MURPHY, N.C. -- It's been almost a year since Billy Stiles got the phone call he will never forget. The sheriff asked him to bring a tractor up the mountain, and there he found a gray, 1989 Nissan pickup stuck in the mud and surrounded by federal agents.
The pickup belonged to Eric Robert Rudolph, wanted in the bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic.Rudolph is still a fugitive, despite a $1 million reward and one of the most intensive, expensive manhunts in U.S. history.
FBI agent Woody Enderson says the federal and state law enforcement agencies hunting for Rudolph believe he still is hiding somewhere in the 530,000-acre Nantahala National Forest, a rugged, remote area at North Carolina's western tip.
"We think he's alone and he's been alone," said Enderson, leader of the Southeast Bomb Task Force.
But he concedes the experienced outdoorsman holds an advantage over his pursuers.
"He's been up here 16 or 17 years and we don't know all the routes he has traveled and the places he's been," he said. "But now we can say we do know some of them."
Task force leaders refuse to say what the manhunt has cost, but it easily has run into the millions of dollars. Several helicopters used in the search are parked outside the agents' large command post in nearby Andrews.
On Jan. 29, 1998, an explosion killed a policeman and maimed a nurse at the New Woman All Women Health Care in Birmingham.
That night, Rudolph rented a video in Murphy, bought a large cache of food and supplies, and vanished.
Initially sought as a material witness in the bombing, Rudolph quickly became the prime suspect. Charges were filed after nails and other evidence were found in his home in Murphy, his pickup truck and a rented mini-warehouse.
Later, he was charged in three Atlanta-area bombings, including the 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta, in which a woman died.
Since Feb. 9, 1998, the day Stiles towed away Rudolph's pickup, there has been just one reported sighting of Rudolph.
That was July 11, when health-food store owner George Nordmann told authorities Rudolph had come to his home in nearby Nantahala and taken six months' worth of food and supplies, along with his pickup.