McLEAN, Va. — As Virginia prepares to execute John Allen Muhammad on Tuesday, authorities are unable to answer perhaps the most basic question about the killings initiated by Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo seven years ago, which culminated with 13 shootings and 10 deaths over a three-week span that terrorized the Washington region:
How many people did he and Malvo shoot and kill?
The killing rampage in the Washington area in October 2002 is well-documented. Starting Oct. 2, Muhammad and Malvo shot 13 people at random with a high-powered rifle, firing from the trunk of a modified, beat-up Chevy Caprice. Ten were killed before authorities finally tracked down the pair at a Maryland rest stop.
But the sniper shootings started before Muhammad and Malvo reached the Beltway, with a number of victims killed or wounded as the duo drove across the country.
Investigators have clearly linked them to some of these prelude shootings, though they have never stood trial for them. Others fall into a gray area — police have suspicions, but no proof.
The question became even murkier in 2006, when Malvo reportedly confessed to four additional shootings, including two killings, that had not been linked to him.
If Malvo's reported confessions are accepted as true, it would mean he and Muhammad are responsible for 27 shootings resulting in 17 deaths in 10 states (Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Washington, Georgia, Texas, California, Florida, Arizona and Louisiana) plus the District of Columbia.
But Malvo would only talk to police in jurisdictions that promised not to prosecute him, a deal some agencies weren't willing to make.
The FBI, part of the sniper task force that helped eventually catch Muhammad and Malvo, declined to comment on how many people the snipers shot and killed, except to say the question is "complicated."
"To further complicate it, the statements of Muhammad and Malvo need to be relied on as to who performed any given shooting. Needless to say, their statements cannot be vetted for each and every event," FBI spokesman Richard Wolf said in an e-mail.