Sniper suspect had reportedly threatened wife

Former brother-in-law says Muhammad was hurt by divorce, loss of kids

October 31, 2002|By Alec MacGillis and James Hagengruber | Alec MacGillis and James Hagengruber,SUN STAFF

BILLINGS, Mont. - Near the nation's capital, investigators are still puzzling out why two men would come all the way across the country to start shooting innocent people.

But sitting in a bar in this town at the foot of the Rockies this week, as a freak fall snowstorm swirled outside, Charles Green believed he knew the answer.

Green is convinced that John Allen Muhammad, one of two suspects in the sniper attacks, went to the Washington area with a clear purpose in mind: to seek out, terrorize and eventually harm Green's sister, Mildred, Muhammad's ex-wife who moved from Washington state to Clinton, Md., last year with their three children.

"He was going to kill everyone in my family. He loved the kids, and when he couldn't see the kids anymore ... " Green trailed off. "There's no doubt Mildred was going to be the next hit."

As investigators and the public look for a possible motive for this month's sniper shootings, Muhammad's relationship with his ex-wife and their three children is a pivotal unknown. The Prince George's County home of his children and former wife is Muhammad's only clear tie to the Washington area, and those who knew him in recent years said he was deeply upset about their having left him.

Mildred Muhammad has gone into seclusion, as have her children, her sister and her brother-in-law, with whom she had been living in Clinton.

Green, 40, broke the family's silence in a two-hour interview over sodas at Billings' sole martini bar late Tuesday night. Tracked down as he came through Billings on his way from Tacoma, Wash., to the East Coast, Green provided perspective from the family who knew Muhammad best, and feared him the most.

Green confirmed what has been said by Muhammad's former divorce attorney, by his Washington state acquaintances, and by his children's former teachers in Antigua. Muhammad, he said, was deeply attached to the three children, and having them taken away from him last year angered him more than anything in the world.

The children are Salena, 10, to whom Muhammad was especially close; Talibah, 9; and John Jr., 12, nicknamed "Little Soldier" by his father, Green said.

The attachment extended beyond the kids, Green said. After the couple's divorce in 2000, Muhammad remained incensed that he had lost his wife, even though he had not always been faithful to her, her brother said.

Green, a part-time truck driver who lived with his sister and brother-in-law for a while in Tacoma, recalled accompanying Muhammad to collect payment for car mechanic work he had done - payment that Green says sometimes took the form of sexual favors from women.

"Once he stopped at a house and said, "I'll be right back. I just got to get paid," Green says. After two hours, he returned disheveled and smelling of perfume, Green recalls.

"I said, `My sister's going to leave you someday.' [He] replied, `When she do, all hell is going to break loose.'"

Muhammad's public defender is so far declining to comment on the sniper case or answer questions from the media.

It remains unclear whether Muhammad tried to see his children or ex-wife during the past month, when 10 people were killed and three injured in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Several neighbors on their block of Quiet Brook Lane in Clinton now recall seeing Muhammad's blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice on the street on several occasions in recent weeks.

Lamont Windsor, who lives in a cluster of town houses next to the group containing Mildred Muhammad's home, said he saw a blue Caprice one evening a few weeks ago as he was driving home from work. The car was parked near the entrance to the parking lot for the town house where Mildred Muhammad was living, Windsor said.

But Green, who said he speaks with his sister once or twice a week, said she had not seen or talked to her former husband.

Green believes that Muhammad, if he was the shooter, intended the attacks to terrorize his former wife - regardless of whether she knew he was responsible for them. Green also suspects that Muhammad hoped to use the killings of random victims as a way to cover an eventual shooting of his ex-wife in Prince George's County.

Others who know Muhammad share the view that Mildred Muhammad eventually might have been a target. Carol Williams, Muhammad's first wife, said in a CNN interview Tuesday that she believed "he was in Maryland for his second wife" and "would have come on around" to kill her. Williams, of Baton Rouge, La., said she herself might have been at risk.

Green pointed out that Muhammad is now a suspect in the February killing of a Tacoma woman who had a link to the Muhammads' custody dispute. The victim is the niece of Muhammad's former accountant, who sided with Mildred Muhammad in the divorce and helped her win custody of the children.

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