New book puts Moose back in spotlight

Charles A. Moose left the police force to write a book about the search for the D.C.-area snipers.
BETHESDA - Charles A. Moose, who famously battled the press during last fall's sniper manhunt and claims in his new book that the media's conduct contributed to five shootings, is now pitching his book like any other celebrity - in the media.

He may need them now, but he still doesn't respect them.

In an interview during the weekend, at the beginning of a monthlong media blitz that will include an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Moose said to two reporters: "I respect the fact that you're not a criminal and I'm glad you're working, but I don't really like what you do."

The former Montgomery County police chief's book, Three Weeks in October, comes out today, and Moose will do what it takes to sell it - even if it means placing himself in the center of the spotlight he shunned during the sniper shootings almost one year ago.

He will appear on NBC's Today Show this morning and CBS' Early Show tomorrow, then return to Washington for local television. Later this week he will fly to Los Angeles to chat with Jay Leno - he is a little nervous about that - before returning to New York for radio interviews.

The 322-page book tells, in alternating chapters, the story of last fall's shootings and of Moose's personal history - his childhood in rural North Carolina and his rise through the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau.

Moose, 50, writes of feeling "under siege" after the initial spate of killings, and says the shooting of a boy outside his middle school in Bowie left him feeling "as depressed as I've ever been." The book also reveals details about the crimes that have not been previously disclosed:

  • The sniper suspects who were eventually arrested, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, watched from nearby as the task force charged into a Richmond, Va., gas station and arrested two undocumented immigrants who had been using a pay phone and driving a white van.

    Moose writes, "One report I heard said that one of the snipers had made the telephone call, hung up, stepped across the street to buy a candy bar and was standing on the sidewalk eating it when the task force arrived. He stood and watched as the two unfortunate illegal aliens were arrested."

  • Mildred Muhammad, the ex-wife of John Allen Muhammad, had worked at a Michael's craft store. Several shootings were in Michael's parking lots, or near them. Moose called the connection only a "weird puzzle piece" and would not say if it points to a motive in the shootings.

  • The snipers stuffed blue socks into the holes they had cut in the trunk of their car - one for the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle and one for its scope - so they wouldn't be so conspicuous.

  • Malvo was supposed to be the lookout on the morning the suspects were arrested at a Frederick-area rest stop, but he fell asleep. Members of the task force were able to move in on the car and arrest the suspects without resistance.

    Moose writes that the relief he felt from the arrests was tempered by the reality that 10 people had been killed and three wounded, and his wish was that he could have stopped the killing sooner. This was brought home when he met with the victims' families the day of the arrest.

    Feeling the loss

    "It was very real for me, seeing the pain these families felt, feeling the loss they had experienced. It made the case all the more human and horrible," he wrote. "It also made it impossible, somehow, for me to feel any jubilation about solving the crime."

    In the three intense weeks leading to the arrest, Moose wondered if the police would ever catch the suspects - and if he would keep his job. If the shootings continued for another week, he figured, people would have been calling for him to step down.

    "I often thought during this period, This is probably the last job I'll have in law enforcement," he wrote.

    Book deal

    As it turns out, Moose stayed on as Montgomery County police chief until June, when controversy over his book deal forced his resignation. The county's ethics commission ruled in the spring that his taking money from a book publisher violated a law that forbade county officials from profiting from their jobs.

    Moose reportedly was paid $170,000 to write the book and will get a $4-per-book royalty. He also received $4,250 to consult on a possible film about his role in the manhunt, though nothing is in the works yet.

    While Moose could have stayed on as chief while fighting the ethics ruling in court, he thought that would be awkward and make his job difficult. "I wasn't ready to leave police work," he said in the interview. "I'm not bitter about the way I had to leave. I just hadn't planned to leave now."

    Already, two cities looking for police chiefs - Greensboro, N.C., and Sacramento, Calif. - have asked Moose to apply for the job. But he declined because of the book and tour. When that work is over, he will consider returning to law enforcement, he said.

    Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who hired Moose as police chief in 1999 and stood by him during the ethics dispute, said Moose would prefer to not speak to the media at all, but that was impossible as a police chief and as an author.

    "He's very uncomfortable with the attention he's gotten," Duncan said, but added that the story needed to be told. "When people come to you and say, 'We'll pay you to write a book,' it gets your attention. And when you do the job, you have to sell the book."

    Moose uses much of the book to chronicle his rocky relationship with the media and to give his side of a story that has been told so far just by the press. For instance, he points out that the police had more than a dozen solid suspects in the first 48 hours of the investigation.

    'Bumbling flatfoots'

    He writes, "I know that later on the media depicted the investigating team as a bunch of bumbling flatfoots who just sort of wandered around until the two suspects we finally arrested threw themselves at us."

    Moose writes that reporters asked ridiculous questions at briefings and they "have a habit of acting like they are the only ones in the world who know anything worth knowing, and that everyone else is basically stupid."

    He was especially angry after it was reported that a tarot card reading "Dear Policeman, I am God" had been found near the scene of the Bowie school shooting. The card also said, "Do not release to the media."

    "There was a chance to build that trust," Moose said, "and then by having the media put it out there, it just felt like any attempt at communication, any attempt at building that trust had been destroyed."

    He wrote that he is "absolutely certain" that the leak of the card and the media's reporting of it was "a contributing factor in the five shootings that were still to come."

    Moose said a TV station has asked him to be its on-call consultant for the sniper trials this fall, but that he'll probably turn down the offer. He hasn't been called to testify at the trials and he doesn't plan to attend them.

    "It is a very difficult thing to talk about, because it still comes back to real people being dead and being wounded," Moose said. "It will be something that is a part of me forever. I won't be able to escape, but at the same time there's a part of you that wants to say you did the best you can and when will it be over?"

    Sun staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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