John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, aka the Beltway snipers, terrorized the Washington DC metropolitan area for three weeks in October 2002 when they began killing people randomly.
From October 2 until October 24, Muhammad and Malvo fired shots at ordinary people doing everyday tasks in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. They shot people of all genders, races, and ages, and by the end of their reign of terror, ten people were dead and three injured.
They mostly targeted people in parking lots and gas stations, but they also shot someone mowing a lawn, someone reading a book, and others who were just standing on the street. They also shot a teenager outside their middle school.
The reasons why the murderous duo went on a rampage remain shrouded in mystery. The pair were named the Beltway snipers after the name of the highway surrounding Washington DC; most of the murders occurred not far from this highway. They are also sometimes referred to as the DC snipers.
The horror began on the evening of October 2, when James Martin was shot dead in the parking lot of a grocery store in Wheaton, Md. Five more people were shot dead the following day: James L. Buchanan, Prem Kumar Walekar, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, Sarah Ramos, and Pascal Charlot.
In each case, the victim had been hit with a single bullet from a rifle which police would later learn was a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle. A weapon that was very similar to the military’s M-16 rifle that Muhammad had been trained to use when he served with the Army.
The DC Snipers began shooting at school children
The random attacks continued for another three weeks, and the public’s fears reached a crescendo when 13-year-old Iran Brown was shot by the snipers outside his school in Bowie, Md. Thankfully, Brown survived the attack, but the incident led to fears that not even children were safe.Watch the Latest on our YouTube Channel
Schools in the region began limiting recess to indoors to keep kids safe. Other members of the public began limiting their time outdoors, and many began crouching for cover as they filled up at gas stations.
Over the next couple of weeks, four more people were killed, including Dean Harold Meyers and Kenneth Bridges, on October 9 and 11, respectively. On October 14, the FBI lost one of their own when Intelligence Analyst Linda Franklin was shot dead as she left a hardware store in Virginia.
The last person to be murdered was bus driver Conrad Johnson, who was killed on October 22 as he stood on some steps in Aspen Hills, Md. Muhammad and Malvo also wounded three others during the course of their killing spree.
The case was led by Chief Charles Moose of the Montgomery County Police Department. He had an enormous amount of help from other jurisdictions, including the FBI, which dedicated 400 agents to the case.
The Beltway snipers tormented the cops with Tarot cards
After the Brown shooting, the killers began taunting the cops. They started leaving Tarot cards and cryptic notes at their crime scenes. At one scene, the killers left a card with a message reading, “For you Mr. Police. Call me God. Do not release to the press.”
In one chilling moment during the case, Chief Moose told a press conference that one note read, “Your children are not safe anytime, anywhere.”
The investigation was hampered after an eyewitness reported seeing a white box van speeding away from one of the scenes. This led to many resources being allocated to hunting down a white van. However, it was a red herring; the killers never used a white van.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said of the incident, “The biggest damage that it did was the fact that it gave everybody tunnel vision that they were only looking for the white box truck, a white van, and that just wasn’t as solid a lead as everybody thought it might have been.”
John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo began making mistakes
The killers’ own actions would eventually lead to their downfall. On October 17, one of the snipers called a clergyman in Ashland, Va., seemingly wishing to brag and tease investigators. The shooter mentioned that they had previously taken part in a robbery in Montgomery, Alabama, where two people were shot.
The FBI identified the crime in Montgomery that the killer had referenced and learned that forensic evidence had been left behind. The agents were able to use a fingerprint from a magazine left at the crime scene and match it to Lee Boyd Malvo.
Malvo’s fingerprints were on file following an arrest in Washington State. The record of this arrest also mentioned another name, John Allen Muhammad.
The agents then learned that Muhammad owned a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle. The cops also discovered he had registered a blue Chevy Caprice with New Jersey license plates. The authorities were sure these were the killers, and now, all of law enforcement was on the hunt for a 1990 blue Chevy.
The cops got a further break on October 24 when a trucker dialed 911 after spotting the Chevy at a rest stop in Myersville, Md.
The police closed in at 3:30 a.m. and caught Muhammad and Malvo sleeping in the car. The pair were arrested easily.
Muhammad trained Malvo to be a DC sniper
The 41-year-old Muhammad had been born John Allen Williams but changed his name after converting to Islam. He had been in the National Guard and the Army.
Muhammad was not trained specifically as a sniper, but he had earned an expert rating with an M-16 rifle. He subsequently trained 17-year-old Malvo to be a sniper.
The murderous duo had turned the blue Chevy into a “sniper’s nest.” They had cut a slit in the back of the car just above the license plate and removed a metal sheet allowing them to crawl from the back seat into the trunk to take shots. The slit was covered with a glove and they would place the barrel of the gun into the glove before firing.
Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection on November 10, 2009. The killer remained defiant until the end, showing no emotion or remorse.
Malvo was sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole. He has consistently tried to appeal his sentence, and in 2022 he was considered for parole, but it was refused on the grounds that he may still be a danger to the public.
The pair were also found to have been connected to murders in multiple other states, including Louisiana, Alabama, and Arizona.
Beltway snipers motive is unclear: Malvo said ‘I was a monster’
The motive for the killings remains unclear. Malvo claimed that Muhammad wanted to extort $10 million from the US government to set up a camp in Canada training homeless children to be terrorists.
However, Muhammad’s ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad, believes the murders were just a cover so that he could eventually kill her and take custody of their children. The couple were estranged at the time of the killings, and a restraining order had ordered Muhammad to stay away from his wife.
Malvo later told the press, “I mean, I was a monster. If you look up the definition, I mean that’s what a monster is. I was a ghoul. I was a thief. I stole peoples’ lives.”