FBI Searches Alabama Junk Shop Business in Mail Bombings
Jan. 23, 1990
ENTERPRISE, Ala. (AP) _ FBI agents investigating the mail-bombings that killed a federal judge and a civil rights lawyer searched the salvage business and home of a man who lost an appeal before a panel that included the judge.
A published report today indicated the agents may have been looking for a typewriter used in letters from the bomber. A relative of the man whose property was searched said FBI agents asked family members about an old typewriter, but the agents did not say why.
Robert Wayne O'Ferrell was questioned most of the day Monday, and agents with bomb-sniffing dogs searched his sprawling Enterprise junk warehouse, a smaller junk shop, and his home in nearby New Brockton, about 75 miles from Montgomery. Police and a bomb squad from a nearby Army base joined the search.
No charges were filed against O'Ferrell or anyone else, agent Chuck Archer of Mobile said. Agents suspended their search at about 10 p.m., and police sealed O'Ferrell's property.
The farms of O'Ferrell's father, Jay, and brother Buddy also were searched, according to a cousin, Jerry O'Ferrell of Mobile. He said he spoke with O'Ferrell's sister Monday night and ''they're all shocked. He's not the type person who would do this.''
O'Ferrell, 46, described by a neighbor as a former Baptist preacher who once sold insurance and took up the junk business about three years ago, was released after questioning and was back at his home this morning.
He told reporters he was cooperating in the investigation and may have a statement at an appropriate time. He then asked the reporters to leave his property.
Court records show O'Ferrell was involved in a case heard by U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Vance, killed last month when a package bomb sent through the mail exploded at his home near Birmingham.
O'Ferrell had sued Gulf Life Insurance Co. of Jacksonville, Fla., for firing him, disputing the company's claim that he held licenses with other insurance companies. O'Ferrell also claimed Gulf Life owed him commissions.
A federal judge in Montgomery dismissed the lawsuit in June 1988. Last April, Vance and two other judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling in a one-page unsigned decision.
The Atlanta Constitution, quoting unidentified federal sources, reported today that an agent reviewing files at the appeals court discovered correspondence from O'Ferrell that apparently matched typewritten letters from the bomber.
O'Ferrell's son-i-law, John Cauley, who lives with his wife on O'Ferrell's property, said agents asked family members about an old typewriter, but did not indicate why they were interested in it.
Cauley said he told them his father-in-law had several old typewriters at his business but none at home.
''They asked me all kinds of stuff, like if he knew about the letter bombs and if he was violent,'' Cauley said. ''I told them he wasn't violent and that he couldn't hurt anybody.'' Cauley said O'Ferrell never mentioned the mail- bombings when they happened.
Package bombs sent through the mail exploded and killed Vance on Dec. 16 and a black lawyer, Robert Robinson of Savannah, Ga., two days later. Other mailed bombs were defused at the 11th Circuit courthouse in Atlanta and the NAACP office in Jacksonville, Fla.
The FBI has said one or more white racists appeared to be behind the attacks. One agent said a possible profile of the bomber was a man in his 50s not connected with any white supremacist group. Wayne O'Ferrell's name is not in a file of white hate group members kept by the Klanwatch program of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, director Morris Dees said today.
Archer declined to say what evidence brought the investigation to O'Ferrell's property. Archer also would not say specifically what the agents were looking for in the search or what, if anything, was found.
FBI agents also questioned O'Ferrell's neighbors.
Tina Sommerville, who lives across the street from the warehouse, said the FBI ''asked me had I ever noticed any strange activity, or if I had ever noticed any unusual number of cars over there, or unusual number of people over there, or if he had ever shown a violent temper.
''I said, 'No, I had never seen any of that.'''
''They are just average people,'' she said of O'Ferrell, his wife and two daughters. ''He was always reading the Bible.''
Neighbors Jim and Joan Ziglar said O'Ferrell had always referred to himself as a minister on his mailbox, but they had never known him to preach regularly at any church during his 13 years at the small, wood-frame home.
Another neighbor, Robert Thomas, said O'Ferrell didn't have the expertise to pull off the bombings. ''He couldn't even do the wiring in his house. How's he going to build a bomb?''