Thursday, December 06, 2001

Top U.S. fugitive arrested in area

By Dan Horn and Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One of the most wanted men in America was arrested at a Springdale Kinko's store Wednesday with $10,000 cash, a loaded gun and a stolen Mercedes-Benz, police say.

        After eluding federal authorities for nearly a year, Clayton Lee Waagner was arrested when an alert sales clerk recognized him from a most-wanted flier.

[photo] A clerk at Kinko's in Springdale on Wednesday alerted police that Clayton Lee Waagner was there.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mr. Waagner is suspected of sending more than 500 fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics across the country.

        He also was wanted for a string of bank robberies, carjackings and firearms charges in six states, including Ohio, police say.

        “This is a dangerous individual, no question about it,” said Robert Burnham, agent-in-charge of the FBI in Cincinnati.

        Mr. Waagner had become a hero to some anti-abortion activists and a cause for concern among abortion providers. Two years ago, he testified in an Illinois court that God asked him to “be my warrior” and kill doctors who work in abortion clinics.

        He is suspected of mailing 280 fake anthrax letters to clinics in October and another 270 in November.

        “He's been described as an anti-abortion extremist,” said Al Smith, the U.S. marshal for southern Ohio. “We consider this a major arrest.”

        Mr. Waagner has been a fugitive since February, when he broke out of a county jail in Illinois.

        Already facing federal charges, Mr. Waagner quickly became a suspect in bank robberies and carjackings from Tennessee to West Virginia to Ohio.

        Authorities say he was a master at hiding in plain sight. He frequently changed his appearance by cutting his hair, shaving his beard or growing a mustache. And he is accused of stealing a wide range of vehicles, from a Winnebago to the black Mercedes he had parked in Springdale on Wednesday afternoon.

        He also was careful never to stay in one place too long. In just the past week, he'd been spotted in Virginia and Tennessee.

        But authorities say there was at least one constant in Mr. Waagner's life: Kinko's. And that, they say, proved to be his undoing.

        Mr. Smith said Mr. Waagner rented computer time at Kinko's stores so often that the U.S. Marshals Service warned the company to be on the lookout for him. Most Wanted photos of Mr. Waagner were sent to Kinko's outlets across the country.

        An unidentified Kinko's employee at the Springdale store recognized Mr. Waagner from his photo and called police shortly before 1 p.m. Within minutes, three officers converged on the store.

        Springdale Police Chief Mike Laage described Mr. Waagner as “scruffy” and casually dressed. He said the fugitive headed for the store exit as soon as the officers walked in.

        When the officers stopped him, Chief Laage said, Mr. Waagner did not resist arrest. He did, however, lie to the officers about his identity and handed them a fake ID, they said.

        Mr. Waagner had $10,000 cash and computer components in his pocket and a loaded .40-caliber handgun in his waistband, Chief Laage said.

        “There was no indication he was working in conspiracy with others,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory Lockhart.

        Authorities seized the hard drive to the computer Mr. Waagner was using to find out what he was up to and whom he may have been corresponding with over the Internet.

        “He is a computer genius,” said Frank Policaro, a U.S. marshal near Mr. Waagner's hometown of Kennerdell, Pa. “He's a very clever criminal.”

        In the past, authorities say, Mr. Waagner has sent electronic messages about his activities to a Web site operated by the Army of God, an anti-abortion group.

        Abortion-rights activists said they were relieved Wednesday to learn of Mr. Waagner's arrest. Many said they were convinced the fugitive had received help from others.

        “We have been concerned about him for the better part of the year,” said Sue Momeyer, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. “He posted specific threats to not just doctors, but employees of women's health centers.

        “Somebody has been helping him elude capture. We hope that others also may be apprehended.”

        Planned Parenthood may have been one of Mr. Waagner's recent victims. Clinics in Springdale and Clermont County received fake anthrax letters on Oct. 11. The agency's health centers in Oxford and Hamilton received threatening Federal Express packages on Nov. 8.

        While Mr. Waagner won praise from some anti-abortion activists, others have decried his methods.

        “He's spreading panic and discrediting good people,” said Pat Conroy, president of Right to Life of Cincinnati. “He's breaking the law.”

        Mr. Smith said it's unclear why Mr. Waagner was in Cincinnati. He had been to the area before, however.

        He was convicted of attempted robbery in Preble County 10 years ago. And authorities say at least some of the fake anthrax letters were mailed from Columbus.

        Mr. Waagner, 45, will go before a federal magistrate today for a bond hearing. Authorities say he will likely be sent to Illinois, where he faces the escape charges, among others.

        If he is convicted of all charges, Mr. Lockhart said, Mr. Waagner will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

        The Kinko's clerk who spotted the fugitive might be eligible for the $50,000 reward that was offered for information leading to Mr. Waagner's arrest.

        “That would be a nice Christmas present,” Mr. Smith said.


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