A week before losing his life on the White House lawn, Frank Eugene Corder was pounding on the dashboard of his car, blaming Washington bureaucrats for his deepening financial woes -- vowing one day he would teach them all a lesson.
Mr. Corder had a plan, he told a friend during a drive through the Pennsylvania countryside. He would stuff a pipe full of crack cocaine into his flannel shirt pocket, climb aboard a single-engine plane, and "go out in style," just like a character in a Clint Eastwood movie.
"He wanted to be famous. He wanted to say, 'I showed you. You're not doing a good job,' " said the friend, Nathan Allen Osborne Jr., 34, who said he had spent the last few months palling around with Mr. Corder.
Mr. Corder, 38, died instantly Monday when a two-seat Cessna he had stolen crashed and cartwheeled across the South Lawn of the White House, coming to rest against the presidential mansion. The medical report showed that Mr. Corder had trace amounts of cocaine in his system. His blood-alcohol level was .045. The legal limit for pilots is .04.
Federal agents searching for clues to the case located Mr. Osborne Monday afternoon. He said they interviewed him for several hours, asking him whether he was involved in a plot to kill the president and whether any radical groups had paid him or Mr. Corder.
The agents -- Douglas H. Roloff IV of the Secret Service, and Kevin Shannon of the FBI -- did not return messages for comment yesterday. Agent Roloff's supervisor said neither he nor the agent would discuss the pending investigation.
Mr. Osborne, an unemployed road crew worker and one-time fashion model, said in an interview yesterday that he believed Mr. Corder acted alone and held no grudge against President Clinton. But he said his friend detested the federal government, blaming career bureaucrats and politicians in Washington for his personal failures and promising that one day he would make them pay attention.
He said Mr. Corder was fed up -- tired of his life, broke, and hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol. He said he was ready to die and gave Mr. Osborne a plastic bag full of rare silver coins. Mr. Corder told him he planned to "go out with a bang," making the nameless people he blamed take notice.
"He said. 'It's almost over,' " Mr. Osborne said. "I said, 'If you do that, you won't be forgiven.' He said, 'I'm going to a better place than this.' "
Mr. Osborne said he had known Mr. Corder for years, but became a confidant over the last few months.
Mr. Osborne said he looked up to Mr. Corder, a high school dropout from Aberdeen with a student pilot's license. He said he always wore clean jeans, neat flannel shirts and Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses. He drove a Cadillac and a Jaguar, ran his own business and always seemed to have a wallet full of money.
"He was the smartest high school dropout I ever met," he said.
More recently, Mr. Corder was having problems with his marriage to Lydia, 61, and his business, Delmarva Freight, in Glen Burnie.
Mr. Osborne said that Mr. Corder told him that part of the reason for his marital problems was that his wife didn't understand him because of their age difference. He said Mr. Corder started to stay in motel rooms, where he drank heavily and smoked pipefuls of crack cocaine.
But Mr. Corder had plenty of trouble. He started to bounce checks. Mr. Osborne said his friend's wife put a hold on their bank account, preventing him from withdrawing money. Police arrested him for driving while intoxicated and possessing a small amount of marijuana. He was on probation for the drug charge at the time of the crash, records show.
On Aug. 6, probation officers spoke with Mrs. Corder. She told them the couple had separated, he had written some bad checks and she was considering filing criminal charges, according to Len Sipes, a state corrections department spokesman. There is no record charges were ever filed.
Mr. Corder even bounced a check he wrote to a Bel Air law firm he hired to defend him.
No money for lawyers
Les Jones, a former attorney who conducts background checks on clients for the firm, said Mr. Corder refused to answer personal questions, bounced the $2,500 check last fall and was never heard from again.
Mr. Osborne said his friend began blaming "bureaucrats" in Washington for his problems. He said Mr. Corder never specified which bureaucrat or federal agency was responsible. He said Mr. Corder never said precisely what he was plotting nor mentioned flying to Washington or the White House.
"He said they were [messing] things up and they were causing his downfall," Mr. Osborne said. "He blamed them."
In the past two weeks, Mr. Osborne said his friend became increasingly angry. He said he never mentioned his father, William, who died of cancer last year. Relatives said that they believed Frank Corder was distraught over his father's death and his broken marriage.
Mr. Osborne said his friend didn't seem terribly upset about his family. Instead, he talked about his life: a short stint in the U.S. Army during the 1970s, an old habit for heroin, his wife and the day he shot a syringe full of alcohol into his veins.
A little more than a week ago, Mr. Osborne said, the two took a drive. He said Mr. Corder constantly spoke of his hatred for police officers and preferred to take back country roads. While driving down a road in Pennsylvania, he said, Mr. Corder started to pound the --board with his fist.
Letting anger out
"He mentioned the bureaucracy in Washington. He said, 'This is how I lost my business.' Because his business folded, he went from having a lot of money and then losing it all. He blamed them for losing his business," Mr. Osborne said.
He said Mr. Corder seemed to be obsessed by official Washington.
"Those damn bureaucrats," he quoted Mr. Corder saying. "He kept talking about the bureaucrats. It's all because of them. It was constant."
Mr. Osborne said he tried to calmhis friend down.
"He said, 'When I go out, I'm going out with a bang.' He said, 'I've done everything. When I go out, I'm going for it. I'm going out in style,' " Mr. Osborne said. "At first, I didn't believe him. As crazy as he talked, he seemed sane. He was a caring guy. He would give you anything."
He said Mr. Corder gave him something very valuable that day in the car. It was a bag of coins -- five silver dollars, 29 silver half-dollars and two rare pennies. He said he showed the bag to the federal agents.
He said the agents checked his bank account to determine whether anyone had recently deposited a large sum of money. He said the agents also asked him if he had ever heard Mr. Corder make any threats against the president, if he belonged to a Communist or radical group, and if he had taken Mr. Corder to the Harford County Airpark, where Mr. Corder stole the Cessna.
"They said, 'We think you drove him there and you guys were paid a large sum of money,' " Mr. Osborne said. "I said, 'I don't have any money.' "
Mr. Osborne said his friend finally got his wish. "He liked to be the guy on top," he said. "He wanted to have the best and have the most money. He wanted to do this so he would be famous."
Famous like a "Clint Eastwood" action hero -- dying in a blaze of self-serving glory, sending a twisted signal to the bureaucrats he despised. "It was his way of saying, 'I showed you. You're not doing a good job.' "