Bomber in Missouri used balloons to help hide his face

2008-10-18T00:00:00Z Bomber in Missouri used balloons to help hide his facePatrick M. O'Connell Lee News Service
October 18, 2008 12:00 am  • 

CLAYTON, MO. - The bomb that exploded in a Clayton parking garage Thursday was planted the day before by a man seen in surveillance video wearing a bright poncho, police said Friday.

He wore a hood and sunglasses, and carried helium balloons that helped conceal his face.

But the development seemed to bring investigators no closer to the identity of the bomber - they can't even tell his race - or to whether the lawyer injured by the blast was its intended target.

Police said they think the bomber is a man, but did not indicate how they could tell.

The video shows him carrying a wicker basket decorated with a bow, entering the garage on Carondelet Plaza about 4:40 p.m. Wednesday. That's about 18½ hours before the 11 a.m. explosion that injured John Gillis, 69, who lived in the residential-office complex there.

Cameras did not photograph the area where the bomb was left. Police said Gillis found a package next to the driver's door of his car in its assigned parking space. He picked it up, triggering an explosion and flash fire that sprinklers contained.

Gillis was hospitalized and expected to survive the injuries, officials said. His condition was not available Friday.

The basket held a "relatively sophisticated" device, St. Louis County police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said.

Gillis is senior counsel at Armstrong Teasdale, a large law firm based in downtown St. Louis. He is a graduate of Washington University and the Stanford University law school.

Investigators interviewed lawyers at Armstrong Teasdale on Friday, searched Gillis' apartment in the high-end residential tower at 150 Carondelet Plaza, and interviewed people who work or park there.

Armstrong Teasdale spokeswoman Lou Ann P. Wilcox would not comment on what Gillis was working on. His online résumé says he is an expert in securities law and mergers and acquisitions.

A company statement said, in part, "John represents the best of Armstrong. This is a tragedy."

Reached by phone Friday evening, Gillis' daughter declined to comment.

Officials discounted as coincidence the fact that the head of the FBI office in St. Louis is John Gillies, The name similarity spurred some speculation of mistaken identity.

They also said there appeared to be no connection to the bombing of a law office in Georgia on Friday morning.

The video shows the man in the poncho walking up a ramp of the open-access multilevel garage, between an office building and the tower where Gillis lived.

On the sixth level, he can be seen crouching with the balloons and the basket by a concrete pillar for about 10 minutes. He then leaves the view of the camera, which is when police think he put the basket beside the car in spot 654. He walked out the way he entered.

Several people saw the package over the next day, but Gillis was the first to pick it up, Panus said.

Investigators declined to specify the nature of the bomb. The concrete floor and ceiling where it detonated were discolored and still covered Friday with bits of debris, but the damage was hard to notice at a glance.

Reaction of people interviewed at the complex Friday ranged from indifference to apprehension.

Patti Bear, a legal secretary at the Husch, Blackwell and Sanders law firm, said, "It was extremely tense in the office." She said police escorted her to her vehicle Thursday evening and examined if before letting her drive away.

Police said they hope someone in the area Wednesday afternoon will recall the man in the poncho. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 314-889-2341.

Robert Patrick of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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