'Zip gun bomber' leaving few clues behind

Zip gun

Latest strike targets retired broker

June 21, 1996
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

NEW YORK (CNN) -- For postal carrier Ken Barris, Thursday started off just like any other. He got up, he reported to work, he made deliveries in Brooklyn. One of his deliveries, a package about the size of a videotape, went to Richard Basile, a retired real estate broker on a quiet Brooklyn street.

Moments after he handed the package to Basile, his average day ended. He heard the retired agent shouting that the box had blown up.

"I went into the house and smelled gun powder, and seen broken windows and glass," Barris said.


Detectives said one projectile broke a window, and another struck the opposite wall. Basile and his wife were shaken, but not injured. They had no idea who might want to hurt them.

Investigators said the package seemed similar to four others mailed to New York addresses over the past 14 years. The first, in 1982, fatally shot a 54-year-old Brooklyn woman in the heart. She believed the package contained a cookbook.

Eleven years later, the same type of device, packed in a blue velvet box, sprayed bullets at a Staten Island family, injuring three. A similar box critically injured an elderly Brooklyn woman the following year.


And in 1995, a young woman went into early labor after bullets misfired, burning her legs and abdomen. "I just received something in the mail, and I opened it, and it was a book. And I opened the book, and it exploded," Stephanie Gaffney recalled.

Postal inspectors say they cannot connect the Thursday explosion to the others until painstaking lab tests prove such a link. A connection has already been found betweeen the four earlier devices: All featured electronic switches and brake-lining tubes used as barrels, leading detectives to dub their suspect the "zip gun bullet man."

But investigators still don't have a clue who the killer is, or what motivates him. The culprit has never sent a message to a victim, to police, or to the news media.

"We can't tie the victims together," said U.S. Postal Inspector Daniel Mihalko. "We don't have a motive here. So we're not really sure what the zip gun person is really trying to show here."


Criminologists say it's possible he's jealous of all the publicity surrounding the accused Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski; the young man who police say confessed last week to the vicious beatings of four women in New York; or the arrest of a suspect in New York's "Zodiac" serial shootings. But that's just a theory; nobody is sure what drives the zip gun bomber.

"He's obviously a loner. He speaks to no one. He does not brag about it," said criminologist Harvey Kushner.

Postal inspectors say people should not panic over the zip gun explosives, but should be wary of unexpected packages. "Try to contact the return addressee, to determine if they did in fact send the parcel," recommended Patricia Bossert, U.S. Postal Inspector.

The package that exploded Thursday was marked "March of Dimes." The four packages previously linked had return addresses, and a few advertised a "free offer" inside.

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