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'Collar bomb' victim Madeleine Pulver relieved after FBI arrests suspect

An Australian teenager who spent 10 hours with a fake bomb chained to her neck said Wednesday that she was relieved after the FBI arrested a suspect in Kentucky.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

An Australian teenager who spent 10 hours with a fake bomb chained to her neck said Wednesday that she was relieved after the FBI arrested a suspect in Kentucky.

Paul Douglas Peters is accused of breaking into a home in the wealthy Sydney suburb of Mosman and tethering the device to Madeleine Pulver as part of an elaborate extortion plot.

Pulver, 18, was studying at home when a masked man carrying a baseball bat broke in and attached the bomb-like device to her neck. The man left behind a note demanding money, along with an email address that appeared to refer to a novel about a ruthless businessman in 19th century Asia. Bomb technicians later found no explosives in the device.

A smiling Pulver told reporters that she was "very relieved" to hear of Peters' arrest.

"I'm glad it's all over," Pulver said.

Asked whether she was wondering why she'd been targeted, she replied, "I think we're all wondering why."

Peters, a 50-year-old Australian investment banker who travels frequently to the U.S., was arrested by the FBI at his ex-wife's house in a well-heeled suburb near Louisville, Kentucky. On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin ordered Peters jailed pending an extradition hearing set for Oct. 14 in Louisville.

Australian police plan to charge him with multiple offenses, including kidnapping and breaking and entering.

What ties Peters has to the wealthy Pulver family remain unclear, although federal court documents released Tuesday say he once worked for a company with links to the Pulvers. William Pulver, Madeleine's father, is CEO of Appen Butler Hill, a company that provides language and voice-recognition software and services.

'I still don't believe it'
Peters' brother, Brent Peters, said his brother wouldn't have the guts or the technical capacity to mastermind such a plot.

"I still don't believe it. I still think there's more than meets the eye in this case," said Brent Peters, 52. "I would not know who'd have any technical capability whatsoever like that. We're old school."

Brent Peters last saw his brother in 2010, and said he appeared to be doing well.

"Look, the guy was a quarter-of-a-million-dollar guy a year over in America," he said.

Brent Peters told Australia's that the arrest was "a massive shock" to his brother's wife and three daughters.

The small Australian coastal community of Copacabana, where Paul Peters lived, was buzzing with news of his arrest on Wednesday. Peters' hairdresser, Tammy Schreiber, told The Associated Press he usually stopped by every six weeks when he was in town, but she last saw him about four months ago. At the time, he was planning a trip to the U.S. to visit his family and was eager to see his daughters, she said.

Schreiber said Peters rarely talked about work, but gave the impression he was a "real entrepreneur type," and was always well-dressed. He didn't interact much with members of the close-knit community of around 3,000, about 55 miles north of Sydney, she said.

"Really nice person — really helpful, liked to have a nice chat," Schreiber said. "A family man, loved his daughters. ... Even now if I see the papers and I see his face in there I still can't believe it."

New details of Pulver's chilling ordeal were unveiled in the arrest complaint released Tuesday. The teen was studying in her bedroom on Aug. 3 when a man walked in carrying a black aluminum baseball bat and wearing a striped, multicolored balaclava. "Sit down and no one needs to get hurt," he told her.

Pulver sat on her bed and the intruder placed the bat and a backpack next to her. He forced a black box against her throat and looped a device similar to a bike chain around her neck.

The gray-haired man locked the box around her neck along with a lanyard and a plastic document sleeve. It contained a note, the email address and a USB digital storage device.

"Count to 200," he said as he left, taking the bat and backpack with him. "... I'll be back ... if you move I can see you I'll be right here."

He also reportedly told the girl the device had a microphone that allowed him to monitor her conversations.

'Plastic explosives'
Minutes later, Pulver texted her mother and called her father. After telling both of them to call the police, she saw that the attacker's note said not to contact authorities.

The attacker's note said the device contained "powerful new technology plastic explosives" and was booby trapped. Details for delivering "a Defined Sum" would be sent "once you acknowledge and confirm receipt of this message," it said. The USB device contained the same note.

The email address the attacker left is Dirk Struan is the main character in James Clavell's 1966 novel "Tai-Pan," about a bitter rivalry between powerful Hong Kong traders after the end of the First Opium War.

Australian authorities determined the email account was established May 30 from an Internet Protocol address linked to a Chicago airport. Travel documents showed Peters had been at the airport that day.

The email account was accessed the day of the attack at 4:09 p.m. from an IP address registered to a library in Kincumber, about 50 miles from the girl's Mosman home. The account was accessed twice more before 6 p.m. from an IP address registered to a video store a few miles from the library.

Surveillance cameras at the library and at a liquor store next to the video store recorded a man matching Peters' description around that time, the complaint said. A video store employee said a "well-dressed" man came in twice to use one of the store's Internet computers because he was "waiting for an email."

When authorities examined a memory stick that was left around Pulver's neck they were able to recover deleted files, one of which was written on a computer with the identification of "Paul P," according to a court document.

With that information and the footage of his vehicle, police searched for a matching car and found one registered to Peters. His driver's license photograph matched those of the individual in the security footage, it said.

One-way flight
Records from two stores show that in July, Peters bought a black baseball bat, and a USB device and lanyard identical to those left with Pulver, the complaint said.

The arrest complaint said Peters left Australia on a one-way flight from Sydney to Chicago on Aug. 8 and flew to Kentucky the next day.

Peters showed no emotion in court Tuesday, spoke quietly to his attorney and glanced briefly at his ex-wife, Debra, who sat alone in the front row, weeping quietly.

Asked by reporters if he had any message for Pulver, Peters said, "I hope she's well" as he was placed into a police van.

His attorney, Scott Cox, said Peters will contest the charges in Australia, but he did not know whether his client would fight extradition.

Authorities said Peters has been involved in various businesses, but would not elaborate. Cox said Peters is an attorney who works as an investment banker in Australia and owns his own company.

Peters and his ex-wife divorced in 2007 and have three school-age children, Cox said.