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Tracking a fugitive: How the FBI caught up with James Kopp

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Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. - By eavesdropping on the phone calls and e-mail of two anti-abortion activists, investigators were able to follow the movements of one of their 10 most wanted fugitives, a man suspected in the 1998 sniper slaying of an abortion doctor.

FBI agents spent two years tracking James Charles Kopp from New Jersey and through Europe until Thursday, when police in France arrested him as he stopped at a post office for money.

"There was a lot of high-fiving in the office," said Hardrick Crawford Jr., acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Buffalo office, as news of the arrest rippled through the agency.

A court affidavit signed by FBI agent Michael Osborn describes how the authorities followed Kopp's trail and finally pinned him down.

Kopp, 46, became a suspect within two weeks of the sniper attack that killed Dr. Barnett Slepian as he stood at his kitchen window near Buffalo on Oct. 23, 1998. But by the time officials went looking for him, their suspect had disappeared.

Agents believe he fled to New York City, then New Jersey, then to Ireland and finally France.

Osborn explains in the affidavit how police finally caught up with Kopp by following the movements of Dennis John Malvasi and Loretta Claire Marra in Brooklyn, two radical abortion foes arrested Thursday on federal charges of harboring a felon.

Marra had been arrested with Kopp during protests in Italy and Vermont. Malvasi, her husband, had pleaded guilty to involvement in two abortion bombings in 1987 and had served five years in prison.

When the couple were found living in a Brooklyn apartment rented under a false name, the FBI grew suspicious. Agents determined they were creating a safe house for an ailing and penniless Kopp.

As agents led Malvasi to court in handcuffs Friday, he told reporters he had "never met (Kopp) in his entire life. … I don't know this man." Marra's attorney called her "normal in every respect."

Osborn's affidavit details a series of events in the last two months that led to Kopp's capture.

Agents monitored e-mail messages between the apartment and a person they suspected was Kopp in Ireland. He was believed to be living in hostels there and working temporary jobs.

On March 8, an Internet message from Brooklyn to Kopp reads: "What's going on, anyhow? Haven't heard from you in ages. Please let me know how you are."

The affidavit says Kopp left Ireland in the following days, and on March 21 he was traced to France by an Internet message he posted. He asked for money to be sent, and said "the sooner I get about $1,000, the sooner you'll see this smiling cherubic face."

On March 29, Kopp entered the post office in Dinan, France, to pick up the money, investigators said.

At the request of the FBI, French police were waiting, and they arrested Kopp, who identified himself and offered no resistance.

Kopp, of St. Albans, Vt., and known as the "Atomic Dog" in anti-abortion circles, faces state and federal charges of murder and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by using deadly force against an abortion doctor.


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