In the 28-minute confession he recorded on his phone shortly before his death, Austin serial bomber Mark Conditt lamented his poor judgment in attempting to send two explosives through FedEx, a mistake he assumed had enabled investigators to identify him as the culprit.
He was right.
After 20 days of churning through theories about the explosions and chasing down tips, the final 20 hours of the hunt for the bomber unfolded in a rapid stream of breakthroughs, starting with police on Tuesday morning identifying Conditt in surveillance video in and around the Sunset Valley FedEx and ending early Wednesday morning with him detonating a bomb in his car as officers surrounded him.
Conditt had already been on investigators’ radar as one of several possible suspects. After plowing through stacks of retail receipts from hardware stores and big box retailers, they had learned about his purchases of nails and electronics that could be used in bombs. But they didn’t know for certain that he was behind the attacks until they reviewed the FedEx surveillance video.
“The biggest clue or piece of evidence really was the suspect’s fatal mistake: walking into the FedEx office,” U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said. “Up to that point, he had avoided surveillance cameras.”
Led by the Austin Police Department, the team involved more than 500 officers and investigators from the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Texas Department of Public Safety and other agencies.
They employed advanced technology like cell phone tracking and forensic analysis of bomb components. The DPS, for instance, supplied the team with one of its Pilatus spy planes, which were purchased to aid the state’s border security campaign and can provide high-definition live video of targets on the ground from high altitudes. But they also relied heavily on old-fashioned police work, like scouring parking lots for Conditt’s red Nissan Pathfinder.