No letter cleared Bishop, official says

By Donovan Slack and Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / February 19, 2010

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Federal officials did not send Amy Bishop and her husband a letter telling them they were cleared in the 1993 investigation of a mail bomb sent to a Harvard Medical School professor, a law enforcement official said yesterday, contradicting statements Bishop’s husband has made to reporters after his wife was charged in an Alabama shooting rampage.

Bishop’s husband, James E. Anderson Jr., has acknowledged that he and his wife were questioned in the probe but denied they were suspects and asserted earlier this week that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had notified the couple in writing that the investigation had ended.

“In my files I have a letter from the ATF saying: ‘You are hereby cleared in this incident. You are no longer a subject of the investigation,’ ’’ Anderson told The New York Times.

But the law-enforcement official, who had knowledge of the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday there is no such document.

“No letter was ever sent,’’ said the official, who is not authorized to speak publicly on the case.

Yesterday in Huntsville, Anderson told a Globe reporter that he did not have a copy of the letter and that the lawyer who gave it to him is now dead.

“I can’t find it,’’ he said in a brief interview at his home. “The original, I think, is with the attorney.’’

He said he would try to get it from the lawyer’s firm.

No one was ever charged in the case, in which a package of two pipe bombs was mailed to the Newton home of the professor, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, who is also a physician at Children’s Hospital Boston. Amy Bishop was working as a postdoctoral research fellow at the hospital’s neurobiology lab until shortly before the package was sent. The Globe reported Sunday that Bishop had had a dispute with Rosenberg, one of her supervisors, because she thought he planned to give her a negative evaluation.

Her husband’s assertion about the ATF letter is the latest of several public statements that have raised questions since his wife was arrested in the fatal shooting of three faculty members last week at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

After the shooting rampage, Anderson initially said he had no idea that Bishop had a gun, but on Tuesday Anderson said that not only did he know she had a gun, but that he had accompanied her to a shooting range in recent weeks.

Also, he initially told one reporter that he had spoken with his wife in a telephone call from jail and then told another he had not spoken with her at all. He told the Huntsville Times earlier this week that he did not have a copy of the ATF letter because Huntsville police seized it after the shootings.

A funeral service was held yesterday for department chairman Gopi Podila, recalled as a world-class plant molecular biologist with a humble manner. A service will be held today for Adriel Johnson, a cell biologist and nutritional physiologist who also served as a youth coach and scoutmaster. A funeral will be held tomorrow for Maria Ragland Davis, a biochemist known for encouraging young people, especially minority students, to pursue science.

Also today, the university will hold a public memorial service for all three at 7 p.m., with the program to include three minutes of silence and three bell chimes, as well as the performance of a new composition, “Unity,’’ from one of the university’s music professors.

The service, billed as a celebration of their lives, will include opportunities for guests to leave messages on “memory trees’’ established by the art faculty.

Students, colleagues, and friends gathered on campus yesterday for a memorial service for Davis and Johnson organized by the Council of African-American Faculty and the Minority Graduate Student Association. The event was closed to the media, but the program included reflections from students.

“Dr. Johnson was the reason I attended UAH, the way I made it through each semester, and the reason I will graduate,’’ one said.

Davis “was smart and innovative and pushed me to think outside the box,’’ another said. “She was a great influence without even realizing it and will be missed.’’

Also yesterday, the Harvard professor who was sent the mail bomb package in 1993 issued a statement expressing his condolences to the victims of the Alabama shootings.

“We hope that there is a thorough investigation into this recent crime, so that no one else will be victimized by such senseless violence,’’ Rosenberg said in the statement.

He had just returned home from a Caribbean vacation with his wife on Dec. 19, 1993, when he began opening a package addressed to “Mr. Paul Rosenberg M.D.’’ that had been brought in with the rest of the mail by his cat sitter. When Rosenberg saw wires and a cylinder inside, he and his wife fled the house and called police.

At the time, police said the bomb would have exploded and killed anyone in the vicinity if he had opened the end flaps of the package. They said the bombs did not detonate because Rosenberg had opened the package by cutting around the top of it with a knife.

The investigation by the US Postal Service, the ATF, and Newton police focused on Bishop, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday.

“She was the suspect early on,’’ said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Bishop and Anderson’s home was searched in the investigation, and both were questioned, the official said.

No one was ever exonerated, but federal prosecutors concluded that the evidence collected was circumstantial and not sufficient to warrant charges, according to the official.

In the past week, there have been several revelations about Bishop’s past. surfaced. On Saturday, Braintree police disclosed that in 1986 Bishop killed her brother in a shooting that was declared accidental.

On Sunday came a report that she was a suspect in the attempted mail bombing. Monday brought news that an auto body mechanic said Bishop had held him and another worker at gunpoint after shooting her brother.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, prosecutors said Bishop should have been charged in the attempted holdup, and a police report showed Bishop assaulted a woman in 2002 over a child seat at an International House of Pancakes.

Through it all, a public spotlight has been cast on Bishop’s husband, who continues to care for the couple’s four children at their Huntsville home.

On Wednesday, he blamed the news media for discrepancies in his statements.

“That’s why they say, don’t say anything to anybody,’’ he said. “Everything I say has been held against us. . . . Things have come back wrong.’’

This morning, an interview with Anderson is scheduled to air on “Good Morning America.’’

Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Donovan Slack can be reached at