Tracking Eric Rudolph, outdoorsman-cum-outlaw-cum-outdoorsman
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Out Front, Fall 1998
He was out there, somewhere, and in the oak-specked hills of North Carolina, 200 federal agents were hot on his trail, with motion detectors and heat-sensing helicopters, ready to nab Eric Robert Rudolph. Already, in fact, G-men had
Rudolph — who is suspected in the January bombing that killed a security guard and severely injured a nurse at the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama — is also wanted for questioning in three Atlanta bombings, including the explosion at the 1996 Summer Olympics that killed one woman. He was placed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s
If so, there’s little doubt that he’s invoking the wilderness skills he learned during an Army stint. “You can’t live in those creek woods without filtering the water,” says Dwight McCarter, a ranger who has spent 33 years tracking fugitives and others in the Great Smokies. “There’s pigs wallowing upstream.” Other hazards include rattlers and copperheads, according to McCarter,
Perhaps. But no one really knows how the guy is spending his time in the wilds. So we offer a few likely scenarios as the year’s most infamous wilderness trek grinds on.
Feeding (barely) on God’s green gifts. A spokesman at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors anti-government groups and other extremists, says there is “abundant evidence” linking Rudolph to Christian Identity, a movement holding that blacks, among others, are the evil spawn of “inferior beasts of the field.” So it’s probable that Rudolph regards his survival as a holy
Smiting demons. The morning after the Birmingham bombing, as cops pondered the wreckage, Rudolph rented a B-grade adventure film called Kull the Conqueror from a video store in Murphy, North Carolina. He viewed the writhing drama raptly, one imagines. Kull is a shirtless brute who journeys into the wilds to slay an ice-snorting monster who
Jerry Walters, a Tacoma-based Lutheran pastor who is writing a book criticizing Christian Identity, considers Rudolph’s clinic bombing a “Phineas action.” And one suspects that, deep in the woods, Rudolph may still be playing Phineas/Kull. His probable hiding grounds are rife with the ancient demons of the indigenous Cherokee. Consider Akwetiyi, a spot on the Tuckasegee River
Deliverance. The Great Smoky Mountains Railway cuts through the woods northeast of where Rudolph ditched the pickup. It’s the site of the escape scene in The Fugitive, where Harrison Ford wriggled free after a train smacked his prison bus. “Rudolph could have seen the movie,” reasons Dwight McCarter. “Right about now he might be thinking, ‘What if
McCarter recalls a pair of murderers he once snared who lasted just a few days in the forest before they emerged to heist pork and beans from a country home. “They told me, ‘We were just so tired of eating tomatoes without any salt,'” McCarter relates. “See, human beings, they crave things. When I’m not in town, I crave fresh, cold orange juice. Other guys, maybe it’s corn
And if the munchies don’t do him in? “Come October,” McCarter says, “it’s wild boar season, and those hunters, they pack 30-06s. Old Rudolph, if he decides to mess with them boys — well, he’ll be in trouble.”
Illustration by Jonathon Rosen