Madeleine Pulver's ordeal started last August when a man burst into her room and tied a fake bomb around her neck, and ended on Tuesday when he was sentenced to at least 10 years in jail.
The Australian teenager was studying for her final year exams when 52-year-old Paul Douglas Peters broke into her suburban Sydney home and carried out what the prosecution called an act of "urban terrorism." "The terror instilled can only be described as unimaginable," Judge Peter Zahra told the District Court in Sydney during sentencing Tuesday.
Pulver was in the courtroom, as were her parents, and the man who, on a Wednesday afternoon, pushed open their unlocked front door and found the 18-year-old student alone in her bedroom. Armed with a baseball bat and wearing a multi-colored balaclava, he told the frightened teenager to sit on the bed while he fixed a bicycle lock attached to a black box around her neck.
According to court documents, as Peters walked away, Pulver asked him where we was going. "Count to two hundred ... I'll be back ...if you move I can see you, I'll be right here," he replied. She waited. Around her neck was also two-page typed note and a USB stick in a plastic sleeve. After a few minutes Pulver yelled out. There was no response. She texted her parents: Call the police.
Then she read the note: "Powerful new technology plastic explosives are located inside the small black combination case delivered to you. The case is booby trapped. It can ONLY be opened safely, if you follow the instructions and comply with its terms and conditions."
With one look at the word "explosives" she knew what was around her neck. She phoned her father. Call the police, she begged.
The note went on: "If you disclose these Instructions, future instructions, any correspondence, Remittance instructions enclosures, direction or any other relevant fact outlined here or elsewhere, to any Federal or State agency, the Police or FBI, or to any non-family member, it will trigger an immediate BRIAN DOUGLAS WELLS event."
Pulver phoned her father back. Don't call the police. It was too late. Sitting alone in her bedroom, Pulver was presumably waiting for what would come first, the police or the blast. When officers arrived they "found the victim in a hysterical state and crying uncontrollably," court documents state.
It's not clear whether the name Brian Douglas Wells meant anything to the Australian schoolgirl, but Peters had borrowed the name of an American pizza delivery man who was killed after a collar bomb fixed to his neck exploded in 2003. He was forced to wear the device by co-conspirators in a bank heist. It exploded as he sat in a parking lot soon after being stopped by police.
Peters was only in the house for a matter of minutes, but it would take police nine hours to determine that the box contained no explosives, and 10 hours to remove it. The entire time Pulver supported the box with her hands for fear it may explode. Outside the court Tuesday, Pulver expressed relief at the sentencing.
"I am pleased with today's outcome and that I can now look to a future without Paul Peters' name being linked to mine," she told the assembled media. Behind the events of that day is the tragic unraveling of a once successful man's life, from an international career in finance to divorce and a heavy drinking problem, where the lines between fact and fiction became increasingly blurred.
According to court documents, Peters was an above average student who left university with a double degree in law and economics. He had a successful career in Hong Kong, where he grew up, before moving to the U.S. with his second wife and young family to take a high-level position with a U.S. firm. Promoted to be managing director of the same firm, he "achieved substantial financial rewards and maintained a high lifestyle."
However, around six years ago, his marriage broke down. His wife filed for divorce and told him that he wouldn't see his children again. According to court documents, Peters told one of three psychiatrists asked to examine him that "that is where the story really starts."
Disillusioned with the banking industry, Peters moved back to Asia and started writing a book. Initially it was a historical novel set in Hong Kong, but morphed into a tale of revenge featuring a character called "John Chan."
Peters told the examining psychiatrist that he as became more involved in his book he took on Chan's persona. According to court documents, "he said the suburb of Mosman was like the Hong Kong peak and he wanted to create in his own mind what the nemesis in his book could have been doing."
During sentencing, the judge debunked suggestions that Peters was motivated by a confused reality and said the motive, beyond reasonable doubt, was extortion.
"The offender intended to place the very young victim in fear that she was going to be killed in order to ensure compliance with the directions in the demand. The offender did so in order to extort money from the victim," Judge Zahra said. The plan ultimately failed, the judge said, because police were called, the media was alerted, and Peters decided to abandon his efforts to extort money.
Five days after entering the house, Peters flew from Sydney to Los Angeles before boarding a connecting flight to Louisville, Kentucky. He was arrested there on August 15 and later extradited to Australia. It remains unclear why Peters targeted an 18-year-old girl and it would be "unproductive to speculate," said Judge Zahra.
Outside the court, Bill Pulver said of his daughter: "Maddie Pulver is a very, very special young lady who has handled herself with incredible poise and dignity. We're unbelievably proud of her." Peters was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison, with a non-parole period of 10 years.