Andrews, N.C. -- Nearly two years after Eric Robert Rudolph allegedly carried out the first fatal U.S. abortion clinic bombing, federal agents are patiently laying in wait for the suspected serial bomber in the rugged mountains near his western North Carolina home. An FBI task force, which has dwindled from more than 200 agents to fewer than 75, has abandoned hunting for Rudolph in the outback of the Nantahala National Forest, but is hoping to pick up his trail from reports of cabin break-ins and surveillance of a campground where he was last spotted. Federal agents have even helped George Nordmann, the last person known to have seen Rudolph alive, keep his battered pick-up truck running in hopes of snaring their man. Six months after Rudolph disappeared, he emerged from a mountain hideaway to buy provisions from the health food store owner and borrowed his truck to haul them away.
Noticing that the 1977 Datsun pick-up had broken down in the front yard of his home near the remote Nantahala Lake, Nordmann said FBI agents insisted on switching out a dead battery to keep it running. "It's crazy. They think he might come up and try to do it again," Nordmann said
Rudolph, 33, stands charged with the Jan. 29, 1998, bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic which killed an off-duty policeman and injured a clinic nurse.
He also was charged with planting a bomb in Atlanta's Olympic Centennial Park that killed a Georgia woman, and the double-bombings at an Atlanta abortion clinic and gay nightclub.
Although the FBI has made Rudolph one of its 10 most-wanted fugitives, and put up $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest, his trail has seemingly grown colder than the winter wind whipping through these mountains.
As frigid temperatures settled last weekend over Andrews, a hamlet of 2,500 people, few believed Rudolph could survive a second winter hiding out in a cave, abandoned mine or even a stocked bunker. "He's either gone or dead," said Stacy Gregory, who runs the Hillbilly Mall flea market on the edge of town.
If nothing else, the search for Rudolph was a boon for local restaurants and hotels serving the FBI agents chasing Rudolph and the reporters and camera crews covering the story.
Rudolph's run from the law has become the stuff of legend in these parts, where "Run Rudolph, Run" tee-shirts were hot sellers in local stores. The Cherokee Restaurant downtown featured Rudolph burgers and FBI fries -- to go.
"It's just about all died out," Gregory said of the hysteria surrounding the Rudolph manhunt.
Nordmann, 73, harbors a deep distrust of the federal government and its motives in mounting such an extensive search for Rudolph. Nordmann says the FBI originally came to search for Rudolph, but has remained to monitor local religious and militia groups. Rudolph was believed to be a follower of the late Nord Davis and Christian Identity, a white supremacist religion that denounces abortion and homosexuality.
Davis' widow maintains a complex here where Davis established an Identity militia, the Northpoint Tactical Teams, but has denied Rudolph could be hiding there. "The FBI chased Rudolph here, but stayed for surveillance," Nordmann said.
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