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Bomber murders five in family vendetta: Killings carried out across New York State

IN ONE of the strangest mass killings in recent months, three members of one family who lived hundreds of miles apart in upstate New York and two bystanders were killed on Tuesday by parcel bombs.

Police said the bombings were prompted by a family vendetta. 'We feel at this stage of the game it's somebody who has some type of vendetta or vengeance against the family,' said the New York State Police Superintendent, Thomas Constantine. 'There was some relationship in this family to bring this terrible type of tragedy on them. The bombings were not random.'

The attacks brought in investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as state and local police. The survivors of the attacks have been placed in protective custody. Police yesterday arrested two men in connection with the bombings. They were named as Michael Stevens and Earl Figley and could face the death penalty if convicted of transporting the explosives used in the killings across state lines. The bomber, or bombers, sent at least six devices in plastic tool-boxes to places in the Buffalo area where members of the Fowler family lived or worked. Four of the bombs exploded as the boxes were being opened; two more were defused by authorities.

Law enforcement sources were quoted as saying the bombings apparently stemmed from a dispute between Mr Stevens and his former wife, Brenda. She was reported to have been questioned, but sources did now know if she was considered a suspect. Police said one suspect had a connection to all the Fowler family members to whom bombs had been sent.

A picture was released of a man in his fifties, a description based on information from delivery firms that picked up the packages. Police said the bomber knew how to make the devices and where to find the family members at a given time of day. When the latch of the tool-boxes was opened a trigger was sprung, exploding the device. The boxes had a return address of the Liberty Iron and Metal Company of Erie, Pennsylvania, but the company had no idea how the bomber had obtained the boxes.

One of the bombs was delivered to the family of Robert and Eleanor Fowler of West Valley, near Buffalo. It destroyed the Fowlers' home, killing Mrs Fowler. Her husband was killed by a device sent to his workplace at an armoured-car garage. A colleague of Fowler's was also killed in that blast and another man was wounded.

Mrs Fowler's daughter by a previous marriage, Pamela Epperson, was killed by a bomb sent to her apartment in Rochester. Her boyfriend also died. Ms Epperson's uncle, William Lazore, was wounded by a bomb mailed to him on the St Regis Indian reservation near Massena, New York. He said he was suspicious 'for reasons of his own' when he saw the box; he opened it with a rake and was wounded in the leg.

One of the defused bombs was sent to Mrs Fowler's daughter Lucille, who lives 40 miles south of Buffalo, and another was sent to her boyfriend, Scott Kemp, at a 'boot camp' prison 50 miles from Buffalo where he works as a guard. The prison refused to accept the package and it was being returned to Buffalo in a delivery truck when police intercepted the vehicle and safely detonated the device.