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Hate-mail suspect tied to BI crimes

January 5, 2002

A Sammamish man arrested in Seattle for an anthrax hoax is also responsible for several anti-Semitic hate-crime mailings on Bainbridge Island, according to island police.

The suspect, identified as 45-year-old Donald B. McAninch, may be responsible for hundreds of harassing letters in the Puget Sound area in recent years, police said.

The link came when Bainbridge police detective Scott Anderson, who had been investigating the Bainbridge cases, was watching a television news story about the arrest.

“The handwriting on the letters sent to Bainbridge people was quite distinctive, and when the television report showed the handwriting there, I saw the similarity,” he said. “I contacted the FBI agent working on the case, and he confirmed that there is a clear match. So we have turned our cases over to the FBI.”

The two island Jewish congregations and a third island resident who is not Jewish but who has what Anderson described as “a Jewish-sounding name” received hate mailings in late summer, Anderson said.

For the most part, he said, the contents of the mailings were neo-Nazi propaganda and other racist material.

There was a particularly chilling twist to each of the letters.

“The letter to us included some photo negatives, and when Scott got them developed, there were pictures of a father putting his kids to bed and some children in Halloween costumes,” said Sharon Rutzick, who got one of the letters.

“We didn’t know if the photographs might be of some of our kids. That’s pretty worrisome because we thought someone might be taking photographs of us,” she said.

The other envelope contained a piece of granite that looked like it might be from a cemetery headstone – a possible connection to summer incidents of vandalism at the Port Blakely Cemetery, including some Jewish graves.

“That was a little ominous, because it came like a week after the rallies following the cemetery desecration,” said Judith Hartstone, who got that letter.

“I think the congregation felt threatened in a vague sort of way because it came so closely after the desecration incident,” she said.

Further investigation showed that the connection was opportunistic, Anderson said.

“This guy appears to have a history of sending these letters out after publicity about incidents involving Jewish synagogues,” Anderson said. “We don’t think he had anything to do with the earlier incidents, but was responding to news coverage.”

The theory that McAninch’s letters followed media coverage is bolstered by the fact that his letters invariably used publicly available sources for names and addresses, including any mistakes or misspellings, Anderson said.

McAninch was arrested in December and charged in Seattle federal court with sending a letter purportedly containing anthrax spores to a Seattle real-estate agent who is married to an Asian. Anderson said McAninch’s fingerprints matched those found on the anthrax-hoax envelope.

That letter was McAninch’s downfall, Anderson said.

“When we contacted the FBI after the Bainbridge cases, they said they weren’t able to deal with any hate crimes because of the terrorist emphasis,” Anderson said. “But the anthrax hoax fell under that effort.

“If he hadn’t crossed over, he might not have gotten caught.”

McAninch was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 1991 after pleading guilty to ten counts involving hate-mail activity, including a threatening letter sent to the first President Bush.

Anderson, said Bainbridge police are turning the case over to the FBI because of the Bureau’s greater resources and because penalties under federal law are far greater than under state law.

According to FBI agent Ray Lauer, McAninch is still in custody. The trial on the charges is scheduled for Feb. 25.

Rutzick and Hartstone were both pleased to hear police had connected a suspect to the Bainbridge mailings.

“That’s going to make people feel a lot safer,” Hartstone said.



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