Towboat Pipe Bomb Suspect Jailed Without Bond In West Virginia

A federal judge has ordered an Ohio man charged in connection with placing potentially explosive devices on three commercial tows held without bond (See WJ, November 1).

In the November 2 hearing, Judge Dwane L. Tinsley, U.S. magistrate Judge for the southern district of West Virginia, found that Nathaniel Blayn Becker, 42, of Marietta, Ohio, is a danger to the community and that he had a risk of nonappearance in further court proceedings. He ordered him to be remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, pending further court proceedings.

Becker was arrested October 27 and had his first court appearance October 28. He is charged with possession of one or more unregistered destructive devices in an 11-page federal complaint filed by Special Agent Sean A. McNees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, (ATF).

In an affidavit included as part of the complaint, McNees outlined the case against Becker.

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About 3 p.m. October 21, a deckhand working on the mv. Janis R. Brewer of Crounse Corporation located a piece of pipe inside an empty barge that was part of the vessel’s tow as it was moving upriver on the Ohio, just north of Parkersburg, W.Va.

“The deckhand retrieved the pipe and observed that it had endcaps on both ends and what appeared to be a fuse protruding from one of the ends,” McNees said in the affidavit. “He immediately placed it on the deck beneath a quantity of rope to prevent it from rolling away. The ship’s captain and crew were notified of the discovery, and law enforcement was called to respond.”

Bomb technicians from the West Virginia State Police x-rayed the device and found what they believed to be a powder line consistent with an explosive. They remotely disassembled the device, rendering it safe, and collected it as evidence. They also noted that the pipe bomb had a bar code label on one of its pieces.

On October 25, shortly before 8:30 p.m., the captain and a deckhand of the Campbell Transportation Company towboat mv. Connie K  heard a “clanking” sound as the vessel traveled beneath the Interstate 77 bridge in Wood County, W. Va.

“After hearing the sound, they observed two suspected destructive devices land on the deck of the Connie K.,” McNees said. They believed they had been dropped from the bridge. Once again, both devices were made from pipe. They were capped at one end and on the other end had a reducer fitting stuffed with a rag. They appeared to be filled with the same potentially explosive mixture as that of the device previously discovered.

About 10 p.m. October 26 a deckhand working on the mv. Findlay of Marathon Petroleum Company found two similar looking pipe segments with rags protruding on a barge shortly after passing under the I-77 bridge in Wood County, W.Va. Upon further investigation, they were discovered to be filled with a blue, sand-like substance not believed to be an explosive powder.

McNees and other investigators believed based on the bar code recovered on the device first recovered that the pipe had been purchased at a Lowe’s store. A Lowe’s loss prevention officer examined the pipe and other components October 27 and Lowe’s records to determine whether they had recently been purchased in the area, McNees said. Those records and available surveillance footage pointed the officer to an October 20 purchase of pipe, couplings, a plug and a jumbo wax ring from a customer who paid with cash and went to a red Ford Escape in the parking lot. He then walked in the direction of the I-77 bridge, less than a mile away. He returned to the vehicle around midnight.

“The components purchased by the suspect match those exactly of the device that was recovered on October 21, 2021,” McNees said.

On October 21, the same man returned to the store and purchased more pipe, couplings and another plug, once again paying with cash. He left in the same Ford Escape, which appeared to have an Ohio license plate. The items purchased are consistent with the device recovered the same day, McNees said.

On October 25, the same man returned to the store for couplings and caps and paid with cash. The items exactly match those recovered in the October 25 incident, McNees said.

On October 26, the same man returned to the store. In addition to couplings and caps, he purchased three packages of Rid-X, which is used in septic systems and some terry cloths. The blue granular substance matched that of the substance found in the devices recovered the same day, and the terry cloths matched the rags protruding from the devices.

On October 27, investigators were watching vehicles in the area around the Lowe’s store when McNees and an FBI agent saw a Ford Escape pull into the Lowe’s parking lot. The driver matched the man seen in the surveillance video. He was later identified as Becker. After police performed a traffic stop on the vehicle, Becker was arrested.

While searching the vehicle, investigators found two pieces of pipe and the clothing the man on the surveillance video had been wearing, McNees said in the affidavit.