Hatfill’s attorney has his doubts. After taking Harp’s deposition, Connolly says, he went home and half-jokingly told his wife, “We’re building a bomb shelter. If these are the guys in charge of our national security, we’re all in serious trouble.”
In their own depositions, both John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller, the FBI director, said they had expressed concern to underlings about news leaks that appeared to single out and smear Hatfill. Both, however, denied any knowledge of who specifically was doing the leaking.
In August of 2002, following the searches of his apartment, Hatfill held two press conferences to proclaim his innocence. He offered to undergo, and eventually took, blood and handwriting tests in an attempt to help clear his name. “I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare to them, ‘I am not the anthrax killer,’” Hatfill told reporters. “I know nothing about the anthrax attacks. I had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime. My life is being destroyed by arrogant government bureaucrats who are peddling groundless innuendo and half-information about me to gullible reporters, who in turn repeat this to the public in the guise of news.”
One newspaper reporter even called Boo’s former in-laws in Canada, inquiring whether Hatfill had had anything to do with the death of her late husband—who had succumbed to a stroke a year before Boo met Hatfill. The call, Boo says, prompted her former brother-in-law to fly to Washington and demand, “What are you doing, living with this murderer?”
Months passed with Hatfill cloistered in Boo’s condominium, watching television and drinking alone. He binged on chocolate and fried chicken, putting on weight, growing too lethargic and depressed to even get on the bathroom scale. He developed heart palpitations. He wondered whether he was losing his mind.
Remembering what her boyfriend was like back then, Boo grows emotional. “I got tired of cleaning up your vomit,” she tells him over dinner at an Indian restaurant down the street from her condo. Tears stream down her cheeks. Hatfill chokes up too, the trauma still raw nearly eight years later.
“Every human being has to feel a part of a tribe,” he explains. “It’s programmed into us. And you have to feel that you’re contributing to something. They tried to take all that away from me. No tribe wanted me. I just didn’t feel of value to anything or anyone. I had Boo. Boo was my only tribe.”
The next morning, driving through Georgetown on the way to visit one of his friends in suburban Maryland, I ask Hatfill how close he came to suicide. The muscles in his jaw tighten.
“That was never an option,” Hatfill says, staring straight ahead. “If I would’ve killed myself, I would’ve been automatically judged by the press and the FBI to be guilty.”
Some journalists became convinced there was plenty pointing to Hatfill’s guilt. Among those beating the drum early and loud, in the summer of 2002, was Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times. At least initially, Kristof stopped short of naming Hatfill publicly, instead branding him with the sinister-sounding pseudonym “Mr. Z.” Without identifying his sources, in a July column Kristof wrote:
If Mr. Z were an Arab national, he would have been imprisoned long ago. But he is a true-blue American with close ties to the U.S. Defense Department, the C.I.A. and the American biodefense program. On the other hand, he was once caught with a girlfriend in a biohazard “hot suite” at Fort Detrick, surrounded only by blushing germs.
With many experts buzzing about Mr. Z behind his back, it’s time for the F.B.I. to make a move: either it should go after him more aggressively, sifting thoroughly through his past and picking up loose threads, or it should seek to exculpate him and remove this cloud of suspicion.
One of those threads, Kristof reported, pointed to the possibility that Mr. Z was a genocidal racist who had carried out germ warfare to slaughter innocent black Africans. Kristof addressed his column directly to the FBI:
Have you examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded, the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe in 1978–80? There is evidence that the anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has claimed that he participated in the white army’s much-feared Selous Scouts. Could rogue elements of the American military have backed the Rhodesian Army in anthrax and cholera attacks against blacks?
Kristof didn’t mention that the majority of soldiers in the Rhodesian army, and in Hatfill’s unit, were black; or that many well-respected scientists who examined the evidence concluded that the Rhodesian anthrax outbreak emerged naturally when cattle herds went unvaccinated during a turbulent civil war. Kristof also failed to mention that Mr. Z had served in that war as a lowly private. To have been involved in some sort of top-secret Rhodesian germ-weapons program “would’ve been like a Pakistani army private being brought in to work on a project at Los Alamos,” Hatfill says today.