AN AUSTRALIAN man has pleaded guilty to strapping a fake collar bomb to the throat of a Sydney teenager as part of an apparent bid to extort money from her wealthy family.
Paul Peters, a 51-year-old father of three, has admitted he was behind the bizarre crime last August, in which he broke into a Sydney mansion wearing a mask and attached a small black device – which he said was a bomb - to the neck of 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver.
For 10 terrifying hours, the schoolgirl, who had been in her bedroom studying for exams, remained still while a police squad removed the device. It was found to contain no explosives.
The surprise plea – Peters had previously claimed he would plead not-guilty – brought an end to the strange saga, though the precise motive remains a mystery.
Before fleeing the north Sydney house, Peters pinned a two-page hand-written letter to the schoolgirl’s chest, that said: "Don't tell the cops, or I'll detonate.” The note claimed the device was booby trapped and said he would later leave instructions for transferring a “Defined Sum”. On the device was an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peters, who had wielded a baseball bat, then left the house after telling Madeleine not to move and to "count to two hundred... I’ll be back".
Police later tracked Peters via the email account which he used hours after committing the bomb hoax. He was also seen in CCTV footage purchasing items to assemble the home-made device.
By the time police identified him, Peters had fled to Louisville, Kentucky, where his ex-wife lived. He was arrested by US FBI agents before being extradited to Australia.
Peters told police the Dirk Struan email address was taken the name of the protagonist in a James Clavell novel, Tai Pan, he had read years ago.
Appearing in a Sydney court via video-link today, Peters remained silent and showed no emotion. Via his lawyer, he entered guilty pleas on charges of aggravated break and enter and detaining the teenager for advantage. His lawyer said he was “profoundly sorry” for what he had done to the Pulver family.
Outside the court, Madeleine’s father, Bill Pulver, who has made millions of dollars from internet software businesses, said the plea was a relief though the crime “remains a mystery”. There are a long series of links – possibly coincidental - between Peters and the Pulver family; both he and Mr Pulver had worked at the same time in New York, Sydney and Tokyo and both have family ties to the New South Wales town of Tamworth.
"We are incredibly pleased with today's outcome,” Mr Pulver said. “It is great comfort knowing Maddie won't have to endure the stress and anxiety of reliving the events of that terrible night. Today's guilty plea brings closure to a crime that remains a mystery and as random to us in our mind as it did back on August 3."
Peters is due to be sentenced later this month.