Gates death threat details emerge

You may have heard the story earlier this year about the man who threatened Bill Gate's life via the U.S. mail, a floppy disk, and an AOL bulletin board. Due to a recent filing using the Freedom of Information Act, the details of this case have emerged. If you can forgive the "America's Most Wanted" tone, here's the story so far:

On Friday, March 14, 1997, Microsoft security agent Roger Bruett came across a detailed extortion letter that was mailed to Bill Gates, the CEO of Microsoft. Postmarked Palatine, Illinois, the letter demanded payment from Gates and threatened his and/or his wife's life if payment was not made. According to the note, the author had murdered people during his days in the military and would not hesitate to carry out his threat to Gates. The note also provided detailed instructions on communicating with its author via an America Online (AOL) bulletin board. It also cautioned Gates to not involve the authorities and provided a date (March 15) that he should be contacted by on AOL. Bruett immediately contacted the FBI.

The FBI posted a response to the author of the note on AOL as instructed, to the "Netgirl" bulletin board. The following day, AOL notified the FBI that over 800 users had accessed the Netgirl bulletin board between the arrival of the note and that day. The FBI reviewed AOL's accounts and determined that 79 of those users were males living in Chicago or northern Illinois.

On March 20, a second letter arrived for Mr. Gates. It was similar to the first note and the FBI determined that the letter writer was the same. The author of the note congratulated Gates "on acceptance of my offer" and repeated the death threats and comments about law enforcement involvement. Only part of the postmark on this letter was visible, the numbers "532." Checking with the United States Postal Service, the FBI found out that "532" is part of a ZIP code indicating the letter was processed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee is approximately 75 miles from Palatine, Illinois, the origin of the first letter.

On April 7, a third letter arrived, postmarked from Liberyville, Illinois. A cross-check with the AOL suspect list revealed that one user, Adam Quinn Pletcher, had a father who worked in Libertyville, Illinois. Adam lives in Palatine. The FBI inspected the letter and verified that it was sent from the same person as the previous two. In the letter, Gates was instructed to post the same message to the Netgirl bulletin board no latter than April 5, two days prior. Though postmarked March 31, the note had arrived late. At the request of the FBI, AOL posted the message that day.

Finally, on April 17, a fourth letter arrived at Microsoft. This one told Gates that he must pay a specific amount of money by April 26 in order to "avoid dying, among other things." The letter included a floppy disk which he told Gates to use for further correspondence. The FBI performed data recovery procedures on the floppy and found the names "Dana & Cheryl Pletcher" among the previously erased data, as well as copies of the earlier extortion notes. The FBI quickly determined that Dana and Cheryl Pletcher were the parents of Adam Quinn Pletcher. At this point, Adam became the only suspect in the case.

The Illinois Assistant DA reported that the State of Illinois had filed a civil lawsuit against Adam for committing fraud from an Internet Web site to the tune of $10,000. The State was requesting that Adam make restitution and sign a Consent Decree preventing him from further abusing the Internet. A year earlier, the Florida highway patrol discovered that Pletcher was selling counterfeit drivers licenses from his parent's home in Illinois. In March 1997, the home was searched but his computers (a Mac desktop and laptop) were not confiscated. The case was presented to the State's Attorney general for prosecution and was still pending. Officers who searched the home that day described Fletcher as a "loner" living at his parent's home, working on a computer all day.

On May 9, 1997, Adam was interviewed at his residence by the FBI and he admitted writing and mailing the letters to Bill Gates. He now faces up to twenty years in jail.

This story is based on the actual court affidavit, United States of America vs. Adam Quin Fletcher, May 9, 1997.

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