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FBI Questions Store Owner's Connection to Rudolph

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CHEROKEE — It looks like Eric Rudolph is still in western North Carolina. Nearly six months after he disappeared without a trace, the man wanted for the Alabama women's clinic bombing has given authorities their best lead yet.

His fingerprints have been found on a stolen truck that has been recovered near the town of Andrews, North Carolina. Rudolph hadn't been seen since the January bombing-- until now. A man matching Rudolph's description took a pickup truck full of food in the tiny town of Nantahala Lake this weekend. The FBI is confident, it's their man.

WRAL'sMark Robertsis in Cherokee County following the story.

The word Roberts was hearing Wednesday is "closing-in." That's according to the southeast bombing task force. As of first light Wednesday, not a lot of activity was taking place. However, teams were expected to have a busy day combing an area of about 10 square miles in the rugged mountain terrain. Approximately 80 people are said to be involved in the search.

"We now have confirmed what we felt all along, and we think we have the resources that we will find him," said FBI agent Woody Enderson. "We've said all along that we have strong reason to believe that Eric Rudolph was in this area, had not left this area, that he was alive, that he was acting alone. We still believe that."

After six months hiding in the mountains of NC, authorities think a bearded and long-haired Eric Rudolph came out to look for food. Investigators believe Rudolph stole a six month supply of food and a 1977 blue Datsun pickup last week from a local man who may possibly be a friend of Rudolph's.

The truck was found abandoned at a campground near Andrews Monday. Federal investigators believe Rudolph is somewhere in the mountains where there are a lot of caves, caverns and other places to hide.

Jerry Guffey's home backs up to the search area. He and other residents of the area say they know Rudolph and know what he's capable of.

"That's some pretty serious stuff they've accused him of," said Guffey. "He's well-trained. He knows what he's doing. He has to to get away from them like that."

Guffey says he thinks someone is helping Rudolph by getting him food and helping him stay hidden.

Genova Masteller is one of Nordmann's neighbors. She says she doesn't know what to think.

"I know he's a quiet man," said Masteller. "He's a good man. He doesn't bother anybody, and that's all I can say about it."

Macon County Sheriff Homer Holbrooks told Roberts that searchers have their work cut out for them in the rough terrain.

"It's bad. It's really bad," said Holbrooks. "If you've never hunted and fished in there, you don't realize how bad it is. There are ivies and laurel that you have to get down and crawl on your belly to get through, and plenty of rocks and stuff like that. It's rough."

Holbrooks added that while he's confident Rudolph will be apprehended, he has no idea when that will be.

One of the big questions surrounding the investigation in Andrews is a man named George Nordmann who owns a health food store. The FBI isn't sure if Nordmann is a friend or a victim of Eric Rudolph. Currently, there is a "gone fishing" sign in Nordmann's store window. It was his truck that was stolen, and investigators are being coy about the part he may have played in this latest turn of events.

The timeline is crucial in the investigation. Nordmann says he first spotted Rudolph on Tuesday, July 7. He says he discovered his truck was missing the following Thursday, but didn't report either until Saturday.

When authorities found the truck this past Tuesday, it contained some gunpowder and other materials, plus a list of materials, that could be used for making a bomb.

The stolen food included many canned items. Officials say the load would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for one person to carry off.

A million-dollar bounty on Rudolph's head will likely keep residents' eyes open as well. A nurse maimed in the clinic bombing just wants it all to end.

"Our life has been divided up into so many facets now that he is part of it," says Emily Lyons. "So if we can get him caught and get that part of it taken care of, that's one less thing that we'll have to deal with."

Federal agents also want to question Rudolph about a series of bombings at Atlanta abortion clinics and the deadly bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in 1996. They're asking anyone with any information to come forward. Editor's Note:

Eric Rudolph was first named a suspect in Atlanta clinic bombing in February. A few weeks later, he was also named a suspect in three other bombings in the Atlanta area.

Rudolph may be tied to the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing which occurred in July, 1996. One person died in that blast, and another died of a heart attack.

In January, 1997, a bomb ripped through the Sandy Springs abortion clinic. No one died in that incident. It was one month later when a gay nightclub in Atlanta was bombed. Again, no one died in that explosion.

Investigators say they will release no more information on the search for Rudolph until a 2 p.m. news conference Thursday. andStephanie HawcoandJohn Cox


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