The mystery of Andrew McCrae
Why that night? Why Red Bluff? Why Officer Mobilio?
Even with the presence of more than 2,000 people, the Sun Country Fairgrounds were quiet save for the sound of wind scraping dry leaves across the asphalt and the soft, gentle idling of a silver hearse. Hundreds of police officers and emergency workers stood in rows at solemn attention, many wiping at tears, others with their heads bowed or staring into empty space. Through the hearse’s windows, glimpses could be seen of a coffin wrapped in an American flag.Bagpipes moaned out their traditional farewell. A bugle played taps. As the first volley of a 21-gun salute cracked through the silence, a beefy-looking cop jumped nearly out of his skin, then looked around sheepishly to see if anybody noticed.
The rituals at an end, a convoy formed. Led by two cops on motorcycles, an officer walked a riderless horse, symbolic of a fallen comrade. As the hearse containing the body of David Mobilio, 31, Red Bluff’s first police officer to be killed in the line of duty, turned south down Highway 99, a long line of police cars followed, making a black and white procession that stretched several blocks.
At the same time, on the other side of the continent, in Concord, N.H., Mobilio’s alleged killer was being processed into Merrimack County Jail. Later that night, TV news would carry photos of the gaunt 23-year-old, a green jail blanket covering his naked shoulders and a bandage wrapped almost comically around his head.
For folks in Red Bluff, it was their first glimpse of Andrew Hampton McCrae, a.k.a. Andrew Hampton Mickel, the man who confessed to a reporter and over the Internet to murdering Mobilio a week earlier, on the night of Nov. 18, as the young officer was gassing up his patrol car at a station in Red Bluff.
But the capture of the suspect would provide little relief to the town of Red Bluff, population just over 13,000. In fact, investigators are gearing up for a trial that promises to be, at the very least, full of surprises.
Because investigators want to avoid tainting the trial, and likely because they hope McCrae will provide them with details about the crime that only the killer would know, they are keeping a tight lid on the facts of the case. What is known comes mostly from personal interviews and the piecing together of news accounts from several sources.
McCrae was captured after a four-hour standoff at a Holiday Inn in Concord, N.H., after he was traced there by FBI agents working out of the Sacramento office. Exactly how they found him only a week after the killing isn’t being discussed, but with all the clues McCrae provided, it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t want to be caught. It is also hard to fathom how and why the crime occurred.
Although McCrae, in a pair of long Internet-posted rants against corporations and the U.S. government, claimed he killed Mobilio to protest what he termed “police-state tactics” and “corporate irresponsibility,” he fails to tell what he, a resident of Olympia, Wash., was doing that night in Red Bluff. The question is at the heart of the mystery surrounding the death of Officer Mobilio.
The scene of the crime is a desolate spot at night, a lonely gas station flanked by a railroad track sunk into an embankment. Down Main Street—well-traveled in the daytime but mostly empty at night—is a mini-mart that closes at 11 p.m. Across from the station is a commercial complex in the midst of renovation. A sign in front of the project reads, “Red Bluff, A Great Place to Live.”
Mobilio was shot sometime after 1 a.m., twice in the left side and once at close range in the back of the head, according to an affidavit filed in Merrimack County, N.H. Investigators won’t say what type of weapon was used, other than that it was not a shotgun.
Mobilio, known to kids in town as “Dareman Dave” for his work with sixth-graders in the D.A.R.E. anti-drug-use program, was fueling his car at Warners Card Lock gas station on Main and Adobe streets, near the outskirts of town. There was only about a 10-minute window for the shooting, as Mobilio had radioed in his location at 1:27 a.m. When he did not respond to a dispatcher a few minutes later, another officer was sent to the scene.
That officer found Mobilio face down in a pool of blood at 1:40 a.m. His sidearm, the safety off, lay near the left front tire of his patrol car, just a few feet from his outstretched hand. It had not been fired.
The search for his killer began before first light, with investigators from the FBI, Department of Justice, Chico Police Department, Tehama County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol and a host of other agencies pitching in to help the Red Bluff Police Department, which employs only about 21 sworn officers. Together, they cordoned off the station and searched for clues on the parking lot, in the street and on the railroad tracks.
The people of Red Bluff, not used to high-profile crimes, let their imaginations wander, and soon many were speculating that the shooting was in retaliation for the accidental death of a man two weeks earlier who had been in Red Bluff police custody.
Speculation increased when police issued a composite sketch of a man they described as a witness in the case. The long-haired, unshaven man in a beanie was never found. Though police say they would still like to talk to him, the focus of the case is now directed almost solely at McCrae.
For all the efforts of the investigators in Red Bluff, it was McCrae himself who facilitated his own capture. According to Red Bluff Police Chief Robert Petitt, McCrae called his parents in Springfield, Ohio, to tell them what he’d done. They called Springfield police, who tipped investigators in Red Bluff.
When reached by phone, McCrae’s parents read twice from a prepared statement.
“We love our son dearly but absolutely denounce his alleged actions. Our hearts are breaking for the family and friends of Officer Mobilio,” said McCrae’s father, Stanley Mickel, a professor of East Asian Studies at Wittenberg University.
Mickel also said he had talked to his son the day before the killing. He would not say where Andrew was calling from but indicated that nothing unusual came up in that conversation. Mickel did not divulge that Andrew had told them that he’d shot a police officer. He did, however, ask that our reporter not describe Andrew as a “drifter,” as another paper had done.
“I’ve probably said too much,” he said, adding, “I want to clear up something that’s been said about him. He is not a drifter; he is enrolled at Evergreen College in Olympia.”[page]
The last time the Mickels had seen their son was in March 2002. McCrae grew up in Springfield, a town of about 700,000, attending Springfield North High School before he joined the Army in 1998. McCrae claimed in one Internet posting that he was trained by the Army to be a Ranger, an Airborne soldier and to carry out jungle operations. Stanley Mickel told the San Francisco Chronicle his son was stationed for three years at Fort Campbell, Ky., which houses the 101st Airborne and some Ranger units. Records requested from the Army were not available by press time.
Springfield North High School Principal Larry Nickels said he didn’t get a chance to know McCrae well because he became principal of Springfield North High in 1998, the same year McCrae graduated under the name Andrew Mickel.
“He was leaving as I was coming,” Nickels said.
He described Stan and Karen Mickel as “great people, very nice. Karen used to be a school board member here.”
A Springfield newspaper ran a letter from Stanley Mickel last year arguing for tougher gun control laws.
“Everybody who knew [Andrew] is totally surprised,” Nickels continued. “You just never know about these things. We are all speechless. The only people at the school who really knew him are the ones who had him in class. I hear people talking in the teachers lounge, saying there were never any signs or anything. I knew Andy well enough to say ‘hi’ whenever our paths crossed. He was a very pleasant, very pleasant young man.”
Andrew has a younger brother, Patrick, who recently graduated and played for the Springfield North Panther basketball team.
“I saw him over the weekend at a basketball game here. I said hello and told him to take it easy and hang in there. This has just devastated the family,” Nickels said.
A woman in Springfield whose son graduated with McCrae said the community was “stunned” by the news that McCrae had been arrested for shooting a police officer.
“He was so intelligent, really a smart kid,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “It has really hurt the family, and I’ve talked with a lot of people, it’s really surprised the community.”
The only time on record that McCrae had been in trouble in Springfield was Oct. 28, 1997, when his mother, Karen Mickel, also a college professor, called police to report her son missing. According to the report, Andrew had stopped taking his depression medication and left home, leaving a runaway note. He was found the next day in a nearby town.
After leaving the Army, Andrew McCrae enrolled at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., universally known as one of the most liberal college campuses in the U.S.—certainly a far cry from Army Ranger School.
A few miles from the school, in what was once St. Peters Hospital, McCrae lived in a ground floor, single-room apartment. Few of his neighbors at the Capitol House Apartments at 420 Sherman St. S.W. knew Mickel, and several were unaware that he was the same person who had allegedly confessed to the crime. The property manager refused comment.
Louise Bracker, a 20-year resident of the Capitol House apartments, lived next door to Mickel and recalled a “quiet, reserved young man” who rarely made more noise than playing his CD player. She could not recall him ever having visitors.
“The thing that I notice is that Evergreen students sometimes dress way-out,” Bracker said. “He was always neat, dressed in dark trousers and a white shirt.”
Bracker, 91, said she didn’t know Mickel well and had only a handful of conversations with him since he moved into the apartment in September. But she did remember vividly a chance meeting in the hallway.
“We talked for a while. I was kind of surprised because he seemed to prolong the conversation, which struck me as odd. Usually, a young man is much too busy to strike up a conversation with a 91-year-old woman. But as I told the girl who helps me, he seemed lonely, like he wanted someone to talk to.”
Bracker said McCrae told her that he was studying writing, carpentry and psychology.
Investigators who arrived on the scene from California to search McCrae ‘s single room questioned Bracker. She said that investigators removed several large boxes of personal effects from the apartment.
Later, she talked with one of the investigators who had interviewed her that morning. “I ran into the lady in the hallway and asked if they found a gun. She told me that no gun or any other weapon was found.”
Investigators have refused to disclose what evidence, if any, was found at the apartment. Administrators at Evergreen State College also refused to comment on McCrae, citing privacy statutes. They would not confirm his enrollment, but a campus directory maintained by the university indicates he was enrolled at the time of the slaying.[page]
No students interviewed indicated that they knew, or even recognized, McCrae from pictures. Others feared that his alleged actions would reflect poorly on the university.
Evergreen, founded in 1967, is home to approximately 4,200 students, many of whom were attracted to the school by its interdisciplinary approach to education. U.S. News and World Report consistently rates Evergreen among the best public liberal-arts colleges in the country, but it is the school’s reputation for liberal politics that many associate it with. McCrae’s online manifesto reflects many of the same themes of “social justice” espoused in literature and leaflets prevalent at the college.
Evergreen made national headlines in May 1999 when it invited convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal to speak at its commencement, known as “Super Saturday.” The invitation drew angry objections from police groups, and Washington Governor Gary Locke declined an invitation to speak at the ceremonies.
Evergreen’s reputation was again questioned after May Day protests in each of the past two years. Two years ago demonstrators—including a large contingent of Evergreen students—snarled traffic in Olympia during protests.
Coincidentally, McCrae, who was arrested at a protest last April for obstructing a sidewalk, lived less than a half-mile from the Bayview Thriftway supermarket, where a 59-year-old man died Nov. 8 after he was subdued with a Taser stun gun following an alleged shoplifting attempt.
Activists in Olympia have charged police brutality in the case.
A spokeswoman for the Olympia Police Department said the department had no contact with McCrae in the past and would be assisting California authorities in their investigation. The department would not be conducting an investigation of its own.
If anybody—his parents, classmates, investigators—knows what McCrae was supposedly doing in Red Bluff on the night Mobilio was killed, they aren’t saying. He has no record of ever being in trouble there, much less being there at all. Investigators acknowledged that they recently found his car, a maroon Mustang that they believe McCrae used in the crime. (See Newslines, page 10, for updated information.)
In his pair of long Internet rants, McCrae displays a rather odd mix of liberal, anarchist and pro-gun politics. Combining solid rhetoric with a mishmash of radical provocations, he calls for a general strike in which “Homosexuals must support the Christian Creationists. The Gun Rights Advocates must support the Nonviolent Protestors. The Skateboarders must support the Prostitutes. And vice versa.”
While he blames police for brutalizing, harassing and subjugating the American people, he simultaneously claims to sympathize with them.
“All police and all soldiers and all spooks are frustrated with their jobs,” he writes. “The leaders weigh them down with paperwork, and never deploy them to the hilt of their capabilities. Offer them a better world and they will come over.”
If McCrae, even in his wildest daydreams, might have thought that killing a police officer would attract people to his rather nebulous cause, he probably could not have picked a more inappropriate target than Officer Mobilio. Described by many as a large man with a sweet but mischievous nature, Mobilio was well-loved in the town of Red Bluff.
At his memorial, friends and coworkers described numerous pranks and practical jokes he had played on them, like swabbing his patrol sergeant’s car door handles with Vaseline. After every joke, Mobilio would offer his trademark line, “Dude, you’re killing me.”
The father of a 19-month-old son, Mobilio would often announce his homecoming after a shift by pulling into his own driveway, turning on the lights of his patrol car and addressing his wife over the P.A. system, “Honey, I’m home!”
Upon learning of his death, the kids he worked with in the D.A.R.E. program poured out their grief in letters written with crayons, posted among the hundreds of flowers and cards in the lobby of the tiny Red Bluff police station. Dozens of retired and off-duty emergency workers made pilgrimages to the station to leave donations for Mobilio’s family.
On the Internet site where McCrae posted his second manifesto, many Red Bluff residents unleashed their anger, threatening to “show [McCrae] what cop killers get.”
“You better hope and pray that they give you maximum security, cuz we will get you!” said one of the more benign posts.
Until he is extradited, McCrae will remain in isolation at Merrimack County Jail. According to the jail Superintendent Carole Anderson, McCrae has refused to wear jail clothes, preferring to drape himself in a green jail blanket. He refers to himself as a political prisoner, Anderson said, adding that he was not being combative toward his jailers.
McCrae, currently being held on a fugitive-from-justice warrant, will likely be extradited to Tehama County sometime next year, where he will stand trial for murder with the special allegation that he killed an on-duty police officer. Prosecutors will determine at that time whether McCrae will face the death penalty. McCrae’s lawyers in New Hampshire did not respond to several calls for comment.
At this point, the absence of facts in the case is more intriguing than what is actually known. As long as investigators continue to hold their cards so close to the vest, it could be sometime next year before the public finds out what prompted McCrae to take responsibility for the death of a Red Bluff cop.
Dirk Rabdau, in Olympia, and Tom Gascoyne contributed to this story.