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Amerithrax, also known simply as the 2001 anthrax attacks, was an American bioterrorism case. The perpetrator has sometimes been nicknamed "The Anthrax Mailer".

Brief Case History[]

The first five Amerithrax letters were sent on September 18, 2001, one week to the day after the 9/11 terrorist attack. They were postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey and sent to ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, and The New York Post in Morgan, New York and to National Enquirer at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida. The first known fatality was Robert Stevens, a photo editor who worked at the Sun, a Florida-based tabloid, at the AMI building and handled one of the letters. The letters addressed to the New York Post and NBC, which were the only ones that were recovered, read:

Amerithrax letters


The highlighted letters are believed to have spelled out nucleic acids, three of which combined become an amino acid. Based on this theory, the three sets of three letters spell either FNY or PAT.

Amerithrax envelopes

Some of the envelopes sent by the Anthrax Mailer.

The second wave of letters, which contained aerosolized anthrax spores, were postmarked on October 9 and sent to the offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both Democrats, in Washington, D. C. They were also postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey. The return addresses on both were "4th Grade Greendale School, Franklin Park, NJ, 08852", a fake address. Leahy's letter was misdirected to the State Department in Sterling, Virginia due to a misread ZIP code. A U.S. Postal Inspector working there, David Hose, was infected. The letter was found on November 16 in an impounded mailbag and opened later in a secure lab. The Daschle's letter was opened on October 15 by Daschle's aide, who threw it away in a trash can. The Hart Senate Building, where Daschle's office was located, was evacuated and people who worked in the area were tested for anthrax. Twenty-five of them tested positive and were treated with antibiotics.


Joseph Persichini (center), Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, with U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor (left), District of Columbia, and Chief Postal Inspector Alexander Lazaroff (right) of the U.S. Postal Service, attend a press conference addressing the Amerithrax case.

The FBI's investigation, during which over 9,000 people were interviewed, spanned across six continents. They codenamed the perpetrator "Amerithrax", a portmanteau of "America" and "anthrax". In February of 2002, Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York and biological arms control expert, wrote a number of articles criticizing the FBI and claiming they had suspected for months that the anthrax attacks were the result of an inside job. Don Foster, a writing analyst working as an English professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, was contracted by the FBI and, based on the Amerithrax letters' word usage, found Dr. Steven Jay Hatfill, a virologist and bio-weapons expert working for the Science Applications International Corporation, to be a possible suspect. During a press conference in August the same year, Attorney General John Ashcroft called Hatfill a "person of interest" in the case.

Hatfill himself strongly maintained that he was innocent, but was more or less tried by the media in a manner similar to the way Richard Jewell was suspected of the Olympic Park bombings. He filed lawsuits against Foster, Vanity Fair (for publishing an article written by Foster about his involvement in the investigation), and even the U.S. Department of Justice. In the meantime, the FBI, which in March 2008 exonerated Hatfill, pursued another lead: Dr. Bruce Edward Ivins, a senior bio-defense researcher at Fort Detrick. In late July, he was informed that he would be prosecuted for the case. On July 27, he overdosed on Tylenol and died two days later in a hospital. His death was ruled a suicide, though no autopsy was performed. On August 8, 2008, less than two weeks after his death, Dr. Ivins was declared to be the perpetrator of the attacks by federal prosecutors, even though there was little solid evidence implicating him. On February 19, 2010, the FBI officially closed the Amerithrax investigation and the case remains unsolved.


Bruce Ivins

Dr. Bruce E. Ivins.

Steven Jay Hatfill

Dr. Steven Jay Hatfill.

  • Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivins, Ph.D. (1946-2008)
    • Microbiologist
    • Vaccinologist
    • Biodefense researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
    • Had a Bachelor of Science, a Master of Science and Ph.D. degree in Microbiology from the University of Cincinnati
    • Had two anthrax-related patents, one of which was a method for producing an anthrax vaccine
    • Died of a Tylenol overdose in 2008 in an apparent suicide shortly after being informed that he would be prosecuted. Prior to that, he had been treated for depression and "[showed] signs of serious strain".
  • Dr. Steven Jay Hatfill, M.D. and Ph.D. (b. 1953)
    • Physician
    • Virologist
    • Bio-weapons expert
    • Studied biology at the Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas
    • Served in the U.S. Army between 1975 and 1977
    • Exonerated
  • Dr. Ayaad Assad
    • Egyptian-American
    • Former U.S. Army microbiologist at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID)
    • Researcher at Fort Detrick
    • Senior scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency
    • Was accused of being a potential bio-terrorist in an anonymous letter sent to the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia on September 26, 2001. The writer proved to have intimate knowledge of Assad's work and is believed to have been a coworker.
  • Notes: It was theorized that Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attack a week before the Amerithrax campaign began, was responsible. Mohamed Atta, one of the masterminds of the operation, had gone to a flight school near the AMI building in Boca Raton along with two other Al-Qaeda operatives.

Modus Operandi[]

Anthrax genome

Anthrax genome.

The Amerithrax perpetrator used anthrax spores (bacillus anthracis) of the so-called Ames strain as a weapon, delivering it via letters, which were often disguised as common letters but also sometimes contained messages from the perpetrator. Both cutaneous anthrax (which attacks through the skin) and inhalation anthrax were used. The perpetrator sent the letters from different locations and, in the later letters, used a fake return address to cover his tracks. The targets were senator's offices and media offices. Symptoms of anthrax include respiratory infections with flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal infection, fever, and the appearance of black, necrotic, boil-like ulcers on the skin.


The FBI's psychological profile of the Amerithrax perpetrator says that he is most likely an organized, non-confrontational adult male who, if employed, has a job that allows him to work with little contact with other people, possibly in a laboratory. He likely keeps to himself and any relationships he has are likely self-serving. He is comfortable working with extremely hazardous substances and probably has a scientific background, or at least a very strong interest in science. He has access to anthrax and the equipment required to handle it and has the scientific expertise required to do so. He has probably also taken precautionary actions to ensure his own safety, such as taking anthrax vaccines and medications. He is familiar with the Trenton, New Jersey area, but may not live there. After the 9/11 attack, he may have displayed a lack of interest in the events and also have become secretive. After the letter campaigns ended, in particular after some key dates such as the first fatality or any unplanned casualties, he may have displayed anxiety, suffered noticeable mood swings, become more withdrawn, absent and preoccupied, and may also have shown an atypical media interest.

Known Victims[]

Anthrax Victims

The five fatal victims of the attacks, from left to right:
Joseph Curseen
Thomas Morris, Jr.
Ottilie Lundgren
Robert Stevens
Katherine Nguyen


Note: The dates denote which day the laced letters were postmarked.

  • 2001:
    • One killed and another nine infected by the September 18 letters:
      • Boca Raton, Florida: Robert Stevens, 63 (photo editor; died on October 5)
      • New York City, New York (all of the following survived):
        • Ernesto "Ernie" Blanco, 73 (mailroom supervisor)
        • Stephanie Dailey, 36 (office services assistant)
        • Johanna C. Huden, 31 (editorial assistant)
        • Erin O'Connor, 38 (assistant to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw)
        • Teresa Heller, 32 (West Trenton postal carrier)
        • Unnamed seven-month-old baby (the son of an ABC producer)
        • Casey Chamberlain, 23 (NBC employee)
        • Claire Fletcher, 27 (assistant to Dan Rather at CBS)
        • Mark Cunningham (New York Post employee)
    • Two killed and another eight infected by the October 9 letters:
      • Washington, D.C.: Two killed and two more infected at the Brentwood mail sorting facility:
        • Thomas Morris, Jr., 55 (distribution clerk; died on October 21)
        • Joseph Curseen, 47 (died on October 22)
        • Leroy Richmond, 56 (survived)
        • An unnamed victim (survived)
      • Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey: Four infected at the regional mail processing plant:
        • Norma Wallace, 45 (survived)
        • Patrick O'Donnell, 35 (survived)
        • Jyotsna Patel, 43 (survived)
        • Norma Wallace, 57 (repair-person; survived)
      • The U.S. State Department mail-sorting facility, Sterling, Virginia: David Hose, 59 (survived)
      • The Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.: William R. Paliscak (U.S. Postal Inspector; survived)
  • Unknown sources of infection:
    • New York City, New York: Katherine Nguyen, 61 (died on October 31)
    • Oxford, Connecticut: Ottilie Lundgren, 94 (died on November 21)


  • Unspecified location in New Jersey: Richard Morgano, 39 (mechanic; survived)
  • New York City, New York: Unnamed mailroom New York Post employee, 34 (survived)


  • The Amerithrax case has been compared to Theodore Kaczynski - Both were terrorists who used the mail to deliver their weapons and the investigations spanned several years, and were also nicknamed by the FBI.

On Criminal Minds[]

  • Season Two
    • "Lessons Learned" - The case was first mentioned when a terrorist organization was planning an anthrax-based attack and Reid uses the amount of anthrax spores found in one of the Amerithrax letters as an example of how fatal they are.
  • Season Four
    • "Amplification" - The case is referenced numerous times throughout the episode, most notably by Chad Brown, the episode's unsub, who appears to have been based on it - Both attacks consisted of at least one (possibly more in Amerithrax's case) poisoner and terrorist (homegrown in Brown's) who attacked numerous victims in several places with anthrax.
  • Season Five
    • "100" - The case was referenced again.
  • Season Eight
    • "The Silencer" - The case is mentioned several times throughout the episode. In promotional summaries for the season, the most recent BAU member, Alex Blake, is mentioned to have had some involvement in the Amerithrax investigation and had to take the fall for some mistake with the linguistical aspect of the case. It is revealed that Blake took the fall when the FBI arrested a suspect in the case who turned out to be innocent (likely a reference to Dr. Hatfill).
    • "Carbon Copy" - The case is yet again mentioned, where Erin Strauss apologized to Blake for letting her take the fall during the investigation.
    • "#6" - The case is indirectly referenced.
    • "The Replicator" - The case is mentioned again, when it turns out that John Curtis, a.k.a. The Replicator, had been with Blake on the same team that investigated it, and that the case was a major catalyst in shaping Curtis into a serial killer. Also, Curtis used the Amerithrax case as the basis for one of his attacks, although he used a different type of poison to lace on the sent letter and the victim wasn't killed by it.
  • Season Twelve
    • "Unforgettable" - The Amerithrax investigation was most recently mentioned in this episode, when the BAU claimed that the attacks' terrorist angle and post-9/11 timing were just diversions from the perpetrator's true motive: to market off of an antidote for the anthrax used after selling it to vulnerable businesses and the federal government. This was brought up when the BAU compared the case to the assumption that the current unsub was someone who intended to profit off of marketing an antidote to the radioactive poison used once it was discovered.