Investigators probe Rudolph's missing years
Authorities: Fugitive might have lived in camps, caves
(CNN) -- The questions began almost as soon as fugitive Eric Robert Rudolph was arrested early Saturday morning in Murphy, North Carolina.
Where has Rudolph been hiding for more than five years, and what has he been doing all this time?
After all, the man who is suspected in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, attacks on two women's clinics and the bombing of a gay nightclub was arrested within miles of the last place he had been seen. (Full story)
"He had been in the area the whole time," Cherokee County Sheriff Keith Lovin said.
FBI Special Agent Chris Swecker said officials believed all along that Rudolph was still in western North Carolina but didn't know whether he was still alive or had died in hiding.
The Southeast Bomb Task Force, the multiagency group that led the search for Rudolph, worked under the assumption he was alive. John Magaw, upon retiring as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1999, said he thought Rudolph was dead.
Tens of thousands of abandoned mines and caves riddle the mountains of the 517,000-acre Nantahala National Forest where Rudolph, an experienced outdoorsman, could have been hiding. The woods were his playground as a boy, and he often stayed out for days, officials have said, enabling him to become familiar with nooks and crannies of the forest. (Full story)
Charles Stone, who is retired from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and was one of the supervisors of the Bomb Task Force, believes Rudolph had many hiding places.
"He probably had one central hiding place that, for lack of a better term, would be a main camp, but then he probably had multiple spike camps," Stone told CNN. Those secondary camps would not be as well-equipped as the main camp but would have enough supplies and space for Rudolph to live for a number of days.
The mines range from a simple 50-foot hole in the side of a mountain to a vast underground complex for the mining of gold, silver, and mica. Most are uncharted, known only to those familiar with the land, making the search for Rudolph even more difficult, Stone said.
Because the charges against Rudolph involve explosive devices, authorities cautioned people to stay out of the nearby woods.
"There is a safety factor here," Swecker said. "This is a bombing indictment, and we just don't need people in there, trampling in the woods. Any place that we're looking at has potential evidence."
Last known sighting in 1998
Although there have been a number of alleged sightings of Rudolph, the last credible one was in July 1998, when Rudolph went to the home of an Andrews, North Carolina, health food store owner to ask for food and supplies, Swecker said.
The store owner, George Nordmann, at first agreed to help Rudolph, then changed his mind. Nordmann later returned home to find his truck and more than 75 pounds of food and supplies missing. There were five $100 bills on the table.
Whether anyone helped Rudolph remain a fugitive, either by harboring him or giving him aid, will be part of the investigation, authorities said Saturday.
Stone said he does not believe Rudolph had any help.
"Prior to the [Olympic Park] bombing, he became increasingly more paranoid and distrustful of people," Stone said. "He thought the government was everywhere."
Stone said after the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, women's clinic in January 1998, when Rudolph discovered he was wanted, he bought a stash of supplies that officials thought would last him six months.
"Sure enough, in July, he comes back out, appears at George Nordmann's house," Stone said.
After that, there were a number of break-ins at mountain cabins. Although none of the burglaries was ever tied definitively to Rudolph, TVs, microwaves and other expensive items were overlooked in favor of food and articles of men's clothing, Stone said.
Rudolph didn't have to break into homes to find food, however. Stone believes Rudolph hunted and fished for food, and also raided vegetable gardens.
When arrested, Rudolph was wearing a pair of blue work pants, a dark blue shirt, jogging shoes and a camouflage jacket, Lovin said. He was also carrying a backpack with some "miscellaneous items" inside, along with a large flashlight, Murphy police Chief Mark Thigpen said.
Rudolph also had a mustache and no beard -- though he did have stubble -- indicating he had shaved recently.
Mayor: No one in town would've sheltered Rudolph
The mayor of Murphy said he also doesn't believe anyone in his community of 1,650 near the Smoky Mountains could have helped Rudolph stay at large.
"The people in this area just are terribly upset by the whole unfortunate thing," Mayor Bill Hughes said. "I don't think he was getting any assistance from people around here."
Wes Lackey, the manager of the Save-a-Lot grocery store where Rudolph was arrested, said a few weeks ago "scar marks on the door" were found, as though someone had been trying to break in.
An even stranger coincidence happened about a week and a half ago, Lackey said, when he saw a man who looked like Rudolph rummaging through a trash bin behind the store.
"I thought to myself, 'That looked like Eric Rudolph,' " Lackey told CNN. "I said, 'It's impossible. It's midday. There are plenty of people around.' So I let him go about his business."
Swecker said authorities have many new leads that they can follow up on now that Rudolph is no longer a fugitive.
"We're just going to have to work backwards from where he was last and wherever he's been," Swecker said. "He's been somewhere, and we have to go to those places and process those places and see what evidence may be at those places."