The third episode of Catching Killers Season 3 makes us privy to a zealot who became the reason for one of the biggest and longest manhunts in the history of the United States of America. The man named Eric Rudolph bombed abortion clinics and gay clubs and then hid in the mountains of North Carolina before the law enforcement authorities got a hold of him. So, let’s find out how the FBI were able to catch the perpetrator and why Rudolph was killing people in the first place.
The FBI Launches A Manhunt
On July 27th, 1996, something happened in Atlanta, Georgia, that shook the entire United States of America. The 26th Olympic Games were underway, and amidst all the hullabaloo, the law enforcement authorities received a call from an anonymous person that a bomb had been planted in Centennial Park, and they had just 30 minutes before it went off. The police were not able to find it in time, and the bomb went off while the entire world was watching. Tom Bush, assistant special agent, and Woody Johnson, a special agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were given the responsibility of finding the Olympic Park bomber, as now it was a matter of prestige for the country. Hundreds of people were injured in the bombing, and a few innocent people also lost their lives.
The Atlanta bombings began one of the biggest manhunts in American history, and the detectives knew that this time, there was a domestic terrorist at the helm of affairs and not some foreign organization. The detectives knew that the perpetrator had informed the law enforcement authorities about the bomb because he wanted to lure in more officers and cause maximum damage. The police officers on site did a tremendous job of evacuating the place and preventing any further damage. It was decided by the Olympic Committee and the United States government that the games would go on to show that no terrorist organization could bog down their spirits, but the reality was that people were scared. They were scared to come out to watch the Olympics, and they were even more hesitant to step out of their houses. The incident made the citizens and the authorities aware of what was happening in their surroundings, and whenever an abandoned package was seen anywhere, the bomb squad was immediately informed about it.
A security guard named Richard Jewell had found the device during the first bombing and helped a lot of people evacuate the area. The media made him a hero, but the FBI had doubts about his intentions. A similar case happened during the 1984 Olympics when a police officer planted a bomb and then reported it, just so that he became a hero. Richard was interrogated by the authorities, as many of his colleagues had informed that a lot of the time, the man got into trouble due to his aggressive attitude and he could probably be behind the bombings. It took the FBI almost three months to conclusively decide that he was not the Olympic Park bomber, and the media criticized them a lot for harassing an individual for no rhyme or reason. The bomber went into hiding after that incident, and the FBI wasn’t able to find any evidence that led them to the perpetrator.
Why Was The Olympic Bomber Killing People?
Almost four months after the Olympic bombings, the perpetrator became active again, and on January 16th, 1997, he planted another bomb in Sandy Springs. The bomber wanted to kill the first responders, and that is why he planted a second bomb in the adjacent building. Tom Bush was at the scene when the second bomb went off, and he took the attack personally. He wanted to find the bomber at all costs because this man was intentionally going after the cops as if he wanted to teach them a lesson. He knew that as soon as the first bomb went off, a team would arrive, and the bomber would detonate a second bomb to make more people his victims.
Five weeks later, there was another bombing in a gay club known as the Otherside Lounge in the city of Atlanta. Around this time, Jack Daulton from the FBI took charge of things, and he later said that he had a lot of sleepless nights trying to decipher who this person was and why he was going about killing people. The forensics team found out that all three bombings up until then were planned by the same organization or person, as the material used in making the bombs was quite similar. After the Otherside Lounge bombing, there was no activity once again and the bomber didn’t resurface for the longest time. Almost a year later, the Olympic Park bomber once again became active. Catching Killers Season 3, Episode 3, showed us that he targeted an abortion clinic this time.
The FBI got its biggest break when a premed student noticed a man behaving quite obnoxiously near the crime scene. After the bomb went off, everybody was running towards the point where the explosion had taken place, but there was one man who quickly ran towards his truck and escaped from the scene. That premed student noted down the car number, and the FBI found out that it belonged to a man named Eric Robert Rudolph from Asheville. Jim Russell, the FBI agent from Asheville, was lopped in and asked to immediately go to Eric’s house. Although Eric Rudolph was not there in the house, the FBI agents found his truck almost eight days after he went missing. Residues of explosives were picked up from his truck by the forensic experts, and the FBI knew that they had found their bomber. He had taken a huge amount of supplies and gone into hiding in the mountains of North Carolina. For six months, the FBI kept searching for Eric Rudolph, and then finally, the manhunt was scaled down as there seemed to be no hope of finding him. At the end of episode 3 of Catching Killers Season 3, Eric Rudolph was finally found and captured, and for a moment, even the FBI agents did not realize that the man for whom they had been searching for such a long time got himself caught in the most unlikely fashion.
In the year 2003, almost seven years after the first bombings, Eric Rudolph was found by a rookie officer when he was searching for food in a public dumpster. To save himself from the death penalty, Rudolph told the FBI the locations where he had buried his bombs and where he had stored all the dynamite. He didn’t mingle with a lot of people and most of the time even his family members didn’t know where he was. He had a very conventional and orthodox outlook, so much so that he was extremely against abortion, and hated homosexuals. He harbored anti-government sentiments, apart from being a religious fanatic, and these two were the main reasons why he was triggered to take such a drastic step. Eric Rudolph had been dishonorably discharged from the military and was influenced by the conservative Christian school of thought from a very early age. He made a mess of his life for no rhyme or reason. He thought that he was saving his religion by killing people who didn’t align with his ideologies but in reality, he was not helping anybody’s cause. The court found Eric Rudolph guilty of his crimes and thus gave him four consecutive life sentences. At this moment, when he sits alone in his cell, he would get some time to reflect on his actions and think about how he had been defrauded into thinking that his religion needed saving.