Instead, Rudolph, with his "Regular Joe" looks, crossed a few ridges from Natahala Gorge, where the FBI found his truck five years ago, and planted himself in Murphy, a community that was changing from a close-knit town of jean-factory and saw-mill workers to a bustling retirement destination for Floridians.
Murphy may have been a logical choice for Rudolph's Butch-and-Sundance hideaway: rivers flush with bass and trout, lots of Dumpsters when the fish weren't biting, some sympathetic locals, and enough new residents so he wouldn't stick out as long as he stayed neat and nonchalant. His friendliness may have helped. Reports suggest that people spotted him - but "wanted" posters apparently didn't spring to mind.
Rudolph also might have known how politics ran in this mountain town. Some here may have shared his sentiments - at least enough to turn the other way. Even after his capture, the story is greeted as half scandal, half legend. At the Daily Grind coffee shop, women served up "Captured Cappuccinos" this weekend, and a sign outside town read: "Pray for Eric Rudolph." After his arrest, Rudolph signed autographs of his "wanted" posters for sheriff's deputies.
"I'd like to say he was or he wasn't [helped]," says Officer Jeff Postell, the 21-year-old former Wal-Mart security guard who caught Rudolph behind the Save-A-Lot market early Saturday. "But I don't know."
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Rudolph had skills, strong beliefs, and perhaps a small cadre of friends. At his camp he left behind a cache of pilfered bananas, onions, and tomatoes, and a pile of firewood. Small footpaths led into the mountains and to his secondary camp - what survivalists call the "castle keep," a refuge should the full-scale search resume.