FBI ineptness and a disturbed individual...a tragic end and more questions.
Brad Garrett, a respected F.B.I. veteran who helped early in the case before his retirement, said logic and evidence point to Dr. Ivins as the most likely perpetrator.
"Does that absolutely prove he did it? No," Mr. Garrett said. With no confession and no trial, he said, "you're going to be left not getting over the top of the mountain."
One of several FBI blunders...
Agents were excited when they dredged from the mud a plastic box that they thought might have been a homemade biological “glove box,” built to work safely on dangerous germs. The excitement lasted only until a Fort Detrick scientist with a rural Southern upbringing took one look and recognized what the $20,000-a-day pond-draining had turned up: a turtle trap.
"Portrait Emerges of Anthrax Suspect’s Troubled Life"
January 4th, 2009
The New York Times
January 4th, 2009
The New York Times
Inside the Army laboratory at Fort Detrick, the government’s brain for biological defense, Bruce Edwards Ivins paused to memorialize his moment in the spotlight as the anthrax panic of 2001 reached its peak.
Dr. Ivins titled his e-mail message "In the lab" and attached photographs: the gaunt microbiologist bending over Petri dishes of anthrax, and colonies of the deadly bacteria, white commas against blood-red nutrient.
Outside, on that morning of Nov. 14, 2001, five people were dead or dying, a dozen more were sick and fearful thousands were flooding emergency rooms. The postal system was crippled; senators and Supreme Court justices had fled contaminated offices. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation was struggling with a microbe for a murder weapon and a crime scene that stretched from New York to Florida.
But Dr. Ivins was chipper — the anonymous scientist finally at the center of great events. "Hi, all," he began the e-mail message. "We were taking some photos today of blood agar cultures of the now infamous 'Ames' strain of Bacillus anthracis. Here are a few." He sent the message to those who ordinarily received his corny jokes and dour news commentaries: his wife and two teenage children, former colleagues and high school classmates. He even included an F.B.I. agent working on the case.
Dr. Ivins, who had helped develop an anthrax vaccine to protect American troops, had spent his career waiting for a biological attack. Suddenly, at 55, he was advising the F.B.I. and regaling friends with scary descriptions of the deadly powder, his expertise in demand.
One recipient of his e-mail message, however, a graduate-school colleague, looked at the photograph of Dr. Ivins and leapt to a shocking conclusion.
"I read that e-mail, and I thought, He did it," the fellow scientist, Nancy Haigwood, said in a recent interview.
Nearly seven years and many millions of dollars later, after an investigation that included both path-breaking science and costly bungling, the F.B.I. concluded that Dr. Haigwood had been right: the anthrax killer had been at the investigators' side all along. Prosecutors said they believed they had the evidence to prove that Dr. Ivins alone carried out the attacks, but their assertions immediately met with skepticism among some scientists, lawmakers and co-workers of Dr. Ivins.
With the F.B.I. preparing to close the case, The New York Times has taken the deepest look so far at the investigation, speaking to dozens of Dr. Ivins's colleagues and friends, reading hundreds of his e-mail messages, interviewing former bureau investigators and anthrax experts, reviewing court records, and obtaining, for the first time, police reports on his suicide in July, including a lengthy recorded interview with his wife.
That examination found that unless new evidence were to surface, the enormous public investment in the case would appear to have yielded nothing more persuasive than a strong hunch, based on a pattern of damning circumstances, that Dr. Ivins was the perpetrator.
Focused for years on the wrong man, the bureau missed ample clues that Dr. Ivins deserved a closer look. Only after a change of leadership nearly five years after the attacks did the bureau more fully look into Dr. Ivins’s activities. That delay, and his death, may have put a more definitive outcome out of reach.
Brad Garrett, a respected F.B.I. veteran who helped early in the case before his retirement, said logic and evidence point to Dr. Ivins as the most likely perpetrator.
"Does that absolutely prove he did it? No," Mr. Garrett said. With no confession and no trial, he said, "you’re going to be left not getting over the top of the mountain."
The Times review found that the F.B.I. had disproved the assertion, widespread among scientists who believe Dr. Ivins was innocent, that the anthrax might have come from military and intelligence research programs in Utah or Ohio. By 2004, secret scientific testing established that the mailed anthrax had been grown somewhere near Fort Detrick. And anthrax specialists who have not spoken out previously said that, contrary to some skeptics' claims, Dr. Ivins had the equipment and expertise to make the powder in his laboratory.
F.B.I. agents, moreover, have shown that Dr. Ivins, a church musician and amateur juggler whom colleagues cherished, hid from them a shadow side of mental illness, alcoholism, secret obsessions and hints of violence.
Still, doubts persist. The case will be reviewed this year by the National Academy of Sciences and by Congress. If the F.B.I. is wrong, then a troubled man was hounded to death and the anthrax perpetrator is still at large, as many of Dr. Ivins's colleagues at Fort Detrick believe. When institute scientists began their own review of the evidence, nervous Army officials ordered the inquiry dropped.
In November, four of Dr. Ivins's closest co-workers wrote a glowing obituary of their "valued collaborator" for Microbe, the leading microbiology journal. It did not mention the anthrax accusations and was a singular protest by the four scientists against the F.B.I.'s conclusion.
"His colleagues and friends will remember him not only for his dedication to his work," the obituary said, "but also for his humor, curiosity and great generosity."
Fearing an Attack
The Sunday night after the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. D. A. Henderson, who led the global campaign to eradicate smallpox and had long been a lonely Cassandra warning of the bioterrorism threat, was summoned to an emergency meeting with the secretary of health and human services, Tommy Thompson.
Fearing a germ attack, officials had grounded crop dusters. Apocalyptic warnings were all over the news media: one study said 100 kilograms of anthrax released over Washington could kill 1 million to 3 million people.
Now, Dr. Henderson was told, intelligence reports indicated that there might be a second attack by Al Qaeda, most likely biological. Dr. Henderson gave Mr. Thompson and his aides a disturbing tutorial on anthrax and smallpox. As the meeting ended, an aide thanked him.
"I just hope we're not too late," Dr. Henderson replied.
Days later came word of the anthrax letters. First, the death of a tabloid photo editor in Florida, Robert Stevens. Then the poison letters mailed to NBC News and The New York Post with notes declaring "Death to America! Death to Israel!"
And finally the letters to Senators Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, and Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, spewing deadly spores through the postal system and across official Washington.
Whoever had ignited panic with a tablespoon of anthrax powder, officials assumed, would not stop there. Dr. Henderson wondered if the powder came from the tons of anthrax weaponized by the Soviet Union. Some assumed Al Qaeda was behind the letters; others suspected Iraq.
"My fear was that this first mailing was the tip of the iceberg," said Bill Raub, a senior official at the Health and Human Services Department. "We feared we would be at their mercy."
Then — nothing. Within days, investigators were piecing together clues pointing to a domestic source.
First, there were the notes. One warned, "We have this anthrax," and advised the recipients to take penicillin. Al Qaeda, F.B.I. agents reasoned, would hardly reduce the death toll with an alert that might have saved lives.
Then there was the strain of anthrax. Dr. Paul S. Keim, an anthrax geneticist at Northern Arizona University, identified the spores as Ames, a lethal strain most common in United States research. "It was chilling," Dr. Keim recalled, but also puzzling. "How in the world did Stevens get a lab strain?"
An alternative theory of a possible perpetrator took shape: the bioevangelist. An American obsessed by the bioterrorism threat — maybe a biodefense insider who might gain in pay or prestige from an attack — had decided to alert the nation.
That meant the potential suspects included the very Army scientists now working so closely with the F.B.I. And at the core of that group was Bruce Ivins.
In 21 years at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Ivins supplied Hershey's Kisses to office visitors and always showed concern when a colleague was ill. He toasted departing colleagues with humorous poems. He livened up parties with his juggling act and led songs from a portable keyboard at his Catholic church.
Colleagues knew Dr. Ivins, whose e-mail Christmas card one year spelled out "Happy Holidays" in anthrax spores, was an oddball, wearing outmoded bellbottoms and lunching on concoctions of tuna, peas and yogurt. But in a place where red tape and petty rivalry often darkened spirits, he was a bright spot.
"He actually thought of other people," said Melanie Ulrich, who worked with him on an anthrax project and invited him to the house she shared with her husband, Ricky Ulrich, also an Army scientist. "He was fun."
Arthur O. Anderson, the top ethicist at the institute, bonded with Dr. Ivins in the 1980s over their shared experience of adopting children. After that, every corridor encounter led to a long, probing talk on adoption or the ethical conundrums of biodefense.
Dr. Anderson said Dr. Ivins had relished provocative conversation. "If you didn’t bite at one of his emotionally laden questions, he’d find another way to shock you," he said.
They often discussed what they considered groundless criticism of the anthrax vaccine Dr. Ivins had helped produce, which some soldiers blamed for their illnesses. "Bruce was thin-skinned," Dr. Anderson said.
In the emotional days after Sept. 11, friends were not surprised when Dr. Ivins signed up as a Red Cross volunteer. On Sept. 22, 2001 — a date, it would turn out, between the two anthrax mailings — he attended a Red Cross class, Introduction to Disaster Services. He liked the atmosphere, he told friends, and three months later, as the crushing workload created by the anthrax letters began to ease, he applied for more training.
Noting that he worked at the Army institute, he wrote in his December 2001 application, "Perhaps I could help in case of a disaster related to biological agents."
Odd and Pressing
There was more to Bruce Ivins than his Army colleagues imagined, and Nancy Haigwood knew it.
She met him in 1976 in the biology department at the University of North Carolina, where he was a post-doctoral fellow and she was a graduate student. She found him odd and tried gently to disengage, but he kept in touch, pressing her with questions about her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Dr. Ivins's boss at U.N.C., Dr. Priscilla B. Wyrick, received similar queries about her sorority, Chi Omega. "He'd say, 'What’s your secret password? What's your secret handshake?'" she recalled. "I thought he was intellectually interested in secret things."
Dr. Wyrick said she thought of him then as "a goody-two-shoes, aggressive about his science but very sensitive about how he was portrayed by other people." She kept up a correspondence with him, and after the letter attack, arranged for him to give a talk at her current university, East Tennessee State.
Dr. Haigwood's experience with Dr. Ivins was not so benign. Outside her home in Maryland in 1982, a vandal spray-painted her sorority’s Greek initials, "KKG," on her fence, sidewalk and fiancé's car window. A year later a letter she had not written appeared under her name in The Frederick News-Post, defending Kappa Kappa Gamma and the hazing of recruits. She was certain Dr. Ivins was responsible.
She said she had found Dr. Ivins’s attentions creepy. She never told him her Maryland address, but he found it anyway. Later, in e-mail messages, he mentioned details about her sons that she had not shared with him.
"He damaged my property, he impersonated me and he stalked me," said Dr. Haigwood, now director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center.
In November 2001, when she got the e-mailed photograph of Dr. Ivins working with anthrax in the laboratory, she noticed that he was not wearing gloves — a safety breach she thought showed an unnerving "hubris." That fed her hunch that he had sent the deadly letters.
Knowing her suspicion was an extraordinary leap, she kept it to herself. But three months later, the American Society for Microbiology sent an appeal from the F.B.I. to its 40,000 members.
"It is very likely that one or more of you know this individual," the message said. F.B.I. profilers thought the killer might have made the anthrax during "off-hours in a laboratory."
Dr. Haigwood called the bureau, and two agents visited her. After that, they called periodically but gave no hint that they had tried to confirm the vandalism and stalking.
Soon after Dr. Haigwood's call, there was another reason for investigators to scrutinize Dr. Ivins. The Army found that in December 2001 he had secretly swabbed for anthrax spores outside his secure laboratory space.
Suspecting a technician's desk was contaminated, he later told an Army investigator, he had tested and found a bacillus, the class of bacteria that includes anthrax. He scrubbed the desk with bleach but did not report the spill, though he mentioned it several weeks later to Dr. Anderson, his ethicist friend.
"I had no desire to cry 'Wolf!'" Dr. Ivins wrote to Army investigators in April 2002. "I would have been agitating many people for no real reason." Yet Dr. Ivins wrote that he could not recall whether he had retested the desk for anthrax after his cleanup, as regulations required.
His conduct was a flagrant violation of biosafety standards. Anthrax spores outside containment areas could endanger anyone who was not vaccinated. When the spill was properly investigated, three strains of anthrax were found outside the laboratory, including the Ames strain on Dr. Ivins's desk.
By then, too, the bureau had detailed records showing when scientists entered and left the secure laboratories. The documents showed that Dr. Ivins had worked unusually late hours in his laboratory for several nights before each of the anthrax mailings, a pattern that stood out even at an institute where night hours were common.
Yet neither the spill nor the night hours sparked the suspicions of the anthrax investigators. They were intently focused on another suspect.
Focus on Hatfill
Dr. Ivins's modest bungalow was across the street from Fort Detrick, and he often walked to work. If he did so on June 25, 2002, a sunny Tuesday, he would have noticed the hubbub as he passed by the Detrick Plaza apartments.
F.B.I. agents and postal inspectors trudged in and out of one unit, toting away items for inspection. A horde of reporters milled around nearby; television helicopters circled overhead. It was one of the most heavily publicized searches in the history of criminal investigations.
Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, who had given permission for the search, never imagined this media circus. It was just the beginning of an intrusion into his life by the F.B.I. and the news media that would show just how tantalizing a case could be built against a man the government would, six years later, officially clear.
For months, agents had been growing more focused on Dr. Hatfill, a physician and virologist who had worked from 1997 to 1999 at the Fort Detrick institute.
He had earned a medical degree but had forged his Ph.D. diploma, written an unpublished novel about a covert bioattack on Washington and bragged on his résumé of a "working knowledge" of biowarfare pathogens. In his apartment, agents found a harmless bacteria commonly used as an anthrax simulant and a notebook on anthrax dissemination.
Then there was the timing. One month before the anthrax attacks, the government suspended Dr. Hatfill’s security clearance after questionable results on a polygraph test, and he told friends he expected to be fired from his job as a bioterrorism consultant. Two days before each of the two anthrax mailings, Dr. Hatfill filled a prescription for Cipro, an antibiotic that protected against anthrax.
Could it all be a coincidence? F.B.I. officials did not think so.
Desperate to find something more definitive against Dr. Hatfill, lead investigators — who had to brief the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, on their progress every week — ordered round-the-clock surveillance. Meticulous study of tiny brown fibers found stuck to the envelopes led nowhere. Handwriting comparisons proved useless because the perpetrator had printed in block letters. DNA found on the outside of the Leahy anthrax envelope turned out to be inadvertent contamination by a laboratory worker.
Ignoring the grave doubts of some F.B.I. scientists, agents used bloodhounds to try to link the letters by scent to Dr. Hatfill. They sent divers into a pond outside Frederick, and when that did not turn up anything, they drained two ponds hunting for discarded anthrax-making equipment.
Agents were excited when they dredged from the mud a plastic box that they thought might have been a homemade biological "glove box," built to work safely on dangerous germs. The excitement lasted only until a Fort Detrick scientist with a rural Southern upbringing took one look and recognized what the $20,000-a-day pond-draining had turned up: a turtle trap.
Soon after the pond debacle, Dr. Hatfill began fighting back, filing lawsuits and dragging F.B.I. officials to all-day depositions. But investigators did not want to give up on him as a suspect — in part because overwhelming scientific evidence was tying the mailed anthrax to Fort Detrick.
By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.
By late 2005, genetic analysis by top outside experts had matched the spores to a flask of anthrax at the Army institute. Dr. Ivins had custody of the flask, but some agents were still convinced Dr. Hatfill was the culprit.
The science alone could not close the case. "We could get to a lab, to a refrigerator, to a flask," said Dwight E. Adams, the F.B.I. laboratory director until 2006. "But that didn't put the letters in anyone's hand."
Early in 2006, with the investigation largely stalled, Nancy Haigwood heard from two different F.B.I. agents. Four years after she had reported her suspicions of Dr. Ivins, the bureau suddenly seemed interested.
"They said, 'We need your help,'" Dr. Haigwood recalled. She was frustrated by the delay, but when the agents asked her to strike up a new correspondence with Dr. Ivins, she reluctantly complied. "I was afraid of this man," she said. "I was convinced he had done it, and I was afraid he'd send me an anthrax letter."
Some agents believed that their bosses were stuck on Dr. Hatfill, and an internal F.B.I. investigation confirmed their complaint. In mid-2006, Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director, quietly moved Richard Lambert Jr., who had led the anthrax investigation since 2002, to a new job running the bureau’s office in Knoxville, Tenn. His replacement, Edward Montooth, a veteran of security and intelligence cases who had worked overseas in places from the Balkans to Indonesia, ordered a fresh look at the evidence.
For four years, Dr. Ivins, like others at Fort Detrick, had simultaneously been a trusted F.B.I. technical consultant and a possible suspect. Now the balance was tipping.
As the bureau's undercover informant, Dr. Haigwood struck up a breezy e-mail correspondence about scientific grants, pets and travel. Dr. Ivins complained about psychological screening and other "rather obnoxious and invasive measures" imposed at Fort Detrick since the anthrax attacks.
"I got so tired of the endless questions that I finally got a lawyer, after almost three dozen interviews," he wrote in late 2006, referring to interviews by the F.B.I. agents. One session, he said, was "virtually an interrogation."
In another message, Dr. Ivins complained about feeling "thoroughly beaten down" but said his volunteer work with the Red Cross had provided welcome relief. "The Red Cross is my fraternity/sorority," he said.
For Dr. Haigwood, the reference carried disturbing overtones, reflecting the old obsession with sororities, and with certain women, that Dr. Ivins had hidden from family and colleagues.
Dr. Ivins still carried resentment from four decades earlier at Lebanon High School in Ohio, where he had been a nerdy, awkward teenager devoted to photography and, even then, to the study of bacteria.
In recent years, said Rick Sams, a pharmacologist who had been among Bruce Ivins's few school friends, Dr. Ivins "shared with me feelings about how he’d been treated in high school. He was bitter about being excluded."
When Dr. Sams urged him to attend their 40th class reunion, Dr. Ivins refused. "He said, 'Why should I go? Look how they treated me,'" Dr. Sams said.
The agents learned, in part from Dr. Ivins himself, that he had in his post-college years made uninvited visits to Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority houses at U.N.C., the University of Maryland and West Virginia University, once making off with a sorority’s ritual book and cipher device.
That was more than 20 years ago. But more recently, agents discovered, Dr. Ivins had left a long trail of online postings about Kappa Kappa Gamma. There were inquiries about arcane details of sorority rituals and a bitter editing battle over the KKG entry on Wikipedia.
Dr. Ivins hid behind the online handles he used for his proliferating e-mail addresses — KingBadger, Jimmyflathead, goldenphoenix. Once, on GreekChat.com, he described what he said was a family history of mental illness, calling his mother "an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic."
The agents learned that Dr. Ivins had long maintained a post office box to receive mail without his family's knowledge and took long walks or drives on sleepless nights. Once, he admitted, he drove all night to Ithaca, N.Y., and back to leave gifts for a young woman who had left her job in his laboratory to attend Cornell University.
The agents also found e-mail messages in which Dr. Ivins confessed to alarming psychiatric problems. During paranoid episodes, he wrote, he felt like "a passenger on a ride." Even as he worked at his desk, he wrote, "I'm also a few feet away watching me do it."
Of his group therapy program, he wrote on Sept. 26, 2001, between the two anthrax mailings, "I'm really the only scary one in the group."
On the face of it, Dr. Ivins's strange secret life seemed less relevant to the case than Dr. Hatfill’s boasts about his bioweapons expertise. But anthrax was the core of Dr. Ivins’s working life.
"He was in charge of producing large quantities of wet spores for research," said John W. Ezzell, a Fort Detrick colleague whose anthrax expertise rivaled that of Dr. Ivins. "So if anybody could have produced a lot of spores without arousing suspicion, it was him."
Though a public debate had raged for years over whether the mailed anthrax had been "weaponized" with sophisticated chemical additives, the F.B.I. had concluded early on that it was not. Dr. Ezzell agreed, as did Jeff Mohr, an expert on anthrax and other pathogens at the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
Without giving an opinion of Dr. Ivins's guilt or innocence, both Dr. Ezzell and Dr. Mohr said they believed that any experienced microbiologist could have grown and dried the anthrax using equipment Dr. Ivins had in his laboratory. The trickiest step, they said, was producing anthrax with the letters' high concentration of spores per gram, a skill Dr. Ivins had mastered.
But even if Dr. Ivins could have made the anthrax, did he? "It's been difficult for a lot of us to accept this," Dr. Ezzell said. "He was a loyal friend. He was a diligent worker."
The agents were building what they thought was a prosecutable case against Dr. Ivins, but gaping holes remained. No evidence placed him in Princeton, N.J., where the letters were mailed. No receipt showed that he had bought the same type of envelopes. No security camera had caught him photocopying the notes.
Nor, in his e-mail messages and conversations with confidants, could agents find any hint of a confession. One colleague who knew Dr. Ivins well told them, "If Bruce had done this, he never would have been able to keep quiet about it."
Yet the agents knew he led a compartmentalized life. He went on vacation with his brother, Charles, each year, but Charles had no idea Bruce had a drinking problem for which he had been in residential treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Ivins spent hours in online exchanges about sororities, but his family knew nothing about it.
Some F.B.I. agents were haunted by the Hatfill precedent. Dr. Hatfill, too, was eccentric. He, too, had begun drinking heavily as he came under scrutiny. He, too, had grown depressed and erratic under the F.B.I.'s relentless gaze.
What if Dr. Hatfill had committed suicide in 2002, as friends feared he might? Would the investigators have released their evidence and announced that the perpetrator was dead?
In May 2007, Dr. Ivins — assured by prosecutors that he was not a target of the investigation — testified under oath to a grand jury on two consecutive days. He answered all the questions about anthrax. Only once did he plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, when he was asked about his secret interest in sororities.
A Life Coming Apart
Starting with the search of his house on Nov. 1, 2007, Bruce Ivins's life began to come irrevocably apart. While some agents carted files, computers and guns from the house, others questioned his wife and children, intimating that they knew he was the killer. Fort Detrick officials banned him from working with anthrax. His career was over.
Last March, after drinking the fruit juice and vodka mix that he had come to rely on and adding a big dose of Valium, he passed out and was discovered by his wife, Diane. Despite his denials, she was convinced it was a suicide attempt.
"You know, he's been incredibly, incredibly stressed, because of the way he's been hounded by the F.B.I.," Mrs. Ivins would later tell Frederick police officers in a recorded interview. "They've always treated him as if he was guilty, and I just felt that he couldn't take it anymore."
Dr. Ivins spent much of the spring in residential alcohol treatment outside Washington and in western Maryland. But when he returned, the F.B.I. agents were still there, watching his house and trailing him around Frederick.
On July 10, Dr. Ivins reached a breaking point. With a strange smile, he told his therapy group that he expected to be charged with five murders and rambled on about killing himself and taking others with him, using his .22-caliber rifle, Glock handgun and bulletproof vest.
Tipped off by the therapist, Frederick police officers removed Dr. Ivins from the Army laboratory that day. He voluntarily checked himself in at the Sheppard Pratt psychiatric hospital in Baltimore.
After a two-week stay, Dr. Ivins was brought home by his wife. She had left a heartfelt note in his bedroom, saying she hoped that he could turn his life around and that they could enjoy life together.
"He didn't understand that so many people in the treatment program with him had lost their families because of their alcoholism," Mrs. Ivins later told the police. "So I wanted to write down how I felt because I loved him — you know, I wanted him to come back and get healthy again so we could continue. He was retiring in September, and we were going to travel and enjoy our adult children finally."
Her note was blunt. "I'm hurt, concerned, confused and angry about your actions the last few weeks," she wrote. "You tell me you love me but you have been rude and sarcastic and nasty many times when you talk to me. You tell me you aren't going to get any more guns, then you fill out an online application for a gun license."
Mrs. Ivins wrote to her husband that he was paying his lawyers a lot of money but ignoring their advice by contacting two former female laboratory assistants he was preoccupied with. He was keeping odd hours, walking the neighborhood late at night and drinking so much caffeine that he was "jumpy and agitated," she wrote.
But Mrs. Ivins's note also expressed support. "I had written on the bottom of the paper that I knew he had not been involved in the anthrax letters in any way and I never doubted his innocence," said the woman who thought she knew him best.
Even as Mrs. Ivins picked up her husband at the Baltimore hospital last July 24, his group therapist, Jean C. Duley, was in a Frederick courtroom, testifying about threats he had left on her answering machine. A judge signed an order at 10:37 a.m. directing Dr. Ivins to stay away from her.
The order would not be necessary. At 12:31 p.m., according to records checked by the Frederick police, Dr. Ivins stopped in at the Giant Eagle grocery store near his house and bought Tylenol PM, acetaminophen and an antihistamine. He bought a few groceries and filled three prescriptions for his psychiatric illness, possibly a sign that he was thinking about the future.
Then, at 1:21 p.m., evidently concerned that he did not have enough medication for the purpose he was contemplating, he bought a second container of Tylenol PM.
Over the next two days, Mrs. Ivins worked her lunchtime shift at a nearby cafe, went for a swim at Fort Detrick and ran her regular Friday bingo game. In and out of the house, she saw that her husband was sleeping but had risen at least a few times, bringing in the mail and eating breakfast.
She did not worry much; depressed, banned from his laboratory, he had been spending many days in bed. And on the back of her note, he had scribbled that he had a terrible headache and was going to rest.
"Please let me sleep," he wrote. "Please."
When she found him on the bathroom floor in the middle of a Saturday night, her voice on the 911 tape was calm and methodical: "He's unconscious. He's breathing rapidly. He's clammy."
She had been through this before. The dispatcher offered to stay on the line until the ambulance arrived. "I'm O.K.," Mrs. Ivins said.
One Last Message
Bruce Ivins, the connoisseur of secrets, took with him any knowledge he had of the anthrax attacks. But he left one more surprise for his family: a clause in his will intended to enforce his wish to be cremated and have his ashes scattered. If his demands were not met, $50,000 from his estate would go not to the family but to Planned Parenthood of Maryland, whose abortion services Mrs. Ivins abhorred.
It was one last, devious step for a man whose oddities, for many people, made the F.B.I.’s anthrax accusation more plausible.
But like so much about Dr. Ivins, it cut the other way, too. The F.B.I. theorized that Dr. Ivins had sent anthrax letters to Senators Leahy and Daschle because they were pro-choice Catholics, offending his anti-abortion views. Would an anti-abortion absolutist have flirted with a donation to a cause he despised?
On Oct. 6, a lawyer for the Ivins family filed with the Orphans' Court of Frederick County certification that Planned Parenthood would not receive the money. His ashes, the document said, "were scattered or spread on the ground, as he directed."
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