A good checkmate: suspicious package revealed to be a chess set

A suspicious package left on the front steps of a Mandeville residence Saturday morning triggered the evacuation of two dozen homes, the closure of several streets and the mobilization of dozens of law enforcement officials.

But about six hours later, authorities discovered that the brown briefcase contained a chess set, not the pipe bomb that they had feared.

Lt. Gerald Sticker of the Mandeville Police Department said that a call about the package came in at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday from a retired Internal Revenue Service agent who lives on Devon Drive in Golden Glen subdivision.

While the man is no longer with the IRS, he told police that cases he was involved with are still active, Sticker said.

Police immediately evacuated people within a 600-foot radius of the briefcase and closed down Devon Drive, Florida Avenue Extension and the part of East Causeway Approach that accesses Florida Extension, Sticker said.

Sticker said that he and a number of officers who were working Covington’s Bicentennial Parade were pulled off that duty to attend to the bomb threat.

The Mandeville Police Department called the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office bomb squad for assistance. An initial X-ray of the briefcase, done by a robot, showed what looked like cylindrical objects, and officials thought it could be a pipe bomb.

The next step was to force the briefcase open with a water cannon and take additional pictures, Sticker said, but those were still inconclusive, so a member of the bomb squad put on a Kevlar suit and physically inspected it.

At that point, Sticker said, authorities realized that the package was, in fact, a chess set.

The incident drew about 25 Mandeville Police Department officers, another 20 from the Sheriff’s Office, five or six FBI agents and one ATF agent, Mandeville Police Chief Rick Richard said.

Initial pictures looked very much like a pipe bomb, Richard said. A box that contained the chess pieces looked like a battery device and loose threads looked like wires.

In 30 years of police work, Richard said, he’s never seen anything that looked more like a bomb.