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Sydney to Kentucky: Cracking the 'collar bomb' case

A man has been arrested in Kentucky and accused of strapping a fake bomb around the neck of an 18-year-old woman in Australia. NBC's Sara James reports.

By Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent

An e-mail address launched police in Sydney, Australia, on a hunt for clues that ended Monday in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, where the FBI arrested a man accused of placing a fake bomb around the neck of an Australian teenager studying for a school exam, according to newly released court documents.

Paul Douglas Peters, 50, of Sydney appeared in a Kentucky federal courtroom Tuesday to face charges in connection with the terrifying ordeal of 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver. She waited 10 hours for police to remove what she was told was a bomb -- chained to her neck by an intruder who broke into her family's house Aug. 3 in a wealthy suburb of Sydney.

Australian police say the young woman was studying in her bedroom when a man wearing a mask walked into her room carrying a baseball bat. He forced a black box against her throat and locked it to her neck with a chain, telling her not to move, they say.

Attached to the chain was a note whose contents police revealed Tuesday. "Powerful new technology plastic explosives are located inside the small black combination case delivered to you. The case is booby trapped. It can ONLY be opened safely, if you follow the instructions and comply with its terms and conditions," it said.


 

She telephoned her parents, who notified police. After X-raying the box several times and conducting other tests, bomb technicians determined it was harmless and removed it.

Australian police describe the bizarre incident as an attempt to extort money from the girl's father, an executive of an Internet firm.

"Paul Douglas Peters was formerly employed by a company with which the victim's family has links," the police said.

Court documents give the following account of what led police to arrest Peters at the home of his ex-wife in a Lexington suburb, 9,300 miles from Sydney.

The note attached to the fake bomb contained an e-mail address that Australian investigators discovered had been accessed from a public library a few hours after the hoax device was attached to the girl's neck. Surveillance video showed that a man matching a description given by the victim drove to the library in a Range Rover SUV. Its license number was not visible in the video, but police determined the vehicle was made between 1996 and 2001.

Rob Griffith / AP

Belinda Pulver looks at her husband, William, as he makes a statement regarding the arrest of a 50-year-old man, in Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday.

Investigators then checked the records for all Range Rovers registered in the area that were made during those model years and obtained drivers license photos associated with the vehicles. They compared the pictures to the images of the man captured by the library surveillance cameras.

"From these inquiries, the police located Paul Douglas Peters," the court documents said. Investigators also determined that the e-mail address was created at the Chicago airport on May 30. Travel records showed that Peters was at the airport that day, Australian police said.

After discovering that Peters left Sydney five days after the hoax incident, Australian police notified the FBI that he flew to Chicago then on to Louisville. Federal officials say he was arrested there Monday without incident at the home of his ex-wife. She was not thought to be involved in the crime, investigators said.

"He does have family connections" in the United States, according to Luke Moore, an Australian police official who was in Kentucky for the arrest.

"We believe he's been employed in a number of areas and in a number of countries around the world," Moore said.

An FBI SWAT team swooped into an address in Kentcuky and nabbed suspect, Paul Peters for strapping a fake bomb to a teenage girl in Australia earlier this month. ITN's Marc Mallett reports.

The court documents also gave new details of the young woman's terrifying experience. After chaining the box to her neck, the man said, "Count to 200. I'll be back. If you move, I can see you. I'll be right here."

"Extremely frightened," the documents say, she "sat there for a short time thinking that the man was stealing property from the house. After a few minutes, she yelled out but got no response."

She then sent a text message to her mother and later telephoned her father, asking them both to summon the police.

The young woman was initially "crying and hysterical, but after a time, she became more reasonable and settled and gave the police the note," the court documents said.

Investigators also disclosed the e-mail address contained in the note : dirkstraun1840@gmail.com. Dirk Straun is the name of a character in a novel by James Clavell, "Tai-Pan," about a businessman's attempt to destroy a competitor during the 1840s.

Reuters / Tim Wimborne

A policeman wearing protective equipment walks near a house where bomb squad officers freed an 18-year-old girl from a fake bomb chained to her neck in the exclusive Sydney suburb of Mosman on Aug 3.