It was about 3.30pm on August 3. As bomb disposal experts carefully examined a device around the neck of Maddie Pulver at her Mosman home, a silver Range Rover pulled into a suburban Central Coast street 91km away.
At 4.09pm, a Gmail account in the name of Dirk Struan was accessed using a public internet terminal at Kincumber Library. There, a US court has heard, CCTV cameras allegedly captured images of accused hoax bomber Paul Douglas Peters.
The alleged movements of Mr Peters on the afternoon of August 3 were detailed in documents tendered at his Louisville court hearing yesterday.
Peters approached former News Limited boss Ken Cowley in the same street as the Pulvers’ home in Mosman, northern Sydney, a week before he held the 18-year-old to ransom.
Mr Cowley had met Peters decades earlier in Hong Kong, when the two were involved in a takeover of the South China Morning Post newspaper.
“I do worry that we may have been the original target, but I don’t know,” Mr Cowley said. “I just never, ever, ever knew the man.”
Madeleine learned nothing yesterday about why Peters threatened to blow her up last August – but at least she won’t have to relive her terrifying ordeal.
Peters, a Walter Mitty-like character, pleaded guilty yesterday to strapping a fake bomb around the schoolgirl’s neck and demanding money.
After breaking into the Pulvers’ Mosman home, in north suburban Sydney on August 3, Peters, 51, told Madeleine, 18, he had strapped “powerful new technology plastic explosives” around her neck and it would be fatal to try to remove them.
He left an extortion note and bolted. The note demanded a “defined sum” and ended in an email address, email@example.com, which would later come to haunt Peters.
He told police he named the account after the anti-hero from James Clavell’s 1966 novel, Tai-Pan.
Brave police officer Constable Karen Lowden sat with Madeleine for hours before experts found the package contained no explosives.
Peters was arrested in Louisville, Kentucky, two weeks after the break-in.
The brave teen’s traumatic ordeal and the international chase to bring the extortionist to justice made headlines across the world.
Yesterday, Peters, who has three school-age daughters of his own, pleaded guilty in Sydney’s Central Local Court to breaking into the house and holding the victim to ransom.
He offered no motive, but it emerged that he was a man of many faces – former finance executive, keen polo player and an aspiring writer who had just finished a novel, a semi-fictional work set in his childhood home of Hong Kong.
But he was no master criminal. He left a single clue, the email address.
Investigators traced three logins on the Gmail account from within a few hours of the incident to a library and a video store, both within 10km of Peters’ home at Copacabana, on the Central Coast of NSW.
CCTV footage and registration details for a gold Range Rover led police to Peters, who had fled to the US five days after his bungled crime.
Yesterday he said through his lawyer that he was “profoundly and sincerely sorry” for what he had done to the Pulver family.
After hearing of Peters’ guilty plea, Madeleine enjoyed lunch with her family.
Her father, Bill, said: “We are very happy with the outcome. (Madeleine) is pleased, obviously. She is very relieved because she won’t have to relive the whole thing by having to go through a trial.”
He had no idea why Peters picked his family, but believed his daughter might have just been “unlucky”.
“Maybe he had just seen Maddie working in her room. The truth is I don’t really know, but I take some relief from the fact that he wasn’t specifically targeting my family.”
Peters is due to appear in the District Court next Friday for sentencing.