In the course of a matter he took on to help a friend, a real estate lawyer in Oregon encountered animal snares rigged to explode, a hot tub set to kill, and a booby-trapped wheelchair which shot an FBI agent.
Joe Manchin's adventure began with a call from an acquaintance asking him to inspect a property bought with cash which a son had misappropriated from his mother. "They had a $2.1m default judgment against this fellow, Greg Rodvelt, based on elder abuse", Manchin told RollOnFriday. With experience as a bankruptcy trustee taking possession of properties, he agreed to help.
Accompanied by armed security, Manchin broke through two locked gates with boltcutters to access the 15 acre property. "We knew he was pending trial in Arizona on possession of, not a pipe bomb, but the blasting caps and wires which could make improvised explosives", said Manchin. "So our concerns were heightened". But at the top of the hill, he found a hand-stencilled sign reading, "DANGER - PROPERTY PROTECTED BY IMPROVISED MUNITIONS".
The lawyer beat a retreat, returning the next day with a private investigator and a locksmith as well as security personnel. "We go to the first gate, we hear a ‘pop’", said Manchin. Rodvelt had laid a nail strip which burst their tyres. "The other thing that I see is that there’s an old Chrysler van pulled across the drive", said Manchin. "I say, ‘abort, I’ve got a bad feeling about this’".
Manchin returned a week later, this time with three members of the bomb squad in tow. They were met by an FBI agent. "I take a big gulp and go, oh my, this is a bit bigger than I thought it was going to be", said Manchin.
"Then we go onto the property, and they’re in the lead, and the first thing we encounter is the Chrysler van. It’s now at the bottom of the hill". They found an animal snare with spring-loaded jaws hidden in the boot, and Manchin spied another trap hidden on the top of the gate. Then they noticed a hot tub laid on its side at the top of a hill. It was primed to roll over and crush trespassers who triggered a tripwire.
After defusing the tub, Manchin, the bomb squad and the FBI approached the garage. "They take the door off the hinges and find a rat trap turned upside down", recalled Manchin. Designed to hold a shotgun shell, it had been rigged to explode if someone opened the garage door. Manchin hung back as the team breached the door of Rodvelt's mobile home. "I’m at the bottom of the hill and hear explosion number one", he said. Unbeknownst to the lawyer’s crew, Rodvelt had placed a booby-trapped wheelchair in the home, rigged to detonate a shogun shell if it was nudged by an intruder. "I start my way back up the hill and hear a second blast", said Manchin, followed by the sight of the FBI agent falling back through the doorway with blood pumping from his leg, shouting “I’m hit”.
Asked if this was an ordinary day for a lawyer in Oregon, Manchin said, “It’s not, thankfully. This is perhaps every small town general practice lawyer’s nightmare, when you start to say ‘how did I get into this - and is it too late to get out of it?’”
“At this point even if we sell the property, it’s been featured in the national and international media, and everyone knows its history” said Manchin. “So it doesn’t have half the value it would have had”. But apparently interested buyers can relax. “We sent in two ex-military with explosives experience in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and they did not find any other devices", said Manchin. "That was after the FBI agent was injured”, he added. “That was the day you go home and tell the wife, 'It’s a good day, no-one was blown up'."