“I was suspicious,” said Jim Coit. He was suspicious of his partner, Larry Hoagland. They both worked at Professional Photographic Service in San Diego.
In the two years that Jim had spent at PPS, he couldn’t help but notice all the travel his partner did. Since 2008, it seemed as if Larry had taken off every four or five months for somewhere, Los Angeles or San Francisco or Philadelphia. Mostly Philadelphia. Larry told Jim that he had a friend on the East Coast, someone he was helping with his camera and with using Photoshop.
But Jim Coit had found things over the past year that started him thinking.
On their shared website, Larry had posted a photograph titled “Pennsylvania Beauty.” It showed a dark-haired woman — Larry Hoagland’s wife Connie was blonde. And, of course, there were all those trips Larry was making to Pennsylvania.
The two men shared a desktop computer, used to send and receive emails; each man also had his own laptop computer for working on digital images.
The shared computer was on a desk in the office area they both used. Jim Coit snooped around in this computer. He looked in the email trash and found a message from someone named Lee Ann. There was a photo attached. The picture showed a dark-haired woman on the beach with her kids.
There were more trashed emails, communications to and from prospective employers in Philadelphia. Larry Hoagland was looking for work there. In one email, Larry stated: “I hope to be moved over by mid-October 2010! Exciting indeed!” That email was dated June 2010.
Jim Coit had believed that he and Larry Hoagland were working hard to make their San Diego photography business a success. So Jim confronted Larry. When were you going to let me know about this? Larry replied that times were hard, the economy had changed, and they had lost some clients. He was looking for additional work. Jim Coit came to believe that what his partner was looking for was a way out, “an escape route.”
Then Jim got a weird message. It was late in the day, Thursday, September 23, 2010. Jim received a text message from Larry saying that his wife Connie had been hurt and was in the hospital. Jim texted back, asking what happened. Larry replied that it was on the news — just check the news. Jim thought that was odd, but he did as Larry suggested.
News reports stated that Connie Hoagland had left her job at a daycare center that afternoon and gone out to her truck, which was parked on the street. There was a terrible explosion. Connie was injured and taken to a hospital. There were unconfirmed rumors that it was a pipe bomb.
Days went by. Jim Coit followed media reports about the explosion.
Somebody noticed the coincidence that a pipe bomb had been found on a street near Connie Hoagland’s home on September 8, two weeks prior to the explosion. The connection hadn’t been made immediately, because the explosion at the daycare center was ten miles away; a different team of investigators had worked that crime scene. But there was one bomb expert who’d gone to both places, and he recognized the coincidence.
Investigators believed that the first pipe bomb (found September 8) had fallen off the underside of Connie Hoagland’s truck. They found remnants of the glue from duct tape beneath the driver’s-seat area — but only after the September 23 explosion. The first, unexploded bomb had been recovered in a street about three blocks from Connie’s home. Duct tape still crisscrossed one side of the bomb, which was recovered intact and still armed. A metal pipe had been loaded with gunpowder, but at least one wire had become disconnected — probably because cars drove over it as it lay in the street. This bomb had been designed to be exploded remotely, using a cell phone as the triggering device. The loose wire prevented detonation.
San Diego police detective Christopher Everett called the cell phone–triggered bomb a “radio-controlled device.” He said it was the first of its kind seen in the United States; previously, this sort of device had been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. This attracted attention from investigative agencies all over the country. Detective Everett noted that alligator clips had been used at the end of some wires. This was unusual, he said; typically, people spliced wire ends by twisting them together.
From the hospital, Larry Hoagland texted Jim to give him updates on Connie’s condition. Jim Coit received his last text message from Larry the Sunday night after Thursday’s bombing: “I’m so sorry for everything that has happened.”
First thing Monday morning, Coit had another look around the company’s computer.
“I was looking back through the Safari search history, really not wanting to find anything,” Jim said later. “Suddenly, I find myself staring at 22 videos on how to build and trigger a pipe bomb. I stopped breathing, and instantly thought, He did it! My adrenaline peaked when I realized he could walk into the studio at any moment. I did not want to confront this crazy man who had just tried to blow up his wife. I quickly took a screen capture, copied it to a thumb drive, and ran out of the studio.”
Larry Hoagland’s Wallet
According to the lead detective on the pipe-bomb investigation, Jim Coit gave him “a big lead.” Four days after the bomb blast, sheriff’s detective Robert Vaughan obtained search warrants for Larry Hoagland’s home and business.
One thing seized was Larry Hoagland’s wallet. Investigators found two slips of paper in the wallet with phone numbers written on them. One number was for the cell phone attached to the first bomb; the phone was the triggering device. The other number was for a different pre-paid cell phone, which had dialed the phone attached to the bomb. The unexploded bomb had been called 18 times. All 18 calls bounced off a cell-phone tower near the business’s location, between 8:34 and 9:21 p.m., the night of September 7, 2010.