Part 7: Principal Halbig and the Fake Bomb Detectors
When Wolfgang Halbig began his tenure as Assistant Principal at Lyman High School, it marked the end of his coaching career. On his resume, he notes that he was the school’s “Administrator responsible for discipline, drop-out prevention, in-school suspension, Physical Education, Life Management, Drivers Education, school security and School Resource Officers Program.”
Meanwhile, shortly after Wolfgang left coaching, the Halbigs appear to have started a new business: “Executive Sports Marketing.”
I’m actually not sure exactly what this was supposed to be; there were several business with similar names that were active around this time, and it’s not clear if any of them were the same one that Wolfgang and Kathleen started.
Anyway, it doesn’t look like it lasted very long. It’s just worth noting that the Halbigs apparently had some of their money tied up in a business venture around this time. It’ll be relevant soon.
By 1991, Wolfgang was recognized around Lyman High as the authority figure when it came to safety and security, as is evident in press coverage. In a Nov 24th article from that year, The Orlando Sentinel reports that surveillance cameras were installed at Lyman High recently, “to curb theft and vandalism,” and Principal Halbig talks up the effect they’ve had, along with “a concerted effort by faculty to boost morale and school unity.” Wolfgang is quoted, “When you make people feel good, it makes them want others to feel good. If you really want something, you have to teach it.”
In March 1992, the Sentinel quotes him again in a story about how the different schools in the region were dealing with baseball caps in their dress codes. “They became a discipline problem,” Wolfgang says of baseball caps at Lyman High. That was up until three weeks before, when they were banned from the entire campus. “And now it’s not a problem.”
And then, seemingly out of nowhere… Kathleen Halbig threw in the towel. She filed for divorce from Wolfgang Halbig, after thirteen years of blessed union.
The reason for the divorce is not known. (I mean… yeah I could think of plenty of reasons for someone to divorce Wolfgang Halbig. I’m just saying we don’t know what the actual dealbreaker was. The docket is public, but not the exhibits.)
(Also, whatever happened with Executive Sports Management may have had something to do with it, just given the timing. I don’t know.)
From the filings, it looks like Wolfgang tried to fight the divorce, initially. The court process probably took up a lot of Wolfgang’s time that year, with various hearings and depositions taking place over the spring and summer of 1992.
Meanwhile, a series of events at Lyman High was also keeping Wolfgang busy: According to a May 8th 1992 story in the Orlando Sentinel, four students from Lyman High stole 14 guns from another student’s house, and were arrested when those guns were found in the possession of a narcotics dealer.
It turned out the students got the house key from the student when they were bullying him in gym class… at Lyman High. The victim’s father said he’d reported the bullying months before, and nothing was done.
That put the ball squarely in Wolfgang’s court. So he tried to reframe the situation. He told the Sentinel that one of the offenders was suspended, and argued that the school couldn’t control what students do off-campus (ignoring how the key was obtained). “The question,” Wolfgang said, “is how did all these kids find out there were guns in the house unless someone was boasting about it?”
Wolfgang went on to express frustration that parents didn’t do more to address the problem, saying many of them hear about guns or fights, but don’t tell the school or the police. “We can discipline them, counsel them, try to adjust their classes, but until the parents and the courts take a stand, it’s not going to stop.”
An incident in November 1992 seems to have focused his thinking on this point: A student was caught with a stun-gun at Lyman High. When it was reported in the Orlando Sentinel on Nov 25 1992, the reporter explained that it was a gym teacher who spotted the weapon, after being tipped off by students.
Wolfgang made special note of that detail: The students had reported it. “They didn’t want to see anyone else get hurt,” he was quoted. “There are a lot of good kids who are really getting sick of all this.”
Meanwhile, the divorce was proceeding. He and Kathy both gave depositions that month, and the docket records him requesting a jury trial in October 1992. But just days before Thanksgiving, he requested a continuance, to move the trial to January 1993.
The trial would never come. Shortly after the new year, Wolfgang agreed to a divorce settlement.
Kathy got the house.
She got primary custody of the kids, too.
Then, a few weeks later, it was reported that Kathleen and Wolfgang had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Wolfgang got an apartment in town, and started his divorced-dad phase. (And, presumably, scrambled to get his finances under control.)
Back at Lyman High School, Wolfgang learned that the school would be one of the 11 finalists selected for the “State Drug-Free Schools Recognition Program” for 1992-1993.
State administrators would be visiting each of the finalist schools, and Wolfgang was to be among the team at Lyman High to greet the judges from the program. (I don’t know who won the drug-free-school contest, but it wasn’t Lyman.)
A few months later, Wolfgang was on a district task force that was assigned the task of recommending strategies for dealing with disruptive high school students. They proposed setting up an alternative school for kids who would otherwise be expelled. Wolfgang was quoted, “These kids are becoming too aggressive. They aren’t afraid to get in your face.”
This marks a shift in the logic that Wolfgang deploys; before, he would usually frame his arguments by siding with the kids. (Like saying he “stands for young people” when he ran for the school board, or that “the kids come first” when he was fired from the Hurricanes.) But soon after becoming a disciplinary officer, and hitting his 40s, he switches to a new refrain in his various pitches: “The kids are different than before, they’re more disrespectful now.” Or they’re “out of control.”
And his incentive for saying it is obvious: He’s positioning himself as the one to bring the students back under control. He’s the school-safety guy now.
In Fall 1993, the school board in Seminole County moved Wolfgang from Lyman High to Lake Mary High, still keeping him in the assistant principal role. Basically the same job, just at another school in town. But the move was still significant, because it was at Lake Mary High where Wolfgang met a guy named Brian Marcum.
Marcum was a School Resource Officer at Lake Mary, and so he worked closely with Wolfgang. Before becoming an SRO, he had worked for US Customs in some capacity. Wolfgang must have seen the value in having that on one’s resume, because he started working part-time for US Customs in 1993.
In his 2012 resume, he’d list it as “United States Customs Inspector, Orlando International & Sanford Orlando International 1993-1994,” and he describes his duties as “Worked with foreign and American travelers in inspection duties at International Airports.”
So, he worked a few hours a week at a customs checkpoint. But he knew how much value he could extract from simply having “U.S. Customs” on his resume — just look at how much he’s gotten out of his short State Patrol experience (see Part 3: Police Quest).
Wolfgang leveled up soon after. A profile of Wolfgang from March 29, 1994 records Wolfgang having been appointed head principal of the district’s new alternative school, Project Excel.
The profile goes on to describe a presentation where Wolfgang, with the aid of an assistant, demonstrated to 75 middle and high school administrators how frisking could reveal a ludicrous amount of weapons and narcotics in a student’s clothing, if done thoroughly. This became one of the standard routines in Wolfgang’s pitches after this: the spectacle of a student, dressed normally, who then reveals an entire arsenal or pharmacy hidden in his young-person clothing.
And Principal Halbig of course deployed his latest catchphrase: “They [the students] are more aggressive, more rude, more disrespectful each year.”
Project Excel, the first (and, spoiler alert: only) school where Wolfgang Halbig was head principal, was an alternative school that also provided job training for the students, and required they sign a “contract” to make them accountable for their academic performance. “The school is run like a business,” Wolfgang said. “We talk about putting their mistakes behind them. Now is their chance to do a job — to get an education.”
Running an alternative school would further Wolfgang’s experience in the sphere of school safety. Then, one day in 1994, the district doubled down; Wolfgang was living in an apartment in Lake Mary during this time, when his phone rang. (I imagine him answering it on his Sports Illustrated football phone, in cutoff sweatpants with a Zima in his other hand. But maybe not.)
In an April 2019 appearance on the “Lift the Veil” podcast, Wolfgang remembers the conversation:
In 1994, the superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools called me up. I was an assistant principal. ‘Wolfgang, I need a director of school safety. You know, we just got done having a gang member shot and killed, and dumped behind a dumpster. A tenth-grader in our high school. We’ve had stabbings. I mean we’ve had knife attacks…’ and you know, he said ‘you know what? I think it’s time for us to have a director of school safety, to take total control of it.’ I was the first — first — director of school safety in Seminole County EVER.“
Even this is a lie, of course. The Orlando Sentinel had already reported about the actual first director of security for Seminole County schools, who quit the job in April 1994. (His name was George Proechel if you want to look it up, but I don’t think “Wolfgang is lying about his career” is much of a stretch at this point. Just take my word for it.)
Maybe Wolfgang did get the phone call from the superintendent. I don’t know. He did get the job. And while he’d still act as head principal at Project Excel, this new role as Security Director would take him to schools all over the district. It was a whole other level of authority; Wolfgang’s association with keeping schools “safe” was already paying off amazingly well.
The first reporting that lists Wolfgang in this new role comes in September 1994; it documents how a public park across from Lake Mary High School would be opening two hours later than normal, because of concerns that drug deals were happening. “They’re a captive audience,” Wolfgang said of the Lake Mary students.
Two months later, another Sentinel edition runs the headline, “Tension and disorder pervade schools.” This story reports that violence has been increasing in Seminole county schools, and that “educators are troubled by the intensity of violence and classroom disruptions they must cope with.” While guns tended to grab headlines, the more pervasive problem was the number of fights. “The fights are not just simple fights anymore,” Wolfgang commented. “Today it’s to really hurt someone. To kick their face in. And it’s not just one on one. Four or five jump in to get their shots in. That’s what we’re concerned with — how aggressive these kids have become today.”
He dropped his catchphrase. “The ones [students] you have the problem with are the ones who don’t work. They’re nasty. They’re disrespectful. They tell the teachers to go to hell.“
When Wolfgang took over as security director, he inherited a program that his predecessor had started: “Silent Witness.” It was a hotline for students to anonymously report any security threats that a school in the county faced, if a classmate of theirs had somehow leaked their plans. Although Wolfgang had not started the program, he soon incorporated it into his patter. For the next few years, whenever Wolfgang is asked about violence in schools, he will recommend these hotlines. (He would be careful to suggest a certain branding, though; in a 2001 letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, when “tip-lines” were being debated for the city’s schools, Wolfgang wrote, “Students must be taught to break the code of silence. By calling this hot line [called something like “Save a Friend,” not a “tipline”], they can save a friend in trouble. They must know they are doing the right thing by picking up the phone.”)
“I think kids need to realize they can make a difference,” Wolfgang told the Sentinel. “There’s someone out there who needs help.”
The Fake Bomb Detectors
Wolfgang hadn’t been the director of school safety for Seminole County for even a full year yet, when one day in early 1995 he got a phone call from a man who identified himself as George Wilkins. Wolfgang listened as Wilkins explained this incredible new handheld gadget that he and a few business partners were shopping around to various school boards and sheriff’s departments across Florida: it was called the “Quadro Tracker.” And it sounded like the answer to Wolfgang’s prayers.
The Quadro Tracker was sort of like a metal detector — except far more versatile, and more powerful. It worked by detecting the “molecular frequency” of a given substance, which meant it couldn’t just detect metals; by switching out the various “frequency chips” that plugged into the handheld Quadro Tracker, its antenna would respond accordingly, and point to gunpowder, or drugs, or even people. And it could detect whatever the chosen substance was, even through solid concrete or steel.
With this technology, Principal Wolfgang could reveal any and all weapons, or contraband, anywhere on campus. It would totally rechange the landscape of school safety, and he could be at the forefront of that revolution.
Wolfgang agreed to let the group of businessmen come down to the Seminole County School Board for a demonstration, a scene he relayed to Reason magazine the following year:
It was a very exciting demonstration. I was excited. We were all sitting in the school board auditorium… They walk in with it in hand. You see the antenna swing. It points to a sign. You move the sign there, there’s a bullet. They had a gunpowder chip in there. We were finding bullets, we were finding marijuana…
(Wolfgang Halbig, “Box of Dreams” Reason Nov 1996)
The Quadro Tracker merchants agreed to loan the unit to Wolfgang so that he could test it out himself. Its advertising materials described how the unit was so powerful, that it could detect substances that were “in solution” — meaning, even if the drugs were already consumed and in a person’s bloodstream.
Thus, students from various schools in Seminole County saw Halbig pacing around their campus with the mysterious gadget in his hands, swinging its antenna at one student or another:
I used to be a customs inspector. We tried to be rational. We knew the profile. Why would Quadro react to one bunch of kids and not to another? You see a car drive in with a bunch of kids. Windows closed. They’re bouncing their heads. Next thing you know, you get them to admit, “Hey, I was smoking marijuana this morning.”
Wolfgang was sold. He told the Orlando Sentinel in May 1995 that he wanted a Quadro Tracker for every school in the district — a total price tag of $49,000 to start (and increasing for each additional frequency chip he wanted).
There was just one problem: the Quadro Tracker was a fake. It didn’t actually do anything at all; it was literally just a hollow plastic box with an antenna stuck on the end of it. And the “frequency chips” that slotted into it contained nothing more than a small photograph of the substance it was supposedly “detecting,” with no inner workings at all that would enable any real “detecting.” In truth, any motion from the tracker’s antenna was simply a result of the operator’s impulses, conscious or not.
From the beginning, when the tracker was reported in the local press in Seminole County, it was with a heavy dose of skepticism. The article Wolfgang was interviewed for was headlined “Some swear by device, others scoff,” and it even noted that U.S. Customs had passed on the Quadro (which must have been embarrassing for Halbig, who was still touting his inflated customs experience from just the year before).
Also asked for comment after a Quadro demonstration was a chief detective from a sheriff’s office in South Carolina, who told the Sentinel, “Have I seen it? Yeah, I’ve seen it. And yeah, that’s sarcasm you’re hearing in my voice… I think the chief held onto one for a few days. It was a spiffy toy.” (The reporter also wrote that the detective was “stifling a chuckle.”)
After the Sentinel article ran, Wolfgang himself became the target of ridicule. Two letters-to-the-editor in the May 14th edition each made light of him falling for the Quadro Tracker, with one Clarence R Keller from Longwood writing, “Tell [Wolfgang Halbig] I’ve got a digitalized diving rod that’s guaranteed to find buried gold deposits under school properties. But he’s got to act fast. At the introductory price of $500 per, they’re selling like hotcakes! Quick! Get me in touch with this guy!”
But Wolfgang still held out hope. Then, one of the strangest turns in his life story occurred: “Just as I was ready to make a commitment to buy one,” he tells Reason, “I got a call from this fellow named James Randi. He told me, ‘Before you buy it, can I come up and show you a test?’ I checked the guy out on the internet.”
The Reason article goes on to detail what Wolfgang would have learned about the magician-turned-debunker known as “The Amazing Randi”:
Through the generosity of some of his supporters, Randi has a standing offer to pay $624,000 to anyone who can conclusively demonstrate to his satisfaction any method or device that works by supernatural or extraphysical means. As a professional fakir, Randi is not easily fooled by others. Despite the plethora of the supposedly mystical in the world, no one has yet won Randi’s booty.
When Halbig agreed to let Randi supervise a double-blind test of the tracker, the device failed the test. It only “worked” when Wolfgang knew where the searched-for item was located.
But Wolfgang was still on the fence. He told the Miami Herald in late-June that it had detected “cocaine, marijuana and explosives” at his school, as well as “drug users.” He again hinted that it might be useful simply as a psychological deterrent, but he also had to defer to Randi. “If it works, it’s a heckuva concept. If it doesn’t, Randi’s right.”
By January of 1996, Wolfgang lost the faith. Randi had planted the seed of doubt, but that hadn’t been enough; he wondered if the veteran magician had simply fooled him. So then, he says, he tried a test of his own: He switched out chips on the Quadro Tracker, without himself seeing which chip was inserted. And the results didn’t change.
Whether or not this was the reason, Wolfgang never placed an order.
“It shows you how desperate we are,” Wolfgang told the Sentinel in a follow-up article that month. “When someone tells you they’ve got this magic, it gets your attention. I’m just so glad we didn’t buy it.”
That summer, the guys who had tried to sell the Quadro Tracker were all indicted for fraud. And that was the story of Principal Halbig and the fake bomb detectors.
Before we move on, ask yourself: If Randi hadn’t come along, how likely is it that the county would have spent that money on Quadro Trackers? And if they had, can you image if there really was a bomb at a Seminole County school? If it had been up to Wolfgang Halbig, any weapons or explosives devices would have gone completely undetected, their carriers given the “OK” by a hollow plastic box that amounted to nothing more than magic beans. (Not only that, the fake bomb detectors would be there at the cost of whatever real security measures could have been implemented with that funding.) Really disgraceful shit, for a person tasked with keeping children safe. Just straight up inexcusable.
Speaking of that: it’s important to keep in mind that Wolfgang Halbig was still working in his daily role as director of security, and principal of Project Excel, during this time when he was being ridiculed in the press. He didn’t lose his job over it or anything.
The heat was getting turned up, though. Wolfgang had been in the role for a full school year by the summer of 1995, and the stats on safety in Seminole County schools were looking pretty bad. According to a July 9 1995 article in the Sentinel, Sanford Middle School alone reported 343 fights that year, and all the other middle schools had a comparable problem, in one safety category or another.
In response to coverage of the statistical trend, Wolfgang cast skepticism on the stats themselves. “You have to ask, are all other schools putting in all their data? I know they’re not.” Still, the numbers didn’t look good. “When you have a school that has 300 fights, you need to look at what’s causing these fights and what we can do to resolve it. That’s a lot of fights.”
Another article from the Sentinel that summer documented the cost, in dollars, of crime in the county’s schools. Wolfgang listed off all the expenditures that the county had racked up in dealing with the problem. He had been writing a lot of checks, and saw where all the money was going.
In October 1995, Wolfgang makes a curious statement concerning his reputation, in an article covering violence prevention at Seminole County schools. (This was after he had fallen for the Quadro Tracker, but before he canceled the order and acknowledged the device was a fake, which may have been a factor).
“Some have supported me,” Halbig said. “Some have no support. They tell me I’m being overzealous or overreacting. There are some campuses where I feel uncomfortable because I don’t feel welcome.”
The last time Halbig had complained about a lack of “support” from his community, it was right before he quit as the head coach of the Blue Streak, back in Sebring. But he wasn’t going to back down so easily this time.
The article also notes that Halbig and a colleague had developed a “crisis intervention workshop” — a presentation similar to the one Wolfgang was already giving for searching students, but including a section that “shows educators how to defend themselves against various physical attacks.” This would become another of Wolfgang’s favorite topics, for years to come: how to restrain students in a safe fashion, and why he was the most qualified to show others how to do it.
In his 2012 deposition, Wolfgang is pressed to list each of the major injuries he suffered in his career, and one of them is from trying to restrain a student at Project Excel around this time:
A week after Wolfgang’s strange comment about “support” for him, a shocking incident took place at a Seminole County school: A student was shot in the parking lot at Lake Howell High.
It would eventually turn out that it was an accident (the student had unintentionally shot herself as she was trying to conceal the gun). But it took several days for the facts to surface, and in the meantime, the temperature in Seminole County schools rose significantly. Parents, and students, were paying special attention to administrators, like Wolfgang, who were responsible for school safety.
Later in January 1996, Seminole County schools announced that there would be a “forum” for school safety, with 40 students invited to voice their concerns directly to the school board. Wolfgang told the Sentinel, “These are kids who are respected by their peers. We’ll ask them, ‘What do you see? What do you hear? What is happening? What can we do to help?” The report noted that more sessions would be scheduled, if the first one went well.
A month later, things are not going well. The student newspaper for Lake Mary High School quoted one participant who said that it all started when a group of teens complained about “not always getting respect from teachers.” (I think they probably had a legit beef here; keep in mind their Director of School Safety had been bumbling around the campus waving a magic wand at students he thought might be stoned.) At this, Wolfgang Halbig suddenly “blew up.”
“Director Halbig totally lost his composure over this,” the student reported. When contacted by the Sentinel, Halbig admitted he may have “raised his voice,” but denied losing his temper.
It’s a defense reminiscent of the last time Wolfgang was reported to have lost his shit — in public, at work, in front of children — when he cost the Blue Streaks a penalty and got ejected for going off on an official (see Part 6: The Sebring High Conspiracy).
So, Wolfgang was getting fed up. The disrespect, the numerous campuses where he didn’t feel “welcome,” having to make excuses for the stats at his schools, the whole Quadro Tracker professional humiliation that everyone he worked with surely knew about… and the pay wasn’t even that great. Especially after the child support payments.
At the same time, it seemed like he had worked this whole “former-cop, former-customs-agent, school-safety guy” thing about as far as it was going to go. At least, as long as he was an employee of the Seminole County School District, this was as good as it was going to get.
He started cooking up a plan. His last career change had been a trading of places: from getting fired as head coach, to firing head coaches. This time, instead of writing all these checks to school safety contractors… what if he was the one cashing them?
What if Wolfgang Halbig could get rich?
(Continued in Part 8: The Metamorphosis)
Austin “Blade” Tompkins is a certified forklift and order-picker operator located in the province of Ontario. He was an active Sandy-Hook “hoaxer” from 2013 to 2014. He has been sober since 2015.