Motives of the Austin Serial Bomber Remain a Mystery

A suspect is dead and five bombs have exploded across the Texas capital.

March 20, 2018 5:00 pm
Police and bomb experts are investigating a fourth mysterious bombing this month in the Texas state capital of Austin, a blast that injured two young men in their twenties. So far, other blasts have claimed the lives of two people and injured four others. / AFP PHOTO / SUZANNE CORDEIRO        (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Police and bomb experts are investigating a fourth mysterious bombing this month in the Texas state capital of Austin, a blast that injured two young men in their twenties. So far, other blasts have claimed the lives of two people and injured four others. / AFP PHOTO / SUZANNE CORDEIRO (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE: The serial bomber suspect is dead. After a confrontation with Austin police early Thursday morning, Mark Anthony Conditt, age 24, committed suicide by detonating a bomb inside his vehicle. 

Trees shadow the yards along Haverford Drive in Austin, Texas. It’s a pleasant-looking neighborhood full of relatively new homes with two-car garages. Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old dad to an eight-year-old girl, lived there until March 2, 2018. That was when the Texas University graduate found a mysterious package on his front step.

Just before 7 a.m. Anthony House’s neighbors reported an explosion.

The package had detonated when House picked it up, killing him.

At the time, police considered House’s death “suspicious.” A few days later, on March 5, Austin Police admitted House was killed by a bomb. They hinted at the time that he could have built it himself.

A week passed.

Draylen Mason was 17 and his immediate future was set. A gifted bassist, he’d been accepted into UT Austin’s Butler School of Music. Friends who spoke to the Austin American-Statesman said he was “a cool guy” and “just so fun to be around.” 

He was socially conscious. Ex-Austin City Council member Mike Martinez met Mason in 2013. Martinez wrote a Facebook post recalling the student winning an award for an essay.

“His essay was on racial profiling,” Martinez wrote, “and was so insightful and mature for such a young man.”

The morning of March 12 Mason opened his door at almost the same time as Anthony House ten days before. Police reports indicate he found a package and brought it inside. It exploded, killing him and injuring his mother.

Mason lived 20 minutes away from Anthony House, in the 4800 block of Oldfort Hill Drive. Both men were black. Police began to suspect they were looking at something truly sinister, and they had more reason to believe so later that afternoon.

Esperanza Herrera, a 75-year-old Hispanic woman, lived on Galindo Street, ten minutes away from Draylen Mason. She faced the same fate as the men—but she survived the explosion from a mysterious package on her front step with serious injuries.

In a press conference, police admitted a connection between the events and said they could not rule out hate crimes targeting people of color. They also had a warning for the city—this was a bomber with “skill and sophistication,” and residents should be wary of packages that didn’t arrive by a conventional delivery service—UPS, FedEx, the regular mail.

The city was suddenly full of suspicious packages. The Austin PD’s phone lines clogged with the fearful and paranoid, but there were no new bombings. That changed on March 18, and this time the targets weren’t people of color.

Travis Country is a well-to-do suburb some 20 minutes away from Galindo Street. On the 18th a pair of twenty-something white men were reportedly walking and riding a bike there. Sometime around 8 that evening, one of them stepped on a tripwire. Both men were badly hurt by the ensuing explosion from a device like the one enclosed in the deadly packages that gravely injured Esperanza Herrera and killed Draylen Mason and Anthony House.

Austin police chief Brian Manley finally called it: They were dealing with a serial bomber, and this killer was very good at what they were doing. Police announced a considerable reward for any information that might bring about the bomber’s arrest: $115,000.

The NAACP was paying attention. In a statement after the Travis Country bombing, they called the acts what they likely were—domestic terrorism.

The bomber threw a new wrinkle into his spree on Tuesday, March 20. Early that morning a package passing through a San Antonio-area FedEx distribution hub blew up, injuring one. The FBI was unequivocal when speaking to reporters later; they suspected it was from the same source. A CBS News source said it had been sent from Austin to an address in Austin.

Laying out the timeline of events is simple enough, but it doesn’t give any sense of the complexities of this case.

There is, for instance, the racial component. It’s easily explained by a Twitter user with the handle Frank Furtschool:

“unabomber kills 3 people over the course of 17 years: largest manhunt in FBI history

“austin bomber kills 2 people in a month but the people are black: third page story, FBI asks bomber to please give them a call.”

Investigators often say the “why” of any crime doesn’t matter as much as the “who.” Bombers are so rare it’s difficult to not wonder just what motivates someone who murders from a distance, who sets up their plan and waits for it to come to homicidal fruition.

Is the Austin bomber racially-motivated? Or is he—there is an outside chance the killer is a woman, but such crimes are nearly always committed by men—more interested in sowing chaos?

The FBI profiled the Unabomber long before Ted Kaczynski’s arrest. Some of what they predicted didn’t pan out—profiles are, after all, merely tools—but some general psychological aspects could still be relevant. The New York Times outlined the profile in an article published in June 1993.

The Times report said profilers believed the serial bomber might “lead a meticulously organized life,” and might be the “kind of person who likes to make lists.”

Assuming the Unabomber was motivated by “outrage”—which he was—the profilers believed that the passage of time between that outrage and his next bombing could “be a long one, making him even more difficult to track down.”

Profilers believed the Unabomber might want to witness his work in action, and that he would want to “re-live the experience,” keeping “souvenirs like newspaper clippings and videotapes.”

Police have pointed out several times the Austin Serial Bomber’s expertise, an ability shared by the Unabomber, who, as the Times reported, had “demonstrated technical and creative capabilities far beyond the average bomber.” In wondering how closely one bomber’s profile might resemble another, this might be the most significant point: The Times said “officials” believed the Unabomber might well be “an angry person who fears open confrontation and so strikes out in a more concealed way.”

Is the Austin Serial Bomber an intensely angry man who holds his resentment inside, avoiding overt confrontation? Are these bombs the only way he can destroy the objects of his anger?

If so, then it’s almost impossible to believe the original targeting of people of color is a coincidence. If this spree is the work of a racist, then planting a bomb in an affluent neighborhood like Travis Country could be one of two things—a deflection, or an indication he also hates the wealthy, regardless of skin color.

The profiling aspect may be pointless, yes. It does seem like one thing may be undeniably true. Whoever the bomber is, he is immensely, murderously angry.

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