WASHINGTON - The top suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks was obsessed with a sorority that was about 100 yards away from a New Jersey mailbox where the toxin-laced letters were sent, authorities said yesterday.
Multiple US officials told the Associated Press that former Army scientist Bruce Ivins was long obsessed with the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, going back as far as his own college days at the University of Cincinnati.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The bizarre link to the sorority could indirectly explain one of the biggest mysteries in the case: why the anthrax was mailed from Princeton, N.J., 195 miles from the Army biological weapons lab that was believed to be the source of the anthrax.
An adviser to the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at Princeton University confirmed she was interviewed by the FBI in connection with the case.
US officials said e-mails or other documents detail Ivins's longstanding fixation on the sorority. His former therapist has said Ivins plotted revenge against those who have slighted him, particularly women. There is nothing to indicate, however, he was focused on any one sorority member or other Princeton student, the officials said.
Despite the connection between Ivins and the sorority, authorities acknowledge they cannot place the scientist in Princeton the day the anthrax was mailed. That remains a hole in the government's case. Had Ivins not killed himself last week, authorities would have argued he could have made the seven-hour round trip to Princeton after work.
Ivins's attorney, Paul F. Kemp, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment yesterday but has asserted his client's innocence and said he would have been vindicated in court.
Katherine Breckinridge Graham, a Kappa alumna who serves as an adviser to the sorority's Princeton chapter, said yesterday she was interviewed by FBI agents "over the last couple of years" about the case. She said she could not provide any details about the interview because she signed an FBI nondisclosure form.
However, Graham said there was nothing to indicate that any of the sorority members had anything to do with Ivins.
Kappa Kappa Gamma executive director Lauren Paitson, reached at the sorority's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, initially told an AP reporter yesterday afternoon she would provide a comment shortly.
She did not answer subsequent phone messages or e-mails seeking a response.
Some of the scientist's friends and former co-workers have reacted with skepticism as details about the investigation surfaced. They questioned whether Ivins had the motive to unleash such an attack and whether he could have secretly created the powder form of the deadly toxin without co-workers noticing.
Princeton University referred questions about Ivins to the FBI. The university does not formally recognize sororities and fraternities but chapters operate off campus.
Five people died and 17 others fell ill in the anthrax plot, which was launched following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Investigators revealed yesterday that science led the FBI to the scientist.
Beginning with cell samples of the anthrax that was mailed in 2001, as well as from the victims of the attacks, investigators used advanced DNA fingerprinting techniques to identify unique sections of genetic code.
With that, investigators tracked the toxin back to the biological weapons lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., where work with the highly specific type of anthrax spores was overseen by Ivins.
The genetic case-cracker and other tools used to identify Ivins as the lead suspect are believed to be described in court documents that remain sealed. Because Ivins committed suicide before he could be indicted on murder charges, the Justice Department is considering closing the investigation, possibly as early as today.