By MARY JACOBY, Times Staff Writer
It was Sept. 12, 1999, about 5 p.m., and Terry Shepherd of the Illinois State Police had stopped to help the driver of a motor home that was broken down on the westbound shoulder of Interstate 74, an empty stretch of fields and woodlands between Danville and Urbana.
Up ahead, Shepherd saw a woman and child standing on the grass beside the motor home. In his passenger seat was the husband, a guy of about 40 with neatly cut hair. He used his hands a lot when talking.
He was telling a story about how his van had broken down in Lynchburg, Va., and he had rented the Winnebago from a used-car dealer and he didn't have a receipt because he was traveling with a wife and eight kids and you know how things get lost when you're on the road with eight kids.
Shepherd hesitated. Kind of plausible, he thought, according to his testimony later in federal court. Problem was, he had just run the license plate number. The motor home was reported stolen.
"It's hard to believe you didn't steal this thing," the trooper finally said.
The man didn't answer.
"I'll tell you what. I'll go up and ask your wife."
"Don't need to," the man said. "I stole the motor home." He confessed his ID was fake, his real name was Clayton Lee Waagner, and there were warrants out for his arrest. Under the driver's seat, he said, were four handguns.
The trooper snapped on handcuffs. Waagner asked a favor: Don't tell the kids he was under arrest. "They think they're on vacation," he said.
And your wife? Shepherd asked. Why would she go on the run with eight kids?
"She really didn't have a choice."
"Did you kidnap them?"
"If that's what you want to call it," Waagner said.
* * *
What kind of man takes his family on the lam? What kind of man is Clayton Lee Waagner?
All that can be known with certainty are the facts: To defend himself against charges of stealing the Winnebago and illegally possessing the handguns, Waagner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
He had been on a mission that September day in 1999, Waagner testified. A mission from God. The Lord had commanded him to kill abortion doctors. He had heard voices in his head.
The jurors didn't buy it. Hearing tales of burglary, robbery, stolen guns, car heists and police chases, they decided he had simply been on a crime spree. They voted to convict.
But news reports of Waagner's federal trial in Urbana began to ripple through the opposing camps on abortion. A leader of the Army of God, a shadowy antiabortion movement that hails abortion doctor killers as "heroes of the faith," began writing to Waagner in jail. In Washington, abortion rights leaders began monitoring his case.
Then, as he awaited sentencing, fate put Waagner in cell B-5 of the DeWitt County Jail, a sturdy brick building ringed by cornfields and railroad tracks in Clinton, Ill. The cell had a utility door. The lock was faulty. Waagner picked it, later claiming God showed him how. The seemingly miraculous escape in February 2001 fueled his growing myth. He vowed to kill.
Over the next 10 months, as Waagner eluded authorities time and again, he became for a while the most wanted man on American soil. The television show America's Most Wanted featured him eight times, calling him a "madman" conducting a "holy war."
When Waagner's name was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List alongside Osama bin Laden, his fate became entwined with the events of Sept. 11. Feminist leaders said a jihad is a jihad, whether conducted in the name of Christ or Allah. For months, they had demanded that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, an avowed abortion foe, publicly proclaim Waagner's capture the highest priority.
Yet only at the height of last fall's anthrax crisis, after Waagner sent more than 550 hoax anthrax letters to abortion clinics around the country, did Ashcroft finally go on national television to call him a domestic terrorist.
A ninth-grade dropout, self-taught computer programmer, beloved husband and father, brilliant escape artist, man of dozens of aliases, a lover of guns -- what set Waagner on his path?
Waagner would say it was the day he held his stillborn granddaughter in his arms and heard God's command to stop the slaughter of the unborn.
His wife would say it was the day his older sister died, when Waagner was 2, plunging his father into a grief so black that he severed himself from everything that reminded him of his loss, even his son.
Law enforcement officials would say it was the September evening in 1999 when Waagner was arrested with a stolen Winnebago, setting in motion the events that catapulted a career criminal into the realm of legend.
Clayton Lee Waagner was born with the name Roger Alan Clay in 1956, in Minot, N.D., to a father who abandoned him and a mother who would go on to marry three other men.
Her second husband, Carl Waagner of Savannah, Ga., adopted Roger when he was 2, leaving the boy his last name, if not many memories. Two more stepfathers came and went. "I had four fathers and no father," Waagner used to say to his wife, Mary.
In the ninth grade, Waagner dropped out of school in Winter Park, Fla., where his mother had moved in pursuit of another marriage. By 1975, he had already been convicted of stealing a motorcycle. Then a friend brought him to the Lord.
The friend worked for evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach, Va. There, the 19-year-old Waagner was born again. He converted to Robertson's Pentecostal faith and accepted the Bible as the literal word of God. Baptized in the Holy Spirit, he spoke in tongues. But he never experienced the radical spiritual transformation that other born-again Christians reported. "I felt like I was the same scoundrel," he says.
In February 1977, Waagner had a job at the network tending to the Christian celebrities who appeared on Robertson's 700 Club religious talk show. It was how he met his wife.
The daughter of a Methodist minister, Mary Deutsch was in town from Ohio for a taping of the 700 Club, a gift from her parents for her 24th birthday. She had thick brown hair and a broad smile, fun-loving yet vulnerable.
On the day they met, Roger said he was going to marry her.
To Mary, this was pure excitement. She found Roger witty, charismatic, sexy -- and tender. That last quality was most important. Although she was a good girl raised in a good family, there were some bad experiences in her past. At 19, she was date-raped. At 20, she experienced an unwanted pregnancy and had an abortion.
"It's just a simple procedure, they say. They don't tell you you'll need counseling later," she recalls, wiping her eyes. Roger would listen. Mary loved his willingness to hold her and rock her, for hours on end, as she poured out her hurt.
They both became more firm in their belief that abortion was murder.
Like Roger, Mary had been born again in the Christian faith, after she joined a Pentecostal church whose members helped her deal with the trauma of the rape and abortion.
Three months after meeting, they married.
On a back-packing honeymoon in the Shenandoah Mountains, a rampaging bear wrecked their camp as Mary tried to cook dinner one night. They escaped by walking miles in the dark, only to come home to a new, more insidious danger.
They had moved to Ohio, where the tight cocoon Mary thought they would spin as husband and wife was ruptured by the tube. Her husband loved TV. Game shows. Cop shows. Network news. It didn't matter what. He seemed obsessed.
Roger was not the type to let a wife challenge him, and Mary was not the type to do so. So she bottled up her grievances. But the pressure built until one day, she exploded.
When her husband was out, she dragged the television into the front yard and beat it with a sledgehammer. In the six months it took to save enough money to replace it, they took long walks together. These were the happiest days of her marriage.
Mary gave birth to a girl, Emily, in April 1978. Within a year, Waagner was in prison for burglarizing homes in the Cleveland area.
In asking for leniency in his sentencing, the Rev. Dick Arno, a Christian Broadcasting Network employee who had officiated at the Waagners' marriage, wrote the judge, "It seems as though this young man is in quicksand, and the more he struggles, the deeper he gets."
Emily was 3 years old when her father got out of prison in the early 1980s.
The next decade was good to the family. Waagner changed his given name from Roger Alan to Clayton Lee, or Clay for short -- a way of honoring his birth father, whose surname was Clay. And he became interested in computer programming, starting his own consulting business.
While others seemed to struggle, computer language came naturally to him. It was that way for Waagner with a lot of things. Politics, history, current events -- he read a lot and seemed to soak up knowledge. His large vocabulary suggested college graduate, not ninth-grade dropout.
The Waagners moved to a suburb of Atlanta, renting a new four-bedroom house with cathedral ceilings, a library and a whirlpool tub. Every year or two their family would grow. "Rack em, stack em," they used to say as they shelved the kids into wall-to-wall bunk beds.
In 1986, Waagner was in Denver working on a computer contract. His father lived in that city. Waagner didn't intend to visit him. But he knew the address, and one day he found himself driving to it. He just wanted to look. But then he couldn't stop himself from knocking. His father's wife answered. Waagner stammered out a greeting. She seemed to know all about him.
When his father came to the door, he stepped onto the porch, making it clear he would not be asking his son inside. When they had last seen each other, Clay was a 2-year-old named Roger, buffeted by his parents' crumbling marriage and their grief over his older sister's death.
"What do you want?" his father asked.
Waagner, then about 30, never tried to contact him again.
Instead, he poured his energy into his programming business, but that just left Mary feeling the same old loneliness. His obsession had moved from TV to computers. Again, Mary was meek and uncomplaining, until one day she dragged one of his computers into the yard and shot it up with a gun.
And so in 1988, when Clay said he was restless and wanted to move to Alaska, Mary was receptive. They were in their 30s and ready for a change. In the wilderness, she hoped he would spend more time with the family. After a 3,000-mile drive to the Kenai Peninsula, they crammed their seven kids -- Emily, Clay Jr., Rebecca, Kelly, Luke, Janey and 3-week-old Cody -- into a one-room log cabin with a sleeping loft.
During the commercial fishing season, Waagner fished for halibut. In the offseason he chopped firewood. He would take the seats out of their van, load up the wood, and make delivery runs. They rented a larger house. It had a sun room where Mary raised exotic birds to sell to pet shops. For a time, she was happy.
But the firewood business could not sustain them. So, a little more than two years after arriving in Alaska, they loaded up a camper and drove south. Waagner had lined up programming work in Georgia that would tide them over until they returned to Alaska for fishing season, and Mary wanted to visit her parents in Ohio.
But as so often happens for people who are living hand to mouth, the Waagners had a piece of bad luck that triggered a chain reaction of misfortune. Near Chicago, their camper broke down. Waagner hitchhiked to Pittsburgh to retrieve a van they had left in long-term storage. But when they got to Georgia a week late, his job was no longer waiting.
At the same time, Mary got more bad news from a friend in Alaska. Their landlord was saying he considered their rental house abandoned. He planned to sell the Waagners' possessions. There was no money to fly back and stop him. Even the baby pictures went. "It took a long time to get where I could pray for that enemy," Mary says.
Stuck now in Georgia, Waagner went out one day to look for a computer job. Instead, he robbed a truck stop, spraying what appeared to be Mace in the face of a clerk. It was really only breath freshener. But he was arrested and released on bail.
He made up some story to explain his absence to Mary.
After a few months in Georgia, the Waagners, who with Colt's birth now had eight children, moved back to Ohio near Mary's parents.
Waagner still hadn't told Mary about the truck stop incident, and she is not sure whether he ever faced charges for it. But she does remember how he came home one day with a rare coin collection. He said a friend had lent it to him. A few days later Mary got a phone call. It was Clay. He was in jail for stealing the coin collection while armed.
Meantime, in early 1992, a home pregnancy test showed Mary expecting their ninth child.
Mary's parents urged her to divorce, as did Clay's mother. "She told me on many occasions her son was no good," Mary says. But the criticism only caused Mary to dig in harder. She blamed her husband's parents for warping his destiny. If he had been nurtured in love, he would be discovering a cure for cancer, not posing for mug shots, Mary felt. She would not abandon him.
Convicted in April 1992 of attempting to steal the coin collection, Waagner served five years, returning to the family in October 1997 to find his children nearly grown and his youngest, Hope, a stranger. Even Mary had changed.
She had learned to fend for herself -- and found it hard to stop taking a leadership role when Waagner returned. They clashed. He wanted to be in charge but didn't have a clue about how hardship had changed them, what it had been like to scrape by on welfare and house cleaning jobs. When he challenged her, she would say to him, "I had two choices: find another man or stand on my own two feet. Which did you want me to do?"
That would keep him quiet for a while.
In May 1998, the family moved to rural northwestern Pennsylvania. From an Amish couple they bought an unfinished house in the woods, with particle board for floors and plywood siding. Water came from a garden hose run through a window. To cook, they chopped wood to feed an iron Amish stove. During the day they used an outhouse. With only one balky toilet in the basement, they often urinated in buckets at night.
Waagner had a $48,000 computer consulting contract from a tool company in Erie, Pa. The family could have improved their house had it not been for one insurmountable obstacle: Waagner's new conviction that the world as they knew it would be ending promptly at midnight on the eve of Jan. 1, 2000.
He spent all the family's money preparing for the moment when he believed world computer systems would be unable to read "00" for the year 2000 and go berserk. They needed bunkers and canned food, water, medical supplies, blankets and kerosene, he said.
The nation would be plunged into darkness, and nuclear missiles from Russia and China would rain down. They needed housing and blankets and food for the ill-prepared hordes Waagner expected to descend on the family compound from their church, the fundamentalist River of God in Grove City, Pa. He was insisting the church form a Y2K committee to prepare. Later, his pastor would kick him out of the congregation for driving everybody crazy about it.
Mary used to tell him to do his best and trust in the Lord for the rest. She said if they got desperate, they could cut down trees and make log houses for the others. If they got hungry, she said God would send a deer to their front door, like manna from heaven.
Waagner was joined in his apocalyptic vision by a colossal, dark-haired young man from the River of God church, Jason Miller. In his early 20s, Miller was said to be so large that he could not walk very far without having to stop and catch his breath.
A strained relationship with his parents led Miller to seek a haven at the Waagners, where he and Waagner talked obsessively about Y2K. In the words of Waagner's teenage daughter Kelly, "They freaked." But another event would soon claim her father's focus.
On Jan. 8, 1999, the Waagners' eldest child, Emily, who was married, went into premature labor in her sixth month of pregnancy. Her baby girl, Sierra, did not survive.
At the hospital, Mary cradled the dead infant a long time, until she was overcome with emotion. Clay took the child, intending to hand her quickly to the nurse. Instead, he gazed down at the baby, perfect in every way, except she was not breathing. He said he heard a firm voice.
How can you grieve so hard over this one when millions are killed every year?
It was, Waagner would later tell the court, the voice of God. No one else in the room appeared to hear it, he said, and shaken, he mentioned it to no one.
Their pastor at the River of God church conducted the funeral. Emily's husband had come up from his Coast Guard job in Virginia for the burial. The next day, Clay drove him back to Virginia. Emily came along but returned with her father to Pennsylvania.
Driving through northern Virginia, an ice storm slowed traffic to nearly a standstill. Emily was dozing in the passenger seat. Waagner testified he heard the voice again: How can you grieve over one when millions are murdered every year?
Waagner looked over at Emily and was surprised to see her asleep, undisturbed. This time, the Lord had an instruction, he later told the jury in Urbana. The voice commanded, I have called you to be my warrior. I want you to go to war against the abortion industry.
Waagner said he asked out loud, "What about "Thou shalt not kill?' "
The voice replied that murder of innocent people is forbidden, but abortion doctors are not innocent people, he testified.
The next month, in February 1999, he packed his black powder pistol and drove Mary's van to Charleston, W.Va. He parked in the alley outside an abortion clinic. He waited for closing time. The last person out of the clinic was a woman he believed to be the abortion doctor. Just as he was preparing to drive by and shoot, a police officer pulled up to escort the woman out, he told the court. To authorities, he gave details of the woman and her car that convinced the clinic director he had been there.
But he didn't pull the trigger. He lost his nerve. He drove off, then pulled over to vomit. The realization that someone might be shooting back at him was frightening. "I know my feeling was I felt like a coward," he told the court.
He drove home to Pennsylvania to regroup. He would later claim he didn't tell Mary about his mission from God because she would have talked him out of it. And Mary accepted his story that he had been out looking for a computer job.
Instead, Waagner redeployed Jason Miller from Y2K duty to abortion clinic reconnaissance.
They began driving around the country: up to Chicago, down to Orlando, up to Massachusetts. In all, they visited 30 or 40 clinics, Waagner told authorities, taking photos of the license plates and cars of clinic personnel. Because Miller was so large, Waagner said, the younger man would drive the car around the block while he got out to gather intelligence. They communicated with walkie-talkies.
Waagner made note of police radio frequencies in every city so he could track with his scanner who might be tracking him. He put the names of clinic workers and the address of clinics into a database. All this information he entered onto computer disks and uploaded onto the Internet for safekeeping.
Initially, Waagner financed his cross-country surveillance with the weekly payments he was getting toward the $48,000 computer consulting contract he had previously landed. But his client quickly figured out that Waagner wasn't doing any work and cut off funds.
So they took to burglary. From a gun dealer who lived near Miller, they took two high-powered sniper rifles, an AK-47, a Ryan shotgun and a .357-caliber revolver.
On their reconnaissance missions, Waagner said, they took care to dress inconspicuously. That meant slacks and polo shirts for the city; camouflage and combat or hiking boots for the country. Waagner testified his favorite garment was a T-shirt that read, "Soldier for Christ."
Sometime around May 15, 1999, Waagner and Miller stole a Chevrolet Yukon sport utility vehicle from a dealership in Franklin, Pa. They spent the next few nights on the road and hiding out in the woods. They didn't have enough food, and that frayed the relationship. "It was a point of contention," Waagner said in court.
On May 19, 1999, they robbed a gas station convenience store near Lexington, Ky. Famished, the fugitives stopped at a fast-food restaurant. The sheriff cars caught up while they waited in the drive-through. Waagner peeled out, jumping a curb.
He led the deputies on a chase down a highway and through residential yards and farmland. Miller, though, had had enough, he later told authorities. He rolled out of the back hatch of the sport utility vehicle and belly-flopped into the arms of law enforcement.
Waagner kept going. He left the truck in some woods and started running. He shimmied up a tree. Below, tracking dogs were baying and a deputy was shouting at him through a megaphone. Above, a law enforcement helicopter hovered, making an enormous racket. The helicopter would pull away, and the deputy would shout into the megaphone again, telling him he was surrounded. This went on for a while, until Waagner figured he was beat.
"I'm coming out!" he finally shouted. But as he started climbing down, the Lord, he said, spoke to him again. My warriors don't surrender. Waagner said he pondered the message. Did God intend for him to keep fighting and be slain? Or did it mean don't give up because the Lord would get him through? He thought he would either die that day or get away.
The authorities have no explanation for what happened next, though Waagner does. God made him invisible.
This much is a fact: surrounded by dogs and deputies and a helicopter, Waagner somehow slipped away.
In Pennsylvania, Mary Waagner got a call from Kentucky authorities. At first, she refused to believe it. Her husband was still in deep mourning over Sierra's death. It was hard to see how he could be out committing mayhem. Then the officer said, "Well, ma'am, do you know a Jason Miller?" And she knew it was true.
Two days after he eluded what had appeared to be certain capture, Waagner emerged from the woods and onto Danny Sams' tobacco farm near Winchester, Ky. He stole the farmer's late-model Mercury Topaz, a plate of lunch meat, boxes of ice cream, some clothes and a Beretta semiautomatic handgun that Sams' grandson had been using for target practice.
Waagner surfaced three months later in Forest County, Pa., near his family's home. He was driving a stolen Chevrolet Tahoe. A state trooper stopped him for speeding, and he abandoned the SUV and ran into the Allegheny National Forest.
In the Tahoe, police found a dummy hand grenade, a stun gun, Mace, large-caliber handgun ammunition, literature that suggested ties to right-wing militia groups and handwritten notes with the names and telephone numbers of eight abortion clinics.
As the first incident linking Waagner to the antiabortion movement, the discovery instantly elevated the case. Federal authorities alerted clinics across the eastern United States.
As dusk fell one evening in early September 1999, Mary looked out the window and saw a man coming through the woods. It was Clay, wearing a serious, determined expression.
Even though it was dark, and there was a pot of spaghetti on the stove, and no one had seen him since May, Waagner told his family to load up the van. They would be leaving immediately on vacation.
The younger kids were overjoyed. The older children gave their mother a look. "Let it go," she told them.
Was it a kidnapping? Looking back on the incident, Mary sighs. "Well, they classified it as that because we didn't want to leave." She knew her husband would take off with the kids if she refused to go, so she didn't feel she had a choice. Only Emily, the oldest, was an adult living on her own. The rest were just kids. If they had to go on the lam, she would be there to supervise.
And so 10 members of the Waagner family began driving aimlessly around the country. They went through so many states that no one can remember where they were. At night they pulled into secluded campgrounds and slept in the van. During the day, only the drive-through lanes at McDonald's relieved the monotony of the driving and driving and driving.
In Lynchburg, Va., Waagner left the family for a while and returned driving a Winnebago. "I didn't ask nothing. Honestly, I didn't want to know," Mary says.
They headed down to North Carolina, Waagner driving the Winnebago and Mary following in the van. She flirted with the idea of escape. She could just drive off. But her husband had ensured against the possibility by keeping the two youngest children, Colt and Hope, with him in the motor home. Mary could not leave them.
In North Carolina, they ditched the van and consolidated in the Winnebago. Mary finally asked, "What are we doing? Where are we going?"
Clay thought about it, then announced, "We'll go west."
Later, Waagner would tell authorities he was heading to Seattle to stalk another abortion doctor. But on Sept. 12, 1999, the motor home broke down on Interstate 74 in Illinois, and Shepherd stopped to offer assistance.
The children pulled aside the curtains on the back window of the motor home and saw the trooper's car. Mary told them to pray.
After a bit, the trooper approached the motor home. He told Mary her husband said there were guns under the seat, and he would rather not have the kids in the vehicle when he retrieved them. Mary nodded. She herded her brood into a couple of Illinois state police cars that Shepherd had called for backup. The cars would take them to a women's shelter in Danville, although Mary doesn't remember the name of the town.
What she does remember is this: her husband in the trooper's car, handcuffed and crying. She wouldn't see him again for two and a half years.
* * *
At Waagner's trial in federal court in Urbana, a government psychiatrist delivered his diagnosis: "delusional disorder, grandiose type." But it didn't mean Waagner was insane. On Dec. 6, 2000, the jury voted to convict him of stealing the Winnebago and illegally possessing the firearms.
Awaiting sentencing in the DeWitt County Jail in Clinton, Ill., Waagner paced the common area of his pod of cells, fighting claustrophobia.
He worked on a novel called Pink Ice, about a beautiful young female NASCAR driver and her troubled relationship with her father. He told fellow inmates stories about having gold coins buried in the ground that he could dig up when he got out.
In jail, he also became acquainted with the Army of God. One of the movement's leaders, the Rev. Donald Spitz of Chesapeake, Va., had read a newspaper article about Waagner's mission. He was curious, and wrote Waagner to find out more.
"No one I know ever heard of him," says Spitz, a Queens, N.Y., native oft investigated for his ties to antiabortion militants. "I wrote to him to express my beliefs were similar to his."
Those beliefs, Spitz says, include "defensive action" to stop abortion. "By defensive action I mean any use of force that would be considered illegal -- fires and bombings and burnings and shootings."
And the path to God's glory lay behind the mysterious door.
It was on the left as he entered his cell, a white door with a lock but no knob. He fasted. He prayed. He wept. He would walk up to the door and shout, "Open! In Jesus's name!" But it would not budge, he wrote.
Then one day, God "simply told me how to get the door open," Waagner wrote. While divine intervention cannot be confirmed, this much can: He picked the door's faulty lock with a steel bracket wrenched from a chair. The door led to a dark cinderblock shaft. A lattice of pipes led up to a drafty crawl space between the roof of the jail and the ceiling of the cells.
Waagner worked for 10 or 12 nights trying to find a way out, probing and scraping at the metal roof, returning from the pitch dark crawl space every half-hour for a prisoner head count.
Lying in the crawl space one night, he wrote, he stopped working and prayed to God for help. In the quiet, the Lord's answer was clear.
It was the sound of dripping water.
* * *
Around 10 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2001, corrections officer Marc Rogers pushed a tray with prescription medicine to Waagner through a secure slot in the steel door to a common area. He watched Waagner swallow, as required.
By 10:30 p.m., Rogers was standing at an electronic control board that showed which cell doors were open and which were closed. It was time for the end-of-day "lock down."
The announcement went out. Prisoners shuffled into their cells and shut their doors. Rogers looked down at the board. All the lights turned from red to green, indicating the cell doors were securely shut. All, that is, but one.
"I felt like Mary at the tomb. That's the only way to describe it," Rogers says of his panic and dismay. Alarms rang. The doors to Waagner's cell and the utility closet inside were both open.
Tracking dogs were called.
Outside, it was below freezing. Prowling the roof of the jail, Sgt. Mike Walker saw footprints in a drift of snow. He traced the footprints back to a hole in the roof, about the size of a dinner plate. It was a water drain. The metal grate over it had been unbolted, and the pipe had been removed. Walker shined his flashlight into the hole. In the crawl space under the roof, he saw a T-shirt and empty water bottles.
Could Waagner really have unscrewed these bolts with his fingers? Could he really have pulled his 6-foot-1-inch body up through that tiny drain hole? Walker yelled for help.
Walker followed the footsteps to the edge of the roof. He found the spot in the grass where Waagner had dropped 20 feet into the snow. He saw footprints running toward the railroad tracks.
Then, the trail ended.
* * *
Sometime around midnight, the Federal Bureau of Investigation notified the heads of security of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Abortion Federation that Waagner had escaped.
The abortion clinic operators had had a close relationship with the FBI since November 1998, when then-Attorney General Janet Reno established a national law enforcement task force to prevent violence against abortion clinics and doctors.
The task force was a political response to the Oct. 23, 1998, slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a Buffalo abortion clinic doctor killed by a sniper who fired into his kitchen window. The suspect was James Kopp, an Army of God activist who fled to France and was extradited to the United States this June to face murder charges.
Slepian's name had been posted on an antiabortion Web site called the Nuremberg Files, which purported to be collecting "dossiers on abortionists" to try them for "crimes against humanity." It was operated by a Georgia man, Neal Horsley, a friend of Army of God leader Spitz. When Slepian was killed, Horsley put a slash through his name, indicating a fatality.
Before Slepian's murder had come fatal bombings at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics and at a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic. The bombs had been packed with nails to inflict maximum pain. White supremacist and survivalist Eric Robert Rudolph, an Army of God fugitive, is wanted in connection with those crimes.
Before Rudolph, John Salvi killed two receptionists at a Brookline, Mass., abortion clinic in December 1994. Before Salvi, Paul Hill shot abortion doctor John Britton and his security escort to death in Pensacola in July 1994.
Before Hill, Army of God militant Rachelle "Shelly" Shannon, shot Dr. George Tiller in both arms outside his Wichita, Kan., abortion clinic in August 1993. Before Shannon, Michael Griffin murdered Dr. David Gunn outside his abortion clinic, also in Pensacola, in March 1993.
And in February 2001, Clayton Lee Waagner, who had vowed to join that infamous list, had escaped from jail.
"We were immediately concerned," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation. The Washington-based trade and lobbying group sent Waagner's photo to abortion clinics across the country, advising employees to be alert.
Two days after the escape in Illinois, DeWitt County Sheriff Roger Massey went for lunch at the Jimmy Johns sandwich shop next to the Shell gas station in Clinton.
Massey ran into his father, a former DeWitt County sheriff, at one of the Jimmy Johns tables. They chatted, and then Massey drove back to his office a few minutes away.
His cell phone rang.
Someone had just stolen a pickup from the Shell station next to the sandwich shop, Massey's father told him. A local man had left his gray Ford running as he ducked in for cigarettes. Another man had been seen limping quickly toward the truck. It was Waagner, suffering from frostbite in his toes and fingers from two nights hiding in a frozen cornfield.
The pickup's owner had run after the vehicle as Waagner peeled out.
With police blocking all three roads out of town and the truck having less than a quarter tank of gas, Massey thought they would soon have their man.
But the gray pickup never did surface. As he had done at the jail, Waagner seemed to simply vanish.
* * *
It was now the summer of 2001, and abortion-rights leaders wanted to talk to the new attorney general about his commitment to protecting abortion clinics from violence.
In particular, they wanted to know what he was going to do about the fugitive Waagner.
Their alarm had been heightened by Waagner's June 18 posting to the Army of God Web site:
I am anointed and called to be God's warrior. And in that call I am protected by THE MOST HIGH GOD. As a terrorist to the abortionist, what I need to do is envoke terror . . . God did not rescue me from my life in prison for my pleasure. He freed me to make war on His enemy. It doesn't matter to me if you're a nurse, receptionist, bookkeeper or janitor, if you work for the murderous abortionist, I'm going to kill you.
Though he had been unable to convince a jury of his mission to kill abortion clinic workers, Waagner sounded plenty serious now.
Yet the newly appointed Ashcroft had reason not to meet with the abortion-rights groups: They had been among the most adamant voices against his confirmation.
"His right-wing ideology prevails over his legal judgment," Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal said in January 2001 as the Senate Judiciary Committee held confirmation hearings.
The widow of Dr. Barnett Slepian, Lynne Slepian, issued a statement: "How can someone who believes abortion is murder fully enforce the laws that protect those who perform abortions? How can my family rely on John Ashcroft to provide all of the resources necessary to catch my husband's murderer?"
The former Republican senator from Missouri was the son of a Pentecostal minister. "We have no king but Jesus," he declared in a 1999 appearance at fundamentalist Bob Jones University in South Carolina. He had appeared on Robertson's 700 Club TV talk show, and his political action committee, Spirit of America, had accepted $10,000 in campaign contributions from the televangelist and his wife.
The attorney general did not smoke, drink or gamble. His church, the Assemblies of God, banned dancing as sexually inappropriate. In a memoir about his father, Ashcroft had described growing up with a sense that Satan was a living presence to be opposed at every turn, and the Bible was the literal truth of God.
To Ashcroft's opponents, his background reflected a philosophy uncomfortably close to that of people like the anonymous Army of God activist who wrote in a bombmaking booklet: "This is a manual for those who have come to understand that the battle against abortion is a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the devil."
Yet Ashcroft had won five statewide elections in historically Democratic Missouri, including governor, senator and state attorney general. He had graduated from Yale University and the University of Chicago law school. He was an adept politician.
And so perhaps he saw it as only more politics when Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt wrote him on June 21, 2001, to say, "We would ask you to join with us by making a public statement regarding the urgency of Waagner's capture."
He did not respond.
From the AP
From the AP