Pine Island man charged with putting pipe bombs in mailboxes

By Kurt Allemeier

Rock Island Dispatch/Argus

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Luke Helder was subdued during his first appearance in U.S. District Court Friday night on charges he left pipe bombs in mailboxes in five states, injuring six people.

During the 10-minute hearing, the 21-year-old Pine Island man did not enter a plea on counts of malicious damage to property affecting interstate commerce and knowingly using a firearm by planting the pipe bombs.

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Wearing a white jail jumpsuit, shackles and handcuffs, he looked straight ahead, except when talking to his court-appointed public defender, Jane Kelly. The hearing consisted of a discussion of court matters between Kelly and the judge.

No members of Helder's family were visible. A postal carrier injured in one of the pipe bomb explosions attended, but declined to comment.

Helder was transported in and out of the courtroom through a back door, which was surrounded by a large crowd of onlookers. His handcuffs were removed for the hearing and replaced afterward.

He's being held without bail at the Linn County Jail in Cedar Rapids. A detention hearing is scheduled for May 22.

Assistant U.S. attorney Richard Murphy said the matter will go before a grand jury in the northern district of Iowa within the next month.

Helder was transported to Cedar Rapids from the Washoe County Jail in Reno, Nev., earlier Friday. He was arrested in Nevada Tuesday after a nearly 40-mile chase with police. Police believe he was headed for California when he was arrested.

Helder is accused of leaving 18 pipe bombs in mailboxes in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado and Nebraska.

Five were placed in Iowa mailboxes, injuring three, including a letter carrier in Dubuque County and an elderly woman in Tipton. Three exploded in northwest Illinois, injuring three people, including a letter carrier near Morrison.

The Iowa and Illinois bombs were discovered May 3.

The bomb that injured the Tipton woman, Delores Werling, was powerful enough to blast parts of the mailbox 80 feet from its original location, according to an affidavit filed with the two-count complaint.

Werling, who was sitting in her car when she reached into the mailbox, suffered ruptured eardrums, injuries to her forehead, face, arms and hands, and a lost tooth. She was hospitalized but has since been released.

Parts of that bomb were described as metal end caps, black powdery residue, black electrical tape, a 9-volt battery and a typewritten letter, according to the affidavit.

The letter contained anti-government writing, according to police.

Other devices recovered by authorities were described as being 1-by-6-inch pipes sealed with end caps, powder, a 9-volt battery and what appeared to be lead shot and/or nails, according to the affidavit.

In May 1998, Helder was accused of threatening to blow up a friend's mailbox in Goodhue County.

His father, Cameron Helder, told the FBI Monday he believed his son was responsible for the pipe bombings, after he received a letter from his son that day that included anti-government statements and references to death.

The FBI then issued an alert for the University of Wisconsin-Stout student.

Before his arrest in Nevada, Helder was stopped three times by police in Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma for other infractions, according to the affidavit.

He told an officer in Nebraska, "I didn't mean to hurt anybody," according to court documents. The officer told him he had been stopped only for speeding.

Monday, a large box of nails, a box of paperclips, and two black plastic bottles that said "shotgun" or "gun powder" and the words "extremely flammable," were found under Helder's bed in Menomonie, Wis., by one of his roommates, and two other people in an apartment, according to the affidavit.

Helder telephoned two friends in Minnesota Tuesday afternoon, admitting responsibility for the mailbox bombings, according to the affidavit.

This article contains some information from The Associated Press.