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The Murder of Alex Odeh (Part 2/3)

posted on: Jun 11, 2016

By Richard Habib
Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU)

The Investigation

U.S. federal agencies, the Department of Justice and the FBI took over the case from local law enforcement when the FBI characterized the bombing that caused Alex’s death to be the result of a domestic “terrorist” attack. Eventually a broader group called the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) evolved that merged the resources of federal agencies, usually the FBI, with local law enforcement to combat and investigate acts of terrorism.

On Dec. 10, 1985, about a month after the bombing that killed Alex, William Webster, Director of the FBI, made the following statement at the National Press Club: ”I think I can say that Arab individuals or those supporting of Arab points of view have come within the zone of danger – targeting by a group as yet to be fully identified and brought to justice.”

By June of 1986, former U.S. senator and ADC founder James Abourezk was sufficiently troubled about the FBI’s commitment to pursue the Odeh case that he wrote FBI Director Webster to register his concern.   Within one month of Senator Abourezk’s letter, a full force letter writing campaign emerged asking the FBI to publicly reiterate its commitment to pursue those responsible for the murder of Alex Odeh.  The response to almost all of the incoming letters, mostly authored by William M. Baker, the FBI’s Assistant Director, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, stated:  “I can assure you that the FBI is making every effort to resolve this matter and bring this case to a prosecutable stage.”

On July 16, 1986, about nine months after the bombing, Oliver B. Revell, the FBI’s executive assistant director, made the following statements to a House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice of the House Judiciary Committee:

  • I can tell you that substantial progress has been made and that a definite investigative focus has been established.  In other words, we have suspects in this case and are pursuing those suspects.
  • The FBI believed those responsible for Alex Odeh’s death were “Jewish extremist elements.”
  • Israeli police have been contacted by the FBI, which is trying to determine if Israeli citizens have helped Jewish extremists carry out terrorist incidents in the United States…[because the]… FBI has blamed Jewish extremists for four of the seven terrorist attacks in the United States in 1985.
  • The Alex Odeh murder is the highest priority investigation we have within our domestic terrorist program, and it will continue to be so until it is solved.
  • I have stated to the chairman that we have identified suspects, we are conducting an intensive investigation.  I believe, and truly believe, that we will solve it…
  • [After] a careful examination of the modus operandi and other factors, we began to focus on certain individuals, and the collection of information about those individuals tended to confirm our identification of them as the prime suspects.

On April 3, 1987, about 17 months after the bombing, the same Oliver Revell of the FBI stated at the annual convention of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, D.C., “I remain confident we will resolve the Alex Odeh case and bring those responsible to justice.”  He also stated, “Our patience and your patience is paying off [and] I promise we will not rest until we have concluded our duties and the murder of Alex Odeh is solved and those individuals responsible pay the full penalty of the law.”

On Nov. 19, 1987 the Los Angeles Times published an article by journalist Ronald Ostrow that referred to memos, written by Floyd Clarke, the head of the FBI’s investigations division, that said “Israel’s responses to FBI requests for information about terrorist suspects living in Israel have been untimely, incomplete, and in certain cases no response was rendered.”

The Washington Post on the same day (Nov. 19, 1987) published an article stating that the FBI’s Floyd Clarke memo also mentioned that “several key suspects in the investigation have fled to Israel, where they have sought asylum in Kiryat Arba, a large Jewish settlement on the Israeli-occupied West Bank.” The memo described Kiryat Arba as a “haven for right-wing Jewish extremist elements.”

The memo continued, saying: “The [FBI] Terrorism Section has had numerous meetings with [Israeli] representatives in Washington, D.C., during which our concerns relative to their handling of our requests were raised. Although these discussions have sometimes resulted in a temporary flurry of activity on their part, no sustained improvement in the flow of information has been realized.”

On June 22, 1988, Rochelle Manning was arrested upon her arrival to the United States from Israel.  Three days later, the Los Angeles Times reported that her husband, Robert Manning, a U.S. Army-trained demolitions expert  and one of at least four suspects all living in Israel, was a “prime suspect” in the bombing death of Alex Odeh.  According to the report, Robert Manning’s wife Rochelle may have had a “peripheral” role in the Odeh bombing.

The connection of Robert and Rochelle Manning to the Odeh murder came as a result of a separate investigation into a bombing incident that killed Patricia Wilkerson.  On July 17, 1980, a package, along with a letter, arrived at the office of a Manhattan Beach, California computer company run by Brenda Crouthamel.  At the time, Brenda was engaged in a business feud with a local realtor by the name of William Ross.  Purportedly, Ross was so enraged that he arranged with the Mannings to kill Crouthamel.  But it was Patricia Wilkerson, Crouthamel’s secretary, who got the mail that day.  She opened the letter which directed her to open the package, remove the devise inside, then plug in the cord in order to hear a recorded message about computer marketing.  Wilkerson died instantly.  A fragment of the blood-streaked envelope that survived the blast contained Rochelle Manning’s fingerprints.

After her arrest, Rochelle was held for trial in the United States while her husband Robert remained free in Israel and/or Israeli-occupied territories.  In 1989, Rochelle Manning was tried in a U.S. court for the bombing death of Patricia Wilkerson, but charges against her and co-defendant, William Ross, were dropped after the jury deadlocked.  At the time, prosecutors said they would re-charge Rochelle Manning and Ross if Robert Manning could be extradited from Israel.”  Rochelle then traveled back to Israel to be with her husband Robert.

On May 13, 1990, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Robert Friedman that stated  that, according to FBI documents and Justice Department officials,  the FBI had amassed an impressive body of physical evidence and identified three American Jewish members of the JDL who lived in Israel.  The article continued, “Tel Aviv has obstructed the U.S. government’s investigation, according to FBI documents and Justice Department officials. Any attempt to extradite the suspects, the officials fear, would be met in Israel by a firestorm of protest from right-wing legislators.”

Information available to the public with respect to legal proceedings for the extradition of Rochelle and Robert Manning from Israel to the United States are not easily obtained.  According to a New York Times article published on March 19, 1994, an extradition request by the United States began sometime in 1989: “The extradition request by the United States in 1989 was not enforced until March 1991 because of sensitivity over arresting the Mannings at their home [in the Israeli-occupied Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba]. United States diplomats apparently feared that the request might imply American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.” Robert Manning and his supporters threatened that he (Manning) would commit suicide rather than be extradited.

Robert Manning fought extradition from Israel to the United States for two years.  Towards the end of his fight, according to a Los Angeles Times report of July 19, 1993, he “tried to avert extradition by taking 20 sleeping pills and claiming heart trouble.”

On March 26, 1991, the American Embassy in Tel Aviv said that the problem of sovereignty was finally “deemed not important” by the Justice Department for the purpose of the extradition order.

On June 8, 1991, the Los Angeles Times reported that an Israeli court ordered the extradition of Robert and Rochelle Manning to the United States to face charges in the bombing death of Patricia Wilkerson. Robert Manning, 39, and his wife Rochelle, 51, then living in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, were jailed in March, seven months after the U.S. Justice Department requested their extradition.

On July 18, 1993 Robert Manning was put on a plane bound for Los Angeles in compliance with an extradition agreement between the U.S. and Israel.  He was extradited to the United States on charges related to the bombing death of Patricia Wilkerson.

It is unclear to this writer why Rochelle Manning was not extradited from Israel at the same time as her husband Robert.

Those hoping that Robert Manning’s extradition would move the wheels of justice forward in the case of Alex Odeh were tempered by a statement from U.S. Attorney Dean Dunlavey, who advised that the two cases (Wilkerson and Odeh) were unrelated.  “I don’t want to get into this thing where we’re being accused of using this case as a stalking horse for the Odeh case,” said Mr. Dunlavey, according to a Los Angeles Time report of July 20, 1993.

The issue of extraditing Robert Manning as a suspect in the bombing murder of Alex Odeh became hostage in a quagmire of negotiations between the United States and Israel that caused considerable delay coming to an agreement between the two countries.  Gyrations in developing Israeli law at the time combined with what this writer believes was U.S. failure to proceed with firm resolve left negotiations to apprehend suspects believed to be responsible for the death of Alex Odeh highly tilted in favor of the Israeli posture.

In 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court banned the extradition of Israeli  citizens.  The impact of this act on the Odeh case was addressed in a Jan. 2002 issue of the Vanderbilt University Journal of Transnational Law, which concluded that the Robert Manning case “provides perhaps the most graphic illustration of the way the 1999 act could be abused.”  According to the Journal:

Due to administrative delay… the United States did not request Manning’s extradition from Israel until 1991. Under the 1978 statute, Manning could not be extradited for the Odeh killing because it had been committed after he acquired Israeli citizenship, but he was unconditionally extraditable for the 1980 murder [of Patricia Wilkerson].  Accordingly, he was returned to the United States in 1993, convicted in federal court [in the Wilkerson case], and sentenced to life without parole in a U.S. prison.

… the Manning investigation caused considerable friction between Israeli and U.S. law enforcement officials. U.S. authorities accused Israel of dragging its feet in processing the extradition request, and the United States was finally forced to agree to prosecute Manning for only one of the two murders of which he was suspected. Had the 1999 law been in effect, the United States may well have had to agree to yet another condition – that Manning be returned to Israel to serve his sentence in the event of conviction. In other words, Manning – who was a U.S. citizen and had lived in Israel only after becoming a fugitive from justice – would have been entitled to the protection of Israeli law.

ABC News anchor Peter Jennings broadcast a detailed report on May, 28, 1991 about Israeli extremists, Robert and Rochelle Manning in particular, being shielded from extradition by the Israeli government.  The report explained that Israel’s control over Robert Manning as an Israeli reservist could easily have accommodated the wishes of the United States without raising the issue of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.  All Israel had to do was assign Manning to a post inside Israel’s recognized (pre-1967) borders and arrest him there.

Rochelle Manning remained in an Israeli prison awaiting extradition while her husband was extradited to the United States and convicted in the murder of Patricia Wilkerson on Oct. 15, 1993.  At the time of Manning’s conviction, according to the Jewish Journal of Sept. 25, 2005, the Los Angeles Times of Oct. 15, 1993 reported that U.S. Atty. Dean Dunleavy “declined comment … about any plans to try Robert Manning in the Odeh case. Under the terms of U.S.-Israeli extradition treaties, suspects can be tried only in the cases for which they were extradited. Manning was extradited for the Wilkerson case.”

On March 19, 1994 a spokesman for the Israeli prison where Rochelle Manning was being held announced that Rochelle, at age 54, “apparently suffered a heart attack,” died, and a “routine inquiry was under way.”

The time lapse between Alex Odeh’s murder and the time of Rochelle Manning’s death now exceeded eight years!

As to other suspects believed to be responsible for Alex Odeh’s death, namely Keith Fuchs and Andy Green, who had changed his name to Baruch Ben-Yosef,  the Jewish Journal of Sept. 29, 2005 reported that both were believed to be residing in Israel proper or in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Sometime after 1980, Robert and Rochelle Manning had moved from the United States to the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.  Manning set up a Jerusalem-based private investigating firm with Green who was a JDL activist from New York.  The two of them engaged in a variety of aggressive and controversial activities in Israel, Israeli-occupied territories, and in the United States.

In 1983, according to the Jewish Journal of Sept. 25, 2005, Keith Fuchs was convicted of shooting at a passing Arab-owned car in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli authorities eventually pulled him out of jail and put him on a plane back to New York.

The New York Times on Dec. 20, 1993 reported that Israeli authorities arrested five Americans, including Andy Green (aka Baruch Ben-Yosef) and an individual named Israel Fuchs on “arms and terror” charges. It is unknown if Israel Fuchs and Keith Fuchs are the same person.

In the summer of 1985, according to the FBI, Manning and Green began a wild five-month coast-to-coast  bombing spree that left two people dead and more than a dozen injured.   As reported by Robert Friedman in GQ Magazine of Oct. 19, 1991, in addition to Alex Odeh, the other person killed was Tscherim Soobzokov, an alleged collaborator with the Nazis during the invasion of the Soviet Union.  The CIA had recruited Soobzokov and apparently misled the U.S. Immigration Nationalization Service to get him U.S. resident status.  He died three weeks after being severely injured by a bomb set outside his Patterson, N.J. home.  The bombing was linked by the FBI to a similar bomb attack on another accused Nazi war criminal, Elmars Sprogis, that took place in Long Island on the day Soobzokov died. Sprogis was not injured, but an innocent good Samaritan who tried to put out the fire on Sprogis’porch was severely burned.  And a Boston police officer Randolph LaMattina was seriously injured on Aug. 16, 1985 when he tried to defuse a bomb that was placed outside the Boston office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the same national organization that Alex Odeh worked for.

Nearly 30 years later, according to the Jerusalem Post of July 6, 2004, Andy Green, using the name Baruch Ben-Yosef, attended secret meetings of settlers from the West Bank and Gaza, the purpose of which was to instigate “civil revolt” against Israel’s  planned  removal of its settlements from the Gaza Strip.

As a confirmation that U.S. authorities had no plans to extradite the two “suspects” Green (Ben Yosef) or Fuchs from Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu in his first term as Israeli Prime Minister stated the following at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Jan. 21, 1998: “I am not familiar with extradition requests concerning the murder of Alex Odeh. But I am sure that if those would be brought before me, I would look into them. Again, we have a problem for lack of an instrument, of the legal instrument.”

With prime suspect Robert Manning in a U.S. prison on charges unrelated to the death of Alex Odeh, and Manning’s wife Rochelle dead from a “heart attack” while in Israeli custody, and while Green/Ben-Yosef and Keith Fuchs were free to roam around Israel and Israeli-occupied territories without concern of being apprehended by American or Israeli authorities, the next significant event related to the Odeh case took place 16 years after Alex’s murder, in Dec. of 2001.