The Story of John Muhammad’s Partner in the D.C. Sniper Murders

DC Area Sniper Fast Facts | CNN

How does a bright, popular, affectionate kid get turned into a killing machine? In Jamaica, Antigua, Washington State, and Virginia, the author uncovers a blend of emotional abandonment and psychological indoctrination that put 17-year-old Lee Malvo behind a rifle as John Muhammad’s partner in the 2002 Washington, D.C., sniper murders

The neighborhood isn’t one you’ll find in a Jamaica tourism brochure. But neither is Waltham Park—a lazy commercial and residential district in Jamaica’s capital of Kingston—the kind of place you’d expect to spawn one of America’s most reviled domestic terrorists.

“Ya, mon, this a good spot,” Leslie Malvo is saying. It’s a steamy May night, and I am seated curbside with Malvo, the 55-year-old father of convicted Washington, D.C.—area sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. In a hard half-light, thrown off by bare bulbs outside a crossroads café called the Inner City Pub, we’re both shiny with sweat in the night’s rich heat. Reggae spills from the bar’s open doors. Bicycles roll past.

“We used to sit here, Lee and me, so many, many nights,” Malvo says in a thick Jamaican accent. He’s short and solid, with close-cropped gray hair and a long, fine nose. His hands—especially his fingers—have been bent and mashed by years spent working as a mason around the Caribbean. These days, Malvo is a construction foreman in Kingston, but he retains his stone mover’s thick shoulders and heavily muscled forearms.

“When Lee was small, three going to four,” he says, “I came down to this intersection one day and bought him a three-wheeled bicycle from one of the shops. He could not ride it yet, so I tied a cord to the front of the bicycle. Then, every night, I’d pull him up the street to the ice-cream parlor over there . . . ” Malvo points across the road toward a brightly painted storefront called the Creamy Cabin, where children stand in line. “Every night, we would come down for cream after I got home from work and washed. And Lee would always eat his cone the same way. He’d eat the ice cream off the top, then he would bite off the bottom, so the cream would run down his arms and mess him up. And Lee would always look up at me, with his big eyes, and ask for another. So I’d buy one more, and we’d walk over here, to these tables, and play dominoes with my friends. That is my favorite memory of Lee. We did this hundreds of nights, when he was three, four, and five years old.”

Did Lee have a favorite flavor of ice cream?

Leslie Malvo smiles gently, savoring the memory. “Yes,” he says. “Grape nut. He loved grape-nut ice cream.”

Malvo stares down at his battered hands and smiles once again. “My Lee is a good boy,” he says. “He was always a polite, manageable boy. What a life, huh?”

When 19-year-old Lee Malvo recalls his favorite memory, he, too, is transported to this Waltham Park crossroads at twilight, or so he has told his psychologists, lawyers, and friends. From his cell at a “supermax” prison called Red Onion, in southwestern Virginia—a penitentiary designed in part for convicts serving life sentences without parole—he can still taste the ice cream, feel the stickiness of the tropical air, and hear the clicking of dominoes in the night. Both father and son know his life should have turned out differently.

In a partnership whose precise workings may never be known—and whose existence shattered dozens of lives—Malvo and another man he called “father,” John Allen Muhammad, were responsible for the series of shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area for three weeks in October 2002. Ten people were killed by the duo; three more were seriously wounded. Most were the victims of bullets fired by a high-powered rifle hidden inside the trunk of a carefully modified Chevrolet Caprice. After Malvo and Muhammad were arrested, authorities came to believe that, in the previous eight months, they had been responsible for another five killings and four nonfatal shootings stretching across the breadth of the United States. The spree is believed to have begun in Tacoma, Washington, on February 16, 2002, when Malvo—as a rite of passage abetted by Muhammad—pointed a large-caliber pistol at a woman who answered her aunt’s front door; unprovoked and at point-blank range, he pulled the trigger, sending a bullet nearly half an inch in diameter through her right nostril and into her skull while her six-month-old baby cooed upstairs.

A little less than two years earlier, Lee Malvo had been a student living on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where he was beloved by friends and teachers at his Seventh-Day Adventist school and was excelling academically—and where he had just met John Muhammad. His achievements were all the more remarkable because at the time he was living alone in a single-room plywood shack without electricity or running water, having been more or less abandoned by both his parents.

Every story has a backstory, and Malvo’s is a long, sad skid through neglect, culture clash, deliberate manipulation, and dumb coincidence. It began in late 1983 or early 1984, when Leslie Malvo was working in a residential area of Kingston called Red Hills and first saw Lee’s mother, Una James, passing by. Dark-skinned and voluptuous, she caught his eye and proved receptive to his subsequent attentions.

Despite their age difference—she was 20 and he was in his late 30s—they began to see each other, moving in together roughly six months later, after Una became pregnant with Lee, her only child. The baby arrived February 18, 1985, and by all accounts the family established an initially happy life in a spacious rented house on a double lot in Kingston. Leslie and Una remained unmarried, as do the parents of the majority of Jamaica’s children.

The couple’s personalities and expectations, however, could not have been more different. Leslie, a relaxed and self-assured man, tries to enjoy what life, hard work, and fortune bring his way. He still lives in the neighborhood, and still works hard by day and relaxes at night over a game of dominoes and a tot of rum with friends. By contrast, Una is a volatile, deeply Christian, often confrontational, and highly intelligent woman, who was—and remains—fiercely committed to a life of personal improvement. After my own combative telephone exchanges with her—she wouldn’t agree to a formal interview—it’s easy to believe the characterizations of her friends and acquaintances, who describe her as “overbearing,” “a little crazy,” and “capable of overwhelming a conversation.”

Lee seemed to have gotten the best of both parents’ personalities. To those who knew him growing up, he was a bright, pleasant, well-adjusted kid, who loved to make others happy through jokes and mugging, using what everyone describes as a remarkably rubbery face. “Even as a boy, Lee was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant,” says his cousin Stacy Ann Narine. “And he always lived for everyone else—he was always concerned for you before him. He was a good Christian boy. But he was funny too. He could make you laugh, with his mimicry and the looks he could put on his face.”

His intellectual gifts meshed nicely with his mother’s hopes. By the time Lee was four, Una had gained him an early acceptance to kindergarten at Kingston’s professional-caste Obistan Preparatory. Despite the fact that Lee wanted to be a pilot from the time he was three years old (a desire sparked by an aviator’s jacket given to him by Leslie), he has told people Una had decided he would be a doctor, though she says she would have supported him in any career.

Over time the parents, with their different personalities, began to clash, leaving young Lee perilously in the middle. So it seemed a lucky break for everyone when, in October of 1988, Leslie was offered a job on Grand Cayman Island.

For Jamaicans, 20 percent of whom live in poverty (the island has long had a high unemployment rate, as much as 16 percent), going “off-island” to improve their fortunes is a common occurrence, provided they can get a visa. In 1988, Leslie Malvo’s off-island project was the construction of a casino-and-hotel complex on Grand Cayman, and the elevated wages allowed him to send home $300 (U.S.) a month, a sizable sum in Jamaica. But while he often returned home for long weekends, holidays, and celebrations—“I missed my Lee so much, the holiday trips home were very important to me,” Leslie stresses—father and son were mostly apart. And despite the higher income, resentment levels were building at home. Una heard that Leslie now had a girlfriend on Grand Cayman. She also suspected that Leslie might have gotten a raise, and that he was keeping more pay for himself.

According to Leslie, Una’s nagging became more constant and aggressive. Finally, during a trip home in late 1990 or early 1991, Leslie couldn’t take any more. During an argument with Una, he punched her in the jaw, knocking out a tooth. The next day, after tensions appeared to have subsided, she attacked him from behind with a machete, swinging it at his right hand—the hand he’d punched her with—but missing and cutting him on the wrist, landing him in the hospital and leaving him with a nasty scar.

Not long after Leslie returned to Grand Cayman, Una emptied their house of furniture, swept clean the couple’s bank accounts, taking more than $11,000, and transplanted herself and five-year-old Lee to a remote district called Endeavor, in Jamaica’s mountainous and rural St. Ann Parish. There, she rented a house from a family member and opened a small grocery in an attempt to start anew.

Several weeks later, on his next visit home, Leslie Malvo discovered that both his Kingston house and his bank accounts were empty. After a frantic week of looking, he finally found Una in Endeavor and pleaded with her to reconsider. According to Leslie, Una responded that she wanted no more contact with him, and that he was to leave Lee alone, too.

Leslie retreated, hoping to mend their relationship slowly. “I waited,” he says, “but soon she was gone again. I later learned that, on school records, anytime she registered Lee at a new school, she said his father was ‘deceased.’ Deceased? She killed me to my boy.”

According to Dewey Cornell, Ph.D., Lee Malvo’s court-appointed “evaluating psychologist,” the loss of a parent early in life is “among the most emotionally damaging events that can happen to a child.” A professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education as well as the director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project, Cornell has testified at many trials, including Malvo’s. In all, he spent 53 hours with Malvo over 21 interviews, sorting out the younger sniper’s motivations and beliefs. He has received permission from Malvo and his lead attorney to speak and write about the case in the hope that it may provide insights into youth violence.

Any adverse effects of Leslie Malvo’s absence from his son’s life weren’t immediately apparent: happy, friendly, well-adjusted Lee Malvo only became more that way, according to his relatives. “One of the biggest components of Lee’s personality,” Cornell says, “is that he was a teacher-pleaser, a parent-pleaser, an adult-pleaser. He might have misbehaved or acted out when away from adults, but when he was in their presence, he was a boy on his best behavior.” This was partly because, with only his mother taking care of him, “he probably didn’t want to lose his remaining parentage. I’d expect he was anxious about that.”

Time would prove that concern well placed.

For a while, Una’s life straightened out. Her grocery succeeded, Lee was attending the local elementary school, and Una met and became involved with a farmer and builder named Noy Lawrence. Though Lee was now away from his father’s influence, with Lawrence around he once again had a relationship with an adult male.

Then, in late 1992, there was a disaster: a power failure in Endeavor ruined all of the grocery’s frozen and refrigerated inventory. Not having enough money to restock, Una was eventually forced to close the store, and she and Noy began to look for work back in Kingston. For Lee, now seven, those days in Endeavor would represent the last consistent address he’d have until he arrived in prison.

Trailing threadbare vestiges of British colonialism, rural St. Ann Parish is as genteel as Jamaica gets. It’s also a galaxy—and four hours’ drive—away from the smash-and-grab streets of urban Kingston, where unemployment has harsher consequences, poverty is far more exposed, and random violence can be expected after dark. Having left Endeavor, Una, Lee, and Noy Lawrence spent much of 1993 together in a poorer quarter of Kingston. Noy worked construction, while Una opened a “cook cart” mobile restaurant at the building site, making money by selling lunches and cold drinks to the workers.

But the couple’s lives were fraying. In 1994, following several relocations since arriving in Kingston, and arguments about various issues, Una and Noy split. Before long, the single stream of income Una was generating from her lunch cart wasn’t enough to support her and Lee, and what little security they’d enjoyed was gone.

In the summer of 1994, Una heard from a cousin that she could make a lot of money—and be paid in American dollars—if she took a job as a maid on the wealthier tourist island of Saint Martin. The sticking point was Lee. He would need to be enrolled in school there, which would raise difficult questions concerning their citizenship. After a period of consideration, Una decided to leave nine-year-old Lee with friends while she tried her luck on Saint Martin.

For Una, the off-island jump was a success. She would spend the rest of 1994 and all of 1995 on Saint Martin, with Lee even coming to her for a summer visit before returning to Jamaica for the 1995 school year. But as life was brightening for Una, for Lee it became a tumble from one lodging to the next, from Kingston to St. Ann and back again. By the time Lee was eight years old, he’d already attended seven different schools. By the time he was 15, he’d attended five more.

Lee Malvo didn’t only travel to visit his mother during the summer of 1995. He also went searching for his dad. One evening in Kingston, Leslie Malvo was sitting in front of the Inner City Pub enjoying a game of dominoes, and when he looked up, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “Up the street, walking up Waltham Park Road, comes walking my boy, my Lee, like out of a dream,” Leslie says.

It was the first time Leslie had seen his son in more than four years. In the elder Malvo’s recollection, they spoke for only 10 or 15 minutes, before Lee began to grow uneasy. “He said he only wanted to see me,” Leslie recalls. “And I asked him, ‘Where are you living? Can I come see you?’ And he paused long and looked at the ground again and said, ‘No, I can’t tell you where I live.’ So I asked him, ‘Why not?’ And he said, ‘Because Mommy would spank me.’ And then, just like the end of a dream, Lee was gone back up the street.”

That was the first of several evening encounters between the elder and younger Malvos during the summer of 1995. Carmeta Albarus-Rodney, a Jamaican-born social worker who has worked extensively with Lee Malvo in prison and is credited with “reaching” him, says that, according to Lee’s account, “He wanted to be rescued by his father. He just kept hoping, hoping, hoping that his father would come and save him. He already had his little bag packed. . . . In the end, whether his father wants to admit that or not, he abandoned Lee—even after Lee begged him to take him back. That is a very hard thing for a child to accept.”

This is an episode that Leslie Malvo acknowledges but doesn’t want to discuss. He admits only that, after several years on his own, he didn’t want to engage Una again—if he’d allowed Lee to move back in with him, she would have become a regular part of his life. Those meetings in the summer of 1995 would prove to be the last time Leslie Malvo saw his son for eight years. The next time the two laid eyes on each other it would be late 2003, and Leslie would be in Virginia to testify on Lee’s behalf.

Joy Bailey is a friendly, sturdy sight: a woman in jeans and a green blouse, who—when I run across her—is standing in the wide wood-and-linoleum foyer of York Castle High School, a college-preparatory school outside Brown’s Town, a commercial center in St. Ann Parish. Bailey works as the school’s bursar and as an administrator, positions that gave her a good vantage point on Lee Malvo’s life when he attended the school for two separate periods between 1996 and 1999. “We all loved Lee,” she says. “Everyone loves him still. But that boy, oh, he was bounced from place to place. He did not know the safety of a home. He did not feel so much love as a child should feel.”

Still, Bailey says, Malvo was a model student. “And he was always the first to help someone else. He had an uncanny knack of making other people happy, so he wouldn’t show what was happening to him. We couldn’t accurately pick up his emotional state.”

While he attended York Castle, Lee was initially living with a friend of his mother’s. By July of 1997, however, the now 12-year-old boy had moved in with another cousin, Semone Powell, a recently graduated teacher. Once he’d settled in, Powell recalls, “we had a really wonderful, happy time. Lee was happy. I was happy. He went to school and studied and we enjoyed our life. Except, sometimes, I’d see him retreat into himself. He’d sometimes grow sad and withdrawn. And I’d ask, ‘Lee? What’s wrong?’ And he’d say, ‘I have no one. I have no real family. Why me?’”

One evening, Powell recalls, as both she and Malvo were preparing for a long-anticipated move to a more convenient apartment, everything seemed fine. But as the boxes were closed and loaded onto vehicles, Powell says, “Lee disappeared. And I went looking for him and found him outside near a corner of the house. And I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And he said, ‘You just keep moving me!’ And I said, ‘I’ve never moved you before.’ And he said, ’You adults, you always move me! I have no pets, no birds, no cats—I have no fixed address!’”

Eventually, after some cajoling, the move went well, and, once again, Lee settled into a new home. According to Powell, she had become a mix of mother and older sister to Lee. And one afternoon in the autumn of 1997, he asked her, “Semone, can I just live with you?”

Then one night in December, as the two played a game of hide-and-seek at her house, Powell heard a knock on the door. “I said, ‘Who is it?’ And I heard a voice, ‘Semone, it’s me.’ And I opened the door and it was Una. I called out, ‘Lee, look who’s here!’ And he ran out, smiling and expecting a surprise, and when he saw his mother his smile drained out of him. He began shouting, ‘Don’t let her take me! She’s going to take me!’ And she did.”

By the early spring of 1998, Lee Malvo was living with perhaps 20 other children in a student boardinghouse in St. Ann Parish run by a Pentecostal minister named Robinson. After a brief period, his mother had once again left him behind for the lure of steady money on Saint Martin.

“I was his homeroom teacher,” says a slight, friendly woman named Winsome Maxwell, who sought me out one afternoon in the parking area of York Castle. “And to this day I wish I could have done more for him.”

For several months, Maxwell watched after school each night as Malvo returned to his bunk in the Robinsons’ boardinghouse, where he’d finish his homework, wash his clothes, and largely keep to himself. “Most of the children went home on weekends,” she says, “but not Lee. He had nowhere to go. On the weekends, he was totally alone.”

After months of watching, Maxwell contacted Una James to see if Lee could spend weekends with her and her retired father, Webster Maxwell. “And the mother said yes,” Winsome Maxwell says, “and so Lee began spending the weekends with us.”

Almost immediately, Lee began to forge a deep bond with Webster Maxwell. “I had a plot of garden, where I grew vegetables and coffee, away from town,” he says, “and Lee and I would go there on Saturdays, me riding him on my bicycle, and we’d work and talk. . . . He was like a son.”

Winsome Maxwell begins tearing up as she talks about her time with Lee. “In the summer of 1999, I remember saying to him, ‘Would you like to move in with my family?’ And he said, ‘Really, miss?’ I could see in his eyes he was very excited. And I took him in: food, clothes—everything. We were speaking about adopting him.”

Then, as had happened so many times before, Una James, who was now living on Antigua, stepped back in. “Our life together had lasted three to six months,” says Winsome, “until his mother called from Antigua, saying I should send him. After that, she sent an airline ticket. And I said, ‘Lee, she is your mother. You have to go.’”

As Winsome Maxwell remembers it, Malvo seemed deeply conflicted. But she remained firm. So sometime in late 1999, with his few clothes and possessions packed, Winsome and Webster Maxwell drove Lee Malvo to the airport at Montego Bay and watched him walk up the passengers’ hallway and out of their lives. “I remember,” Winsome says, “that he didn’t really cry. He just kept walking. Just kept looking back.”

It was on Antigua, however, that a once-again abandoned Lee Malvo would find the father figure he’d long been searching for. Only a mile or two down the road from Malvo’s newest address, John Allen Muhammad would soon arrive with three of his children, 14-year-old John junior, 12-year-old Salena, and 11-year-old Taalibah, all of whom he’d taken from Washington State as his last stand in a divorce and custody battle with his second wife, Mildred.

Around Saint John’s, Antigua’s main port, John Muhammad was originally known only as “the Runner,” since he could be found every morning—in shorts and athletic shoes—logging a handful of sweaty miles through the hilly, narrow streets surrounding the city’s inner harbor.

A 39-year-old man in hiding from U.S. authorities, Muhammad was keeping his own history deliberately vague. While he would readily tell people that he had served in the Gulf War in 1991, he also claimed to have been a member of the Special Forces rather than, as was really the case, a combat engineer and metalworker. He didn’t speak of his former name, John Williams, which he stopped using after his conversion to Islam in the mid-1980s. He also didn’t speak of his two failed marriages, his shuttered auto-repair business back in Washington, or the army’s suspicions that, during the Gulf War, he’d “fragged” the tent of a sergeant he’d had run-ins with, tossing an incendiary grenade inside.

It’s likely he arrived on Antigua in the spring of 2000. By the autumn of that year, Jerome and Leonie Martin, proprietors of a local TV and tech shop called Za Za Electronics, were used to seeing the Runner every morning. “Since no one here runs for exercise, right away John Muhammad stood out,” says Leonie, a generous, welcoming woman of 40.

Muhammad stood out for other reasons, too. He was immediately recognized as being exceptionally good with children. “He had this power over them,” Leonie Martin says. “I admired it. Everyone did. He gave the children discipline, and they loved him for it. He was not harsh or unfair. It was discipline mixed with love and care. If they had done something wrong, he’d say, ‘Drop and give me 50.’ And the children would drop and do the 50 push-ups, just to please him.”

In the late fall or winter of 2000, Muhammad stopped by Za Za Electronics with a problem: the digital camera he owned had sustained damage to its viewfinder. Muhammad asked Jerome Martin, 38—a dreadlocked man known island-wide as Yello—if he could repair it. Over the next several weeks, the Martins got to know Muhammad. One day, Yello says, “Leonie’s grandson came down with a fungus on his scalp. It was very ugly-looking. And John said, ‘In the army we had medicine for that,’ and he went away and came back with the medicine, and he gave it to his parents and showed them how to use it, and the boy got better. Another time, this guy had a broken Jeep that needed a new part, and John said, ‘I’ll make you that part.’ And he went up the street to a machine shop, and he explained how to make it and they made it. And that Jeep is still running. He had this amazing sense about him. He knew how to come into any room a stranger and leave as a friend.”

And, as happens with reputations and rumors on small islands, soon John Muhammad was recognized by many around Antigua as a local hero.

“John was one of those people who everyone walking down the street would say hi to,” says Keshna Douglas, 23, whose mother rented Muhammad and his children an annex to their house, a few blocks from Za Za Electronics. “John had this gift: he could see through you. Everyone calls me KeKe, and he would say, ‘KeKe, what’s wrong? You don’t seem like yourself.’ And he was right.” There was something else she and others noticed: “He was also living for his kids. He loved those kids so much. Without them, his life would be nothing. You could just tell he loved them that much.”

The precise how and where of Lee Malvo and John Muhammad’s first meeting may never be known. Having publicly remained tight-lipped about himself and Malvo since their apprehension, Muhammad will likely take his side of the story to the grave if he is executed. Malvo says through his attorney and his psychologist that the two met at Za Za Electronics in October of 2000, when Malvo saw Muhammad and his son playing flight-simulation games on the store’s computers one afternoon as Malvo passed. He was probably walking the several miles from school en route to his latest home, in an agricultural district outside Saint John’s, where he lived with his mother and a new boyfriend, Theodore Williams.

Leonie and Yello Martin don’t recall meeting Lee until, in Yello’s words, “one day John turned up with Lee and told us this was his son from the States. Lee had an American accent already, so, later, we figured they must have been together for a while. Then Lee would drop by every day with John junior to play the Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 and other games on the computers. He said he wanted to be a pilot.”

After several weeks of contact with Lee, however, Leonie grew suspicious. “There was just something that didn’t feel right about Lee,” she says. “He didn’t feel American. He was too reserved. Not like Americans we’ve seen.” The Martins’ suspicions were confirmed when, one afternoon not too many weeks later, Malvo had a slip of the tongue. “He dropped into a Jamaican accent,” Yello remembers. “Someone had grabbed something from him and he said, in Jamaican patois: ah-fe-we! [It’s mine!]”

“And I looked at Lee,” Leonie says, the surprise still making her laugh, “and I said to him, ‘You’re not American, you’re Jamaican!’ And Lee said, ‘I was born in Jamaica, but my mother is in America. She’s married to John.’”

Which was half true. By the late autumn of 2000, John Muhammad had taken to exhibiting yet another of his voluminous personal gifts: the forging of very realistic-looking U.S. immigration documents. Soon, all across Antigua’s 108 square miles, it was known that, for between $1,000 and $3,000 (U.S.)—depending on the services rendered—John Muhammad could provide anyone with all the necessary visas and work permits to get into the United States. In December of 2000, he sold Una James the papers to get her into the United States. And with the promise of prosperity apparently waiting in Fort Myers, Florida, she once again left Lee behind.

In Una James’s mind, she is not a selfish and indifferent parent but a harried breadwinner who slavishly worked, traveled, and scrimped for years to promote her son’s education and betterment. “I always knew where my Lee was,” she told me during a telephone conversation in May in Kingston. “I tried to telephone him. . . . I didn’t abandon him. All of these people, saying these things about me abandoning Lee, they don’t know. They’re telling lies! Lies! . . . And I will clear my name, and they’re going to have to pay!

Be that as it may, Lee Malvo was once again alone, this time on an unfamiliar island without aunts, cousins, or friends to fall back on. He had moved out of Theodore Williams’s house and was occupying a single-room shack without running water or sanitation; the electricity would shortly be turned off for lack of payment.

“It was like the perfect storm,” Dewey Cornell says, “[involving] his history of repeated parental abandonment, his obedient and adult-pleasing nature, and his mother’s departure. . . . The support and supervision he’d had in Jamaica—when he got to Antigua he had none of that. But he had found something new.”

By January 2001, Lee Malvo had moved in with John Muhammad as his son.

As every ground-forces general knows, the most malleable killing machine on earth may be a teenage boy desperately needing to belong to something greater. Beginning in January of 2001, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo began to explore just how malleable the 15-year-old Malvo was. At first, aside from Malvo’s early and easy conversion to Muhammad’s version of Islam, the goal of their work together was the simple human quest for personal righteousness and improvement. “They never talked violence,” says Yello Martin. “The lessons being taught and learned were about honor and discipline and personal virtue.”

“I remember them, out in the yard at the side of our house in Saint John’s,” Keshna Douglas says, “and they would be doing calisthenics and working out every afternoon, and Lee would be finishing up his workout, and he’d have his shirt off and be flexing his biceps and walking around and talking about his ‘six-pack.’ He was this skinny boy still! He didn’t have six-pack abs!”

The other thing Muhammad was now doing was giving his son and Lee tape recordings, which they were to listen to in bed at night. On the tapes were readings, which usually started after a longish period of music meant to lull the children to sleep. The readings were from several different sources: from the latest self-help book to Nation of Islam propaganda.

To those in close proximity, such as Keshna Douglas, the development of Malvo and John junior—as well as of Muhammad’s two daughters—was extraordinarily positive. “I tell you, they were like any good family. There was honesty and trust, and when John would have to discipline them, it was with love.”

Others began to see a difference in Malvo. His best friend at school on Antigua, John Sewsankar, noticed changes even before Malvo relocated to Muhammad’s home. Before the teenager met the older man, Sewsankar says, “Lee was interested in sports, girls, games, school. Then he began to argue with the kids at school about Islam. And bear in mind: this was a Christian school, a Seventh-Day Adventist school. He also acknowledged an interest in guns. Suddenly, he knew a lot about guns, from bazookas to handguns, which he had never talked about before. His physique changed, too. Lee had always been thin and loose. And he got more muscular.”

By December of 2000, Sewsankar says, Malvo’s new Islam-centric view of the world had him in hot water at school: “He would argue religion all the time.” And, according to several people close to the conflicts, the classroom situation was fast becoming untenable. “Then finally,” Sewsankar says, “Lee just stopped coming to school.”

In the spring of 2001, the irregularities in John Muhammad’s life began to catch up with him. Authorities in Antigua seemed to be closing in on both his immigration-papers scam and his custody problems. At one point, he had to leave Malvo and his own children for several days and hide on another part of the island while police combed Saint John’s, looking to question him. For John Muhammad, it was time to change locations.

So on May 24, 2001, Muhammad, his children, and 16-year-old Lee Malvo—who was traveling on forged American-immigration documents—flew to Miami through San Juan, Puerto Rico. Muhammad had offered to take with him several other island children he’d coached and come to love—including one of Yello and Leonie Martin’s sons—to let them flourish in the rich soil of the United States, but those children’s parents declined Muhammad’s offer.

After dropping Lee in Florida, where he re-united with his mother near Fort Myers, Muhammad and his three biological children flew on to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to enter another phase of life in their old hometown of Bellingham, Washington.

In August, Lee Malvo enrolled himself as a junior at Cypress Lake high school. He was getting ready to fulfill his dream: going to college, getting educated, becoming a commercial pilot, and opening his own flying service around the Caribbean. “Shortly after school started, Lee took a college-entrance pre-test,” says Dewey Cornell, “and he did well enough on it that the school’s college counselor sought him out and wanted him to sign up for the S.A.T.’s.”

But registering for the tests required Lee to have a U.S. Social Security number, and as an illegal alien he couldn’t have one. Together, Lee and Una began to discuss the possibility of John Muhammad’s legally adopting Lee, so he could become a U.S. citizen and go immediately to college.

According to Cornell, Una went as far as buying Lee a bus ticket to Bellingham, but then changed her mind and hid the ticket. But Lee knew where she had stashed it. And one day in October he took the ticket and ran away to rejoin Muhammad.

In Bellingham, John Muhammad had his own troubles. After his arrival in late May, he and his children began moving from place to place, staying in hotels and with friends, while Muhammad did odd jobs to make extra money. But, slowly, he was running low on obliging friends and available cash.

When he had left for Antigua a year earlier, Muhammad’s second wife, Mildred, obtained a no-fault divorce and full custody of their three children. She had also gotten the court to issue a habeas corpus writ for the children, and when Muhammad signed them up for public school in Bellingham in late August 2001, their names on the enrollment roster were matched to the names on Mildred’s writ. The children were soon picked up by local authorities and given to her while the courts tried to sort out the couple’s competing claims. Within days she had secretly relocated herself and the kids to the suburbs of Washington, D.C.—effectively hiding them from her ex-husband.

For the next four months, John Muhammad would search ceaselessly for his ex-wife and children, all to no avail. Says his longtime friend and army buddy, Robert Holmes, “I think that after his kids got taken away John had a nervous breakdown. I’m not a professor or a doctor, but John changed in a million subtle ways after his kids were taken away. He’d spend all day some days just crying. All he could think of was getting his kids back.”

It was during this period, on October 20, 2001, roughly a month after Mildred Muhammad had disappeared with the couple’s children, that Lee Malvo showed up at the Lighthouse Mission, in Bellingham, where Muhammad had been staying off and on for a couple of months, originally with his children. Lee was immediately introduced to the mission’s staff as John’s elder son. “This seemed strange,” says the Reverend Al Archer, the mission’s director, who had grown fond of Muhammad, “because Lee was, like, 15 years old, and I knew John’s son [from his first marriage] was older than that. John had told me so himself. And Lee, I had no inkling that he was from Jamaica. He hid his accent and his past very well. . . . But I knew something was going on.”

Like Robert Holmes, Archer had noticed changes in Muhammad: “There’s no question the removal of those kids set John on the course he finally took. That was the point where I think he snapped. I don’t think he knew what he was going to do yet, but he’d changed.”

On November 18, 2001, Lee Malvo entered Bellingham High School and began to take classes. By now, however, Malvo’s education was no longer restricted to schoolwork. Every day after school, Malvo and Muhammad would lift weights together at the local Y.M.C.A., then they’d disappear for several hours from the shelter. Often, they would shoot targets at the local gun range, the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club, calibrating the telescopic sight on a Bushmaster AR 15—a knockoff M16—that Muhammad had somehow acquired, and that he now carried everywhere in a hard plastic case concealed inside a grayish-green duffel bag.

Some afternoons, they might also stop by the homes of various of Muhammad’s friends, where they would often watch movies and videos and play computer and video games. Of the movies they watched, the one screened most often was The Matrix, which Malvo has said they easily watched “100 times.” Another favorite was an instructional videotape called Carlos Hathcock: Marine Sniper.

Among the PlayStation and Xbox video games Malvo liked and played—all of which were war-themed—one stood out. It was a version of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, a sniper game, where the player chooses his tools and his hiding place, then carries out an assassination.

“After I met Lee,” says Dewey Cornell, “he described to me in great detail how he gained mastery of the game and how he lost emotion while playing it, which is one of the keys to improving at it. And, honestly, with that game, keeping your emotions down is hard to do. I played Ghost Recon, just to see what it was about, and it’s very, very emotionally gripping. You have your weapon, and then you’re dropped into this situation where you’re alone and have to begin fighting for your life. As the enemy finds you and begins to fire upon you, you can’t help but be engaged: your blood pressure goes up, your breathing grows deeper and heavier, until finally, unless you have mastery of the game, the enemy finally shoots you, and the screen goes red.”

Back at the Lighthouse Mission, everyone had decided some larger plan was afoot between Muhammad and Malvo. “John never let Lee out of his sight,” says Al Archer. “They were always alone and together. John was also now controlling everything Lee did. Lee wouldn’t even speak unless John gave him a nod, a signal that it was O.K. to talk.”

One night, says Rory Reublin, a manager at the mission, “Lee came into the cafeteria, and he was talking with a few of the other people there. And it wasn’t like they were talking about national security or anything, they were just BS-ing, and then John came in and shot Lee a look, and—instantly—Lee stopped talking and put his head down and kept eating. . . . The look John gave Lee? It was a look of total domination.”

Something else was happening to Lee Malvo. John Muhammad’s homemade tapes, which Malvo had been falling asleep to for almost a year now, had taken a darker turn.

Instead of a mix of self-help books sprinkled with Nation of Islam writings—a favorite nighttime-listening book of Malvo’s had been Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff— the tapes Muhammad was now introducing Malvo to contained a more aggressively vengeful vision of the world, one filled with racial-hatred speeches by Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, where all thoughts and politics led back to a small clutch of beliefs: that powerful white America hates blacks; that, by the white man’s design, prison is where nearly all black men in America finally end up; and that black men not in prison are eventually forced into the army, where they are easily sacrificed for the goals and needs of, once again, white America.

“By now,” says Cornell, “John Muhammad was controlling everything in Lee Malvo’s life, from his exercise to his diet to what he was thinking. . . . This is what some psychologists call a ‘dissociative state.’ It’s the idea that, through total control of everything someone is eating and thinking and doing, that person can be made to do things an otherwise rational person wouldn’t. And all of it sounds preposterous unless you go through the process. But how else can you explain Jim Jones? How else can you explain Heaven’s Gate?”

Since Malvo had run away from his mother’s apartment in Fort Myers, Florida, Una James had been searching for John Muhammad, trying to contact him on the telephone, calling the Lighthouse Mission constantly but never reaching him.

Finally, on December 14, 2001, James got through. After a moment’s wait, on the other end of the telephone line, John Muhammad was addressing her. When she confronted him about what had become, effectively, the kidnapping of her son, she claims, the conversation grew blunt, with Muhammad finally saying to her, “I have a job to do, and I can’t rely on some cokehead to do it.”

Sensing something horrible was going to happen, Una James boarded a Greyhound bus bound for her son.

The Reverend Al Archer recalls the mid-December telephone call to his office with pained delight. “One afternoon,” he says, “I was sitting in my office, and the phone rang. And it was a woman, and she said, ‘I’m Lee Malvo’s mother.’ And I thought: Whoopee, I’m finally going to get some answers.”

Archer drove to the local bus station, collected Una James, and took her to the Bellingham Police Department, where James told her story to the cops. James claims she said to the police, “Unless you stop John Muhammad, you’re going to have another September 11 on your hands,” an assertion Al Archer can’t confirm, as he was, in his recollection, “giving her some privacy.” But within hours Lee Malvo had been removed from the mission by authorities and taken to his mother.

“He gave his mom this kind of half-hug,” Archer says. “Sort of like: ‘Mom, I’m glad to see you, but why are you here?’ Then we all went back to the mission together, and I got Ms. James settled in, and we began to try to figure out what to do next.”

By this time, John Muhammad was avoiding the mission, lying low at friends’ houses, conscious he was under increasing scrutiny.

The situation soon became even more complicated. On December 19, 2001, Una James and Lee Malvo were picked up at the Lighthouse Mission by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service border guards, tipped off by the local police, who had spotted something irregular in their immigration papers. For more than a month, Una was kept in I.N.S. detention while Lee lived in a juvenile facility in Seattle.

Then, on January 23, 2002, both mother and son were released to an I.N.S. “safe house” while deportation actions were taken against them. “After they were released,” says Al Archer, “I tried to give them a ride back to where they were staying, and they refused. They said it was a secret place, and that nobody was to know about it, especially John Muhammad.”

According to James, Malvo was agitated and paranoid after their I.N.S. release, telling her, “Mom, we are being followed, and if I don’t go they’ll kill you.” Then, two nights later, as Una cooked dinner for the two in their new lodgings, Lee apparently climbed out a window and ran until—somewhere amid the thicket of friends, shooting ranges, and Y.M.C.A. gyms that Muhammad frequented—Malvo found his “father.”

For a month, James continued looking for her son. One day she saw him and Muhammad get on a city bus she was riding and tried to stop them from fleeing, but they ran off the bus. “And I said to Lee, ‘Why do you run? I am your mother!’ But he ran up the street. He ran away.”

With John Muhammad and Lee Malvo re-united, and without school or a life at the mission to bog them down, their paranoid journey began to gain velocity and fervor.

Beginning in early 2002, as they slept on people’s couches and in a truck parked in front of one friend’s house, the pair were working from a written daily schedule that Muhammad drew up and Malvo never questioned. Aside from heavy doses of daily exercise, there were also daily “training missions,” in Malvo’s characterization to Dewey Cornell, where they would hunt each other sniper-style on a local Indian reservation or in nearby forests. “It got to where every day,” Cornell says, “it was now being drummed into Lee’s head that they were on a larger mission and that there were only two rules to live by: ‘Whatever it takes’ and ‘There’s no turning back.’”

Still other days, Muhammad would train Malvo in how to overcome interrogation, at one point chaining Malvo to a tree for hours in the snow to mentally harden him. “By then,” says Carmeta Albarus-Rodney, the social worker who has treated Malvo in prison, “Lee was so into the training and gaining Muhammad’s respect that he didn’t just want to be chained to the tree for hours. He wanted to prove how tough he was, how indestructible he was, by being chained to the tree in the snow without his shirt on.”

On February 16, 2002—two days before Malvo’s 17th birthday—John Muhammad placed in front of Lee Malvo his first big test. Muhammad was angry with a woman named Isa Nichols, who he felt had betrayed him during the early days of his custody battle with Mildred. What Muhammad may not have known was that Nichols’s niece, 21-year-old Keenya Cook, was living with her six-month-old baby in the Nichols home, using it as a haven from an abusive relationship.

On the night of February 16, carrying a .45-caliber pistol borrowed from a shooting-range friend of Muhammad’s, Lee Malvo approached Nichols’s house, on Tacoma’s East 34th Street, possibly with orders to kill the woman who came to the door. At the time, Keenya Cook was alone in the house with her baby. She was in the midst of changing the child’s diaper when the doorbell rang. When Cook opened the door, she was shot in the face with a single bullet.

Lee Malvo had gotten his first kill.

“According to Lee,” says Dewey Cornell, “the Keenya Cook murder was a real rite of passage. There had been this very intensive period of training, with great emphasis on focusing on the mission. And this was presented to him as a major test of his readiness.”

Police believe that from February to October of 2002, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo ricocheted around the United States, traveling often by bus, living in shelters, and robbing and killing people as their needs or desires demanded. (Malvo initially confessed to a number of murders but later recanted some of them.)

On March 19, in Tucson, Arizona, a 60-year-old man was killed by a rifle as he chipped balls at a golf course.

On September 5, in Clinton, Maryland—Mildred Muhammad’s hometown—a restaurant owner, Paul LaRuffa, was shot six times with a .22-caliber handgun and robbed of more than $3,000 in cash and a laptop computer.

With LaRuffa’s money, police believe, Muhammad had enough cash to buy a car, and on September 10 he purchased a 1990 blue Chevrolet Caprice from the unfortunately named Sure Shot Auto Sales, in Trenton, New Jersey.

On September 14, in Silver Spring, Maryland, an employee at Hillandale Beer & Wine was wounded by a shot fired from outside.

On September 17, Muhammad Rashid, who worked at another Washington, D.C.—area liquor store, was locking up for the night when he turned and saw, as he later testified during John Muhammad’s trial, Lee Malvo walking toward him. “He never [made] some kind of demand, for some kind of money,” Rashid testified. Instead, Malvo shot him in the stomach without warning and stole his wallet as Rashid lay on the sidewalk.

On September 20, there was a shooting and robbery in Atlanta. The next day, a few hours’ drive southwest, in Montgomery, Alabama, there was another shooting and robbery. On the stand at the Muhammad trial, James Allen Gray Jr. testified that he had witnessed Malvo fleeing the scene of the Montgomery incident. “His eyes were big, and they were wild,” Gray said, “like he was in some kind of frenzy.”

On September 23, a bullet from the same .223-caliber rifle that would soon be used by the so-called Washington sniper killed 45-year-old Hong Im Ballenger in a Baton Rouge parking lot as she was getting into her car after work.

It was that week, as Muhammad and Malvo were staying in Baton Rouge with Muhammad’s sister Carol Williams, that the older man finally disclosed the breadth and sweep of his plan to his disciple. According to Cornell, “They were going to extort $10 million from the U.S. government by randomly killing people in and around the Washington, D.C., area. Then they were going to use that money to change the world. They would buy a big compound in Canada or Africa and start a Utopian community of 70 black boys and 70 black girls. All of them would be educated in the proper ways of Islam and honor, and then, upon maturity, they would go back into the world and change it for the better.”

Malvo later told both Cornell and Albarus-Rodney, “If you want to understand me, watch The Matrix.” In the film, Keanu Reeves’s hero is chosen by an older, charismatic mentor, played by Laurence Fishburne, to lead a revolution against an evil regime of machines that has enslaved humanity. And, perhaps, that is how Malvo now saw himself, fomenting a popular revolution against the U.S. government.

Those closest to the story, however, speculate that Muhammad had one other motive, one he never told Malvo. “You know what I think?” Al Archer says. “I think eventually, whether they ever got that money or not, they were going to kill Mildred Muhammad as the last victim, throw her in with all the other dead, and that way John would get his kids back. In the end, I think that was the bigger plan.”

“The $10 million? The Utopian society? All that was a sidebar that came later,” says Muhammad’s friend Robert Holmes. “Maybe they were riding along in the car and a light went off in John’s head and he realized: ‘Maybe we can get paid to stop.’ The bigger plan, I think, was always to kill Mildred.”

Witnesses living in Mildred Muhammad’s neighborhood in Clinton, Maryland, recall seeing the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice near her house on several occasions. Albarus-Rodney says that Malvo admitted to her that he and Muhammad knew where Mildred lived—a friend had found her address on the Internet—and that they had staked out the house on numerous occasions.

For Lee Malvo, alternately enervated, frenzied, and upset by the weeks of traveling and killing, John Muhammad’s now disclosed blueprint for their salvation—not to mention the world’s salvation from white people—sent him over the edge.

“Lee was already wrestling with what he was doing,” Dewey Cornell says. “And when John wasn’t there, he could still be somewhat self-directed. But in John’s presence he would do what he was supposed to do. . . . So far, as he explained it to me, he’d gotten through the murders and robberies by what he called ‘zoning out,’ displacing his emotions, a desensitization he’d been practicing for months.”

By this time, Malvo told Cornell, he was searching for another way out of his predicament. “Lee was certainly suicidal,” Cornell says. “He told me that he took a handgun and went into a bathroom at Carol Williams’s house and tried to pull the trigger. And he’d stay in there with the gun, and he’d try to pull the trigger. But he just couldn’t do it.”

According to The Washington Post and other papers, Malvo even wrote a desperate suicide-style note to an acquaintance— 17-year-old LaToria Williams, Muhammad’s niece—in which he described himself as a “walking time bomb. . . . Was my purpose here on the God forsaken planet to be banned, shamed and disapproved, why am I hear [sic]. . . . I’ve had a hard life believe it or not, no father and a mother who hate [sic], no that’s understatement, she has disbarred me from her. . . . As I have a father [Muhammad] who I know is going to have to kill me for a righteous society to prevail.”

Shortly after Malvo wrote that letter, the shootings in the Washington, D.C., area would begin.

The first bullet that can be conclusively tied to the Washington-sniper killing spree was fired by the .223-caliber Bushmaster AR 15 around 7:40 A.M. on October 3, 2002. A 39-year-old landscaper named James “Sonny” Buchanan was mowing grass outside a Rockville, Maryland, auto dealership when a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice cruised past and parked a few hundred yards up the street.

As Malvo would eventually tell the police and, at first, Dewey Cornell (Malvo would later change his story to the psychologist, claiming Muhammad had done the shooting), the teenager climbed over the car’s front seat, lifted the backseat cushion, hung it horizontally above the floor on a hook the two had installed, and slid into the Caprice’s trunk. In the darkness, he settled himself gently around the Bushmaster, then slid the gun’s steel muzzle into a long, jagged notch the two had cut an inch to the interior right of the trunk’s lock.

Down the street, Sonny Buchanan was still pushing his lawn mower, moving slowly back and forth along the strip of grass, facing the shooter as he cut the grass in one direction, his back to the shooter as he went the other way.

There was a moment of patience, a time where Malvo—as he had been trained to do—watched and waited, his finger flipping off the rifle’s safety as his eye focused on the reticle of the Bushmaster’s telescopic sight. Now he needed only the go-ahead from his spotter, John Muhammad, who sat watching in the front seat.

As Sonny Buchanan once again turned and began to push the mower away from the car, Muhammad gave the word, approving the shot. Lee Malvo—long-lost son of Waltham Park, Jamaica—zeroed the rifle’s sight on a “heart shot” precisely between Buchanan’s left shoulder blade and his spine, steadied and calmed himself with a final, full exhale, and pulled the trigger.

Twenty-one days later—at about 3:30 A.M. on October 24, 2002—Muhammad and Malvo were arrested by federal and local law enforcement as they slept in their car at a highway rest area on I-70 in Frederick County, Maryland, northwest of Washington, D.C. They had left a death tarot card with the message “I am God” at one shooting scene, and had scattered several notes written by Malvo at others. Each of these missives sought to engage law enforcement in the $10 million extortion to stop their rampage, and implied unconscionable consequences if the government didn’t comply. One note threatened, “Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time.”

“What’s amazing to me,” says Carmeta Albarus-Rodney, “is that the first time I met Lee, several weeks after they were apprehended, we were talking in the visitation room at the jail in Virginia, and Lee—who was sitting at a steel table with his wrists handcuffed—began to pound the table when he talked of their plan. He kept pounding the table with both hands in the cuffs saying, ‘We were so-o-o close! We were so-o-o close!’ They were so deluded they believed they were really about to get away with it. Can you imagine?”

Since his arrest, John Muhammad has remained silent, having spoken only during a brief period when he chose to defend himself as he was being tried in state court for the murder of Dean H. Meyers, 53, who was shot at a Prince William County, Virginia, gas station. In court he rambled unsteadily about racial politics, only glancingly addressing the crime for which he was on trial. He had been evaluated by court-appointed psychologists, but their findings were never admitted as evidence in court and remain under seal. On November 17, 2003, he was convicted of two counts of capital murder; he was sentenced to be executed later this year, pending appeals. A second capital-murder trial for Muhammad—which Virginia prosecutor Robert Horan has called his “insurance policy”—is scheduled to begin this fall.

Lee Boyd Malvo was tried on two counts of murder for the October 14, 2002, killing of 47-year-old Linda Franklin at a Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church, Virginia. Though he had been charged with assaults and murders in at least nine different jurisdictions, Virginia went first by decree of U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft (acting under the authority of federal anti-terrorism law) because the state is one of 19 that still sanction executions for juvenile offenders (pending an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court review). On December 18, 2003, Malvo was convicted; a few months later he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In the meantime, Carmeta Albarus-Rodney has helped Malvo restore large parts of his old personality. “He has a Jamaican accent again,” she says. “And he’s hopeful about the future and is taking correspondence courses for college. He’s just sent me his first exams and report cards: he’s getting all A’s.”

But Albarus-Rodney admits—with some concern in her voice—that scraps of the angrier, challenging, Muhammad-influenced Malvo still remain. She describes one afternoon, after she had first gotten through to Malvo, when she found him sunny, optimistic, and engaging; she then returned the following morning to hear him spouting what she calls Muhammad-isms. “You know: ‘We will destroy you’ and the like,” she says. “And when I asked him about this, saying to him, ‘Lee, yesterday you were logical and reasonable and today you’re talking this paranoid foolishness,’ he said, ‘I know, Carmeta, it’s the nights. As I sleep, the teaching from all the tapes I listened to, those ideas and the anger, come back inside my mind.’”

Recently, though, Albarus-Rodney says, Malvo’s old personality has asserted itself more and more. And she and Dewey Cornell both believe that as Malvo’s Muhammad-infused life recedes into the past, the more intact his old self will become.

“You know, I went and saw him not long ago,” Albarus-Rodney says, “and he said to me, ‘Carmeta, I know I will be in here for the rest of my life, but I think I can make a positive difference in the world. I can contribute. I just need to figure out how. . . . And once I figure that out, instead of me going into the world to make a difference, I will have to bring the world to me.’”

And in the evenings, when the 19-year-old convict is lonely and trying to figure out how to bring the world to him, he can always recall the warm, thick air of a particular street corner in Kingston, a place where the grape-nut ice cream is cold and sweet, the dominoes click gently in the darkness, and his father’s arm is always around him.

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