Medical Detectives (Forensic Files) – Season 11, Ep 34 : Small Town Terror

NARRATOR: Three bombings within a two mile area were more than a coincidence But no one claimed responsibility, and no one in particular was targeted What finally stopped the bomber were some tiny marks on a metal fragment, and his inability to control his rage [theme music] The biggest employer in Grand Junction, Colorado isn’t the ski industry, or the wineries that have sprouted up over the last dozen or so years Surprisingly, it’s the local school district Dennis Lamb was a vocational teacher in the district’s Career Center -I taught computer applications, computer repair, and video production It’s mainly for students who did not fit in the mainstream of the academics, for whatever reason NARRATOR: On a February evening in 1991, Dennis and his co-workers attended a vocational awards banquet in the convention center in downtown Grand Junction Afterwards, as they walked to their cars in an underground parking lot, there was a deafening explosion [explosion] DENNIS LAMB: I thought I’d been shot I was hit in the lower leg NARRATOR: The explosion was a bomb detonated about 30 yards away A piece of shrapnel had ripped through Dennis’ leg BOB RUSSELL: An explosive device was set on a vehicle The device fell either off of the vehicle, or certainly down to the ground, and an explosion occurred -And I did not, at the time, think that there was anybody after me, specifically, because of the location of it NARRATOR: Fortunately, Dennis didn’t suffer any permanent injury No one claimed responsibility for the bombing Explosive experts knew from the amount of debris that it was a fairly sophisticated pipe bomb -We actually had schematics of how far bomb fragmentation flew And you do that because you could tell how well the bomb was constructed If a pipe bomb blows apart in two pieces, obviously it’s not too effective If it blows apart in 32 pieces, somebody has made a better pipe bomb NARRATOR: Three weeks later, the Gonzales family was going shopping at a nearby mall, and everyone had piled into the family van Just as the van started moving, there was an explosion! [explosion] -We have an emergency Something happened to the van and my– my little sister got something in her back and she’s bleeding real bad, hurry! 911 DISPATCH: OK, I need you to hold on The rescue squad is already on the way NARRATOR: But it was too late By the time the ambulance got there, 12-year-old Maria Gonzales was dead The explosion sent a piece of shrapnel directly through the seat back and into Maria’s heart STEVE ERKENBRACK: Grand Junction, Colorado did not have a lot of homicides And to have something that tragic happen to a little girl was just very, very startling and shocking to the entire community NARRATOR: No one else in the vehicle was seriously injured Investigators discovered that the bomb had been placed in the rear wheel well of the Gonzales van This bombing was only about two miles away from the first bomb site Once again, no one claimed responsibility, and there was no reason why the Gonzales family was targeted -There were some concern about, do we have someone who is a serial bomber Do we have a copycat who’s heard about one bomb and– and planted another bomb also in the downtown area? Or what exactly do we have? But one thing we knew was we had a problem NARRATOR: A problem that was soon to get worse The detonation devices in two Grand Junction bombs were highly sophisticated

Each used a 9-volt battery that was placed on a vehicle and then went off when the vehicle moved -If you make a pipe bomb, and you want to set if off so it’s booby trapped, you’re going to try to do it so whatever that individual that you target, or unsuspecting person, moves, jars, tilts, twists, would set it off NARRATOR: In the rubble, investigators found pieces of curved glass, the outer shell of a mercury switch -The mercury switch connected and exploded, and when these bombs explode there’s tremendous force There’s greater force, greater speed, greater acceleration than with a fired 45 caliber pistol NARRATOR: A mercury switch is a glass ball filled with mercury, a liquid metal It’s a hair-trigger device And it looked like the bomber would have hand-carried it from his home to the target vehicle JERRY TAYLOR: Once you close it up, you now have carry it in the same position that you built it If you tilt it up, roll it sideways, it’s going to blow up So very few people do that unless they have mental instability NARRATOR: Investigators searched their files for anyone who had prior arrests from making explosive devices One was 19-year-old Shannon Keith, a factory worker who lived just 10 minutes outside of town in Clifton He’d been arrested 15 months earlier for possessing pipe bombs, and was sentenced to two months probation -He had had some involvement with pipe bombs but with a significant difference from the pipe bombs that we were talking about here NARRATOR: Keith claimed he wasn’t in Grand Junction when the bombs were planted, an alibi that checked out So he was eliminated as a suspect A closer look at the bomb debris revealed the steel endcaps had a distinctive stamp from the manufacturer It was Coin brand pipe BOB RUSSELL: It’s a circle And it was on the side of the endcap, and on the inside of the stamp of the circle was a square And the manufacturer of that was from Taiwan It was a substandard product that was being imported into America, and was subsequently discontinued NARRATOR: The Coin brand was not only an inferior product, it hadn’t been sold in the United States for several years, but investigators were convinced that the bomber was mentally unstable -This case was unique in that we had obviously an individual that was randomly placing bombs in public to randomly kill people That’s much more different than if I’m mad at you because we’re in the middle of a divorce, I feel you cheated me out of money NARRATOR: Three months later, Henry Ruble and his wife Suzanne, left a downtown restaurant to head home As he got into their truck, he noticed a package on the ground near the passenger side [explosion] NARRATOR: Mr. Ruble was killed instantly ELOY VENDEGNA: Everybody was scared Henry was very well liked It took such a positive man away from everybody and you’re just scared I mean you felt like you couldn’t go anywhere I mean, where’s it going to pop up next? NARRATOR: Henry’s body shielded his wife from the blast She walked away unharmed -An explosion of that nature, there’s a– a– lot of shrapnel that is flying through the air and it was through the grace of God that she wasn’t killed NARRATOR: This was the most powerful of the three bombs Shrapnel went completely through the truck and some of it was found two blocks away In the debris, analysts found a bomb fragment with the Coin brand stamp, along with shards of curved glass from a mercury switch This was no copycat The same bomber was at work, and he was building bigger, more powerful bombs -We can all understand frustration and we can all understand rage What I cannot understand is once you’ve killed a 12-year-old girl, how do you do this again? NARRATOR: Grand Junction had been rocked by three bombs within a three-month period Components indicated they were made by the same person, but there was no connection among the victims

The bomber was killing randomly, but why? BOB RUSSELL: We tried to see if there was any connection between the victims And we didn’t believe that there was The devices were placed randomly, which added to the danger in that it made everybody susceptible to becoming a victim NARRATOR: The bombs were similar in construction, and were planted within blocks of one another -And now I’m putting together a detailed chart of the difference in the bombs And from the first to the last bomb, we saw an increase in talent as far as making a better bomb And associated with that was the increase in injury and death NARRATOR: Since the bombs used a mercury switch, investigators believed the bomber hand-carried them to the bomb sites, rather than risking an explosion by jarring or bumping the package in a car or bus And if he hand-carried the bombs, he probably lived close to the bomb sites, which were near the Two Rivers Convention Center -Does he have to have a car? No Can he walk around? Yes NARRATOR: On a hunch, investigators asked convention center management if they knew of any disgruntled employees, past or present -They went through their list of employees and there was one that, at least , stood out in their mind, that was a former employee, if I recall, who didn’t quite fit with the group NARRATOR: His Name was James Genrich, a 29-year-old dishwasher who worked in the convention center cafeteria until he left his job a few months before the bombings -He was a disgruntled employee, and they finally told him to hit the road But it was a mutual agreement, if I recall right NARRATOR: Genrich lived in a boarding house just two blocks from the convention center A background check revealed Genrich had prior arrests for minor incidents of burglary and vandalism He never served time in jail -He fit the profile, not only for being a white male of that age bracket, but he fit the profile for being a person that is more or less a loner, that has a problem dealing in life, everyday life NARRATOR: When questioned by law enforcement, Genrich denied any involvement and willingly allowed them to search his room But they found no traces of explosives or bomb-making materials -And I didn’t have any pipes, explosives, bombs or anything like that, anything to do with bombs NARRATOR: In Genrich’s room, investigators found a handwritten note on the back of an envelope It was addressed to Whom it may concern JAMES GENRICH (VOICEOVER): Valentine’s Day is coming and I still don’t have a sweetheart All I’ve wanted was a girlfriend But these girls won’t talk to me If you won’t help me find a girlfriend, then I’ll have to kill some poor innocent stranger tonight -Yeah, that’s was I wrote when I was drunk and pissed off, and in a bad mood and stuff JAMES GENRICH (VOICEOVER): These bitches still won’t even talk to me If I can’t be happy, I might as well kill one -I was going to a therapist for a while They said that uh– I should write things down and then just throw them away And obviously I didn’t throw this one away NARRATOR: During a background check, investigators learned that Genrich tried to order a book in a local store that described how to make a bomb JERRY TAYLOR: He was confronted with, what you need that type of book for, that shows how to make bombs or what have you He tells her that, oh no, there’s other uses for that book Nice try NARRATOR: The clerk in the local bookshop refused to order it -He throws a tantrum So we have an adult who throws a tantrum over a woman who won’t let him order the book he wants NARRATOR: But this still wasn’t proof of murder James Genrich was the prime suspect in the bombings in Grand Junction, Colorado that killed two people, and injured a third Without enough evidence to arrest him, investigators put Genrich under surveillance, and they didn’t care if he knew it JAMES GENRICH: It was probably about three or four months It was very stressful It was weird because sometimes they’d be, you know, they’d just be kind of walking about 10 feet behind me, walking with their walkie-talkies, like they’re trying to let everybody know, you know, that they’re following me NARRATOR: Interestingly, during that time there were no more bombings, and investigators learned two more things about Genrich First, a few years earlier, he took electronics courses in Arizona Second, his mother once tried to commit

him to a mental health facility -In her petition, there was mention that he became frustrated at people looking at him, and he threw rocks at their vehicles while they’re on this vacation, uh– things of that nature He went out, I guess, one night, and was yelling and screaming at a neighbor, and things of that nature NARRATOR: So investigators search Genrich’s boarding house one more time DENNIS LAMB: The second search, we didn’t find any pipe ends, galvanized pipes, gunpowder, things of that nature We did recover tools that they had in the apartment There was some electrical circuits, wiring type material or items NARRATOR: Investigators sent the tools to John O’Neil, a tool mark examiner with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms By this time, he had spent months looking for tool marks on the more than 300 fragments from the Grand Junction bombs He found several, and for comparison, made sample marks from tools found in James Genrich’s room Pliers had been used to tighten the end caps on the bombs, and this left distinctive marks that survived the blasts -We’re Looking at the topography of the surface as the mark left by that tool NARRATOR: O’Neil found the same number of striations with the same thickness, on the test marks from Genrich’s pliers and from one of the bomb’s end caps When compared under a microscope, it was a perfect match Next, on pieces of wire wrapped around the bombs, O’Neil also found distinct tool marks When compared with the marks made by Genrich’s wire cutters, the tool marks matched up perfectly -The point of it being another tool, would be almost at a point of being beyond probability -Matching the tool marks to a tool that is found in the possession of the suspect is pretty damning NARRATOR: On one of the wires one hundredth of an inch in diameter, O’Neil not only found tool marks made by Genrich’s needle nose pliers, he also discovered that it was the same brand wire as all the other bombs -So we were able, in fact, to tie three tools to the devices and then those fine wires being manufactured in the same machine or have a common source NARRATOR: But what was the motive? Genrich never held a steady job, barely made enough money to support himself, never had a steady relationship, and when he lost his job as a dishwasher at the convention center, something apparently snapped He spent the next several months in his rented room planning his revenge -Pretty soon you get to the point, especially if you’re a psychopath, the world’s against me I’m going to get even I therefore, I have this need I need to kill people I didn’t get a girlfriend I need to go out and kill NARRATOR: He used his electronics knowledge to build bigger, more lethal bombs He was meticulous enough to make sure no gunpowder residue remained in his room But he didn’t know that his tools left unique marks that survived the explosions, and ultimately exposed him Despite the evidence, Genrich denied any involvement -I was kind of a loner and you know I was always in a pissed-off mood And he said that uh– I just– I think they just wanted to pin this crime on somebody and they figured they could get it– pin it on me -Emotion, we call it human emotion, he doesn’t have it Does he? He’s like I’m disconnected But the first thing he let’s you know is I’m normal because everybody else is [bleep] up And that’s why I have a problem But he tells you that So when anybody tells you, I’m really a good guy but I’m screwed up because people have done me wrong, hello NARRATOR: In May of 1993, James Genrich was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, and a dozen bomb-related charges He was sentenced to life in prison without parole

-Well, I got a lawyer still working on my appeal So I think that’s my best hope right now But hopefully somebody will see this and come forward and say that you know, I know the guy that did or something like that But you never know -I’d love to smack him I mean, I- I still feel a lot of anger because he– he cheated me out of something that you know I felt I had a right to You know, Henry was my– my father and– and I don’t have that right anymore He– he took something away NARRATOR: Investigators say there’s no doubt James Genrich would have continued to kill if he haven’t been caught But old-fashioned police work exposed him And forensic science provided the proof -He had a lot of circumstances that sort of pointed towards him But you don’t put somebody in prison for the rest of his life, based on circumstances You put him there based on proof And in that regard I think that it was John O’Neil’s testimony and Jerry Taylor’s testimony that did that [theme music]