Hidden City Crime File: Washington, DC

Explore 3 crime stories from our nation's capital.
Marcus is in Washington, DC, to explore 3 major crimes in our nation's capital. From the Beltway snipers who terrorized the area, to FBI double agent Robert Hanssen, and corrupt politician Marion Barry, DC has its share of bad boys.
The Beltway Snipers


Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

Who: John Allen Muhammad was born John Allen Williams on Dec. 31, 1960 in Baton Rouge, LA. As a young adult he enlisted in the Army National Guard and eventually active duty. While serving, Muhammad earned his Expert Rifleman’s Badge. He went on to join the Nation of Islam. Muhammad was married and divorced twice and had 3 kids. He was said to have idolized Osama Bin Laden.

Lee Boyd Malvo was born on Feb. 18, 1985, in Kingston, Jamaica. He and his mother got to know John Allen Muhammad when they were both in Antigua around 1999. Malvo was left in Muhammad’s care for a short time while his mother went to the US. Malvo eventually joined his mother, but crossed paths with Muhammad once again in 2002.

What: In October 2002, Muhammad and Malvo started a killing spree in the Washington, DC, area. Over the course of 23 days, they killed 10 people and wounded another 3. They shot people sniper-style and became known as the Beltway snipers because they struck all around the DC-MD-VA area.

Here is a timeline of their crimes:
Oct. 2: Man killed while crossing a parking lot in Wheaton, MD
Oct. 3: 5 more murders, 4 in Maryland and one in D.C.
Oct. 4: Woman wounded while loading her van at Spotsylvania Mall
Oct. 7: 13-year-old-boy wounded at a school in Bowie, MD
Oct. 9: Man murdered near Manassas, VA, while pumping gas
Oct. 11: Man shot dead near Fredericksburg, VA, while pumping gas
Oct. 14: FBI analyst Linda Franklin killed near Falls Church, VA
Oct. 19: Man wounded outside a steakhouse in Ashland, VA
Oct. 22: A bus driver, the final victim, killed in Aspen Hill, MD
Oct. 24: Muhammad and Malvo arrested in Maryland

Their reign of terror ended when police were able to trace the 2 back to a murder that occurred during a liquor store robbery in Montgomery, AL, a month earlier. The crime led police to Malvo’s fingerprints and records that tied him to Muhammad. The development also yielded information on a car registered in Muhammad's name, details of which authorities released to the press. Soon the car was spotted and the police were able to arrest the snipers. It was later revealed that the 2 had also been responsible for 11 other shootings in various states.

When: The shootings took place from Oct. 2-24, 2002. Muhammad went on trial in October 2003 and was executed on Nov. 10, 2009. Malvo was sentenced to 6 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole on Nov. 8, 2006. He is currently serving his time at Red Onion State Prison.

Where: Muhammad and Malvo’s reign of terror occurred in the DC metro area.

Robert Hanssen


Photo by: FBI


Who: Robert Philip Hanssen was born April 18, 1944, in Chicago. His father, Howard, was a former Chicago cop who had joined the Navy. His mother Vivian had to raise her only child alone at times. Hanssen grew up working odd jobs while going to school. He attended Knox College where he earned a degree in chemistry and took courses in Russian. He went on to try dental school and counseling, but ended up completing an MBA at Northwestern University in accounting. He married in 1968 and went on to have 6 children.

Hanssen joined the Chicago police force like his father and was recruited for a special unit that investigated bad cops. Hanssen had always had an interest in spies, whether it was the Spy vs. Spy comic strip in MAD magazine or famous British spy Kim Philby. After his special unit experience, Hanssen applied to the FBI. He worked at several different locations and was eventually promoted to work in the Washington, DC, headquarters.

Hanssen was extremely smart and had an amazing ability to recall information, but had some odd behaviors. He always wore black suits and lacked interpersonal skills. He and his wife were religious and became active with the Opus Dei. They held anti-abortion views, and Hanssen for his part collected guns.

What: When Hanssen was working at the FBI's New York office, his wife caught him selling secrets to the Soviet Union. He told her that he had shared false information and did it for the money. FBI agents were not paid well in those days. Hanssen went to confession and gave the money away. His wife  thought that episode would be the end of his spying.

By 1985, Hanssen was now in the FBI's DC office. He reached out to Viktor Degtyar, a KGB colonel living in Alexandria, VA. So began a multi-year relationship in which Hanssen delivered more than 6,000 pages of documents to the Russians. In return they gave him cash and set up offshore bank accounts. This helped him put his kids through private schools and colleges. But the FBI began to suspect there was some leak in their organization. Hanssen was discovered when an informant turned over a trash bag in which documents had been delivered. It turned out to have Hanssen's fingerprints on it.

The FBI wanted to catch him in the act and used an agent posing as his assistant to help gather information. Eric O'Neill spent a lot of time with Hanssen and was able to get the date of one of his drops. Hanssen was arrested and in exchange for giving the FBI information about the Russians, he was sentenced to life in prison rather than given the death penalty.

When: Hanssen was sworn in at the FBI on Jan. 12, 1976. He was assigned to the New York office in 1978 and the DC office in 1981. He started his relationship with the KGB in 1985 and was arrested on Feb. 18, 2001. On July 6, 2001, he was sentenced to life.

Where: Hanssen started selling secrets to the Soviets when he worked at the FBI's New York offices. The majority of his spy activities occurred while he was working at the FBI's DC headquarters and living in Vienna, VA.
Marion Barry


Photo by: Nancy Ostertag

Nancy Ostertag

Who: Marion Barry was born on Mar. 6, 1936, in Mississippi. He was the third of 10 children. His father died when he was young, so Marion held a number of jobs as a child to help the family. He graduated high school and went on to attend LeMoyne College, where he graduated in 1958. Barry was married several times and has a son and 2 stepdaughters. Barry was an activist and helped low-income African-Americans get food and jobs. He ran for the DC school board in 1972 and served on the City Council. It was during this time that Barry was shot by radical Islamists. Barry served multiple terms as DC mayor and DC City Council member.

What: During Barry's third term as mayor, his drug and alcohol use caught up with him. He and former girlfriend Rasheeda Moore were arrested for crack cocaine use during a sting operation at the Vista Hotel by the FBI and DC police. Moore had become an FBI informant and helped set Barry up.

Barry was charged with 3 counts of perjury, 10 counts of drug possession and 1 count of conspiracy to possess cocaine. He was convicted of only 1 count. He received 6 months in prison, which he served in facilities in Petersburg, VA, and Loretto, PA.

After being released from prison, Barry again ran for City Council and won the seat for Ward 8. He went on to run for mayor in 1994 and served his fourth term in 1995. The city faced many problems and instead of running for another term, Barry went back to the City Council. He has continued to face legal problems for tax evasion, traffic violations and corruption, and has been removed from all his committee assignments.

When: Barry ran for DC the school board in 1972 and City Council in 1977. He first ran for mayor in 1978 and went on to serve from 1979 to 1991. Barry was arrested on Jan. 18, 1990, and served time from October 1991 to early 1992. He served on the City Council in 1994 and again as mayor from 1995 to 1999. He became a City Council member again in 2004.

Where: Marion Barry's political career has been in Washington, DC.

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