Long before John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were accused of teaming up to carry out an insidious killing rampage that left 13 dead, their relationship began with an unusual trade on a small Caribbean island.
Malvo's mother, desperate to leave Antigua and reach the United States but unable to pay for the forged travel documents needed to get there, offered her son to Muhammad as collateral. The money, she promised, would come later.
Muhammad took the deal - and held onto the boy.
"She didn't pay him in full for the documents," said John Fuller, an Antiguan lawyer who investigated Muhammad and Malvo's dealings on the island for the attorney general there. "John Muhammad went to visit her in Florida and said he was holding onto the kid until he was paid."
Authorities say he held onto Malvo for more than a year - transforming him from a polite teen-ager into a murderous young man. They were inseparable until Oct. 24, when police found them sleeping in a blue Chevrolet Caprice with a gun port cut into the trunk and a rifle under the back seat.
Now, as authorities trace the relationship between the two D.C.-area sniper suspects in preparation for the trials, the control that Muhammad exerted over Malvo is a recurring theme - one that could come into play if juries convict the pair and are asked to sentence them to death.
Muhammad, 42, a nine-year Army veteran, carried the discipline and exactitude of the military into his civilian life. He placed his children on strict exercise and diet regimens and demanded total obedience. When those children were taken from him, he found a willing disciple in the rudderless Malvo.
After taking Malvo from his mother in Antigua, Muhammad converted the youth to Islam, his religion. He limited the youth's diet to honey, crackers and vitamins at times, in keeping with his own strict lifestyle. He taught him to shoot with a .308-caliber rifle on shooting ranges in Washington state.
"He was his Svengali," Fuller said of Muhammad's role in Malvo's life. "This was a young boy who had been a model kid, good-looking, clean, assiduous in his schoolwork. His father is gone, his mother disappears and leaves him and he falls into the hands of someone who in his mind is a fantastic substitute for both mother and father.
"Muhammad gives him control and gives him direction and gives him ideas. This was just a little boy out of Jamaica. The trouble is the boy swallowed the whole [thing], hook, line and sinker."
But Robert F. Horan Jr., the Virginia prosecutor who brought capital-murder charges against the youth, sees Malvo, now 18, as a smart and ruthless killer. He points to statements Malvo gave investigators in November in which the teen-ager described how he and Muhammad worked as a team to plan and execute the killings.
It was a year ago this week that someone began shooting unarmed people in parking lots, streets and gas stations in the Washington region. Thirteen people would be gunned down between Oct. 2 and Oct. 22, and 10 of them would die, before authorities caught up with Muhammad and Malvo.
Each is about to stand trial for a fatal shooting in Northern Virginia: Muhammad on Oct. 14 and Malvo on Nov. 10. Both trials were moved to the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia to find jurors whose lives weren't interrupted by the shootings.
Documents and interviews show that the lives of Muhammad and Malvo first crossed on Antigua in 2000. Malvo, who was born in Jamaica and bounced between schools and different homes during his parents' frequent absences, moved to Antigua in 1999 to join his mother and hope for a better life. He was 14 years old.
He enrolled at the Seventh-day Adventist School, where he went about his studies with a quiet diligence. He made good grades, excelled in athletics - winning a school award in the 100-meter run - and exhibited a sunny demeanor, teachers said.
Muhammad arrived on the island on March 28, 2000, with his three young children from his second marriage - John Jr., Salena and Taalibah - a day after his former wife reported that he had abducted them from her home in Tacoma, Wash. John and Mildred Muhammad's 11-year marriage had collapsed amid business failures and accusations of violence.
"I am in fear for my life," Mildred Muhammad wrote in court papers June 21, 2000, in seeking a restraining order against her husband. "He has made threats to destroy me. [He] has taken the children and no one knows their whereabouts. I am frightened for my children's safety. He is using them to get at me."
Turn to forgery
In need of money to support himself and the children in Antigua, Muhammad turned to forging travel documents - a brisk market that preyed on those who sought escape to the United States. Using computers and laminating machines, Muhammad made driver's licenses, birth certificates and other identifying documents in his home and sold them for $3,000 apiece.
The document business brought Malvo's mother, Una James, into contact with Muhammad. By the end of 2000, he had provided her with the illegal documents needed for passage to Florida. She vowed to send Muhammad money to take care of her son.
"She never did," said Fuller, the Antiguan lawyer. In his report to the government, he wrote that Malvo lived alone in a rented house for three months before the landlord turned off the utilities. "Malvo took care of himself and went to school for those three months. Finally, in an apparent fit of frustration, he trashed the inside of the house and moved in with Muhammad."
Teachers noticed a change in Malvo at that time. Once a pleasant student willing to tutor classmates and help teachers, he turned into a sullen teen-ager who attended classes sporadically. They said it coincided with his conversion, under Muhammad's influence, from the Seventh-day Adventist Church to Islam.
"He was in and out of school for a while, and then he just dropped off the face of the earth," said Cafille Gardner, who was a teacher at the school Malvo attended in St. John's, Antigua. "My impressions of him were that he was a great little guy, and I always thought he would grow up to be a great young man."
On the last day of May 2001, Muhammad and his three children from his marriage to Mildred Muhammad boarded an American Airlines flight from Antigua to Puerto Rico. Malvo boarded the plane with them - traveling under the name Lindbergh Williams, Muhammad's first son from his first marriage.
It would not be the last time Muhammad passed Malvo off as his son.
Once out of Antigua, the pair separated and Malvo joined his mother in Fort Myers, Fla., where she had married, rented an apartment and found work in restaurants. Malvo enrolled at Cypress Lake High School.
Muhammad, meanwhile, took his three children to Bellingham, Wash., a small town 23 miles south of the Canadian border. Muhammad enrolled them in Parkview Elementary School, where they were quickly seized by authorities and returned to Mildred Muhammad.
It had been almost 18 months since she saw them last. Fearful that John would take the children again, Mildred won court permission to disappear with them. She landed in the Prince George's County town of Clinton, where she stayed with family and began to build a life. Neither she nor the children contacted Muhammad.
"That is a triggering event," prosecutor Richard A. Conway said in court last week, laying the groundwork for a theory that one of Muhammad's motives in the shootings was to eventually harm his wife. "John Muhammad became obsessed with finding her. He made repeated efforts until he was able to pinpoint her location. Shortly thereafter, the shootings began."
At Lighthouse Mission
Less than two months after Muhammad's children were taken from him, Malvo abruptly stopped attending classes at Cypress Lake and took a bus from Florida to Bellingham. He signed into the Lighthouse Mission homeless shelter, where Muhammad was staying, on Oct. 20, 2001.
The Rev. Al Archer, who runs the Lighthouse Mission, cannot reconcile the various sides of Muhammad. Archer saw Muhammad controlling Malvo in a serious relationship devoid of the playfulness Muhammad showed his own children. Yet, when the children were taken away, Muhammad showed no emotion, he said.
Before Malvo arrived, Archer had called the FBI, but with more suspicion than information. Though living at the homeless shelter, Muhammad took frequent flights, inexplicably going for days at a time. As the country reeled from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, people told Archer that Muhammad made anti-American remarks.
"I thought that he was in some subversive group that was looking to do harm to our country," Archer said.
And yet Muhammad sometimes helped in the shelter's kitchen, expressed concern for his children's needs - he even handed them toothbrushes after meals - and was amiable and fastidiously neat and clean.
More than two months later, suspicions continued. Archer didn't believe that Malvo was the 18-year-old son of Muhammad, as the pair claimed. Malvo spoke infrequently to anyone there except Muhammad, who did the talking for both of them.
'A father figure to him'
"We felt that in some way John was molding Lee," Archer said, later explaining, "He was molded to do things, to be things, by an adult who was a father figure to him, something that he had never had."
In mid-December, Una James arrived in Bellingham, speaking harshly of Muhammad, alleging that he took her son, saying she did not think the bond between Muhammad and Malvo was good. Shelter workers suggested official routes for her to reclaim the boy. Bellingham police helped her.
But after realizing mother and son were in the country illegally, the police turned them over to immigration authorities. Una James was held; Malvo was released pending a hearing. Soon, he hooked up with Muhammad, against his mother's wishes.
The killings began in February last year, authorities say, when the niece of a woman who testified against Muhammad in his child custody case was shot dead in the doorway of her aunt's home. The pair is accused of then embarking on a bloody road trip that eventually brought them to the Washington, D.C., region, officials say.
It's hard to say what drew them to the area, and why innocent citizens were shot at from the trunk of a car, as authorities allege. Also puzzling is how two people could have remained united throughout the cross-country ordeal.
Prosecutors said last week that one motive in the killings was to intimidate Mildred Muhammad and ultimately to do her harm. But they have floated other theories - foremost among them extortion. A note left in the woods behind the Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, Va., where a man was shot demanded $10 million to end the killings.
On that basis, prosecutors have charged Muhammad and Malvo under Virginia's new terrorism law, which makes it a capital offense to intimidate the government. Malvo's prosecutor has indicated that that is the only motive he will argue.
But Muhammad prosecutors, while also using that theory, have said they will introduce at trial the anti-American statements Muhammad is accused of making after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. According to prosecutors, Muhammad said that "America got what it deserved" on that day.
Muhammad's defense lawyers, upon hearing this, argued that it was ridiculous to go forward with so many motives.
"Is it the commonwealth's theory that all these killings were for the purpose of getting to Mildred Muhammad or was it terrorism or racism or $10 million?" defense lawyer Peter D. Greenspun asked in court last week. "The commonwealth at some point is going to have to pick a theory and try to run with it."
It wasn't the $10 million, says Felix Strozier, Muhammad's partner in a Tacoma karate school from 1994 until it went bust in 1997. Between the dissolution of his marriage, the loss of his children and the failure of his businesses, Muhammad was bitter and consumed by his problems, Strozier said.
"It's a death wish," he said. "My opinion of John is that he got depressed."
But for all that is known about Muhammad and Malvo a year after the D.C.-area shootings began, the true motivations for the crimes may forever remain elusive. Even former Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, who led the task force that arrested the pair, is left wondering.
"Everybody still wants to know why," Moose said in an interview this month. "And then when they finally tell you why, we're going to have to decide if we believe them, or if this is the book why or the prison why, and not the real why."
Key dates in lives of sniper suspects
Dec. 31, 1960
John Allen Williams (later Muhammad) is born in Baton Rouge, La. He is raised there.
Nov. 23, 1981
Williams marries Carol Kaglear, his high school sweetheart, in Baton Rouge. They have a son, Lindbergh, and divorce in 1988.
Feb. 18, 1985
Lee Boyd Malvo is born in Jamaica. He is raised there by his mother.
Nov. 6, 1985
Williams enlists in the U.S. Army. He will achieve an "expert" rating with an M-16, the Army's highest marksmanship rank, before being honorably discharged in 1994.
March 10, 1988
Williams and Mildred Green marry in Fort Lewis, Wash. They have three children - John Jr., Salena and Taalibah - and divorce in 1999.
July 9, 1999
Malvo arrives in Antigua from Jamaica. He lives with his mother, Una James, and enrolls in Seventh-day Adventist School, where he excels.
March 27, 2000
Williams abducts his three children from his former wife's home. A day later, he arrives with them in Antigua.
Una James leaves Antigua for Florida, using false documents provided to her by Muhammad. She leaves her son with Muhammad.
April 23, 2001
Williams legally changes his last name to Muhammad.
May 31, 2001
Muhammad, his three children and Malvo leave Antigua for Puerto Rico
Malvo joins his mother in Fort Myers, Fla., and enters high school. He attends Cypress Lake High School from Aug. 13 to Oct. 16.
Aug. 31, 2001
Police seize Muhammad's three children in Bellingham, Wash., after he enrolled them in school there. Full custody is granted to his ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad. She goes into hiding with the children in Clinton, Md.
Oct. 20, 2001
Malvo signs into a homeless shelter in Bellingham, having disappeared from his mother's apartment in Florida. Muhammad is also staying at the shelter.
Dec. 14, 2001
Una James arrives in Bellingham to claim her son. Both are detained by the INS.
James and Malvo are released on bail. Malvo rejoins Muhammad in Tacoma, Wash.
Feb. 16, 2002
Keenya Cook, 21, is killed after answering the door at her aunt's home in Tacoma, Wash. Her aunt is Isa Nichols, who testified for Mildred Muhammad in the custody dispute. Police believe it is the first killing committed by Muhammad and Malvo.
Sept. 5, 2001
Paul LaRuffa is shot six times and robbed of $3,000 and his laptop after closing a restaurant in Clinton, Md. Muhammad and Malvo will be charged.
Sept. 14, 2002
Rupinder "Bennie" Oberoi, 22, is shot and wounded outside Hillandale Beer and Wine in Silver Spring. Police believe Muhammad and Malvo are responsible.
Sept. 15, 2002
Muhammad Rashid, 32, is shot and robbed while locking up the Three Road Liquors in Clinton. Muhammad and Malvo will be charged.
Sept. 21, 2002
Million Woldemarian, 41, is killed just after midnight outside Sammy's Package Store in Atlanta. Police link the shooting to Muhammad and Malvo.
Sept. 21, 2002
Claudine Parker, 52, is killed and Kellie Adams, 24, is shot and wounded as they closed a liquor store in Montgomery, Ala., around 7:30 p.m. Muhammad and Malvo will be charged.
Sept. 23, 2002
Hong Im Ballenger, 45, is killed and robbed while locking up a Baton Rouge, La., supply store. Muhammad and Malvo will be charged.
Oct. 2, 2002
James D. Martin, 55, is shot and killed in the parking lot of the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton, Md., where he had stopped to buy groceries for his church. It is the first of 13 shootings - 10 of them fatal - in the Washington region linked to Muhammad and Malvo.