Feud over wife and child blamed for bomb murders

SPURNED by his common-law wife's family, who would not let him in their home, Michael Stevens sought revenge by killing them with parcel bombs. That way he would have his wife to himself.

This was how police yesterday reconstructed what they believe to be the motive of Mr Stevens, a 53-year-old ex-convict, who has been charged with killing five people inside 90 minutes over a wide area of northern New York state on Tuesday night. Also charged with Mr Stevens was his friend, Earl Figley, 56, who is accused of buying the dynamite that was packed into tool-boxes which were rigged to explode on opening. The addresses for the parcel bombs were hundreds of miles apart, but they were all timed to arrive on Tuesday night. The two men have also been charged with the federal crime of transporting explosives to kill or maim - for which they could face the death penalty.

The two men were described by neighbours as losers who dabbled in get-rich-quick schemes. A lawyer familiar with Mr Stevens' case said: 'He wasn't your basic slimeball. He was much smoother than that. He was a conman and he thought he was smarter than anybody else.' Mr Figley was described as an 'ordinary plain-spoken guy' who acted as Mr Stevens's gofer, fetching him beers and collecting his post.

The police said Mr Stevens was the common-law husband of Brenda Lazore, whose mother, Eleanor Fowler, stepfather and sister were killed by the parcel bombs. Her uncle was critically wounded. Two bystanders were also killed. Mr Stevens was paroled from prison in 1989 after serving 18 months for forgery.

The six bombs were sent by private courier and the US mail to four homes, an armoured-car garage where Lazore's stepfather worked, and the St Regis Indian reservation, where her uncle worked. Two other people were injured in the blasts. Two of the six bombs meant for Fowler family members were defused by the police.

The police believe the family feud began after tension between Mr Stevens, who is white, and Ms Lazore's family, who are members of the Mohawk Indian tribe, over the upbringing of the couple's two-year-old child. Apparently the family wanted to keep the child away from Mr Stevens.

The case highlighted weak federal regulations on the distribution of dynamite and other explosives which are sold over the counter by licensed dealers. Although buyers must complete forms listing their names and addresses, no background checks are made. Mr Figley is charged with buying the dynamite under an assumed name.