Exclusive: Ex-wife, daughters of 'D.C. Sniper' speak out
02/04/2016 12:05 pm PST
From what really started "D.C. Sniper" serial killer John Allen Muhammad's murderous rage, to his secretive plan to kidnap his kids, Crime Watch Daily has stories you've never heard, including an exclusive interview with Muhammad's ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad, and the couple's two daughters.
The D.C. Sniper Beltway Attacks were three of the most terrifying weeks in U.S. history: A team of snipers on the loose in the nation's capital, indiscriminately killing at will.
The victims ranged in age from 13 to 72, black, white, male and female. The police could find no links, no connecting motives at all. Until they finally found one.
"They said Ms. Muhammad, didn't you know you were the target?"
A crime spree that left at least 17 dead was really a twisted plot to misdirect police once John Allen Muhammad achieved his ultimate goal: to kill his own wife and get custody of their children.
John and Mildred were married with children: two girls and a boy, an all-American family.
But then, world events came barging in, and changed everything: Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. John Muhammad, an Army reservist at the time, was deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of the U.S.-led effort to liberate Kuwait.
"He was a demolition expert, expert shot, hand-to-hand combat expert," said Mildred.
"I remember one of my friends saying 'You know you're sleeping with a trained killer, right?'" said Mildred. "I said, 'Yes but he's not going to hurt me.' Never thought, never saw that coming."
But Mildred now says that the man she married never returned from the battlefield.
"When he got back he was totally different," said Mildred.
Mildred tried to convince John to get counseling. But it only drove him further away, and soon, he became both verbally and emotionally abusive. She wanted a divorce, and he moved out. She got a restraining order against him. But he maintained visitation rights for his kids, and one night he kidnapped them.
It had been 18 months since Mildred had seen her three children. Kidnapped by their father, they had been smuggled to the island of Antigua.
But as far as the kids knew, it was all just innocent fun on an extended vacation. John told them that Mildred would join them eventually. The children went to school, made new friends, and adapted as much as they could to the new normal, even spending carefree days with the future killer they'd come to know as a brother -- 14-year-old Lee Malvo.
Eventually, Antiguan authorities busted John for immigration document fraud, and the family returned to the States.
After that, Child Services quickly tracked them down. Mildred was given the kids in an emergency custody hearing.
With her kids finally by her side, Mildred relocated the family to the Washington, D.C. area.
"I always felt I needed to look over my shoulder," said Mildred. "He was an expert shot. He could shoot me from a distance, nobody would know. It would be a head shot. I knew that."
Then just a few months after that emergency custody hearing, people started turning up dead.
The February before the sniper attacks, 21-year-old Keenya Cook is shot while answering the door to her Tacoma, Washington home.
A month later, 60-year-old Jerry Ray Taylor is gunned down on a golf course in Tucson, Arizona.
All the while in D.C., Mildred and her children are just starting to rebuild their lives without John.
Two months after the Tucson shooting, the killing continues. Texan Billy Gene Dillon, 37, is murdered while doing yard work.
Three months after that, on Aug. 1, 2002, 52-year-old John Gaeta is shot point-blank in the neck outside a Louisiana mall. Miraculously, he survived.
After that, rapid-fire: September 21, Atlanta man Million Waldemariam is executed while standing in a parking lot. That same day in Montgomery, Alabama, liquor-store clerks Kellie Adams and Claudine Parker are shot during a robbery. Adams survived, Parker did not.
Two days later in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 45-year-old beauty-store worker Hong Im Ballenger is killed by a high-power rifle shot while walking to her car.
At least seven dead across seven states, and several more injured. The crimes seemed completely unconnected, and police across the country struggled to make sense of it all.
October 2, 2002: With one shot through the back, 55-year-old James D. Martin becomes the first official victim of the D.C.-area sniper attacks.
And it was only just beginning. The city of Washington, D.C. was locked down as the bodies pile up.
In October 2002, almost exactly one year since Mildred Muhammad gained sole custody of her kids and moved them to the D.C. area to get away from her abusive ex, a man was gunned down in the parking lot of a Maryland grocery store. It seems completely random. But right away, the unusual attack has law enforcement personnel feeling uneasy.
On October 3, around 7:45 a.m., 39-year-old landscaper James L. Buchanan was shot dead while mowing his lawn. Then, 31 minutes later, just as police are starting their investigation of the first scene, cab driver Premkumar Walekar is shot while filling up with gas.
Three bodies in less than 12 hours: It was no coincidence. And as if police needed confirmation, just minutes after the gas station attack, 34-year-old Sarah Ramos is fatally shot while sitting on a bench reading a book.
Before the day's end, two more people would lose their lives. Six dead in less than 24 hours. No clues left behind -- nothing at all to connect the victims. And then three days later, another attack: 13-year-old Iran Brown was shot right in front of his school. He survived.
Like the rest of the country, Mildred Muhammad was also living in fear of a madman with a gun. She just had no idea it was the same man.
On October 9, police find their first real clue: a shell casing and a tarot card next to the school shooting. Other clues would follow, including DNA lifted from a crime scene note, and a possible eyewitness account of the suspect's car.
Then, unbelievably, a call taunting authorities placed by Lee Malvo himself. Incredibly, Lee's call gets lost in the chaos of the investigation. But in the coming days, John Muhammad forces Lee to keep in contact with authorities, leaving cryptic messages for police, and even notes trying to extort the government for millions of dollars.
Then, to prove they're who even more dangerous than people think, John has Lee tell police they should look into that Montgomery, Alabama shooting back in September.
The tactic backfires. Police find a fingerprint on a magazine left at the scene, one matching a young boy named Lee Malvo. Police finally have a name to go with at least one of the killers.
The final nail in the coffin: One of John Allen Muhammad's old war buddies calls police to implicate his friend, even leading them to an old tree stump John and Lee used for target practice.
By October 22, when the last victim was shot and killed while standing on a bus, police finally feel comfortable naming their suspects. Ten people have lost their lives in and around D.C. in just 21 days, with three more critically wounded.
For Mildred Muhammad, the deaths couldn't be more personal.
The ATF knocked on her door one day.
"They said 'We would like for you to come down to the police station,'" said Mildred. "They asked me, 'When was the last time you saw John Allen Muhammad?' I said at an emergency custody hearing. So this agent that was walking back and forth stops, and he said, 'Look, Ms. Muhammad, we're just going to have to tell you: We're going to name your ex-husband as the sniper.' I said 'What? John?' My head hit the table. And they said, 'Well Ms. Muhammad, there was a man that was shot six times, that's at a restaurant right down the street from you, Ms. Muhammad. There's also a man who was shot two miles from you. Didn't you know you were the target?'"
Apparently, what not even accomplice Lee Malvo knew was that John's endgame, the true reason he killed 17 people across several states, was to get away with murdering his wife, making her look like just another random victim.
On October 24, three weeks after the D.C. attacks began, police finally find John Muhammad and Lee Malvo sleeping in the car they'd modified as a sniper's nest.
At trial, Lee Malvo claims to have done most of the shooting, and that he and John were waging a sort of "holy war." It wasn't until years later that he would admit he was lying in court, and that John was the trigger-man in most of the D.C. killings. Malvo later talked about years of brainwashing from John.
Lee Malvo is eventually given six life sentences for his role in the killings.
For part of the trial, John Allen Muhammad represented himself. He was ultimately given the death penalty and was executed on November 10, 2009.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Mildred Muhammad faced an all-new kind of hell.
"[The public was] angry with me. They said 'If I would have stayed with him then he just would have killed me, " said Mildred. "'If I would have stayed on the West Coast then the people on the East Coast would still be alive. How dare I call me and my children victims when none of us are hurt?'"
But Mildred refused to let her ex-husband continue casting a shadow over her family's life.
Now Mildred and her children have moved on from the horrific events. And even though it would be easy to join the rest of the world in calling John evil, Mildred never forgets that to her kids he was still just "Dad."
Mildred Muhammad now uses her tragedy to help heal others.
When you are terrorized by the same man who terrorized the entire country, how do you move on? Do you try to disappear? Or do you instead push forward and be a public voice for change?
For Mildred Muhammad, the answer was very clear.
It's been 13 years since John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice Lee Malvo gunned down 13 people in the D.C. area, killing 10, responsible for at least seven more murders across the U.S.
The ex-wife and children of the mastermind behind the attacks survived. Today Mildred Muhammad uses that strength to share her story with other victims of domestic violence across the nation.
"Some people, women, have said to me I saved their life," said Mildred. "They didn't know you didn't have to have physical scars. They thought that you had to have them in order to be a victim, and so those are some of the responses that I get. I also work with other organizations in different states and here to get women the help that they need. So I am not an island. I reach out and I create liaisons with other organizations and people who have resources that I could use to help other women."