Beltway Snipers artifacts: An inside look (PHOTOS)

Paul D. Shinkman, wtop.com

FORESTVILLE, Md. – John Allen Muhammad is dead and Lee Boyd Malvo will spend the rest of his life in prison, but the lasting effects of the Beltway Snipers, who held the region hostage in October 2002, are anything but concluded.

The spate of killings that captured national attention are still under analysis as law enforcement officials hone techniques to prevent such a spree from happening again.

WTOP got an advanced look at the evidence used to convict the killers, including the vehicle they used as a rolling sniper nest, cryptic messages to police, the tools they used to communicate with one another, maps, bullets and their choice of snacks.

The artifacts are currently held at a nondescript warehouse in Forestville, Md., by museum specialist ELY, Inc.

Check out the gallery at right for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Beltway Snipers artifacts.

Each of these clues initially proved to be an enigma for law enforcement officials. For example, they had no way to trace the DNA found on the Dole CinnaRaisins bag found after the shooting at Benjamin Tasker Middle School because Lee Boyd Malvo didn’t have a police record yet.

Tarot death cards ordering police to “Call Me God” didn’t make sense at first, nor did the vehicle they used — an inconspicuous blue sedan that had previously been an undercover cop car in New Jersey.

When added together, however, and paired with an extraordinary public response, a law enforcement team eventually caught up with Muhammad and Malvo at a rest stop off Interstate 70 and ended their “reign of terror.”

That’s how Vanya Scott describes those three weeks in October 2002, while she was working as a museum curator in Kansas. Now she is the registrar for the National Law Enforcement Museum, scheduled to open its inaugural facility in Judiciary Square in 2015, which will house the snipers exhibit.

“These men held the people of the Washington D.C. region hostage with fear, and changed the course of their daily lives,” she tells WTOP. “It was just such a powerful thing they did, and kind of amazing two men were able to control the population that way.”

“It’s the randomness of it. Even though it was so well planned,” says Scott.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which established the museum, received the collection of crime artifacts from the Prince William County Police in July. It’s now tasked with organizing the artifacts and determining how they will be presented to the public as one of the museum’s first exhibits.

Intern Daniel Cruz is a criminology student at the University of Maryland and helps document the evidence.

“It’s hard to piece all this together, even now,” Cruz says, looking at the shelves of boxes that still need to be cataloged.

“We all wish we could have caught (the snipers) on day one, but they started from nothing,” he says of the law enforcement efforts. “It’s awesome to help put this together so the public understands that.”

Working on the exhibit is a personal endeavor for Cruz. He attended Watkins Middle School in Montgomery County as a 5th-grader while the attacks took place nearby. He recalls the permeating “emotional background” everyone felt, including his parents who for the first time let him see their fear.

If that weren’t enough, his grandfather is David Reichenbaugh, a retired Maryland State Police lieutenant who led the assault on the rest stop parking lot off Interstate 70 where the snipers were sleeping in their car.

“It sounded more like a movie when he says it,” Cruz says, turning to the table of evidence.

“To see this come to life scares me.”

The Beltway Snipers exhibit will be among the first at the new National Law Enforcement Museum, and will be on display in 2015 or 2016. Learn more at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)