Citizen Sleuth ID'd Sniper Suspect

Conrad Malsom speaks to the media at the Budget Suites Motel near the Las Vegas Boulevard "strip," Wednesday, March 17, 2004 where Ohio sniper suspect Charles A. McCoy Jr. was taken into custody. Malsom recognized McCoy at a nearby casino and called police.(AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)
AP
An unemployed salesman with an extra slice of pepperoni pizza and bulldog persistence was being credited with pointing police to a man suspected in a string of shootings along Ohio highways.

Charles A. McCoy Jr., 28, was arrested early Wednesday in the parking lot of a motel near the Stardust hotel-casino, less than 36 hours after Ohio authorities identified him as a suspect.

Conrad Malsom, 60, of Las Vegas, said he recognized McCoy the day before from news reports linking him to the Ohio attacks, and did a little amateur detective work to locate McCoy's car parked at the motel.

Police and the FBI did not immediately corroborate the details of Malsom's account, but praised him for his efforts.

"He provided the information. He was persistent with it," police Lt. Ted Lee said. "He did a little of his own investigation, apparently going to the (motel) and locating the vehicle."

After receiving the tip, federal and local law enforcement officers surrounded the Budget Suites motel and waited for McCoy to return. He was taken into custody without incident.

The arrest brought relief to Ohio residents who have been living in fear since the 24 shootings began in the Columbus area last year. The gunfire pierced homes and a school, dented school buses, flattened tires and shattered windshields. One woman was killed.

McCoy was booked into the county jail on a charge of being a fugitive and was held without bail. He was scheduled to appear in court Friday and could be extradited to Ohio as soon as the weekend, officials said.

It's unclear whether McCoy will fight extradition, but eventually he's expected to return to Ohio. Right now, he's only accused of shooting into a house, but once prosecutors present the case to a grand jury, he'll likely face a long list of more serious charges, including murder, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

McCoy's capture began Tuesday afternoon when Malsom and a friend were gambling at the Stardust and found they couldn't finish a free pepperoni pizza. Malsom said he offered a slice to a man a few seats away and recognized him instantly. McCoy was reading a copy of USA Today, which featured the fugitive's picture, Malsom said.

"I knew immediately this was the man I saw in the newspaper," Malsom said.

After McCoy left the casino, Malsom collected items McCoy left behind — a water glass, a matchbook, lunch wrappers, receipts from horse race bets, and illegible handwriting on a betting sheet that he characterized as "written babble."

Malsom said he spent the rest of Tuesday alerting authorities and playing sleuth. He placed calls to a sniper investigation task force in Columbus, Ohio. He called Las Vegas police and the FBI, and faxed a copy of McCoy's note to Ohio authorities.

Malsom said he delivered the items he collected from McCoy to the FBI office in Las Vegas, then went to a friend's house and used the Internet to get a photo of the fugitive and the license number of his car.

"I thought, 'If I look, I'll find him,'" Malsom said.

On a hunch, he said he circled the Budget Suites parking lot behind the Stardust and found McCoy's green 1999 Geo Metro.

"The arrest took place as a result of outstanding cooperation between members of the public, federal law enforcement and local law enforcement," said Ellen Knowlton, FBI special agent in charge in Las Vegas.

Authorities searched McCoy's motel room, which he registered for under his own name. Investigators emerged with a paper bag but did not disclose its contents.

McCoy was identified as a suspect Monday, when Ohio authorities released his photograph, a description of his car and the license plate number. A bulletin to police said McCoy was believed to be mentally ill and was carrying a semiautomatic pistol.

He was charged in an arrest warrant with felonious assault for a shooting with a 9mm handgun that damaged a house in Ohio on Dec. 15.

The shootings created a wave of fear around I-270 and two nearby highways. Commuters have been forced to take back roads, schools have canceled classes and held recess indoors, and the state of Ohio installed cameras on poles along the main highway that encircles Columbus.

The only person struck in the shootings, Gail Knisley, 62, was killed as a friend drove her to a doctor's appointment Nov. 25. Lab tests showed that bullets from nine of the shootings — including Knisley's slaying — were fired from the same gun.

"We are glad for today's news, but our hearts will never be the same," her son, Brent Knisley, said Wednesday.

A $60,000 reward, largely provided by Columbus-area businesses, had been offered for information leading to an arrest in the sniper case. Franklin County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Steve Martin would not comment Wednesday on the status of the reward.