It all started with a tip to the FBI about San Francisco political and social-media consultant Ryan Chamberlain II.
What the tipster said and when the tip was made is unclear, as is the reason why FBI agents decided to act when they did, a day after they got a search warrant.
What followed, though, is clear: the Saturday discovery of what the FBI is calling bomb-making materials, a three-day dragnet across San Francisco, a time-released Internet goodbye note, social-media posts and, finally, Chamberlain's Monday night capture by two police officers in Crissy Field.
The case was made public Saturday when FBI agents closed off much of a block of Jackson Street between Polk Street and Van Ness Avenue. Along with bomb squad teams and hazmat-wearing law enforcement, Chamberlain's Russian Hill apartment was searched for hours.
By that time, Chamberlain was already gone.
But, according to court documents, the nationwide manhunt may have been prevented. That's because Chamberlain was in the hands of the FBI the day it served a search warrant at his home.
For some reason, it let him go.
Earlier Saturday, before his home was searched, according to the complaint filed in federal court, agents found Chamberlain and talked to him.
“Shortly before the serve of the search warrant, Chamberlain was observed exiting the subject premises,” noted the complaint. About a half-hour later Chamberlain came back.
An agent then asked to speak with Chamberlain at a coffee shop in the neighborhood where he told the agent he used black market websites using the Tor network from time to time to play poker. After the conversation, Chamberlain was allowed to leave. He got in his car and drove away in an “apparent intentionally reckless manner at a high rate of speed, failing to stop at posted lights and signs.”
He was not tailed, according to the complaint, because of fear of endangering the public.
Their residential search found unassembled bomb parts that could kill and maim people, according to a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation.
“It's what we call a person-killer,” said the source. “The Lego pieces were there.”
Dino Zografos, an officer in the bomb squad who helped the FBI on Saturday but who never entered the apartment or saw all the evidence, was shown photos of some of the things inside.
“I never saw anything ready to go,” he said. “What I saw was a combination of Radio Shack and Ace Hardware. … You have all the components, but it's how you put them together that worries me.”
Still, after their discovery, Chamberlain's face was plastered all over newspapers and TV, the FBI saying he was possibly armed and dangerous.
A sign of Chamberlain next appeared online when early Monday, a time-released goodbye note was sent to his friends.
The note, a letter about his depression, financial and relationship troubles which was lacking any talk of violence, concluded by saying “time's up.”
Tony Bohnenkamp, 42, a friend from Chamberlain's time in Iowa, said he got the message and was shocked.
“I felt horrible for the guy,” he said.
Then, Monday afternoon, another clue to his whereabouts emerged. The FBI, tracking his bank card use, saw that he'd accessed an ATM at Mad Dog in the Fog, a sports bar in the Haight.
Apparently he hadn't left The City.
“I was surprised he was still in San Francisco,” Police Chief Greg Suhr said.
The final tip came in Monday evening, when someone told law enforcement that Chamberlain had been spotted in Crissy Field.
When police arrived they spotted him near a white sedan parked within view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A witness to the arrest, Morgan Manos, said there was a quick struggle and Chamberlain even called out, “Help me!” before he was detained.
On Wednesday, a federal magistrate judge ordered a mental health evaluation of Chamberlain.
The remaining details in the case remain under seal and Chamberlain remains in custody pending a custody hearing Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.