Sunday September 9, 2012

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- The FBI is seeking the public's help in finding out who in Syracuse has been sending out powder-filled letters threatening an anthrax attack for the past 15 years.

The Post-Standard of Syracuse reported Sunday that the powder in the letters is always baby powder, detergent or some other nonhazardous material. But the 21 letters sent to schools, businesses and government offices have set off scares in Syracuse and throughout the East since 1997.

The letters have come months, even years, apart.

The letter writer seems to have no clear agenda or cause, FBI Special Agent Dan Capone told the newspaper. Many of them contain passages from the writings of the late horror and fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft.

An FBI profile points to a Syracuse-area man who's at least 35 years old, has had significant contact with the mental health system and may have difficulty functioning independently.

Capone said the FBI frequently handles anthrax hoaxes, but he knew of no other case where it appeared the same person had sent fake anthrax over as many as 15 years.

The FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the conviction of whoever sent the threatening letters. Tipsters can call 1-800-CALL-FBI or go to the FBI website at tips.fbi.gov.

The sporadic mailings started long before the anthrax scare that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in which five people died. The FBI concluded that a lone federal scientist staged those attacks.

Five of the hoax latter letters went to a Syracuse high school and three went to Le Moyne College. One went to U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle's office in Syracuse last year, and another was received at Gaylord Bros., a library supplies manufacturer in North Syracuse.

"When I opened it up, I got that little puff of powder, like baby powder," Ginger Larson, who works at Gaylord, told the newspaper. "That kind of took me back a little bit. Then I folded it right back up and got away from my desk."