By Fariba Nawa
March 28, 1999
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of four articles in a series that probes into the unsolved Fremont bombings investigation.
Fremont — Linda Wasserman has found a way to cope with the fear that whoever planted a bomb in front of her home is still out there. She pretends it never happened.
On Sunday afternoon, March 29, 1999, Wasserman returned from church to find a Raley’s bag sitting on her front porch. Inside were wires, a digital watch and jugs of flammable liquids. She called to her husband, Bob, a councilmember and former Fremont police chief, who came out of the house, took one look and knew it was a bomb.
The Wassermans discovered the bomb the same day an explosion ripped up the porch of Police Chief Craig Steckler’s home. The bomber or bombers targeted Mission San Jose homes and a water tank on the district’s hills. Two bombs destroyed a Corte de Sol house where a 17-year-old girl was sleeping. No one was injured.
The bomb at the Wassermans’ home was defused by experts but it frightened and spooked Linda Wasserman. She still doesn’t feel comfortable talking about the incident.
“It was shocking and bizarre. And it has become unreal, like it didn’t happen,” she said.
Initially, the victims were fearful, astonished and angry. Now, most have moved on.
The family who lived in the Corte de Sol house was bewildered at first. They said the week of the bombings that they had no idea who or why anyone would target their house. Neighbors in the upscale area said they don’t know the family’s whereabouts today.
Their estimated $1.5 million home overlooking the Bay sits empty. The two-story, four-car garage home a year later still bears scars from the bombing. The windows that had blown out are boarded and a temporary bright blue covering remains atop the roof. Builders had said last April it would take six to eight months to fix the house.
Up the hill, a block away on Vista del Sol, a bomb was planted in a house under construction. It exploded while bomb crews were trying to disarm it. Its owners repaired the damage and moved in a few months ago. They declined to comment about the bombings.
Vista del Sol, which leads to Corte del Sol, was blocked to through traffic by the city after the explosions. The barrier still was up two weeks ago, but since has been removed. City Engineer Dick Asimus said the city had just forgotten about the barrier.
Some residents said they wished their street would remain closed. Their neighborhood, known as Mission View, had turned into zoo last year, with investigators, the media and curious onlookers. Some neighbors had unsuccessfully tried to make it a private road, one resident said.
None of the residents interviewed gave their names. They said they had talked enough about the explosions and wanted to forget about it.
“I don’t hear neighbors talking about it anymore. People figured it was about it anymore. People figured it was an isolated incident,” said a woman at a Vista del Sol house.
She said she’s not very concerned that no one has been arrested. She feels safe, especially because police frequently patrol the area, the woman said.
Bob Wasserman, 65, Steckler, 55, and his wife, Casey, 53, also said they wouldn’t allow their lives to be controlled by fear. They said they took security precautions to protect themselves, and went on with their lives.
As city officials and members of law enforcement, Steckler and Wasserman said they thought of a few people who may have wanted to threaten or kill them.
It was not the first time either of them had been threatened, but it was the most frightful because their families had been victimized, Wasserman and Steckler said.
“I’m still angry and frustrated because it was an attack on my family. The person who did it is a coward.” Steckler said. “I wouldn’t let it change my lifestyle. That’s exactly what the suspect would want.”
Steckler, Fremont police chief for seven years, was a bodyguard in Southern California for Henry Kissinger when he was secretary of state.
Steckler said one of the hardest parts of the ordeal has been his dual roles of victim and police chief. He has disciplined himself not to meddle in the investigation and to let detectives do their job.
“I can’t tell them that this is the most important case. They have other cases just as important,” he said.
Casey Steckler seems to have taken the blast at her home in stride. It took three weeks and $20,000 to rebuild their porch, she said.
But in the initial days after her home was bombed, she was shaken. It dawned on her that her peaceful world could suddenly turn violent, she said.
And she has changed some of her habits. She doesn’t leave the garage door open anymore. She’s now more aware of her surroundings.
“When something happens, your radar goes up. You become more alert and aware.” A hairdresser for 35 years, Casey Steckler said she dealt with her emotions by discussing them with her clients.
She has come to a few conclusions regarding the bombings. Whoever did it was upset but not out to kill the couple, and it wasn’t anything personal, she said. “I think we’re seeing more and more people getting frustrated. It always seems to get to a radical pitch.”
She wants to see the bomber or bombers behind bars, but that’s one of the last things on her mind, she said. “I have four children and nine grandchildren to worry about.”