AN investment banker has admitted chaining a fake bomb to a young woman’s neck in a bizarre extortion attempt last year in Australia.
Paul Douglas Peters’ lawyer Kathy Crittenden pleaded guilty on his behalf in a Sydney courtroom yesterday to committing a serious indictable offence by knowingly detaining 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver.
He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Ms Pulver was alone studying in her family’s Sydney mansion on 3 August last year when 51-year-old Peters, wearing a ski mask and wielding a baseball bat, tethered a bomb-like device around her neck. It took bomb squad police 10 hours to remove it, but it contained no explosives and Ms Pulver was not injured.
The man left behind a note demanding money, along with an e-mail address. New South Wales state police have said surveillance footage showed Peters in several locations where they believe he accessed the e-mail account.
Peters, who travelled frequently between the United States and Australia on business, fled to America and was arrested almost two weeks after the crime. He was extradited in September to Australia, where he has remained in custody.
Yesterday, he watched proceedings in court by video from prison. He showed no reaction when his lawyer entered the guilty plea.
“Mr Peters deeply regrets and is profoundly sorry for the impact that this incident has had on Ms Pulver and her family,” Ms Crittenden said.
Why Peters targeted Ms Pulver is unclear. Court documents show he once worked for a company with links to her family, but the Pulvers have repeatedly said they do not know him.
Ms Pulver, who has graduated from high school since the attack, was in court with her parents to hear the plea. Her father, Bill, thanked police, prosecutors and members of the public for their support, and said the attack remains as mysterious and as “random to us in our minds as it did back on 3 August”.
“There was nothing other than just the fact of Maddie was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said outside court.
“A poor decision by one man has prompted a truly extraordinary and inspiring response from many thousands of people and we will be forever grateful.”
According to court documents, Peters entered the Pulvers’ home through the unlocked front door and confronted the teen in her room. He told her: “Sit down and no-one needs to get hurt.”
He then attached the bomb-like device, a two-page typed letter and a USB stick to her neck, told her to count to 200 and left.
In the letter, Peters warned officials not to tamper with the device or it would explode. He said he would send further instructions for a “defined sum” of money, and in exchange, would provide the code to unlock the device.
After his arrest in Kentucky, Peters told officials he had been in Australia finishing a book he was writing. He admitted that he had gone to the Pulvers’ street during the week before the attack but said he was only there “to do research for writing”.
He also admitted setting up the e-mail account mentioned in the letter, but denied writing the letter or attaching the bomb-like device to Pulver’s neck.
Peters will appear in court on 16 March for a pre-sentencing hearing.