AUSTIN, TX — While the serial bombings delivered via benign-looking parcels have mercifully ended, the investigation continues with law enforcement officials mum on any unearthed new details. Yet Patch has learned that the bombing suspect may have purchased ingredients for the deadly shrapnel of his lethal packages at one of the city’s most iconic hardware stores.
Dubbed an "old-fashioned" hardware store by its operators on their website, the Breed & Co. site that is a licensed Ace Hardware dealer was among the stops made by 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt — identified by police as the serial bomber whose terror campaign threw an entire city into panic — as he collected the lethal ingredients for the detonating packages that killed two and seriously injured others.
Sources close to the situation told Patch that FBI officials and those with the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) visited the store in the days before Conditt blew himself up as police closed in. It’s believed law enforcement officials found a receipt evidencing a purchase made there by the suspect for supplies.
The FBI declined to comment when contacted by Patch: "Our investigation is ongoing so we are not commenting at this time," Special Agent Michelle Lee from the San Antonio, Texas, field office wrote in an email. "Moreover, the affidavit supporting the complaint is still sealed. I know this is not helpful to you, but they are the rules we must follow."
Yet four sources confirmed to Patch that law enforcement officials descended upon the store at 718 W. 29th St. located two blocks west of Guadalupe Street and three blocks east of Lamar Boulevard.
"Since the first bombing went off they were coming in," one person told Patch, referring to the March 2 detonation that killed Anthony Stephan House, 39, a construction worker and money manager who was the father of an eight-year-old girl. "He had to buy materials to make a bomb somewhere," the source told Patch referring to Conditt. "Where do you go? A hardware store. They (law enforcement officials) had a receipt or something because the first time they came in, they wanted to know if we had cameras to see who was at a register at a certain time."
House would be the first to die in what turned into a series of bombings allegedly set by Conditt, a resident of Pflugerville, Texas, on the outskirts of Austin. Draylen Mason, 17, would die ten days later after handling a package left on his doorstep that also injured his mother. Esperanza Herrera, 75, continues to recover after sustaining multiple injuries when a parcel package exploded in her home.
Breed & Co. is a local, family owned business providing Austin with hardware, kitchenware, tableware, home decor and garden items for more than 40 years. With a Texas flag mounted outside a storefront decorated with porch seating and related accouterments, the neighborhood store looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting with friendly staff that greets their regular customers by name.
The store is something of a local institution, launched when a local family purchased the site adjacent to the University of Texas at Austin in 1970. It continues to be locally owned and operated after being sold to another entity in 2015 — now a member of the largest independently owned hardware cooperative in the industry.
It’s unclear to a layman what a purchase at such a store indicates or the layer of added substance lent to understanding a violent episode that will forever dwell in residents’ minds. But in an era when the law enforcement mantra "if you see something, say something" resonates powerfully, it’s clear the directive applies to the most unsuspecting locations — a Rockwellian retail throwback incongruously touched by evil included in the grim reckoning.
>>> Photos by Tony Cantú