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Life in the Wild

Editor's Note: is releasing excerpts from "Hunting Eric Rudolph," a new book on the case of the accused bomber that goes on sale on March 1. In this second installment, Rudolph has been captured and is being interviewed by Jerry Crisp, an investigator for the Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff's Department. But more questions are raised than answered. How does a person remain in apparent good shape after five years in the wild without help?

Eric Rudolph, left, is shown being brought into an Alabama courthouse.
• Part 1:  High Times
• Part 3:  Eric and the Islamists
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Eric Robert Rudolph


After five years on the run what most people wanted to know from Eric Rudolph was how he lived all that time out in the woods. It was Jerry Crisp's job to find out. What made Crisp well-suited for this was that he had done survival school in the woods when he was in the Navy.

One of the first things that Sheriff's Investigator Jerry Crisp did when he met Eric that morning was to get him another plate of eggs and biscuits. A nice touch, one which put the other guy in your debt right off the bat. Crisp knew he was being looked over but he also was doing his own visual scan. Eric was still in his own clothes; he hadn't changed into the ubiquitous orange jumpsuit worn by prisoners at county lockups around the state and most of the country. Prisoner 7445, as he was soon to be officially known on his booking report form, looked pretty good to Crisp. He was pretty clean-cut, didn't have any body odor that Crisp could tell. His hair was trim and so was his mustache. His pants and shirt were dirty, but to Crisp it only looked like a couple of days worth of grunge, not weeks or months or years. The bottoms, below the knees, were darker as if he had been wading in a river (which was it seemed he had been doing just before Officer Postell [Officer Jeff Postell, who found Rudolph] had spotted him). His skin looked pretty good, not at all weathered, and his teeth also looked pretty good. He did look thin, to be sure, as if he hadn't gotten many square meals lately, which was what led Crisp to order in a second breakfast for him. Knowing full well that it might also win Eric over just a bit.

It wasn't until Rudolph smiled that Crisp recognized him. All he had to go on were the images from the Wanted Poster, where Eric looked if not chipmunk-cheeked, at least fuller in the face. But that smile, which also lit up the eyes a bit, that did it. Now he could see where Turtle {"Turtle" is the nickname for Deputy Sean Matthews] had made the connection. Which was the difference between a photo and a living face. It was hard to see how anyone else would have made the connection between this guy and Eric Robert Rudolph. What else do you talk about first but the weather? Which led naturally to them talking about living out in the weather, which gave Crisp a chance to introduce a bit of his own story about SERE school and survival training. No questioning, just a conversation. Crisp making his own observations, but letting Eric take the lead mostly.

They ended up covering a lot of ground during their time together. From survival courses to the Bible. Eric seemed to want to talk and Crisp was there to listen. It was like being on a five and a half year camping trip, Eric said. At first I moved around a lot, sometimes every day, sleeping only a few hours at a time. I began up in the area of Snowbird Mountain. It was tough that first winter and first year. Agents literally almost tripped over him a couple of times while they were out on patrol, he said. Bear hunters would walk right by him. It got to be that out there he felt like his senses of hearing and smell tripled. Crisp knew what that was like from his survival course.

Then Eric laughed. He told Jerry -- they were getting informal here -- that every move the FBI made was broadcast. Crisp knew he had a radio, that had been public knowledge for years. But Eric said something curious, may not have even realized what he was saying, that one time he saw the head agent on the news talking about moving the hunt to a different location. Saw? As in TV? Jerry wanted to ask him about this, but held his tongue, hoping there would be more where this came from.

What he got instead was more talk about life on the run. Especially that first year, Eric would eat salamanders, grub worms and creek lizards. Just about anything he could find that was edible and had protein. Acorns rounded out his menu. You didn't have to cook that sort of food. He was running up through creeks all the time, but he didn't like to fish. That made him nervous because the sound of the running water would cover up the sound of approaching footsteps.

Eric and Jerry talked about how survival school and boot camp were important. The military trained him, Eric said, so that he could function in the woods. He told Crisp how during his time in the service, he brought one of his military buddies over from Kentucky and they went rappelling over at Nantahala Dam. He also talked about how he began to settle down some in the woods, fixing up campsites. He got plastic trash bins and buried them in the ground, after hauling up grain and soybeans from a silo that was along the main Andrews-Murphy road. That was one way of getting food and nobody seemed the wiser that he made forays down there. Eric began to hunt, using a .223 caliber rifle. He shot deer, turkey, even a bear, he said. Sometimes he would dress and cook the meat, sometimes he would dry it out in the sun, make jerky. You could do that if you sliced it real thin, used something like newspaper to separate out the layers. He got his hands on fruits and vegetables (you could also dry out the fruit in the sun, if you were careful). But Crisp wondered about that bear and cooking it. He'd had some and knew it was pretty tough stuff unless you boiled it for nearly forever. Eric's teeth didn't look chipped off or even particularly bad.

There were lots of inconsistencies like that. Eric never got sick in five and a half years? No dental problems? No flu? No colds? He wasn't Superman or Super-Survivalist Man. Eric talked about worrying he would get sick or injured to Crisp, but never that he did. He didn't seem to realize or just wasn't letting on that all those folks who didn't think he was hiding out in someone's basement thought that's what happened to him -- that he got sick or hurt, then crawled off and died somewhere. Eric did tell one person in the jail that weekend that he had hurt his leg at one point and was afraid he'd die, that it took him three weeks to get to the point where he could recover. This went on for a while before finally Jerry said, you don't look like you were in the woods for all that time. Look at you. Look at your clothes. I was in the woods for two weeks and looked like warmed over shit afterwards. Eric came back at him, started in with his line that he just lived in his sleeping bag (the same one all that time, Crisp wondered?) and pulled leaves over him. That was his hooch and that was also his story. He'd do the basics, like keep his boots in the sleeping bag, so the leather would stay dry. That was bullshit, thought Crisp to himself. I've been in blue blowing snow on the Canadian border and understand miserable. I was ready to give up. This story just doesn't make sense. This guy ain't Superman.

EXCERPT NO. 1: High Times

EXCERPT NO. 3: Eric and the Islamists

"Hunting Eric Rudolph" is published by Berkley Books, which is the copyright owner. (Publisher's Web siteexternal link)

More information on the book "Hunting Eric Rudolph" is available at online, at

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