an October 7 shooting scene in Maryland.

Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief Charles Moose, whose department is leading the sniper investigation, told reporters Tuesday that a postscript to the letter warned: "Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time."

A knowledgeable source told CNN the note made a demand for $10 million. Other law enforcement sources told CNN the letter "hinted at a demand for money."

The latter sources said a person called the sniper task force hot line following the shooting outside the Ponderosa and told police there was a note in the woods nearby where police later found it. The note was described as handwritten and somewhat lengthy, the sources said.

Crime experts say they believe the letter's location and Tuesday morning's fatal shooting of a bus driver in Silver Spring, Maryland, gave credence to its authenticity.

"It is extremely unlikely that a third party would be able to put a note there [near Saturday's shooting site] and get into the crime scene," said Casey Jordan, a criminologist and associate professor in the division of justice and law at Western Connecticut State University.

Jordan pointed out that the letter also promised further mayhem, "and this morning we have further mayhem," referring to Tuesday's killing.

J. Kelly McCann, a legal analyst for CNN, said the letter's location made it unlikely that an opportunistic person witnessed Saturday's shooting, crafted an extortion plan, quickly wrote a letter and ran into the crime scene to leave it without anyone noticing.

The reference to money, however, would be out of character for a serial shooter who commits crimes for the media limelight and thrill of toying with law enforcement, Jordan said.

McCann has his own opinions about the money reference. "Maybe it did not occur to him [earlier]," he said. "The police said it hinted at money, not that it demanded it."

The letter could be authentic, but left for other reasons, McCann said.

"All the letter says is that he wants to communicate. It could be to taunt, to seek resolution or to distract by giving misinformation or disinformation," McCann said. "What if he has a master's degree and wants to write as an uneducated person?"

But the letter does provide fodder for the investigation.

J. Kelly McCann, CNN security analyst
J. Kelly McCann, CNN security analyst

"It does allow police to authenticate and weed out hoaxes by comparing ink type and paper type," McCann said.

And the letter's length could provide more insight about the assailant.

"You could certainly make certain inferences from choice of words and threats," Jordan said. "All of this is tremendous material for psychological analysis."

An example of that is the case of David Berkowitz, the self-described Son of Sam who terrorized New York City for more than a year in the mid-1970s, killing six people and wounding seven with a .44-caliber revolver. He wrote many long, rambling letters to the police that were used to create a psychological profile of him.



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