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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
White Supremacist Shot after Museum Rampage; Veteran Discovered to be Imposter; Female L.A. Cop Arrested on Murder Charge
Aired June 10, 2009 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight the deadly shooting at Washington's Holocaust Museum and what we are learning about the alleged shooter. A criminal past, a history of hate, hate so extreme his wife divorced him. The latest on the tragedy and only on 360 we'll talk to people who know him.
Also, deep-sea detectives inside the search of Air France 447, in a place of underwater mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes and water pressure that can squash a sub like crushing a beer can.
And a "360 Exclusive" tonight, one-on-one with a fraud: he claimed he was wounded in Iraq, was in the Pentagon when it was attacked. He said he was a decorated Marine and a graduate of the Naval Academy. None of it was true.
He duped a lot of people, vets, voters, politicians. He duped them into thinking he was a hero and a spokesman for their cause. Why did he do it? We'll ask him tonight.
We begin though, with another act of homegrown domestic terrorism. A man went into the Holocaust Museum on The Mall, not far from the Washington monument, just a few blocks from the White House. Then with several thousand people inside, he opened fire with a rifle, gravely wounding a guard, Stephen Tyrone Jones, who died a short time later. That is him.
His fellow guards returned fire, wounding the suspect. His name, James Von Brunn, 88 years old -- a longtime white supremacist and anti-Semite.
All of this happening after a string of other hate-fueled killings seemingly by lone wolfs, individuals fueled by hate, including the shooting of an army recruiter, allegedly by a lone deranged Muslim convert. The murder of three Pittsburgh police officers, the suspect reportedly saying he believed President Obama was going to take away his guns and the recent killing of abortion provider George Tiller.
More on the bigger picture as well as what we're learning about today's suspects.
First, the crime, itself, from the first TV reporter on the scene our own Ed Henry -- Ed. ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, when I first arrived on the scene, sirens were blaring from every direction as law enforcement jumped to the scene.
And I came from the White House, because it's just a few blocks away from the museum, where tonight President Obama is saying that, like many Americans, he's shocked by this shooting, calling it a reminder for vigilance against prejudice.
HENRY (voice-over): Pandemonium at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard six, seven shots, maybe five, I don't know. It was really, really hard. I just saw the stampede of people going back.
HENRY: White supremacist James Von Brunn allegedly pulled up in this red car and stormed into the museum with a long rifle in plain sight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The second he stepped into the building, he began firing.
HENRY: Von Brunn, who allegedly maintains this Web site full of hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric, shot security officer Stephen Johns, sending tourists running for cover.
MARIA HERNANDEZ, WITNESS: There was just chaos everywhere. People were running towards me, trying to get into the room of the children's exhibit, because that's a famous place; there were people on the floor...
HENRY: Just minutes after the shooting, 19-year-old Maria Hernandez told me she was shaken after watching security officers return fire.
HERNANDEZ: I could see a security man pull out his gun and shoot towards the shooter. I also saw another security man facedown on his belly, there was blood everywhere.
HENRY: Von Brunn was bleeding profusely as he was wheeled into George Washington University Hospital, where he remains in critical condition. Officer Johns did not survive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are no words to express our grief and shock over the horrific event that took place at this museum today.
HENRY: With more than 2,000 adults and children inside the museum, there is no telling how many other lives he saved.
COOPER: Such a tragedy. What's the status on the investigation, Ed? HENRY: Well, one key piece of evidence tonight is that red car that I mentioned. Federal investigators pulled that away. Among the many things they found there, we are told by one federal official, is a notebook that listed other locations in Washington that could have been targeted by the suspect.
As you can imagine, investigators now racing around Washington, and checking out those other scenes, and making sure there are no explosives, there are no other potential problems out there, all part of what is now a very intense criminal investigation tonight -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Ed thanks for that.
More now on the suspect. An alleged killer, but pretty clearly a proven hater. He has a Web site, Ed mentioned dedicated to white supremacy, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. He's also got a felony conviction and prison time to go with it.
In a moment we'll talk with an undercover FBI informant who crossed paths with James Von Brunn and also an expert on hate crime who says we are in the middle of an epidemic of it.
Right now, more on the suspect from our own Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: He was arrested at the Federal Reserve carrying a pistol, shotgun and a knife, saying he was angry interest rates were too high. Convicted on charges that included attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board, he was sentenced to six years.
And later blamed his prison term on a "Negro jury, Jew Negro attorneys and a Jew judge," he wrote on his Web site, Holy Western Empire.
It was after that sentence he began appearing regularly on hate Web sites. In his book "Kill the Best Gentiles," he writes about a "Jew conspiracy" to destroy the white gene pool.
Von Brunn is a longtime Holocaust denier, and police say has long been associated with hate groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking him for years and compiling a detailed file on him.
HEIDI BEIRICH, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well unfortunately there are quite a few people that are motivated by the kind of hateful beliefs as he is. He's an anti-Semite, he's a racist, he's a Holocaust denier and sometimes these guys go over the edge.
HENRY: And some of what we know about him comes from his own writings. James Wennecke Von Brunn was born in 1920. He is 88 years old now. On his Web site he claims during World War II he was a PT boat captain. And that he's a retired, decorated Naval Reserve officer.
CNN has asked the Navy to confirm these details. The Navy tells us it's checking, but that it cannot confirm any of them yet.
His ideas of the world, come from Web site posting attributed to him. "The Federal Reserve Act 1913 gave Jews control of America's money," Von Brunn writes. "America is a third-world racial garbage dump, stupid, ignorant, dead broke and terminal," saying, "prepare to die, whitey."
He says the Anne Frank Diary is a fake, and his book blames Jews for the destruction of the white race. He is a Holocaust denier in the true sense of the word. He has written, "Hitler's biggest mistake: He didn't gas the Jews."
COOPER: Drew joins us now. So, in 1981, he is arrested and put in jail for trying to, in his words, arrest members of the Federal Reserve. So, he's basically just ranting online now for the last couple years, the last couple of decades. Do we know anything about what set him off today?
GRIFFIN: Well, that is the real mystery. And I'm sure investigators are diving into his records, any communications he had trying to figure that out. But he's been basically dormant for a while. He's 88 years old.
The only speculation you can look at is, look at what's happening tonight at that Holocaust Museum, first of all a Holocaust Museum to an event he says didn't happen, the Holocaust. A play about Anne Frank, somebody who he says is a fictitious person, the play written by a woman, Defense Secretary Cohen's wife, who is in a mixed racial marriage, so everything was culminating in what he hated.
But we still don't actually know what the motive was for this guy to suddenly -- really suddenly snap.
COOPER: All right, his writings are just ridiculous. Drew, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
There's a lot more to learn about James Von Brunn. And you can find some of it at ac360.com including pages from his notorious Web site -- if you really want to read that stuff -- and an excerpt from his book.
That's where you can also let us know what you think about all of this, by logging on to the live chat which is happening now at ac360.com.
Coming up next, the man who follows hate groups for a living, and another who went undercover and got inside them for the FBI. He met with this man and we'll talk about your -- we'll talk about what we know about him and we'll talk to Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center and ex-FBI operative David Gletty.
Text us at 94553, the message must start with the letters AC and then a space, then your name and a question. If you do not include AC first with a space, we're not going to receive your text. If you have any questions for these two gentlemen, let us know.
Also tonight, only on 360, he says he did what he did for a good cause. And what he did though was a fraud from beginning to end. A phony war hero comes on the program to try to set the record straight. Will anyone believe him this time? You can decide for yourself.
And "Crime and Punishment" tonight, how a murder case cold for 21 years suddenly turned white-hot and more shocking, who the prime suspect turns out to be.
That and more tonight on 360.
COOPER: And you're looking at a live picture in Annapolis, Maryland. Those are investigators in the right-hand side of your screen. That's their vehicle, the white truck, outside the home of James Von Brunn, who is the suspect in today's shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.
88 years old, he was wounded, of course, in the attack by security guards. He fatally shot, ultimately killed one security guard at the Holocaust Museum, but it could have been a lot worse.
James Von Brunn may be older than most alleged killers, but he nursed his hatred for years, he is 88 years old. So why the deadly eruption now at the Holocaust Museum? That's the question we put to Drew Griffin to try to get some answers now in a larger sense.
Is there something about the time right now that we're living in? Something about today's economic and political climate perhaps that is turning simmering grievances into violent acts? Or was this just a crazy individual who lashed out today?
Does the killing that James Von Brunn is accused of fit a larger pattern?
Let's talk now, with Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and which keeps tab on the hate groups; also David Gletty, who encountered Mr. Von Brunn while working undercover as an operative with the FBI, inside the white supremacist movement.
Mark, I know your group has been watching Von Brunn since the 1980s. Based on what you know about him, does it surprise you that he -- what he did today?
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, not entirely. I mean, his history goes back at least to the early 70s. He was actually briefly an employee of something called Noontide Press which is a Holocaust denial publisher back then.
Since that time he has been at least acquainted with some of the major Neo-Nazi leaders out there and as you mentioned, of course, he went to prison for trying to kidnap the members of the Federal Reserve Board. When he got out...
COOPER: Yes, explain what he actually -- I mean, what does that mean, he tried to kidnap? What did he actually do?
POTOK: Well, he like, many anti-Semites -- people were involved in this movement felt that the Federal Reserve Board is not really an entity that was created for the good of the nation, that in fact it's a private scam set up to benefit international Jewish bankers. Set up by the Rothschild family, as they say. And so it's a part of a much larger conspiracy theory about Jews essentially trying to take over the country; Jew and Christian whites and so on.
And he got this idea in his head to the point that he was actually willing to march into the Federal Reserve Board building with a sawed-off shotgun and a hunting knife. And his plan was in fact to take the governors of the board, along with Paul Volcker, hostage and essentially force them to admit the terrible things they had done on television.
COOPER: So, he served six years for that, and then after that, he's basically been ranting online, right?
POTOK: He served -- that's right. And he got out in '89. And since then he has been not a major player in the movement, although he has been publishing propaganda at rather a vociferous pace.
Some of that propaganda has been really remarkable. Unlike many people in the movement, he's openly advocated violence. I have a 2007 Web post here which he put up on a particular white supremacist Web site and it concludes with the idea, "Take action, targets swarm across the landscape. You know their murderous intent. You know who they are. Do it."
So, my own suspicion, and this is merely speculation, is that he's a man who is about to turn 89 years old, he has spent more than 40 years in this movement. He looks around them and he sees a black president in the White House, he sees a relatively liberal administration in place doing all kinds of things I'm sure he just can't bear. And my guess is that he saw this as some kind of last strike, you know, a kind of great blow for freedom that he hoped would, you know, sort of kick-off the race war and make him some kind of martyr in the pantheon of Aryan heroes.
COOPER: David, while working undercover with the FBI a couple of years ago, you were at a Ku Klux Klan event with this guy. With Von Brunn, what were you told about him?
DAVID GLETTY, INFILTRATED HATE GROUPS FOR FBI: Well, I was there -- you know, I was there with Sonny Hodges, another member of the KKK, Laurens, South Carolina, the Yale Redneck Shop -- the only KKK museum in the United States of America. And he was pointed out to me by Sonny Hodges.
Sonny told me that Mr. Von Brunn had served the white power movement for many years, and you know, now it was time for the younger people to step up. But everyone looked up to him with respect. They felt like he was one of the leaders, he had already served time.
And by him being in prison, they considered him a P.O.W. They consider any white person that goes to prison by the government for a racial hate crime is considered a prisoner of war.
So they treat -- and that's a badge of honor to these people. And they looked up to that as if, you know, if you're military, you get the badges of honors, like the Medal of Honor and so on. Well that's what these guys -- being in prison is a badge of honor. So, he came out...
COOPER: And David...
GLETTY: Go ahead.
COOPER: I'm sorry David, the picture we were showing, that was you speaking at this event. So they thought you were one of them, right?
GLETTY: Yes, sir, to do my character right and to build my character so I could fit in with the criminal aspects, I had to build my character up and do things that the leaders would do, such as speak on stage at the Klan rally, traveled the country.
I've traveled from Florida to Michigan to Texas, South Carolina, and North Carolina and you name it, all the eastern states, Pennsylvania. This is more prominent than you think and right now these people believe there is a racial holy war going on.
They call it Rahowa for short, R-A-H-O-W-A, a racial holy war. And these guys, with President Obama being president, they really believed that America as they know it is dead, and it's never coming back.
So, they feel like they're in a corner and they as sad as it is, they're going to act out in violence on weak targets. You will not find them -- go ahead.
COOPER: I'm sorry, Mark, we have a text question from one of our viewers. From Lilibeth from Washington State, she wants to know how many hate groups are there in the country. Where are they located? And I want to show our viewers a map of where some of these hate groups are active in the United States. How many people are roughly are involved in these kind of groups?
Well, by our count there are now about 926 hate groups operating out there. We've created this map to give people an idea where they are. Really, if you look at the map carefully, you see it pretty much tracks population.
It's false, for instance, to assume that they're mostly located in the Deep South. They're spread across the Midwest, up and down both coasts; they're very heavy both in Florida and California.
As to the number of people really in these groups, it's a very hard thing to really estimate well, but I think somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people in one way or another are involved with these groups is probably pretty close to the truth. Obviously, out of that large number, it's a tiny sliver that are actually willing to go out there and start murdering people to further the race for Rahowa and all the rest of it.
COOPER: You know Mark, there was this report a couple of weeks ago from the Homeland Security Department. Janet Napolitano essentially talking about the rise of hate groups in the United States of right-wing extremists.
They kind of had to backtrack from it after there was this kind of outcry. Do you think that report was accurate?
POTOK: I think the report was completely sober. It was perfectly accurate. And it was pilloried by a right-wing characters on talk radio from the kind of right wing of the Republican Party as if it were this terrible attack on all conservatives, that it somehow pilloried all veterans, because it suggested that many white supremacist groups were interested in recruiting veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, which is certainly true.
So, I must say the reaction to the DHS report was an absolute tempest in a teacup really from the right in this country. And I think that this event, along with the murder of George Tiller, the abortion physician who was killed just a few days ago, along with the murder of five law-enforcement officers in the last couple months by right-wing extremists and a whole array of other events shows I think in the most crystal-clear way just what David Gletty was saying.
This is a real movement out there. These are not simply people who are nuts on the fringe of the fringe. They are certainly -- the movement certainly includes some very scary and crazy people, but it's a real political movement and they kill people.
COOPER: What's also interesting, David, is that increasingly we're seeing a number -- and maybe it's a coincidence, but we're seeing a number of so-called lone-wolf attacks. I mean, all the attacks that Mark just mentioned, also the killing of the army recruiter recently by a Muslim convert, a lone-wolf apparently as far as we know at this point.
That DHS report also mentioned the threat from people who operate on their own. And I'd said, and I quote, "White supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant threat because of their low profile and autonomy -- separate from any formalized group -- which hampers warning efforts."
I guess the lone wolf is the hardest of all to stop?
GLETTY: Yes, it is. It's hard for operatives like myself to get next to the lone wolves, especially some of the older guys. They know that the movement is infiltrated with informants, operatives like myself, sometimes agents. So, they work in groups of three.
I guarantee you there's two other guys out there that knew that this was going to happen. They believe that if you keep numbers small with what's going on in your plan, there's no chance of any operatives or informants getting word of what is going to go on and give the intelligence over to the government.
These guys are mad, you know, they travel the country, they go to Klan rallies, they go to Nazi rallies, they go to skinhead parties. These guys are actively planning acts all the time.
Over four years when I was with them, I was at parties all the time where they were actively wanting to do something. A lot of times they would just back down, but I took the threats seriously, made my notes, took down their vehicle tag numbers, got their picture, if I could, made my report and put them on the list, but they are out there.
GLETTY: And not to scare people, but they are out there and they want to cause harm to the government and innocent bystanders.
COOPER: Guys, I want to bring in Scott Aulbach, who is actually a former roommate of Mr. Von Brunn.
Scott thanks for being with us. You lived briefly with Mr. Von Brunn while rooming with his son. I should point out you're not a white supremacist. This just happened because you knew his son, who you say is also very different than Von Brunn. What was he like?
SCOTT AULBACH, FORMER ROOMMATE OF JAMES VON BRUNN: Mr. Von Brunn -- he was just a -- he was a very prejudiced person. He didn't like anything about the government. He was really prejudiced against blacks and Jews. Just a...
COOPER: And he would talk about it?
AULBACH: Yes. Yes, he would, he would talk about it at our home.
COOPER: You basically were living with his son. You had met through work...
AULBACH: Yes I did.
COOPER: ... and then why did his father move in also?
AULBACH: I think it was financial reasons. He had wind up coming to Florida from Maryland because of the financial reasons. He couldn't support himself and his elderly sister.
COOPER: When you heard that he's accused of this attack today, what went through your mind?
AULBACH: It floored me. I just couldn't believe it. You know, I knew the guy, and I heard some of the things that he had said and some of the things he did in his past, but I never would have expected this to happen. I mean, it's a tragedy.
COOPER: It's interesting, though, a lot of times when someone commits a crime, and then you talk to the people that knew him, they all say, "Well, I'm completely surprised. I had no idea. He was really nice guy." You're not saying he was a nice guy.
I mean, you're surprised he resorted to violence, but the rhetoric certainly matches up to the action. Is that right?
AULBACH: Yes, sir. He...
COOPER: Well, it...
AULBACH: I'm sorry?
COOPER: No. It's -- how long did he live with you?
AULBACH: He lived with us for about eight months. And...
COOPER: And was he working in that time?
AULBACH: No, sir, he was not.
COOPER: And how long ago was this?
AULBACH: This was back in late '04, 2004.
COOPER: At that point was he writing a lot? Did you know he had his Web sites?
AULBACH: I didn't know he had Web sites. I knew he was writing a book, but I didn't know what it was about. The only thing I knew that he did, he was a painter. He did a lot of portraits. And that was the only thing that I knew that he did. You know, he tried to do that to make extra money.
COOPER: Scott Aulbach, I appreciate you coming in and talking with us about what you know. Mark Potok as well from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
POTOK: Thank you.
COOPER: And David Gletty, as well thank you very much. Risky work that David has been engaged with. I appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.
GLETTY: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next tonight, a "360 Exclusive:" the strange and sad story of this man. He claimed to be an Iraq war vet and a whole lot more. He deceived a lot of people. Now he says he's sorry and telling the country why he did it. We'll talk to him tonight.
Also later, the Miss California same-sex marriage Donald Trump saga takes another strange turn. We'll tell you why tonight there's a new Miss California wearing the tiara. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Coming up, a truly mind-boggling story about a guy who claimed he was an injured Iraq war vet. His tale was very compelling, completely fake. Why did he lie and why did so many politicians and others believe him? We'll talk to him in an exclusive "360 Interview," in a moment.
But first Erica Hill has our "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, at least 35 people are dead, dozens more were wounded after a suicide car bomb exploded inside a crowded outdoor market in southern Iraq. It happened in the Shiite town of Bathaa. It is the bloodiest attack in the country in weeks.
A federal judge ordered a former State Department employee and his wife, were accused of spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years, to remain in jail as they await trial. Walter and Gwendolyn Myers are charged with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government, wire fraud and providing classified information to Havana.
It is official -- the chief executive of Italian automaker Fiat now in charge of Chrysler. Today's deal clears the way for Chrysler to emerge from Chapter 11.
A treasure hunt of sorts going on in the Tel Aviv dump where a woman is looking for a million dollars that her mother hid in her old mattress. Now, the mattress and the money were accidentally thrown away when the daughter got her mom a new bed, a new mattress as a gift. Not realizing...
COOPER: Oh, my God, are you kidding?
HILL: Yes, well, she's literally scouring dumps, and they have brought in extra security, because of course now that everybody is hearing about it, other people are looking for the mattress as well.
COOPER: Oh wow.
HILL: Her mom, though, says not a big deal.
COOPER: Not a big deal? Wow.
HILL: Life goes on, basically.
COOPER: I guess, what else are you going to do?
HILL: Hopefully find the mattress.
COOPER: Hopefully she finds it. Yes, I know.
Still ahead, an exclusive "360 Interview": inside the mind of a master imposter. He pretended to be an Iraq war vet on a mission to help other vets. How did he dupe so many people for so long? And why did he do it? We're going to ask him ahead.
Also, the race to find the flight data recorders from Air France Flight 447, a search deep below the ocean surface in pitch blackness. Daunting, yes, but they've got a plan. We'll have the details of that ahead.
And a cold case cracked after 23 years. Bloody murder turns out to be a crime of passion, but that is not the most surprising part of the story. Wait until you hear who the suspect is. We'll be right back.
COOPER: He said he was a war vet, injured on the battlefield in Iraq. And he used his story to inspire people and rally them to his cause. And it worked.
The problem was none of it was true. He wasn't who he claimed to be. So how did he fool so many people for so long? Veterans, voters and politicians.
Joe Johns tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Charismatic, authentic, inspiring. Politicians loved having Rick Duncan at their sides. Crowds ate up his story of service to the country, his exploits as a U.S. Marine; at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attack, a graduate of the naval academy, and an Iraq war veteran.
RICK DUNCAN, WAR VETERAN IMPOSTER: My third tour in Iraq, I call my two and a half tour, because I only made it about halfway through -- I was involved in an IED explosion that killed four Marines.
JOHNS: A man who suffered for his country.
DUNCAN: I have a plate roughly about the size of a cup and saucer on this portion of my skull. Right here, I have a scar that runs back here and then down here.
JOHNS: He founded a veterans' group and spoke passionately to end the war.
DUNCAN: Each one of those people that were lost was someone's mother, someone's father, someone's brother, someone's sister. There's a family that has a void, and clearly, the mission is not accomplished.
JOHNS: Today everyone is stunned. All of Rick Duncan's story is a lie. He had fooled everyone.
Former Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Hal Bidlack ran for Congress as a Democrat and had Rick Duncan appear with him.
LT. COL. HAL BIDLACK (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: He was introduced to me as a veteran. I don't think there's anyone now who, either in the press or in the veterans community or in the active duty military who wasn't fooled initially. It's simply not the kind of thing that people generally lie about. And it's certainly not the kind of thing that you feel comfortable demanding proof of. JOHNS (on camera): In truth, Duncan's story had a few holes, but he also said he suffered from PTSD, and that seemed to explain the lapses. But eventually, Bidlack and some other vets saw too many red flags.
BIDLACK: Once one lie fell apart, the whole series of things over that few days just cascaded into an ocean of lies.
JOHNS (voice-over): Here's what we know today. The Pentagon says there were no tours of duty in Iraq. He wasn't even a Marine, and the Naval Academy has no record of this guy.
In fact, his name isn't even Rick Duncan. It's Rick Strandlof, a guy with a knack for taking bits and pieces of other people's stories and making them his own.
Bidlack really was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and concluded Rick's 9/11 story sounded a lot like his.
BIDLACK: And he said that he had seen the duality of human nature, the good and bad. And at the time I kind of thought, yes, we both kind of noticed the same thing. Now that we know he's a lying fraud, we understand that, at least I think he just basically was parroting my own story back to me.
JOHNS: Strandlof has now apologized. His excuses...
DUNCAN: There are certain aspects of mental illnesses that I've been diagnosed with that sometimes I do not know where I -- basically in what reality I am, whether it's mine or our reality.
JOHNS: Bidlack isn't convinced.
BIDLACK: He always seemed to remember, though, that he had told me in the Pentagon, no matter which reality he was in at the moment. It seems to me that there's an awful lot of things that he kept straight to try to fool an awful lot of people for a very long time. It strikes me as being inconsistent with never knowing where you are and what you're doing.
JOHNS: That's the question officials are asking -- what was going on in his mind? Was it a hoax or, legally speaking, was it all a big fraud?
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Well, when we and Joe started working on this story, we reached out to Rick Strandlof, also known as Rick Duncan. Earlier today, he got in touch with us. He wanted to tell his side of the story. Hear it for yourself next, in an exclusive 360 interview.
Plus a cold case with a shocking new twist. Wait until you hear who is now the prime suspect in the murder of that young nurse.
And later, how crews plan to recover vital pieces from Air France 447 in some of the roughest conditions around.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: Before the break, we told you the story of Rick Strandlof, a man who claimed to be an Iraq vet and had a lot of people fooled: veterans, voters and politicians. Why did he do this? Let's try to find out.
Rick joins us now for an exclusive 360 interview.
Rick thanks for being with us. For the record, I just want to get a couple things clear. You had said you served 2 1/2 tours in Iraq with the Marines. In fact you were never a Marine, you were never in Iraq. Correct?
RICK STRANDLOF, IRAQ VETERAN IMPOSTER: This is correct, Anderson.
COOPER: You claimed to have gotten to Annapolis to the Naval Academy. That is not correct?
STRANDLOF: That is correct, Anderson.
COOPER: And you claimed you were at the Pentagon at 9/11. You were never there?
STRANDLOF: That is correct as well.
COOPER: Where were you on 9/11?
STRANDLOF: I was in San Jose, California watching it in horror on TV with a few other people.
COOPER: Were you incarcerated?
STRANDLOF: No, I was not at the time.
COOPER: Were you in a hospital?
STRANDLOF: No, not a mental hospital. It was a homeless shelter.
COOPER: Are you a pathological liar?
STRANDLOF: I don't think I am a pathological liar.
COOPER: Why did you tell all these lies?
STRANDLOF: It came to be a combination of things. One, some severely underdiagnosed mental illness, and two, being caught up in the moment of an election and being surrounded by people who are passionate and loved what they did.
COOPER: Why did you pick veterans? I mean, why -- where -- how did you come up with all these stories that you told?
STRANDLOF: I came across a man who had been denied his medical benefits because they said the PTSD that he was suffering was a sham. I tried to do what I could to help him, by writing letters, by talking to people, by acting as a go-between between elected officials and the gentleman himself, who did not feel he needed to go to elected officials. And one case in my mind convinced me that I could help a lot more people.
COOPER: And so you believed you could help more people by then, what, adopting his story as your own story?
STRANDLOF: No, by putting on a production, which I'm sorry for, which I want to take responsibility for in whichever way that's going to happen. There are -- from what I understand, the FBI is looking into this to see if these allegations are in fact, you know, prosecutable, and it will go forward from there.
Hopefully the people that I hurt can in some way gain closure from that. And I, myself, don't know what I can do short of leaving them alone and not being in their lives, to make that happen.
COOPER: The FBI, as you mentioned, is investigating this group, the Colorado Veterans Alliance, which you started. Can you categorically say you did not take money from people who thought you were a veteran? You did not embezzle money from this group?
STRANDLOF: We did not take money to use on non-veteran projects. I did not enrich myself on this. I did not gain any money from this.
COOPER: When you found out that it was all unraveling, did you try to hold it together? What was your reaction?
STRANDLOF: When I was -- when it was unraveling, when the two gentlemen from the FBI were sitting there talking to me, it unraveled, and I spent the next three days in a psychological unit at the Denver City jail.
COOPER: Bottom line you don't believe that you have hurt veterans' causes. You don't believe you have hurt those who stand up and want to talk about PTSD or other issues that are important to vets?
STRANDLOF: In a way, yes, I have done that. In a way I have done that. I don't know exactly in what way, though. It's not for me to say, and time will tell.
COOPER: Rick Strandlof, appreciate your time. Thanks for being with us.
STRANDLOF: Thank you.
COOPER: We should also point out he wasn't just doing this for veterans' causes as he says. He was trying to influence voters how to vote. He was endorsing candidates, he was speaking out on behalf of candidates, he was trying to influence elections, mostly for Democratic candidates.
It turns out Rick Strandlof's story isn't that incredible. According to experts, well-told combat tales delivered by accomplished liars have become almost cliche.
Joining us on the phone is Doug Sterner, who has catalogued literally hundreds of military fakes on his Web site, homeoftheheroes.com. Doug, you just heard Rick Strandlof try to explain himself. Basically saying he has a mental illness and he got caught up in the excitement of the election. Do you buy that?
DOUG STERNER, FOUNDER HOMEOFTHEHEROES.COM (via telephone): No, I don't. I would find that one of the consistent themes I see in these cases is the people that are involved claim some kind of mental problem caused them to do this.
COOPER: What do you think it is that causes them to do this? Do they -- clearly this guy -- it wasn't just he wanted to be an advocate for veterans. He was putting himself out on the stage, being on television; trying to get himself out there as much as possible and ultimately raise some money.
STERNER: Well, first of all, he said to you that he was helping a man and yet he admitted the man didn't want help. That's like a Boy Scout helping the little old lady across the street that didn't want to go across the street.
What he was doing was looking for a cause to promote himself. I see this repeatedly, and I've had a hundred cases just this year like Rick Strandlof's. The FBI gets 50 a week. Any number of these, we find the individual is very active, quote-unquote, "helping veterans," when in fact what they're doing is building a kingdom of self and feeding their own ego.
COOPER: So, how do you stop these people? Your site does a lot. You put up their pictures, you try to identify them?
STERNER: Well, there's two things that can be done to stop these. Number one, we have the Federal Stolen Valor Act that was passed in 2006, but the FBI is swamped. A dozen states have passed state versions of that bill, and we need the other states to follow suit.
Secondarily, I have legislation currently before the Congress to establish a national database listing the names and the citations of all decorated veterans. Now, this would immediately expose the phonies; on the brighter side it would also preserve the history of the real heroes.
COOPER: Doug, we had a debate in our newsroom about this guy. Some people say, well, look, he did do some good for homeless vets and veteran causes. I kind of was on the other side saying, I think this guy was in it for himself and actually set back a lot of people who are trying to do good. What do you think? Do you think he did any good? STERNER: I think John Wayne Gacy did a lot of good making people smile and laugh as a clown when he wasn't killing them and burying them under his basement. Doing good does not take away from the bad that he did.
And one thing he robbed from every veteran that comes out now is credibility. Because of Rick Strandlof, the next global war on terrorism veteran that speaks in a school or talks to the media or gets involved in politics is going to be questioned. His veracity or her veracity will come into question because people will be remembering Rick Strandlof. Therefore he has stolen from them the credibility that they earned with their sweat and often their blood.
COOPER: Doug Sterner, I appreciate what you're doing and appreciate you coming on. Homeoftheheroes.com is your Web site. People should check it out. Doug, thank you very much.
STERNER: Thank you Anderson.
COOPER: Coming up next, a cold-case murder solved. A decades- old crime, a father's fight for the truth; it all ends in a shocking twist. We'll have that tonight.
Plus how crews plan to raise the black boxes from Air France 447; it will be a major victory over some very tough conditions if they succeed.
And Miss California no longer Miss California? Why Carrie Prejean has been stripped of her crown.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: For the Los Angeles Police Department, it has been the kind of week you don't forget, shocking and surreal at the same time.
First came news that detectives had cracked a cold case dating back more than two decades. A bloody murder, the victim a young married nurse; that, but itself is stunning. But then the story took a turn that could be straight out of a "Law & Order" episode. There's nothing made up about it.
Dan Simon has tonight's "Crime & Punishment" report.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was about 8:00 in the morning last Friday at Los Angeles police headquarters. Detective Stephanie Lazarus was stunned by news that a 23-year-old cold case murder had finally netted a suspect.
On the evening of February 24th, 1986, someone brutally murdered Sherri Rasmussen, a hospital nursing director, in a condominium she shared with her husband.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Rasmussen died as a result of multiple gunshots.
SIMON: They always believed Rasmussen was killed by a pair of male burglars. But attorney John Taylor, who represents the family, says Rasmussen's father tried for years to get the police to listen to another theory.
JOHN TAYLOR, ATTORNEY FOR RASMUSSEN FAMILY: He said, "My son-in- law has an ex-girlfriend who is an L.A. Police Department officer. Have you looked into that? Have you checked her out?"
SIMON (on camera): What did the officer say?
TAYLOR: Over time they always diverted the -- his inquiry and told him he'd been watching too much TV.
SIMON (voice-over): But the case remained unsolved. And for years, it sat in the cold case file until it was recently re-opened.
A DNA test on evidence proved the original theory wrong. It proved the killer was a woman. The investigation would soon lead them down the hall at police headquarters.
DEP. CHIEF CHARLIE BECK, L.A. POLICE DEPARTMENT: Lazarus has been booked for homicide and is currently in the custody of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
SIMON: Lazarus had been a highly regarded detective, 26 years on the job. But in 1986 she was a rookie cop. And now authorities say she was apparently in a jealous rage when she killed Sherri Rasmussen.
According to the victim's family, she'd had previous problems with Lazarus. When the new DNA evidence focused detectives on female suspects they went back to the old files and found the family suspicions about Lazarus. So, without her knowledge they got a DNA sample from an item she discarded.
BECK: She discarded something that an individual is using and then throws away. And so it could be a -- it could be gum, it could be a coffee cup, it could be a straw, it could be a fork.
SIMON: What it was police aren't saying yet. What they will say is that today's department is different from years past. And they aren't afraid to investigate their own.
BECK: It would be much easier to arrest a young employee with a couple years on the job that nobody knew as compared to a 26-year veteran detective that everybody knows. So do I wish it got handled earlier? Well, of course. Is it harder for us to do now? Yes, it is.
COOPER: Such an amazing story. Why did they open the case when they did? Why not sooner?
SIMON: First of all we should tell you Lazarus' attorney had no comment when we talked to him. Bottom line here, you're looking at a case that had been ongoing for 23 years. The investigators at the time, they're now retired. They originally thought a couple of burglars had done it and they put it on the shelf. It's really that simple.
There's no evidence to indicate that there was any sort of conspiracy here, that they just of overlooked the detective at the time. But of course, investigators today are looking at everything that happened in the past.
COOPER: And back in '86 was Lazarus considered a suspect at all?
SIMON: They really didn't look at her, according to the detectives I talked to today. In terms of what they're doing now, as the LAPD puts it, crime is down here in the city. That's a good thing. The murder rate is down.
So what they're doing is they're looking at some of these old cases; some of these old murder cases. And in particular, they're looking for ones that have DNA profiles. And this one fits that profile.
COOPER: It's such an amazing story. Dan Simon, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
SIMON: You bet.
COOPER: An interesting sign there. One of our news assistants here at CNN actually interviewed Detective Lazarus two years ago when he was a journalism student. She was working the art theft thief. To read his behind the scenes account of that interview with the accused killer, go to our Web site ac360.com.
Let's get caught up on some of the other stories that are making headlines tonight. Erica Hill joins us for the "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.
HILL: Anderson, a French nuclear sub now off the coast of Brazil. It's trying to locate the so-called black boxes that could hold clues as to what caused Air France flight 447 to crash into the Atlantic Ocean. They could turn out to be in water more than two miles deep in terrain which basically resembles the Rocky Mountains.
In addition to the sub there are other vessels dropping separate sonar probes to aid in that search. If and when the boxes are located, it may take unmanned subs to get them because almost no manned vessel can dive that deep.
The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue says it is interested in buying the now-closed Wichita, Kansas abortion clinic owned by the doctor who was shot to death last month. They want to turn Dr. George Tiller's clinic into a memorial museum as a quote, "tribute to the babies." The Tiller family's lawyer calls the move a publicity stunt.
No coffee grinds or orange peels, please. San Francisco approving the country's toughest recycling law which mandates all food waste must be compacted. Residents are going to have separate bins for not only their recyclables and regular trash, but also for compost. And they could actually be fined for throwing things like last night's greasy pizza box in the wrong bin.
Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA no more; according to pageant officials it is not because of her stance on same-sex marriage nor because of those topless photos that surfaced. They say it is due to a breach of contract; for example, not showing up at speaking engagements. However, Prejean's lawyer calls it all a big shock and says she did show up at events she had been asked to. Runner up, Miss Malibu Tami Farrell is now Miss California, USA - Anderson.
COOPER: We will mark it in the record books.
Time now, Erica, for our "Beat 360" winners. As you know, our daily challenge...
HILL: That's a good one.
COOPER: It is? The daily challenge to viewers -- I haven't seen it yet -- challenge to viewers, a chance to show up our staffers by coming up with a better caption for a picture that we put on the blog every day.
So let's take a look at the photo. Tonight's picture: President Obama and White House staffers looking at a computer aboard Air Force One.
Our staff winner tonight is Jay. His caption: "Mr. President, so far all Dick Cheney does in this room is sit-ups, but just wait until we install another camera."
COOPER: OK. OK. Was that Jay Kernis?
HILL: It was Jay Kernis. He won again. His mother may be watching.
COOPER: His second win. Congratulations.
HILL: She was watching last night.
COOPER: She sent me a lovely note. I haven't responded yet.
HILL: She did?
COOPER: Yes, she did. She's a lovely woman.
HILL: Hi, Jay's mom.
COOPER: The viewer winner is Sam -- the viewer winner is Sam from Boston. His caption: "Is that really Erica Hill? Maybe she should have kept that spiky do."
HILL: Yes, Sam, nice work.
COOPER: There we go. There it is. There's the photo that we love. You know what I hadn't noticed until now in the high definition? It's the glossy lipstick.
HILL: Yes, it was all about the frosted pink.
HILL: I don't think this is the only picture we have, though. Sam, Mr. "Beat 360" winner, maybe you'd like to see Anderson's Flock of Seagulls 'do.
COOPER: OK. Yes, I had a Flock of Seagulls 'do.
COOPER: I did. OK.
HILL: That's not the last picture we're going to show of it, either. I'm going to find more.
COOPER: All right. Thanks very much.
Let's move on, shall we? Let's.
Still ahead tonight, a lot more. That's the "Beat 360" T-shirt, Sam, it's on your way. Congratulations.
A dive-bombing bird and its unlucky victims. What's got its feathers so ruffled? It is tonight's "Shot." It's going to make you laugh before you go to bed.
COOPER: All right, Erica, tonight's "Shot" is from San Francisco, where a dive-bombing blackbird is terrorizing pedestrians. Take a look.
For the past few weeks, the bird has been swooping down on unsuspecting people as they're walking near this intersection in the city's financial district.
Bird experts say the feathered bully is just defending his nearby nest, apparently. Nobody's been hurt, just startled. I feel like I've seen this before, and I was told this actually happens kind of every year.
HILL: I don't know. I don't remember it. But I will remember this. I'm not going to walk by that corner.
COOPER: I know. It's crazy.
HILL: I wouldn't want to mess up this do, you know.
COOPER: It sort of reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock's -- you know, "The Birds." Set in Northern California; began with just a single gull smacking Tippi Hedren in the head.
HILL: Indeed, it did. COOPER: Indeed it did. But this is how it starts.
HILL: Could this be the beginning of something bigger, Anderson Cooper?
COOPER: Exactly. Yes. The birds are meeting. There it goes. All right.
The birds are -- they're all gathering on YouTube, I hear. That's how they're meeting. They're twittering about it.
You can hear all -- see all the most recent "Shots" on our Web site -- no pun intended, actually, there -- ac360.com.
Hey, that does it for 360. Thanks for watching.
"LARRY KING" starts now.
I'll see you tomorrow night.