Man Stalks Family 3 Years over Parking Disagreement Dec 24, 2019 14:29:29 GMT -5
Post by JoannaB on Dec 24, 2019 14:29:29 GMT -5
76-Year-Old Man Stalks Family Three Years over Parking Disagreement
Frank Abbott Sweeney (above), 76, of Garden City, Idaho, had always carefully wiped any fingerprints off the malicious postcards he mailed by the dozens to smear members of a local family. He mailed the cards from various locations and always paid the franked cards.
So when federal investigators were waiting with a warrant for his arrest when he pulled into his driveway last March, he asked, “How did you catch me?”
“Mr. Sweeney was pretty good at covering his tracks,” Darin Solmon of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said. “Well, he slipped up. And everybody slips up. It’s just a matter of time.”
Sweeney’s arrest and ultimate conviction and incarceration put an end to a nightmarish ordeal of anonymous threats, lies and surveillance that resulted from a December 2015 argument over a parking space at the Garden City post office on Marigold Street. The victim, a Boise woman, had scolded Sweeney for parking in a handicapped spot without a permit. The confrontation between the two strangers was brief, but Sweeney refused to let it go. “His motivation was basically revenge and embarrassment of people he felt had embarrassed him,” Solmon continued. “I think he felt entitled to do what he did. I think deep down in his mind he feels like he can justify in his mind why he did it.”
Sweeney started by hiring a private investigator to locate the family. He then used a manual typewriter to type the venomous messages to the woman who confronted him, her husband and their two adult daughters. The postcards, which were also sent to neighbors and locations where family members worked, accused them of being drunks, sex offenders and racists. The postcards kept coming even after the death of the victim’s husband and she moved to another address. Sweeney referenced birth dates, addresses and Social Security numbers of the victims and repeatedly warned that he had driven by their house and was monitoring them. “Mental terrorism” is how Solmon described the threats. “Like any of us would feel, they felt victimized. They felt threatened,” he explained. “Not knowing whether this person is actually surveilling their house, following them around, following their children around – giving specific details about their child’s school schedule in a whole other state. That’s very troubling.”
Neither the victims nor investigators could figure out who was sending the postcards. According to Solmon, it was clear the then-unknown suspect, whose evasive tactics had left investigators searching for “a needle in a haystack,” was acutely attuned to how law enforcement works. “Forensically, it’s a nightmare,” he declared. “They know what they’re doing, they’ve been through the system obviously, they know how this works.”
He was right. Investigators learned later that Sweeney has an extensive criminal history that included wounding a police officer with a machine gun in the 1960s, as well as convictions for mail fraud, obscenity, weapons charges and more. Sweeney also worked as a mercenary in Rhodesia and was suspected of helping Christopher Boyce – a military contractor convicted of spying for the Soviet Union – flee to South Africa. “Frank Sweeney is like the real-life fictional character,” Solmon added. “What was going on was so crazy that you could hardly believe it, that it actually happened.”
It wasn’t until Sweeney got into another argument – this time with a couple at the Wells Fargo bank drive-through window in Garden City in November of 2018 – that law enforcement caught a break in the case. Sweeney started mailing this couple similar typewritten postcards, as well as messages to nearby schools claiming one of the victims was a convicted child molester.
But unlike the parking lot incident that spurred his harassment of the first family, this time, Sweeney had been caught on the bank’s surveillance cameras and investigators quickly identified him as their suspect and obtained a search warrant for his home.
However, the plan quickly hit a speed bump: “The day we were going to serve the search warrant, we realized, ‘Hey, he's moving,’” Solmon revealed. “There’s a moving truck coming, all these things are happening.”
Investigators were forced to start over and obtain another search warrant for his new address in South Boise. Inside the home, law enforcement officers found the typewriter he used to type the threatening postcards, as well as two live rattlesnakes. “We were not real happy, because we had to handle those,” Solmon recalled. “I think that falls into the ‘other duties as described’ part of the job.” The Department of Fish and Game refused to take the snakes because the weren’t indigenous to Idaho and couldn’t be released into the wild. Finally, the investigators found a reptile collector who had a “houseful of snakes” and he agreed to take both rattlers.
According to investigators, Sweeney acted surprised he had been caught, but immediately confessed to stalking the two families. “He had no qualms about talking about it,” Solmon remembered. “I think he’s a little bit self-indulgent in that way, that he probably enjoyed talking about it.”
The 76-year-old ultimately pled guilty to six felony counts of stalking and was sentenced this December to 51 months in prison.
After years of investigation and moments of doubt as to whether the guilty person would ever be caught, Sweeney’s arrest and confession was “a joyous moment” for law enforcement, Solmon added. “The guy in the shadows is no longer out and able to do this anymore. He’s confessed to doing this, we know we got the right guy, and now we can go home tonight and have a good night's rest knowing he’s behind bars.”
The 51-month sentence is close to the maximum allowed under the felony stalking statute – and likely much longer than Sweeney would have faced if the charges had been brought in state court. Still, it remains to be seen if Sweeney will target additional victims if he lives long enough to be released from prison. “I suppose he could. It’s just a matter of writing a letter and sending it out,” Solmon continued. “Hopefully, he’s gotten to the point where it’s not worth it anymore. We’ll see – we’ll see what happens after 51 months, but if he does, we’ll be ready for him.”
Source: Katie Terhune and Joe Parris, KTVB, December 22, 2019.