December 21, 1998. (Front page feature story)
Signature stamps franked Aussie mail bombsBy Glen Stephens
In a case similar to the American Unabomber terror campaign, a lone individual with a grudge threw the Australian postal system into chaos during December.
The bomber may be convicted using a simple method -- matching the DNA
genetic material used to lick the postage stamps that were affixed to the
Some 28 small packages containing bombs have been found. Each package is the size of a small box that would normally house a dozen computer diskettes.
Each package was franked with the same two stamps: the 30˘ Saltwater Crocodile and $2 Blackwood Wattle Flower definitives.
There has never been an Australia Post stamp issue to have gained so much national attention -- and all for the wrong reasons.
The stamps have been depicted close up and in color on front covers of all major newspapers and on television news broadcasts, with police holding one of the stamped bomb packages.
Colin Dunstan, a 43-year-old embittered employee suspended from the Australian Taxation Office, has been charged in conjunction with the nationwide mail-bombing campaign.
Dunstan was involved in a long dispute with his taxation office department over a sexual harassment matter that began eight years ago and stemmed from a sexual relationship with a fellow tax employee that went sour.
The hunt for the mail bombs began in early December after an employee at the Canberra Mail Center tossed a small package into a sorting bin and the package exploded.
Some Australia Post employees were injured by shrapnel from the blast.
Urgent investigations by Australia Post security staff and the Australian federal police (equivalent to the FBI) identified dozens more similar packages in the mail system.
A nationwide alert was placed on similar-sized packets to those seized by the federal police.
Each package measured 4 by 4 inches by 1 inch, weighed 4 ounces and was wrapped in white paper.
All parcels intercepted so far had been posted in streetside public mailboxes around the Canberra area and bore Canberra postmarks.
There are no restrictions in Australia on what may be posted at
roadside posting boxes. Unlike in the United States where it is prohibited
to mail any item in such boxes weighing more than 2 pounds, there is no
such regulation in Australia.
The general manager of Australia Post, Bill Broadbridge, has said, "A full security review will be conducted by this organization's security investigation service into all aspects of mail handling."
Police report that a search of the contents of the Canberra mail sorting center of more than 1 million postal articles unearthed 21 similar packages.
Identical packages also were discovered Dec. 2 in a Sydney office, and at the home of Sue Walpole in Melbourne. These packages had gone through the mail but had not been opened.
Walpole was once Australia's sex discrimination commissioner. She resigned from that post in 1996.
Walpole became suspicious of a package delivered in her domestic mail. She contacted police who cleared her street before a special operations group detonated the packet in her front yard (garden).
Walpole was immediately given around-the-clock police protection, as were other senior civil servants to whom bombs had been addressed.
Most of the bombs were addressed to private residences of former and present staff of the tax office, and other government officials connected with Dunstan's sexual harassment case.
Taxation office staff nationwide were banned from opening any mail larger than normal letters, until the number and origin of the bombs became clearer.
The bomb alert has thrown Australian postal services into chaos. Mail volume in December is much higher than any other month of the year because vast numbers of festive gifts and holiday mail are posted to friends and relatives.
Linn's readers may expect delays in mail from Australia other than regular letters as tight security checks are backlogging all small packet mail until it is clear no further devices are in the system.
It is possible some packages may have been addressed overseas.
In addition to the 28 explosive parcels that had been located in the mail systems or at residences across Australia as of Dec. 4, numerous false alarms were reported.
The fact that $2.30 is a commonly used rate, and the stamps used by the bomber are the current counter stock definitive issue, has meant numerous full-scale false alarms.
A nationwide manhunt for Dunstan ended Dec. 4. Dunstan was located in a Canberra hospital with self-inflicted wounds to his wrists and suffering what appeared to be drug overdose.
The owner of the motel where Dunstan had been holed up drove him to the hospital, not recognizing Dunstan from police photos plastered across the media.
Dunstan was charged by police at a bedside hearing Dec. 5. He was charged with further offenses in a court Dec. 8.
Police have obtained a court order to obtain blood and saliva samples from Dunstan, as well as the usual fingerprints.
Detective Michael Johnson told the bedside court hearing he believed human DNA from the saliva on the 30˘ and $2 stamps would be used in prosecution evidence.
Police report that the bombs are well made. They consist of a soda siphon bulb filled with gunpowder. A fuse connects the bulb to a detonation device, and the bomb is wired to explode when opened.
The metal soda bulb would spray sharp shrapnel upon the person opening the package.
Sending explosive devices through the mail in Australia is covered under the Crimes Act of Australia and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
Naturally, any case of bodily injury or death probably would also attract criminal charges additional to the mail violation.
Glen Stephens is a dealer and philatelic journalist based in Sydney, Australia.
All content Copyright 2000 Linn's Stamp News, of Sidney, Ohio, USA and by the author Glen Stephens.
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