If Montgomery County Maryland officials were genuinely concerned that former police chief Charles Moose‘s book Three Months in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper represented a conflict of interest, they may lament having convinced him to resign. It doesn’t. If any law enforcement personnel believe the narrative might jeopardize the prosecution of the snipers, they too can release their breaths. The book doesn’t do that, either. It isn’t the kind of production that threatens either civilians or cops.
What Moose’s effort is is an autobiography that includes some information about the search for the Washington, D.C., area snipers this time last year. There is some new and some clarifying material about the investigation in the book.
Other assumptions people made about Moose’s agenda then and now may be inaccurate, as well. He describes the investigation as a shared responsibility, with three agencies taking the lead. He credits Agent Gary Bald of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Agent Michael Bouchard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with having played as much of a role in the investigation as he did. Bald was able to expedite much of the investigating because the FBI is a much faster moving entity than local law enforcement. For example, the tree trunk in Tacoma, Washington, Muhammad had fired shots into was whisked to a national lab in hours under the FBI’s auspices. The ATF both located the negligent gun seller who allowed the suspects to get access to the Bushmaster assault weapon and confirmed the match between the gun and recovered bullets and cartridges beyond a reasonable doubt within hours of recovery of the gun.
Moose’s major contribution to the probe was being the face of it and communicating with the suspects. I don’t believe the latter role can be overestimated. But for Moose’s ability to establish a rapport with the two, they would not have continued to send messages to the investigators. Indeed, they could have ended their spree and disappeared into the underbelly of America. The first message was the tarot card found near the school where a teenager was shot. When its existence was leaked, Moose was able to reassure the suspects by insisting the media, not the police, were responsible. That led to subsequent messages, letters left at two other sites of shootings. The suspects also increased their phone communications after Moose’s responses, making important mistakes in the process, such as the slip about a shooting in Montgomery, Alabama. Those errors in their communication with the task force were ultimately their undoing.
Charles Moose’ other, and perhaps, more significant, reason for writing a book is to tell his own story of success and, sometimes, failure. That story is interesting because it chronicles both a society and an individual. Moose grew up in a part of North Carolina I know well. In many ways, his memories parallel those of my older brother and sister. Key to those memories are race. Moose remembers the segregated neighborhoods of the times, the signs telling people of color they could not eat in restaurants and an active Ku Klux Klan. Since I am younger than he is, I have no memory of segregation de jure. However, I do recall a cross-burning. The KKK burned a cross on the lawn of the dentist who lived down the street from us when I was in elementary school. The tensions left over from a few years previous were also still very much present when this native North Carolinian became cognizant of the world around her.