Real Name: Sharon Rogers
Case: Terrorism, Attempted Murder
Location: San Diego, California
Date: March 10, 1989
Details: In the spring of 1988, a U.S. ship was sailing in the Persian Gulf when it was struck by an Iranian mine and badly damaged. Throughout the summer, U.S. Naval boats and aircraft patrolled the gulf to protect U.S. ships and oil tankers from increasingly hostile Iranian forces. One of the main naval ships was the U.S.S. Vincennes, a state-of-the-art guided missile cruiser, which was fully equipped with surface-to-air missiles.
On July 3, 1988, the U.S.S. Vincennes was travelling through the Persian Gulf when it received word from the U.S.S. Montgomery about attacks from Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships. A reconnaissance helicopter was attacked by several Iranian gun boats. The Vincennes's Captain William C. "Will" Rogers sought and received permission to return fire. A small fight ensued between the Vincennes, the Montgomery, and the Iranian boats. At the same time, an unidentified aircraft showed up on the Vincennes's radar screen; it was increasing speed and apparently descending straight towards the Vincennes. Will and his crew tried to contact the aircraft, asking it to divert from its course. However, they received no response.
After several unsuccessful contact attempts, Will and his crew decided to fire missiles on the aircraft in fear that it may strike the Vincennes. The aircraft was struck and crashed into the Persian Gulf. Just minutes later, the Vincennes crew members were disturbed to learn about an Iranian passenger plane that had failed to reach its destination. They soon realized that they had shot down Iran Air Flight 655, a commercial passenger plane with 290 passengers and crew aboard; tragically, all were killed.
Many Americans accepted the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 as a tragic error; the flight was not running at its scheduled time, it was not responding to repeated attempts to identify itself, and the Vincennes radar screen could not tell the difference between the plane and a fighter jet. Inside Iran, however, the response was different; one high-ranking Iranian official stated that his country would not forgive, and claimed the right to revenge.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, California, Will's wife Sharon, a fourth grade teacher, tried to cope with the news of the incident. A month later, at around 1am, the phone rang, and a man with a Middle Eastern accent asked Sharon if this was the home of the Captain of the Vincennes; he then asked her "Are you the wife of the murderer?" to which she hung up the phone. Sharon was afraid that someone was planning retribution against her.
The Naval Investigative Service was called in to secure the Rogers home. Agents checked the mail and monitored incoming phone calls. They recommended that Sharon always keep her van in the garage. Ten weeks passed and no further threats were received. On October 24, 1988, Sharon was at the dock to welcome the U.S.S. Vincennes and her husband home. Despite the lack of threats, the Rogers still kept their guard up and always remembered to place their vehicles in the garage.
On the night of March 9, 1989, however, they forgot to pull Sharon and Will's car and van into the driveway. They had just returned from a Naval function and felt too tired to do so. At 7am the next morning, Will drove Sharon's van to a local market to pick up breakfast pastries. After having breakfast, Sharon left in the van for school. At a red light at the intersection of La Jolla Village Drive and Genesee Avenue, an explosion occurred in the back of Sharon's van. The van became engulfed in flames and Sharon briefly had difficulty exiting due to her seat belt. She was able to free herself with just seconds to spare.
The Naval Investigative Service and the FBI were immediately called in to investigate the explosion. The investigation determined that a large pipe bomb had been strapped to the underbelly of the van. The blast had gone just behind Sharon's seat and out the roof, barely sparing Sharon's life.
The FBI learned from neighbors that about two months prior to the bombing, a stranger had been asking questions on the Rogers's street. The Middle Eastern man asked the neighbors if a Captain lived on the street. He also asked if a Middle Eastern family lived on the street, to which the neighbors pointed to another house. The man has never been located or identified, and police are uncertain as to his involvement in the case.
Suspects: FBI agents created a composite of the man, who was described as 5'9", thin build, with dark hair and eyes and a receding hairline. He had a thick middle eastern accent. A second man waited for him in a BMW with California license plates. The BMW was an unusual color, bronzette beige. Both men were believed to be in their thirties at the time. Neither individual has been identified, and police note that the men are not suspects, but only wanted for questioning in the case.
Authorities suspected that the bomber(s) may have been operatives working for the Iranian leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Several anonymous callers repeated this claim. It was not confirmed, however. Authorities also suspected, based on the unsophisticated device used, that the bomber(s) may have been local Iranian students acting on their own.
Authorities also investigated the possibility that the attack was unrelated to Iran Air Flight 655. A tipster, George Marxmiller, contacted the FBI and claimed that Will had been having an affair with a woman from Maryland, and that the affair may have been the motive behind the bombing. He suggested that Will himself may have planted the bomb, or that someone close to the affair had done it. He claimed that he knew about the affair because his estranged wife was friends with the woman. The wife, however, claimed that the story was not true. Interestingly, Marxmiller himself was investigated as a possible suspect. He denied any involvement in the case.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of a "Terrorism Special" in the February 17, 1993 episode.
For reasons unknown, the alternate theories were not presented in the broadcast.
Results: Unsolved. Investigators looked into several possibilities in the case, including: international terrorism, domestic terrorism, personal vendetta against Will, and an attack against Sharon herself. However, they were never able to determine the actual motive for the bombing or identify the bomber(s). In 1994, the statute of limitations expired in the case.
- William Rogers on Wikipedia
- USS Vincennes on Wikipedia
- Bomb Blows Up Van Driven by Wife of Vincennes' Capt. - March 10, 1989
- Blast Destroys Van Belonging to Captain of Vincennes - March 11, 1989
- Vehicle of Vincennes Skipper's Wife Bombed - March 11, 1989
- Clues to Possible Terrorism Sought - March 12, 1989
- Van Bomber Might Be Free Lancer - March 14, 1989
- Bomb: Sharon Rogers Job - March 22, 1989
- Sharon Rogers asks public to find bombers - March 27, 1989
- The Exile of Sharon Rogers - April 17, 1989
- Teach: Sharon Rogers Won't Return - April 29, 1989
- Probe Of Van Bombing Shifts? - October 1, 1989
- New Suspect In Van Bombing - October 5, 1989
- Romantic liaison possible motive in van bombing - October 6, 1989
- Tipster Says Affair May Be Behind Rogers Van Bombing - October 7, 1989
- Estranged Wife Discounts Bombing Suspect's Story About Rogers Love Triangle - October 7, 1989
- Allegations Against Navy Captain Dismissed as Ploy in Divorce Case - October 7, 1989
- Congress Sets Aside $100,000 for Reward in Van Bombing - November 9, 1989
- Mystery Remains One Year Later - March 4, 1990
- Year later, bombing of Navy wife's van unsolved - March 9, 1990
- Year later, van blast still puzzle - March 9, 1990
- San Diego's explosive past - December 7, 2010