Bomb threats happen all the time.
At schools, malls, courthouses. The perpetrators, more often than not, never get caught.
But on a sunny “foreclosure Tuesday” at a packed Cobb County courthouse this week, law enforcement swooped into action with the precision of a heat-seeking missile and got their suspect. He was the most unlikely of men.
Jody John Wilson is no teenage prankster or drunken loser who dialed up a threat on a dare.
At age 45, he is the owner of a popular lunchtime eatery, The Starlight Cafe, which operates on Roswell Street, right across from the courthouse on the Square.
He has a wife and kids, and by all appearances lives a middle-class lifestyle. He’s a hard-working, outgoing man who cares about his customers and his family, according to the numerous friends and acquaintances interviewed in the wake of his arrest Tuesday.
District Attorney Vic Reynolds says authorities were able to catch Wilson thanks to modern technology, quick-thinking investigators and highly trained deputies all working together.
“Having done this for a long, long time, from a lot of perspectives that was as smooth of a law enforcement action as I’ve ever seen,” said Reynolds.
Wilson now faces the possibility, if convicted, of spending anywhere from a few years to the rest of his life behind bars. It depends how many of the charges stacked up against him stick. And there are plenty of them: Everything from terroristic threats to disrupting a public meeting, giving false statements, obstructing juries and creating a false public alarm, among others.
As of Friday night, he remained in the county jail without bond or legal representation. The likelihood is high that he will apply for indigent status and a court-appointed public defender.
“He’s been advised (of his rights); he’s sitting at the jail,” Reynolds said. “I would imagine either he or someone on his behalf is considering a lawyer or he can’t afford one. No lawyer has reached out to us at this point and said, ‘We represent him.’”
The case against Wilson is two-fold. According to the arrest warrants, he threatened the courthouses in both Cobb and Cherokee counties. At 10:55 a.m., he called Cobb County 911 and said there was a “chemically-based bomb outside the Cobb County Courthouse.”
Several months earlier, on Jan. 2 at 10:18 a.m., the Cobb warrant accuses him of calling 911 to say that he “buried a bomb outside the Cobb County Courthouse.”
The question still on everyone’s mind is:?What could have driven an otherwise decent man, if that’s what he is, to do such a thing?
Cobb investigators haven’t ventured to answer that question. But their counterparts in Cherokee have. They say Wilson also called in a bomb threat Jan. 2 in their county. On that day, his home in Woodstock was scheduled to be auctioned to the highest bidder on the Cherokee courthouse steps.
Cherokee authorities have said they believe Wilson’s motive was to empty out the courthouse and stall the pending auction of his home. But that wouldn’t have explained the latest incident, since his home wasn’t scheduled for the May auction, having been set for a month later.
And the foreclosure theory wouldn’t apply to Cobb’s courthouse in any event, since he doesn’t own any property known to be in foreclosure in this county.
One theory put forth by some of the more cynical commenters, who read the initial story online, was that Wilson may have needed more customers to prop up a failing restaurant, and what better way to do that than to empty out the courthouse across the street at 10:55 a.m., just before courthouse employees and patrons felt that first twinge of late morning hunger stirring in their bellies?
Wilson, if his case should go to trial, will no doubt be able to call a long line of friends and customers who will paint a picture for the jury of a man of high character and integrity.
Suspect wasn’t being monitored
Reynolds said no tracking devices were used to monitor Wilson’s phone calls, emails or any other mode of communication. He did not pop up on their radar until Tuesday morning, when he allegedly placed his call from the Citgo station less than a mile away from his restaurant and the courthouse.
“No. No tracking was done,” Reynolds said. “I do not believe there had been a suspect identified in the January incident. I have no knowledge of him being a suspect in any other thing of this nature until the other day.”
But when someone calls 911, the call gets immediately traced to a specific phone at a specific location. If that phone is a landline, it’s even easier to pinpoint because the phone is not mobile.
All it took was good, basic investigative work, said Col. Don Bartlett with the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office. And a little luck.
The Citgo had a surveillance camera that picked up Wilson’s every move.
“While the operations group was searching the courthouse (for a bomb), the investigators were able to trace the call to the Citgo, and then there was good video out there on the store camera. They were able to pull that down quickly and get a good picture of him and his car and his tag number on the video,” Bartlett said. “We were able to move it quickly and it came together.
“Sometimes when you’re doing things right and you’ve got good people, it happens that way.”
And, sometimes, even a good man is capable of making a bad decision.