Explosives Found in New York Cemetery Cause Mystery

October 12, 2010
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imageThe New York City Marble Cemetery has long had an air of mystery. Practically hidden between apartment buildings and brownstones, the leafy urban pocket was once the resting place of President James Monroe. A fire long ago destroyed records showing some of its other early inhabitants. The cemetery?s Web site welcomes amateur genealogists to help fill in the blanks.

Now the quaint old cemetery in the East Village is the site of another mystery, this one still unfolding, after a volunteer on Sunday discovered a decaying garbage bag filled with 10 pounds of military-grade C-4 explosives, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said Monday.

Mr. Kelly said he did not believe the aging explosives were linked to a terrorism plot. No ignition devices or primers needed to detonate the C-4 were found. But how the explosives ended up interred near a 19th-century vault is still anybody?s guess.

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Mr. Kelly said the package was originally discovered in May or June of last year by a caretaker at the cemetery, founded in 1831 and usually closed to the public. The caretaker did not know what he had found and put the bag under a tree near a fence. And there it sat.

On Sunday, when the cemetery was open for tours as part of Open House New York, a volunteer came upon the bag around noon and looked inside. He showed it to Andrew Knox, a cemetery board member, and Colleen Iverson, the director.

?We thought it was like a movie prop,? Mr. Knox said. ?It was sort of crumbly, the plastic was coming off. It clearly said explosive on it, but it had been outside for so long that the plastic was sort of delaminating.?

The bricks were individually wrapped in plastic and had green and yellow military-style markings, but it did not cross their minds that they were real, Mr. Knox said. ?I said, ?Why don?t you just throw it out?? ? he said. ?And so he carried it over to the front of the gate, where we throw our garbage.? That night though, the volunteer, whose name has not been disclosed, had second thoughts and on Monday morning, he called the police, Mr. Kelly said.

The neighborhood has a history of political radicalism, and an anarchist Web site still lists a nearby bookstore as a place to congregate.

The cemetery is also about a half-block from a Hells Angels clubhouse on East Third Street that has had a tumultuous relationship with the police.

A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation said the clubhouse was one of several facets of the inquiry.

Ronald L. Kuby, a lawyer who has represented the Hells Angels, said he spoke to a member of the group who said they knew nothing about the explosives.

Mr. Kelly said investigators noticed a note written in what appeared to be chalk on the sidewalk in front of the cemetery that said, ?I really hope one of you find this.? The police did not know who wrote the note or what it was referring to. The commissioner said it probably had not been written before the most recent rain, which quite likely would have washed the writing away.

Adding to the mystery, another note written on paper was discovered Sunday on a squad car in front of the Ninth Precinct station house, on East Fifth Street. The note had rambling religious messages and made an odd reference to Second Street, where the cemetery is located, Mr. Kelly said.

?Stop putting Christ on Second Street,? the note said, according to Mr. Kelly. It was signed Jesus Christ. The police said they did not know if either of the messages was tied to the explosives.

Officers cordoned off Second Street between First and Second Avenues on Monday, and Bomb Squad officers dug up areas near where the explosives were first discovered, but as of Monday evening no other suspicious packages had been found.

Mr. Kelly said the package contained eight sticks of C-4 weighing about one and a quarter pounds. He said the material was not commonly available.

?It could have been taken from a military installation, perhaps years ago,? he said. ?We don?t know how old it is.?

Mr. Kelly said that based on the condition of the bag, the package might have been in the cemetery for several years. The explosives were taken to the police bomb lab in the Bronx.

Source: NyTimes.com

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