Alleged Collar Bomb Hoax Was a Failed Executive's Last Resort

News reports and court documents paint a picture of a man who had run out of options

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The morning after a man was arrested for allegedly fastening a fake bomb to a rich Australian teenager's neck, reports from Australian newspapers and U.S. media paint a stark portrait of a jobless middle-aged executive, recently ousted from a luxurious foreign post and estranged from his wife, who tried a desperate gambit on a well-to-do but distant acquaintance as a last resort to get his once-charmed life back.

The Australian papers spent their day researching the life of Paul Douglas Peters, the 50-year-old man arrested in Kentucky yesterday for allegedly locking a fake "collar bomb" to 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver, daughter of 51-year-old Robert Pulver, a software executive. Peters, the son of a Cathay Pacific airline pilot, grew up in Australia and attended the prestigious Scots College private school before graduating Sydney University with a degree in economics and law, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. He reportedly worked as an investment banker at the New Jersey-based Connell Finance before he joined Australian Allco in 2006, shortly before the firm's demise. That's where things started to go sour for him.

After a year working for Allco in Hong Kong, Peters persuaded the company to send him to Malaysia to open a branch that would focus on interest-free Islamic finance, said a Herald report. A former colleague told The Australian it was one of those "sweet deals which involved him living like a king and getting a million-dollar salary and driver." When Allco went into receivership during the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008, the Herald reported, "Mr Peters used his middle name to found the Douglas Corporation in Kuala Lumpur to buy out the wreckage of the Malaysian fund in mid-2008, becoming the owner of all but one share." But there was little to salvage, and the company soon dissolved. Peters moved with his wife and three teenage daughters to LaGrange, Kentucky, about four years ago, "although it was not until about two years ago that Mr. Peters started to appear regularly," said another Herald report. Somewhere along the way, Peters and his wife divorced, though they reportedly planned to remarry after Peters returned to Kentucky on Aug. 8.

Meanwhile, court documents released in the U.S. on Tuesday described how authorities used a Gmail address and other circumstantial evidence to connect the crime to Peters, who allegedly tried to extort money from Pulver. "The [criminal court] complaint says the Gmail account was accessed three times--each time on the afternoon that Peters allegedly broke into the teenager's home in a wealthy Sydney suburb and chained a device looking like a bomb to her," reports the Associated Press. Police in Australia confiscated a computer that had accessed that address from a library near the Pulver house, The Australian reported. State Crime Squad Commander Dave Hudson was reticent to elaborate to the paper on the links between Peters and Pulver, but he said they were there.

"There are some links between the suspect and the family. However, no direct links, and that is still a matter for investigation," Superintendent Hudson said. "It's a fairly detailed chain of circumstantial evidence that has led us to the arrest . . . it would be inappropriate to comment what that evidence is."

Far more detailed was the U.S. court documents' description of the original attack on Madeleine Pulver, which the AP chronicles:

[The criminal complaint] says the teenager was studying for her high school exams in her bedroom when she saw the intruder walk into the room. He was carrying a black aluminum baseball bat and wearing a striped, muli-colored balaclava over his head. The man told her to sit down and no one would get hurt.

The girl sat on her bed and the intruder placed the bat and a backpack next to her. She noticed he was holding a black box. He forced the box against her throat and looped a device similar to a bike chain, also attached to the box, around her neck.

The man locked the box into position around her neck, placed a lanyard and a plastic document sleeve around her neck. The man started to walk away, and the girl asked him where he was going.

"The man responded by saying, 'Count to 200 ... I'll be back ... if you move I can see you I'll be right here," she told authorities, according to the complaint.

The ransom note was reportedly signed "Dick Straun," who is the main character in James Clavell's 1966 novel Tai Pan, which takes place in British-controlled Hong Kong in 1842. Australian police worked with the FBI to trace the Email address back to Peters, who now faces an extradition hearing on Oct. 14. Back in Australia, he's expected to be charged with "aggravated break and enter, demanding property with intent to steal and kidnapping," The Australian reported.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.