Action News: The hunt for the suburban bomber

November 16, 2004

Law enforcement officials refuse to close the books on the search for the suburban bomber, an individual who frightened a great many people over a period of many months.

A week from today it will have been three years since the suburban bomber was last heard from. Since then the trail has gone cold, but the investigation has not gone into the cold case file.

The so-called Suburban Bomber arrived on the scene with a bang in late March of 2000. Over a period of five months, he blew up three cars, damaged another and blew up a dumpster in Chester County.

There would be no more explosions after August.

But, over the next nine months, he would leave 10 more devices, all of them along or near the Route 23 corridor north of Phoenixville. The bombs went from simple pipe bombs to devices with increasingly sophisticated triggering mechanisms. A man picked up a bomb with a mercury switch. If it had been activated he could have been killed.

The bomber seemed to be taunting the investigators, a multi-agency task force made up of local detectives and federal agents. He has been silent for three years, but the task force remains on the job.

Chief Al DiGiacomo/CHESTER COUNTY DETECTIVES: "These particular type of investigations are very, very difficult, and we understand that. And that's why we've never put this thing to bed."

Along the way, the task force was able to develop two sketches of a possible suspect. They interviewed and ruled out hundreds of men who looked like the suspect in the sketch. The bomber disappeared for six months, but shortly after 9/11, he was back.

Investigators got a letter in November of 2001, telling them they could find a bomb on a property in East Vincent Township. It was the first mention of a specific address. It remains the most promising of all the leads so far.

The homeowners still won't talk about it, afraid the bomber might return.

This past Spring another possible lead surfaced half a world away in war torn Iraq. An FBI investigator who had been on the bomb task force was now stationed in Iraq. He was sent to interview a young man being held prisoner in Mosul. Something clicked when the prisoner told the agent he was from Chester County. Like many others he somewhat resembled the most recent police sketch of the suspect. The prisoner worked on communications towers, like the ones only a hundred yards from where the last bomb was found. The young man was Nick Berg, who would later be kidnapped and executed. The FBI went to the Berg family home, along with an investigator from the Bomb Task Force. Could this be the break they were hoping for? At the time, Michael Berg was concerned only about his son's safety, and didn't pay much attention when they asked about pipe bombs and his son's whereabouts several years earlier.

Michael Berg/FATHER: "The FBI in Iraq asked him if he could make a pipe bomb. And he said, 'Yes he could, of course he never would.' But he certainly was capable of the electronics of it ever since he was a kid."

Michael Berg was eventually able to prove that his son Nick was attending classes at the University of Oklahoma at the time of the initial rash of bombings. Nick was released a week after the FBI questioned his family, and after they filed a lawsuit seeking his freedom. He was later kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic extremists. Michael Berg says he understands investigators had a job to do and doesn't blame them for Nick's eventual fate. Last month he met with the FBI in Washington. He wanted to know if his son had been officially ruled out.

"I asked them the same question. 'Is my son, at this time, suspected of ever having done anything wrong?' Those were my exact words. And they emphatically said, 'No.'"

And so, another promising lead was gone. The Bomb Task Force continues to chase down new leads every day. The bomber has been quiet for three years but the investigation will not end until they find him.

(Copyright 2004 by Action News. All Rights Reserved.)

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