Sunday, December 09, 2001

Waagner treated self well during months on run

Anti-abortion fugitive spent stolen cash on nice hotels, cars

By Todd Spangler
The Associated Press

        PITTSBURGH — Clayton Lee Waagner led the high life while on the lam, authorities say, driving expensive cars, staying at nice hotels and buying rounds at bars with money he'd stolen from banks.

        Mr. Waagner, 45, has been accused of mailing hundreds of anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics across the country. Until his capture Wednesday in the Cincinnati suburb of Springdale (Thursday story), he was one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted fugitives.

        Marshals who hunted him credited him with intelligence, resourcefulness, luck and determination.

        “You'd be a fool not to take him seriously,” said Geoff Shank of the U.S. Marshals Service.

        To some anti-abortion factions, he is a folk hero. To abortion providers, he was a constant threat.

        Last June, someone purporting to be Mr. Waagner posted a message on the Army of God Web site, vowing to kill people who worked at abortion and reproductive health clinics. Last month, Attorney General John Ashcroft called Mr. Waagner the prime suspect in the hoax letters.

        “We knew Clayton Waagner was armed, dangerous and a man on a mission,” said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood. “He has been our worst nightmare.”

        Yet, even though he was taken as a genuine threat, authorities say he seemed conflicted, never following through on any promise to hurt anyone.

        At times, they said, he seemed more interested in the attention that came from being a fugitive.

        “What bothered us was, he seemed to want to be the news and one-up himself,” said Bruce Harmening, a marshals supervisor. “He became famous. Maybe that was his goal.”

Slipping past the law

        Mr. Waagner, of Kennerdell, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, successfully eluded police several times before his initial arrest in September 1999. At one point he disappeared into the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania for days.

        He was finally arrested in Illinois when a stolen Winnebago he was driving broke down. Authorities found four stolen handguns under the driver's seat. His wife and eight of his nine children were with him.

        At his trial, Mr. Waagner said God asked him to “be my warrior” and that he had staked out at least 100 clinics in 19 states.

        Then, in February, Mr. Waagner escaped an Illinois jail while awaiting sentencing. Authorities say he apparently used a comb to spring a lock on a door and wriggled through a roof drain.

        “Every police car in central Illinois was looking for him and he slipped through — which is unbelievable in itself,” Mr. Harmening said.

High life on the lam

        Since then, Mr. Waagner had been on the run, robbing banks, stealing cars and threatening abortion providers.

        His plan, authorities said, was to keep running. Traveling more than 100,000 miles, Mr. Waagner went as far west as Washington state, visited the Dakotas, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, and crisscrossed the East and South several times, Mr. Harmening said.

        He also found time to enjoy himself, Mr. Shank said. The hotels he stayed in — always paying cash — became better and better. They were fancy surroundings for a man whose family lives in an unpainted one-story house off a gravel road, with insulation visible on the wooden walls, tape holding together a handrail up to the rickety porch.

        Using one of his many aliases, Mr. Waagner would go to bars, ordering a round of drinks for everyone there, Mr. Shank said. He would settle down to a steak meal and whiskey-and-Cokes. He would chat calmly about his anti-abortion feelings and chain-smoke Marlboro Reds.

        Then he would disappear.

        Federal authorities say he paid for his lifestyle by robbing banks; he is charged with two robberies in Harrisburg, Pa., and Morgan town, W.Va., and suspected in several others.

        When he was captured at a copy shop in Springdale,on Wednesday, marshals said he was driving a stolen Mercedes-Benz. He had al most $9,000 in his pocket, a loaded .40-caliber handgun and several fake IDs, including one with Mr. Harmening's name, police said.

        Mr. Waagner was charged with a firearms violation and ordered held without bond on Thursday.

Frustrated with obscurity?

        Mr. Shank and Mr. Harmening said they considered Mr. Waagner a suspect in the anthrax letters but never said so.

        Then, the day after Thanksgiving, Neal Horsley, an anti-abortion activist and self-described “pro-life fanatic,” said Mr. Waagner visited him in Georgia.

        Mr. Horsley said Mr. Waagner told him he had targeted 42 clinic employees and worked out a way by which they could save themselves if they quit their jobs.

        “He was deeply conflicted about the idea of killing someone,” said Mr. Horsley, who contacted authorities.

        Mr. Shank said he believes Mr. Waagner met Mr. Horsley because he wanted credit for the anthrax hoaxes.

        Authorities contacted copy centers because they knew Mr. Waagner used computers at the locations to read about himself on the Internet.

        Thursday story: Top U.S. fugitive arrested here

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