Third federal investigator named to lead probe of mail bombs sent to judge


HAGERSTOWN -- A new chief federal investigator has been named to the task force probing the mail bombs sent nearly two years ago to Washington County Judge John P. Corderman.

U.S. Postal Inspector John Sternberg -- the third chief investigator since the bombing on Dec. 22, 1989 -- replaced Doug Ostwalt to head the task force, which has members from the Postal Service, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Hagerstown police department.

Postal Service spokesman Paul Grifo said he did not know if Mr. Ostwalt's reassignment was a result of problems with the investigation. "I don't know the specifics of his transfer," he said.

"Postal inspectors are known for being transferred quite often," Mr. Grifo said. "They typically do not stay in an assignment for more than three of four years." Mr. Ostwalt's tenure was 19 months.

Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades said he wasn't aware of problems with the investigation. "But I understood that he [Mr. Ostwalt] usually stayed with an investigation until it was solved."

Investigators do not appear to be close to making an arrest in the case, as they still are searching for suspects. Several months ago, when a parole violator in a case involving Judge Corderman in Washington County was arrested in Syracuse, N.Y., inspectors traveled there quickly to question him about the bombing. After questioning, he was not considered a suspect in the case, Mr. Ostwalt said.

Mr. Ostwalt came on board in February 1990 after the initial probe got off to a rocky start, with conflict over territory between federal investigators and Hagerstown police. He was brought in to ease those tensions.

Since then, inspectors have combed through hundreds of court cases, looking for persons who might have had a reason to mail pipe bombs to Judge Corderman, considered an outspoken and tough jurist.

Judge Corderman received injuries to his hand, abdomen and eardrums when a package he received in the mail three days before Christmas exploded. The package contained several pipe bombs.

He has nearly recovered from the injuries, except for a ringing in his head that still remains from the blast. He recently was elected to the American Bar Association's board of governors for a three-year term at the organization's annual meeting in Atlanta. The 33-member board meets five times a year to oversee the administration of the ABA, which has more than 360,000 members.

Meanwhile, county officials are trying to figure out who cut the telephone line in the courthouse to Judge Corderman's chambers. The cut phone line in the master telephone box in a courthouse hallway was discovered Aug. 16.

The sheriff's department is looking for a man who had been seen looking in the box. The incident is not being tied to the bombing, Mr. Mades said.

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