When Hoarding Goes Ballistic

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

What do you get when you cross a bank robber, a bomb maker and a hoarder? You get George Jakubec, a 54-year-old Serbic emigre recently arrested for possessing the single largest hoard of homemade explosives ever found in the United States. Investigators searched his rental home, in the sleepy southern California town of Escondido, and found a startling stash of pentaerythritol tentanitrate (PETN), an explosive used by Al Qaeda terrorists. Federal authorities implemented full body scans at airports to find PETN. A prime ingredient in U.S. military ordinance, PETN was used by the unsuccessful shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Deputies removed nine pounds of the chemical hexamethylene tiperoxide diamine (HMTD) from Jakubec’s home. HMTD is extremely sensitive to heat, friction and shock. Less than a gram of it can seriously injure a person. Investigators also discovered large amounts of sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, detonators, grenade casings, hand guns, molds of human faces, and wigs.

Jakubec was arrested after a gardener suffered injuries from an explosion while working in the yard. Investigators found the home so cluttered with explosives and debris that bomb experts deemed it unsafe to enter the home. They could not use robots because many of the rooms were impassible. Neighbors were evacuated. Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency to contain the potential disaster. Crews erected a 16-foot-high and 75-foot-long fence around the property in preparation for a controlled burn of the entire home. Jakubec’s attorney attempted to stop the burn of the home saying it held exculpatory evidence.  A judge denied the request citing no “good reason to say ‘hold off.’”

I interviewed Lt. Commander Mark Milton of the Navy’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit to learn why investigators determined Jakubec’s home needed demolition. “If there was a lot of debris in the home and the chemicals had fallen onto the floor or leached into surrounding materials,” he told me, “it would be unsafe to walk across the floor to remove those materials. The house, carpet, floor boards, everything, would have to be removed and destroyed piece by piece.” Milton said that burning provides a safe and effective way to destroy explosives: “The bomb squad will likely use an accelerant such as fuel oil or diesel that can spread over the area, ignite evenly, and incinerate the contaminated material quickly before it can explode.”

This is the hoarder’s worst nightmare. All your stuff burns and you can’t keep anything. Hoarding is listed as a symptom in a number of psychiatric disorders. Hoarders hold onto items, even those things with no intrinsic value, and feel enormous distress at the thought of throwing anything away. Hoarders often suffer from depression, anxiety or impulse control problems. Some hoarders suffer from obsessions and compulsions that interfere with their ability to function normally.

Research suggests that hoarding should be listed as it’s own disorder in the latest diagnostic manual (DSM-V) of the American Psychiatric Association. Every time a new issue of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual gets published there is much gnashing of the teeth over the changes proposed. Homosexuality, once considered a mental illness, was eliminated from the DSM in 1973. Changes proposed in the DSM-V, due for publication in May of 2013, include the elimination of bi-polar I disorder (most recent episode mixed) and narcissistic personality disorder, and the addition of hoarding as an independent disorder. If hoarding becomes a stand-alone illness it will likely receive more research funding that could lead to more effective treatments for these troubled individuals.

Researchers studying the brains of hoarders found abnormal patterns of brain activation during decision-making tasks. Neuropsychology studies show that compulsive hoarders have deficits in executive functioning, attention, memory, organization and emotional regulation. Difficult to treat, hoarders resist change, frustrate family and aggravate landlords. They’ve even inspired a reality television show, Hoarders.

Most hoarders don’t pose a violent threat to society. Hoarding can become dangerous when debris gets piled so high that it falls and injures someone, or when the debris serves as a breeding ground for disease-causing toxic mold or vermin.

It will be interesting to watch the federal case against Jakubec unfold. Is he connected to Al Qaeda or just a lone nut? Gratefully, the burn of the house did not damage the homes or lungs of Jakubec’s neighbors. Meanwhile, Escondido police and federal officials have their hands full with yet another investigation. On November 28, 2010, Richard Hinkel, age 46, was arrested for making pipe bombs in his Escondido home. Investigators say the two cases appear unrelated. Just another paranoid, depressed, disorganized thinker in the neighborhood.

This is an edited version of a story originally written for Women in Crime Ink, on December 10, 2010.