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IS HE COPYING DIRTY HARRY?; THE SNIPER We put Midland crime expert's theory to the FBI.

Byline: FIONNUALA BOURKE

THE psycho Washington sniper who has struck 10 times, killing eight people, could be copying Clint Eastwood blockbuster Dirty Harry, a leading Midland criminologist has warned.

Dr Tony Colombo, from Coventry University, said he believed that the serial killer may have got the idea for his chilling murder spree from the violent 1971 movie classic.

And when the Sunday Mercury passed on his concerns to the FBI last night, senior federal agents said it would be taken into consideration in the hunt for the gunman.

In the film, Clint Eastwood plays Detective Harry Callahan, a tough cop who tries to track down a sniper targeting victims at random from San Francisco rooftops.

It was based on the case of the real-life Zodiac Killer who terrorised California in the 1960s. He has never been caught and is believed to be responsible for at least 40 shootings.

The Washington gunman has so far shot 10 people, choosing his targets at random. Three of the victims have been killed as they filled their vehicles at petrol stations.

A white van has been spotted near the scene of two of the shootings but so far US police and the FBI have no other strong leads.

Dr Colombo said he believed the killings could well be linked to the Clint Eastwood movie.

'The Dirty Harry film plot bears a close resemblance to these crimes,' he said. 'It could be argued that the killer got the idea from the film in the first place.

'But that doesn't mean the movie is to blame. A crime such as this could only have been committed by someone who is already seriously psychologically disturbed.'

The professor said that the sniper is most likely a young manwho is obsessed with guns. He probably lives in the Washington DC area and could be a member of a local gun club.

'He is likely to be a quiet, withdrawn person with a superiority complex, which would explain his messages to police claiming that he is God,' said Dr Columbo.

'He probably does a semi-skilled or unskilled job where he lacks control. In his early life it is likely that his parents were very controlling, too.'

Dr Colombo has warned the sniper is likely to grow in confidence the longer he evades capture and that he may start changing his pattern of attack or location.

Evidence of this could have emerged on Friday when a man was shot and killed at a petrol station in Virginia.

The FBI later identified the victim as Kenneth H Bridges, 53, a father of six who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and was cofounder of a marketing distribution company.

Mr Bridges was shot while a Virginia state trooper was just yards away, dealing with a traffic accident across the street.

'With a uniformed officer across the street, we are obviously dealing with someone who is very violent, and doesn't care,' said Howard Smith, of the Spotsylvania County Police.

The youngest victim of the murder spree, a 13 year-old boy who was shot as his aunt dropped him off at school on Monday, remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

Investigators found a tarot card inscribed with the message 'Dear Policeman: I am God' beside a spent bullet casing about 150 yards from where the boy was shot.

FBI profilers believe that by leaving a tarot card at the scene of the shooting, the killer is deliberately challenging the police to play his sick game of cat-and-mouse.

They feel that although the first attack may have been sparked by rage, the sniper may now just be reacting to media reports of his exploits and is taunting the authorities.

Make-believe killers in several movies over the years have left tarot cards on the bodies of their victims - further evidence that the killer could indeed be a movie buff.

Last night, as Washington waited in fear for news of another killing, FBI spokesman Ed Coxwell said he would take Dr Columbo's Dirty Harry suggestion into consideration.

'Everyone seems to have a theory as to why these crimes are being committed,' he added.

'We are not commenting on any of these theories at the moment. We cannot confirm or deny whether there is a particular line of enquiry we may be following.'

CAPTION(S):

ROADBLOCK ... an armed officer checks a white van in the hunt for the US gunman; James Martin was killed in car park; Sonny Buchanan was mowing his lawn; Prem Walekar was filling up his taxi; Sarah Ramos was shot near post office; Kenneth Bridges was about to buy petrol; Dean Meyers was killed at garage; Pascal Charlot was shot dead on street; Lori Lewis-Rivera was cleaning car; COPYCAT? ... Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry that bears similarities to the shootings which have killed eight people
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 13, 2002
Words:803
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