The threatening letters arrived throughout 2006 and 2007 at two of Beacon Hill's most popular restaurants. They came with photos of gun-toting men and taunting messages for the owner of both eateries, a successful businesswoman who was born in Iran, came to the United States decades ago, and is an American citizen.
A photograph of an Israeli soldier brandishing a machine gun was tucked inside one letter, while another contained an image of actor Dustin Hoffman, lifted from the 1976 movie thriller "Marathon Man," pointing a gun directly at the viewer.
"See you at the Taj!" the writer taunted in a letter sent last June, two days before the owner was to present food from her two eateries at Taste of Beacon Hill, a local restaurant fair hosted by the Taj Boston Hotel.
After months of investigation, the FBI announced yesterday that agents had arrested 65-year-old real estate broker Earl F. McBride Jr., who lives in a Bowdoin Street boarding house just a few blocks from the restaurants.
He's charged in a one-count federal indictment with mailing a series of threatening communications to the restaurant owner, beginning in November 2006.
"The reason the FBI takes this case so seriously is we do look on it as a potential hate crime," said Warren T. Bamford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, adding that investigators believe McBride targeted the restaurant owner because she is a Muslim.
"We're still trying to determine what [McBride's] motive and thought process was," Bamford said.
The restaurant owner, who is identified in the indictment only by her initials, does not know McBride, according to the FBI. She declined to comment about the case yesterday and asked the Globe not to name her.
"She's a hard-working, loyal American citizen who has been threatened for no reason other than her ethnic background," said Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly, following a bail hearing for McBride yesterday in US District Court.
Initially, McBride was given a federal defender, who is paid by the government to represent defendants who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers.
But that quickly changed when Kelly told the court that when McBride was arrested yesterday morning he had a bank receipt in his pocket that indicated he had $90,000 in an account.
"I know based on this bank account he's not eligible for court-appointed counsel," said US Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hillman, who instructed McBride to hire his own lawyer. An arraignment was sceheduled for May 22.
The magistrate released McBride on a $20,000 unsecured bond and ordered him to stay away from the two restaurants, all of their employees, and potential victims or witnesses in the case.
Dressed all in black - turtleneck sweater, dress slacks, and boots - McBride declined to comment as he left the courthouse after signing bond papers, saying he had been advised by his lawyer not to discuss the case.
The first threatening letter arrived at one of the woman's restaurants in November 2006, shortly after it opened. Then, according to the indictment, more letters soon arrived at the owner's other restaurant.
"It's an indication that this can happen anywhere, in suburbs and in affluent sections," Bamford said.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there was a spike in hate crimes against American Muslims for several years, according to Bamford.
While the number of such crimes has since dwindled, Bamford said they still happen, prompting the FBI to constantly do outreach in the American Muslim community so victims will come forward and report attacks or harassment. "We still continue to look at hate crimes as extremely serious cases," he said.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.