Terry Nichols: "Non-Resident Alien"
The image of Timothy McVeigh the stone-faced killer would fade in the wake of court appearances and media interviews, as Stephen Jones sought to portray his smiling and chiding client as the simple boy next door.
The enigmatic figure of Terry Nichols, however, would haunt public perception, as his attorney jealously guarded the mysterious, brooding figure from prying eyes.
It was the older, quiet, bespectacled Nichols, some theorized, who was the "brains" behind the bombing, guiding his young friend in the sinister and deadly plot.
Nichols' ex-wife, Lana Padilla, doesn't agree. "I believe that Terry bought his home, brought his family there truly, truly wanted to have a family and just get on with his life. I just don't think this man could have done this I just don't think with any knowledge he could have done this."
Neighbors Bob and Sandy Papovich, long-time friends, wrote the press that Terry Nichols is a "kind, gentle, generous man absolutely incapable of violence." As Papovich told the author, "I've known Terry for over 15 years, and I've never heard this man utter the word "hell" or "damn". Terry doesn't want to hurt anybody. And all these people want me to believe that this man is capable of murdering hundreds of innocent people. It ain't possible."
Terry Nichols told Federal Public Defender Steve Gradert, "Heck, I've got kids, too," in response to the bombing. A peaceful person, Nichols reportedly loved children, including his son Josh, whom he maintained a close relationship with. One day, the astute thirteen-year-old told his mother he had to call the FBI. He was frantic. "I've got to tell them!"
"What do you got to tell them, Padilla asked?"
"I've got to tell them that my dad wouldn't do that. He loves children. He wouldn't do that to those children."
Yet the press would paint Terry Nichols with the same broad brush that they had used to paint Timothy McVeigh focusing on the fact that Nichols came from a broken home, had dropped out of college, worked a series of odd jobs, and was anti-government. Like McVeigh, the media, anti-militia activists, and scores of pseudo-experts would do their best to cast Nichols in the same extremist mold a man, authorities claimed capable of killing 169 innocent people
The third of four children, Terry Nichols grew up on a farm near Lapeer, Michigan. His father, Robert quiet and soft-spoken labored hard on the family's 160-acre farm. Like his son, he also worked a series of odd jobs, doing construction, selling encyclopedias, and putting in shifts at the Pontiac and Buick plants, in an effort to keep the family afloat in a county where farming had become less and less prosperous.
His mother Joyce was a sharp contrast. Hard-drinking, often violent with explosive fits of temper, she had once rammed Robert's tractor with her car, and had threatened the local sheriff with a chain-saw. After 24 years of difficult marriage, the couple finally divorced. Padilla said Terry took it hard.
Nichols dreamed of going to medical school but his grades weren't good enough for most pre-med programs. He enrolled at Central Michigan University, but after his parents' divorce in 1974, he dropped out at the request of his mother, who needed help on the family farm in Decker. However, Nichols told friends he would never be a farmer.
Yet, like McVeigh, Nichols was an intelligent man. He passed a difficult test for a securities license with a minimum of study and preparation, but told friends he was bored with college, which he found no more challenging than high-school.
While in Decker, Nichols met his first wife, Lana Padilla, and they married in 1981. Two years later, they had a baby boy, Joshua. Shortly thereafter, Padilla's sister Kelli married Terry's brother James, and the four lived together at James's Decker, Michigan farmhouse.
Not satisfied with farm life, Nichols tried a number of different occupations. He delved into penny stocks, went on to sell insurance and real estate, managed a grain elevator, and worked occasionally as a carpenter. Nothing held his interest.
"No matter what he tried to do, every time he tried to break away, he ended up back on the farm trying to help his mother and James," said Padilla.
While Padilla devoted time to building her real estate career, Nichols cooked, cleaned house, and cared for the kids. Yet he grew increasingly restless and depressed.
"Terry got real down on life," said his father. "He didn't care what he had done . He lost his vitality."
One afternoon Padilla brought home pamphlets from the local Army recruiting office, and laid them out on the table. When she came back, the pamphlets were gone. Like many men uncertain about their future, Nichols decided to try a career in the military.
"He was just searching for a career, something he enjoyed," Nichols' friend Sandy Papovich told the Dallas Morning News. "He thought he would like it."
It was an unusual career move for a 32-year-old man with children. Yet Nichols hoped he would be able to rise quickly through the ranks, and Padilla thought the experience would strengthen Terry and save their marriage.
On May 24, 1988, Nichols was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia for basic training. "He said the government had made it impossible for him to make a living as a farmer," recalled assistant platoon leader Glen "Tex" Edwards. He hated the United States government. I thought it strange that a 32-year-old man would be complaining about the government, yet was now employed by the government. Nichols told me he signed up to pull his 20 years and get a retirement pension."
Because of his age and maturity, Nichols was quickly made platoon leader. The obvious discrepancy in years earned him the nickname "Old Man."
"The drill sergeant said that because Nichols was older than the rest of us, he would hopefully be more mature and able to lead the younger guys in the unit. He also had some college background and came into the Army as a PFC," said Edwards.
It was at Fort Benning that Nichols would meet Timothy McVeigh. The two men had enlisted on the same day. According to an account in the Post:
William "Dave" Dilly, who was McVeigh's roommate for about a year in the service, said McVeigh and Nichols "hit it off from the start, like Terry was his big brother. Tim was real frail and unsure of himself. Terry was the oldest guy and real sure of himself."
But the two men found they had a lot in common. McVeigh too came from a broken, blue-collar home and had an abiding interest in firearms and far-right politics. Both men fancied themselves as survivalists, and both loved to spend time on the rifle range. Both were looking for lifetime careers in the service. They quickly became friends.
Another one of their friends was Michael Fortier, who joined Nichols and McVeigh at Fort Riley. The three would spend free time together, going fishing, shooting, and sharing their political beliefs.
Yet while McVeigh would rise quickly through the ranks, Nichols' Army career stalled. It seemed his platoon leadership status had been rescinded due to a prank he and McVeigh had pulled.
Around the same time, Padilla filed for divorce, and made plans to move her real estate business to Las Vegas. On May 15, 1989, after 11 months in the service, Nichols put in for a hardship discharge due to a "family emergency" that was never publicly explained. Yet it apparently had nothing to do with his divorce. He told Padilla it was to take care of his son Josh. As Padilla later wrote, Nichols already had Josh with him at Fort Riley, where the pair lived in a house off-base. As Padilla wrote in her book, By Blood Betrayed:
I've always wondered just why he was released, less than a year after enlisting, and have always been told it was because he had to take care of Josh. But this theory never washed with me because he'd had Josh with him all along. I really believe that Josh was just a convenient excuse and that Terry had become disillusioned with the Army because he believed he would never rise through the ranks.
Perhaps Nichols' "hardship discharge" was similar to Lee Harvey Oswald's "hardship discharge" from the Marines that never was explained. And that of Thomas Martinez, the FBI infiltrator into the Silent Brotherhood (The Order), who was given an honorable discharge during basic training, which was never explained.
Even more interesting is the parallel to McVeigh's discharge after "failing" his Special Forces try-out in April of 1991. McVeigh's sudden and mysterious departure from the Army, like Nichols', was never fully explained. As suggested previously, McVeigh's sudden decision leave a brilliant military career behind may have resulted from his being "sheep-dipped" as an intelligence operative.
Yet mainstream media psychojournalists insisted that Nichols' departure from the Army was nothing more than the inevitable result of a consistent string of life-long failures.
Glen "Tex" Edwards put a slightly different spin on the matter. Edwards said that shortly before he left the Army, Nichols invited him to be part of a "private army" he said he was creating. "He told me he would be coming back to Fort Riley to start his own military organization," recalled Edwards. "He said he could get any kind of weapon and any equipment he wanted."
Nichols also said he intended to recruit McVeigh, Fortier, and others. "I can't remember the name of his organization, but he seemed pretty serious about it," Edwards said, adding that he reported Nichols' offer to the FBI shortly after the bombing.
In spite of the flamboyant tales about recruiting a private army, Nichols returned to his old life in Michigan, working for a time as a carpenter, then moving back to the farmhouse in Decker. In spite of his short career in the Army, or perhaps because of it, Nichols developed a deep distrust of the Federal Government.
It was a feeling that was shared by his brother James, who, as a farmer, had suffered through the worst of the floods of the late '70s and early '80s, and blamed the Federal Government for failing to provide adequate disaster relief. Nichols, along with his Sanilac country neighbors, witnessed dozens of farm foreclosures as a result. It was the Federal Government's policies that led to the rise of such far-Right groups as the American Agricultural Movement and the anti-tax Posse Comitatus. As the Post writes:
Many residents around Decker said they share Terry and James's angry politics, but are less vocal because they fear government retribution. "Much of what the Nichols brothers believe is not that different or radical from what lots of people around here think," said local truck driver Jack Bean. "We feel our liberties and freedoms are being chipped away at and we want all this authority off our backs. The difference between the Nichols and others in this community is that they are just not afraid to say what they think, to challenge what is wrong."
In spite of their differences, Terry and James had a lot in common. Both were fathers, had married sisters, and had suffered through difficult divorces. Both shared an ideological distrust of the Federal Government.
James studied the Constitution, Black's Law Dictionary and the Uniform Commercial Codes. He read the works of Jefferson and Paine and was particularly inspired by Jefferson's maxim, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Perhaps not coincidentally, this passage was discovered in McVeigh's car upon his arrest. It would later be read into evidence at his trial.
Both Terry and James also held a view shared by many beleaguered farmers: that the Federal Reserve was not empowered to coin money, and that U.S. currency printed after 1930, when the nation went into debt, was valueless. Following the advice of financial books that warned of an imminent crash, the brothers put their money into precious metals such as silver and gold.
Yet their activities took still more dramatic turns. In 1990 James tried to renounce his citizenship, and plastered his car with anti-government and Second Amendment bumper stickers.
Terry purchased a pick-up truck and decided not to register it, instead, making his own tag and placing it on front. Both men renounced their driver's licenses.
In March of 1994, Terry sent a dramatic affidavit to the Evergreen Township claiming himself to be a "Non-Resident Alien" private citizen not bound by the laws of the U.S. government. (See Appendix) He also renounced his voting rights due to " total corruption in the entire political system from the local government on up through and including the president of the United States of America, George Bush."
While he may have been right in principle, his activity was not condoned by the local authorities. In 1992, Chase Manhattan Bank went after Nichols for racking up $17,860 in unpaid credit card debts. The largely out-of-work farmer had spent over $35,000, using Chase and First Deposit National Bank cards, on farm equipment, personal effects, and airline tickets.
He attempted to pay off the debts with his own "Certified Fractional Reserve Check," a bogus check distributed widely among farmers by a group called Family Farm Preservation. He signed the check, "Explicitly reserving all my rights, Terry L. Nichols." He then sent the bank a letter retroactively revoking his signature from the credit card contract.
"There are two sides to that man, maybe many more," said Dennis Reid, a Sandusky, Mich., lawyer who has observed Nichols and his brother, James, during court proceedings in Michigan. "Jim to me I really expect is kind of a sissy. He was always shaking when he'd go into the courtroom and spout off," attorney Dennis Reid said. "Terry seemed to be more level-headed. He was still saying things that were strange, but he was certainly more cold and more calculating."
Terry definitely didn't seem "level-headed" when he went to court to answer the lawsuit by Chase. He refused to come before the bench, shouting to Judge Donald Teeple from the back of the room that the court had no jurisdiction over him. During the hearing, the bitter and sarcastic defendant accused the bank of fraud. "They knowingly and willingly know how to make credit out of nothing and make interest on it and actually steal people's hard earned money," he told the Judge. "They gave me valueless nothing for something they want to take from me that has value. That's not right, is it?"
He claimed to have determined that the bank's business was based upon "fraud and misrepresentation, collusion, color of law, conspiracy, enticement, inducement, seduction, duress, coercion, mistake [and] bankruptcy," and he filed a counterclaim against First Deposit and its attorneys for $50,000 or 14,200 ounces of silver. Nichols charged the bank with "mental and emotional damage, loss of happiness and the unjust destroying of credit history by wanton acts when no probable cause existed."
The judge was not impressed. He accused Nichols of playing with words and ordered him to pay the debt. Nichols didn't pay.
When FBI agents questioned Lana Padilla after Nichols' arrest, they asked her a curious question: Did Nichols ever dye his hair? The Bureau had been investigating a string of bank robberies throughout the Midwest. One of the robbers had dyed his hair, and was Nichols height and weight.
The group, known as the Midwest Bank Bandits, had robbed over a quarter-of-a-million dollars from more than 22 banks between January, 1994 and December, 1995 in a spree that took them across six states, including Kansas. The bandits were tied to a group of men who made their temporary home at Elohim City, a far-Right religious compound in Southeastern Oklahoma. McVeigh and his friend Michael Fortier were known to have visited the compound. Some of the men were also seen in Kansas with the bombing defendants. (See Chapter 4)
If the FBI's question came as a shock to Padilla, she would turn pale when she opened her ex-husband's storage locker on December 15, 1994, and discovered wigs, masks, and pantyhose. The Mid-West Bank Bandits had worn masks.
Could Nichols have been robbing banks? "Not the Terry I knew," said Padilla. "I was just speculating, but everything that has come out about that side of Terry was a total maybe I just turned my face and never noticed it, never wanted to notice it, but I never thought of him of course I never would have thought of him sleeping with a gun under him either."
Yet considering Nichols' hatred of banks and his rallying cry against the monetary system, it would not be too far-fetched a scenario. Such speculation is bolstered by the fact that McVeigh sent his sister a letter in December of '93 informing her that he was part of a group that had been robbing banks. Although he himself didn't admit to taking part in any of the robberies, he asked her to "launder" three $100 bills that "they" had stolen.
McVeigh returned to Decker, Michigan in the Spring of 1993 to see his old Army friend Nichols. Just back from Waco, where he had witnessed the carnage inflicted upon the Branch Davidians, McVeigh was instilled with a new sense of urgency and rage. At the Nichols farm, he would find like-minded souls who shared his frustration.
By the Fall of '93, McVeigh was living at the farmhouse, helping with the chores, and reportedly urging the Nichols brothers onto more militant activities. The men practiced target shooting and setting off small bombs on the property.
"You know how little boys like to play with things that blow up?" recalled [neighbor Phil] Morawski. "That was what they were like. And everything they mixed out there in the cornfields seemed to work."
The government would focus heavily on this activity later on.
According to Michigan Militia members, the Nichols brothers also began attending meetings, but the militia found their rhetoric too strong. Michigan Militia member John Simpson recalled: "Terry came to one of our meetings and wanted to talk about a tax revolt, having to have a drivers license and eliminating the government. We did not believe in his tactics particularly the stuff about a revolt." James reportedly talked about the "necessity" of taking on police officers, judges and lawyers. Apparently, McVeigh accompanied Nichols to some of the meetings.
According to Time magazine, McVeigh and the Nichols brothers went on to organize their own militia:
the three men formed their own cell of the "Patriots," a self-styled paramilitary group that James Nichols had been affiliated with since 1992 when he began attending meetings in a nearby town. The trio decided to recruit members and establish other cells around the area, but determined that for security reasons no unit should grow larger than eight members.
If this account is accurate, it would tend to jive with what Nichols told Army buddy Glen "Tex" Edwards about "recruiting" his own private army. Perhaps one of Nichols' recruits was Craig O'Shea, who lived just off Highway 77 in Herrington. A friend of Nichols who was kicked out of the service, O'Shea used to work for Barbara Whittenberg, who owns the Sante Fe Trail Diner in Herrington. Whittenberg described O'Shea as a "demolitions expert," and said she saw him occasionally with Nichols. "He's a very violent man," said Whittenberg, who said O'Shea had once threatened to kill her and her husband.
In March of '94, Nichols took a job at the Donahue ranch in Marion, Kansas.
Co-worker Tim Donahue recalled that Nichols worked long hours, sometimes six days a week, without complaint and appeared to enjoy his job, which he did well. Nichols would grouse about taxes and the government conspiring to seize people's firearms. One day when Nichols and Donahue were talking about the use of fertilizer in farming, Nichols mentioned that he knew how to make a bomb.
Four months later, in August of '94, Nichols gave Donahue 30 days notice. His dream of setting up a private army metamorphosized into simply supplying that army. He told Donahue he was going into the army surplus business with a friend. On September 30, that friend Timothy McVeigh showed up to help him pack.
It was during this period that his ex-wife began picking up strange signals from her former husband.
Earlier in the month, he had called her from Kansas. "He was very upset," she said. "He was very emphatic. He talked about Waco and that shooting at the White House (where a Colorado Springs man fired a gun toward the White House). He said, 'You know, that guy wasn't all wrong. There's going to be some civil unrest in this country.'"
During one of his frequent visits to Padilla's house in Las Vegas, Nichols displayed his Glock .45. "I never knew him to carry a gun," Padilla told the Denver Post. "He liked guns and collected them, but this was new. He acted like he was afraid for his life. He slept with it on."
Traveling the gun show circuit with McVeigh, Nichols was now a virtual nomad, living out of his pick-up. His few remaining possessions were stored in a locker in Las Vegas. He also told Padilla that he was he was switching the beneficiary of his life insurance policy from her to his new wife, Marife.
A 17-year-old Filipino mail-order bride, Marife Torres met Nichols through Paradise Shelton Tours, of Scottsdale, Arizona. The young woman looked forward to leaving her life of poverty in Cebu City, Philippines, where the unemployment rate often topped 40 percent. After a year of exchanging heartfelt letters, they married on November 20, 1990 in a small restaurant in Cebu City. Yet it took over four months of bureaucratic hassles and red tape to arrange Marife's entry into the U.S.
"That one episode soured Terry on government," his father recalled. "He originally told me it would take six weeks for her to come here but it was red tape, red tape, red tape."
At first the newlyweds tried life on the Decker farm, where Jason, Marife's son by a former boyfriend, was born on September 21, 1991. Yet Marife found herself "working like a maid," cooking and cleaning for "three husbands," Terry, James, and Tim, who often stayed at the house. She wrote her friend Vilma Eulenberg that she thought the place was haunted, and resented McVeigh, who she thought was a bad influence on her husband.
The couple eventually moved to warm, sunny Las Vegas, but Marife missed her Philippine home. To accommodate his new wife, Nichols moved to Cebu City. But the noise, heat and smog was too much for him, and in mid-1993, after barely a month in the Philippines, they moved back to the States, shuttling back and forth between Michigan and Nevada.
Nicole, their first common child, was born on August 1, 1993.
Two months later, on November 22, tragedy struck, when 26-month-old Jason accidentally suffocated to death in a plastic bag. While Marife wondered if Terry was capable of killing a child, Padilla assured her he was not, then hinted darkly in her book that McVeigh may have been responsible for the death. She neglected to mention the fact that McVeigh and James had tried to revive the youngster for nearly half-an-hour, then called the paramedics.
A month later, the couple moved to Las Vegas, where they rented a condominium for $550 a month. It was during this period that Marife began traveling to the Philippines to finish her physical therapy degree. According to Padilla, Terry also traveled to the Philippines about four times a year over a four year period. She wrote that he sometimes traveled to Cebu City without taking Marife, whom he occasionally left behind.
"Sometimes he went when Marife was in Kansas. It didn't make sense, but I never asked why."
Padilla subsequently told me in July of 1996, "I have not known him to leave her here and just go to the Philippines. If he made a trip by himself, it was because she was already there."
Whichever account is true, Nichols did travel to Cebu City in late November to meet with "potential business partners." According to Padilla, Nichols was making arrangements to bring back "butterflies."
"One time he brought back butterflies little butterflies that they make over there he brought them back here to sell."
Butterflies. Curious merchandise for a man trying to set himself up in the military surplus business.*
Then on November 22, 1994 Nichols made a final visit to the Philippines to visit Marife. His parting words to Josh left the 12-year old convinced he was never going to see his dad again. As he got into the car with Padilla after dropping his father off at the airport, he started crying.
"What's the matter?" Padilla asked.
"I'm never going to see my dad again. I'm never going to see my dad again."
"Of course you will," Padilla said reassuringly. "He's gone to the Philippines a lot of times. You know he always comes back."
"This time is different," he blurted through big tears.
Nichols called his ex-wife from Los Angeles several hours later. "Had a little excitement at the airport after you left," he said, laughing. He told Padilla that airport security had stopped him for trying to sneak a pair of stun guns through the metal detector. They called the cop on duty who ran Nichols' name through the computer. Although he had several outstanding traffic warrants, the police let him continue on his way.
Just why was Nichols attempting to carry stun guns on an international flight? According to Bob Papovich, Terry was afraid of the high crime rate in poverty-stricken Cebu City. He also said that Nichols was afraid of Marife's ex-boyfriend. Jason, her son by this man, had died while in Nichols' custody. The ex-boyfriend had allegedly threatened to kill him should he return.
Yet Padilla doesn't think the story is credible. "I think it's something they dreamed up," she said. Yet upon his return he told Padilla that he could get "killed down there" and he was never going back.
Obviously, somebody was out to hurt Terry Nichols, possibly kill him. When he departed for Cebu City, he left a mysterious package for his ex-wife, saying, "If I'm not back in 60 days, open it and follow the instructions." At first, Padilla did as she was told. But her instincts eventually took over.
"I was uneasy about his warning, and Josh's, 'I'll never see my dad again' kept echoing in my brain."
Padilla had secured the package in her office safe. Now she slipped quietly into the conference room, opened the lock, and laid the mysterious brown paper bag on the table. It stared ominously back at her. As she ripped it open, nearly a dozen keys slid out onto the table. She didn't recognize any of them.
There was Terry's life insurance policy with a note saying he had changed the beneficiary from her to Marife, and two handwritten lists saying "Read and Do Immediately." One of the lists directed her to a storage locker in Las Vegas:
All items in storage are for Joshua. The round items are his when he turns 21, all else now.
The note also instructed her to remove a small plastic bag taped behind a utensil drawer in Nichols' kitchen:
All items in plastic bag are to be sent to Marife, for Nicole, if for any reason my life insurance doesn't pay her. Otherwise, half goes to Josh and half to Marife.
She removed a letter to McVeigh's sister, Jennifer. Inside the letter to Jennifer was another one stamped and addressed to McVeigh:
If you should receive this letter, then clear everything out of CG 37 by 01 Feb 95 or pay to keep it longer, under Ted Parker of Decker. This letter has been written & sealed before I left (21 Nov 94) and being mailed by Lana as per my instructions to her in writing. This is all she knows. It would be a good idea to write or call her to verify things. [address redacted] Just ask for Lana (card enclosed). Your on your own. Go for it!!
Also Liquidate 40
At the bottom it read, "As far as I know, this letter would be for the purpose of my death."
"Why would he write that letter?" asked Padilla. "He has been there so many times. Never ever, has he written a letter like that. Never ever."
Two weeks later, on December 15, Padilla and her oldest son, Barry, drove to Nichols' apartment. Following Nichols' instructions, Barry reached behind the kitchen drawer and pulled out a plastic bag. It was crammed full of twenties and hundreds a total of $20,000 cash.
Already in a state of shock, the pair drove to the AAAABCO storage facility and nervously fumbled with the lock. They were stunned when they opened the door.
there were wigs, masks, panty hose, freeze-dried food, and various gold coins (obviously the "round" objects for Josh), along with gold bars and silver bullion stacked neatly in boxes. There were also some small green stones that appeared to be jade. I estimated at least $60,000 street value in precious metals!
There was also a large ring with what appeared to be safe deposit box keys.
Two months later, on January 16, Nichols returned from the Philippines, alive and well. "Where's the package?" he asked Padilla.
"I opened it," she stated boldly.
"Why?!" he exclaimed. "You betrayed my trust. I told you not to open it for sixty days."
"Because I was frightened. I thought something terrible had happened to you. I thought you were dead. And where did you get all that money?"
The couple then argued over finances, but Nichols wouldn't explain the mysterious letters, or where he had gotten the cash, the gold, and the safe deposit box keys. She didn't ask about the wigs, the masks, and the pantyhose, and he didn't tell her. But she was worried nonetheless.
"I think those letters were written because there is somebody bigger than any of us will ever know involved in this," said Padilla. "Why did he change his beneficiary on his life insurance? It wasn't because her boyfriend might take a pot-shot at him and then he said in that letter not to say a word to Josh until it's all taken care of what the hell is he talking about? It isn't the boyfriend."
If the boyfriend story is untrue, perhaps Nichols' "butterfly" partners were out to get him.
Or perhaps it was someone else, someone bigger and more dangerous. Such players aren't hard to come by in Cebu City, home to a number of terrorists groups such as the Liberation Army of the Philippines, the Communist Huk, and the Abu Sayyaf, an organization with close ties to the Mujahadeen and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.
Was Nichols meeting with terrorists in the Philippines? Incredibly, FBI 302 reports and investigations conducted by McVeigh's defense team indicate that Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and several other terrorists met in Davao, on the Island of Mindanao, in late 1992 or early 1993, to discuss the Oklahoma City bombing plot.
One of the men at the meeting, recalled an Abu Sayyaf leader, introduced himself as "a farmer."
When the "farmer" returned from his November, 1994 trip, and discovered that Padilla had opened the package and read the letter, he turned "white as a ghost," then immediately began making a series of desperate calls to a boarding house in Cebu City.
Curiously, Nichols would call his party, have a brief 34-second conversation, then hang up and immediately redial the number 14 consecutive times, letting it ring each time. This he repeated on January 31, with nine calls and one 14-minute conversation; then on February 14 he placed 22 calls within a 40-minute time-period, with one 23-minute conversation; then on the 28th he made 31 calls within three hours, with no conversations; then finally on March 7 and 14 he made two calls, speaking 24 minutes each.
Since Nichols didn't time-out these consecutive calls (as one would tend to do if there was no answer or the line were busy), but made one call right after the other, is it possible he was sending some sort of signal or code?
Helen Malaluan, who runs the boarding house, told me Nichols was probably trying to reach Marife, who she said was staying there at the time. Her brother Ernesto also said that boarders from the island of Mindanao often stayed at the house. The Abu Sayyaf, coincidentally, is headquartered in Mindanao. Was Nichols using Marife to send a message to someone else?
In February of '95, Terry and Marife moved to Herrington, Kansas, where Nichols purchased a modest home for $25,000.
"We all thought he was just a little bit different," Herrington real estate agent Georgia Rucker said. "We had to pry any information out of him."
In Herrington, Nichols appeared to settle down. He attended army surplus auctions at nearby Fort Riley and tried to make a living selling army surplus gear.
"He spent the morning of April 19, around Herrington, picking up business cards, registering his truck with the state, and calling on a couple of local shops, asking about their interest in buying government surplus," said Padilla. "Those are not the actions of a guilty man."
But are they?
On September 30, the same day that Nichols quit the Donahue ranch, someone using the name "Mike Havens" purchased 40 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate from the Mid-Kansas Co-op in McPhearson. Although employees never positively identified Nichols as the customer, a receipt with McVeigh's fingerprint was found in Nichols' home. The FBI asserts that the fertilizer was kept in a storage shed in nearby Herrington, rented by Nichols under the alias "Shawn Rivers."
Then, that same weekend, 299 dynamite sticks, 544 blasting caps, detonator cord, and a quantity of an explosive called Tovex were stolen from the Martin Marietta Aggregates rock quarry just north of Marion. Marion County Sheriff Ed Davies testified at McVeigh's trial that he found metal shavings and tumblers on the ground in front of the magazines. FBI Agent James Cadigal, an FBI firearms and tool marks identification specialist, said that a drill bit in Nichols' home matched the signature of the hole drilled into the lock.
Finally, Lori Fortier, Michael Fortier's wife, testified that McVeigh told them that he and Nichols had broken into the quarry.
On October 18, 1994, 40 additional 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate were purchased from the Mid-Kansas Co-op by "Havens." Havens was reportedly driving a dark-colored pickup with a light-colored camper top the kind owned by Terry Nichols. (Another version of the story has a red trailer attached to the truck, which didn't appear to be Nichols') The FBI believed the fertilizer was stored in a locker in Council Grove number 40 rented the previous day by "Joe Kyle." This apparently was the "liquidate 40" that Nichols referred to in his mysterious note to McVeigh.
Jennifer McVeigh later testified that when her brother visited Lockport in November of '94, he confided to her that he had been driving around with 1,000 pounds of explosives. Could these "explosives" have been the ammonium nitrate purchased at the Mid-Kansas Co-op?
Then on November 5, 1994, several masked men robbed gun dealer Roger Moore. The 60-year-old Moore was surprised by two men carrying shotguns, wearing camouflage fatigues and black ski masks, who bound him with duct tape. They proceeded to ransack his house, making off with a large collection of weapons, plus a number of gold and silver bars, and a safe deposit box key.
Interestingly, Moore (AKA: Bob Anderson) knew McVeigh, who once stayed at his house. Moore had met McVeigh at a gun show in Florida in 1995.
For his part, McVeigh had a solid alibi. He was in Kent, Ohio on November 5, at a gun show. Yet after the bombing, Fortier reportedly told the FBI that McVeigh called him after the robbery and said, "Nichols got Bob!" Some of the guns were later pawned by Fortier at the behest of McVeigh, according to the FBI, which contends that the proceeds were used to finance the bombing.
Interestingly, Nichols was seen in Sedalia, Missouri on February 10 and 11, the same weekend that gun dealer William Mueller was robbed. Mueller's Tilly, Arkansas home, 150 miles south of Sedalia, was burglarized of $40,000 worth of silver coins, gun parts, survival gear, and 30 cases of ammunition.
What makes this even more interesting is that Nichols had checked into the Motel Memory the evening of February 10, after a long drive from Kansas, telling owner Phillip Shaw he was there for the gun show. Yet Nichols had missed the first day of the two-day show.
The next morning, while Nichols was apparently at the show, Shaw's wife Betty opened his room and saw dozens of boxes of ammunition scattered across the floor. The presence of such a large quantity of ammunition puzzled local investigators, who knew there was too small a profit margin in legally-purchased ammo for gun show dealers to bother messing with it. Moreover, if Nichols had planned on selling the ammunition, why had he left so much of it in his room?
Tragically, Mueller, his wife, and their 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, were found murdered on June 28, 1996. Their bodies were by pulled from the Illinois Bayou after a fisherman discovered a portion of a leg. The family had been handcuffed, their heads covered with plastic bags wrapped with duct tape. They were found in 20 feet of water, tied to a heavy rock.
Unaccounted for was some $50,000 the Arkansas Gazette reported the Muellers were believed to have received only days before they disappeared.
While Timothy McVeigh had known Roger Moore, his friend Michael Brescia, and his friend and roommate Andy Strassmeir had met Bill Mueller at a Fort Smith, Arkansas gun show earlier that year. As reported in the McCurtain Gazette:
Mueller then told [Gene] Wergis that he remembered the two because he believed they might be connected with his home's burglary or even the ATF. Wergis also reported that Mueller showed him a spiral notebook where the exhibitor had gone so far so great was his concern as to write down the two men's names.
Both Brescia and Strassmeir, who also knew McVeigh, lived at Elohim City, the white separatist compound near Muldrow, Oklahoma. Two other part-time residents of Elohim City, 24 year-old Chevie Kehoe and his brother Cheyne, opened fired on police during a traffic stop in February of '97. The pair was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in Little Rock on murder, racketeering and conspiracy charges, stemming from the Mueller murder.
Guns stolen from the Muellers wound up at a Spokane, Washington motel. The manager told the FBI that he is 75 percent certain that McVeigh visited his motel in late '94 or early '95 when Chevie Kehoe was living there. He said that Kehoe showed up 45 minutes before the April 19 bombing with a request to watch CNN, and seemed elated when he learned of the tragedy.
Michael Brescia was later arrested for his alleged role in the robbery of a Madison, Wisconsin bank part of the string of robberies committed by the Mid-West Bank Bandits. As previously mentioned, some of the robbers made their temporary homes at Elohim City.
After the bombing, the FBI questioned Padilla about the items found in Nichols' home and storage lockers. Among those items were large quantities of ammunition and a safe deposit box key belonging to Roger Moore. As of this writing it is not known whether the FBI traced the ammo to Mueller.
Also found in Nichols' home, according to ATF Agent Larry Tongate, were 33 firearms, five roles of 60-foot Primadet detonator cord, non-electric blasting caps, containers of ammonium nitrate, a fuel-meter, and four 55-gallon blue and white plastic drums.
Not exactly the everyday stuff of an ordinary guy from a small town in Kansas.
Similar items were found in James Nichols' farm, including blasting caps, safety fuses, ammonium nitrate, and diesel fuel. Nichols, who was taken into custody the same day as his brother, denied any wrongdoing, and authorities dropped all charges. As for his brother, he commented, "My gut feeling. I didn't do anything. He didn't do anything." When asked by a reporter, "How about Timothy McVeigh? he replied, "I want to see some facts."
Yet the facts against Terry seemed to be piling up.
On April 15, 1995, Barbara Whittenberg served breakfast to three men at the Sante Fe Trail Diner: Terry Nichols, Tim McVeigh, and a third man with dark features. She also recalled seeing a Ryder truck outside, and asked the men where they were headed. Suddenly, she said, it was "as if ice water was thrown on the conversation."
The men left before 7:00 a.m. Later that afternoon, as Whittenberg and her son were driving to nearby Junction City, they saw the truck parked at Geary State Fishing Lake where authorities originally claimed the bomb was mixed. The truck was still there when they drove past around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. Whittenberg's son recalled seeing three men along with what he described as a Thunderbird with Arizona tags.
Later that day Nichols visited a Conoco station in Manhattan, Kansas, and a Coastal Mart in Junction City, and bought over 30 gallons of diesel fuel. Nichols' pick-up has a diesel motor, according to his brother, and Nichols' had been a regular diesel customer for over two months prior to the bombing, according to Shan Woods of Klepper Oil Co., purchasing between $20 to $30 worth of diesel fuel "two or three times a week." Receipts were again found in his home.
The next day, Nichols purchased an additional 21 gallons from the Junction City Conoco station.
Then, on the evening of April 17, 1995, a Ryder truck was seen parked behind Nichols Herrington home. A Ryder truck was seen that same week backed up to a storage shed that Nichols rented.
On the morning of the 18th, several witnesses again saw the Ryder truck parked at Geary Lake. Parked next to appeared to be Nichols' pick-up. When the FBI subsequently inspected the area, they allegedly recovered bits of ammonium nitrate and strands of detonator cord, and saw signs of diesel fuel.
That same day, or possibly the day before, a convoy pulled in for gas at the Easy Mart in Newkirk, 100 miles north of Oklahoma City. It was a Ryder truck accompanied by a blue pick-up with a camper top. Manager Jerri-Lynn Backhous recalled seeing three men. The passenger in the pick-up was dark skinned with black hair, average height, and had a "real muscular build," she said. He was wearing a t-shirt and sun-glasses, and "looked just like the John Doe 2 sketch."
Backhous also saw a reflection of the person in the Ryder truck. He was a short man with close cropped, dark hair and glasses, she said. Employee Dorinda J. "Wendy" Hermes waited on the third man Terry Lynn Nichols who came into the store and bought food for the others. Hermes particularly recalled Nichols' pick-up. "It caught me funny because it had street tires on it, but it was all muddy," she said.
But perhaps most interesting was the recollection of Nichols' son Josh, who accompanied McVeigh and his father on the ride back to Kansas that Sunday. McVeigh asserts that he called Nichols from Oklahoma City because his car had broken down, and asked Nichols to pick him up. On the way back, according to Josh, McVeigh made his infamously cryptic remark: "Something big is going to happen."
Nichols reportedly asked him, What, are you going to rob a bank?"
"Something big is going to happen," McVeigh stoically replied.
A curious statement. If McVeigh and Nichols had conspired to bomb the Murrah Building, wouldn't Nichols already know that "something big" was going to happen?
Or was the statement invented by Nichols to exculpate himself from the plot in the eyes of investigators? Given the fact that the statement was relayed to the FBI by Nichols' 12-year-old son, this seems unlikely.
And if Nichols was involved in the plot, there is evidence that in November of '94 he wanted out. Among the documents prosecutors handed over to the defense is testimony from Lori Fortier that McVeigh began to solicit help from her husband because Nichols was "expressing reluctance."
It should be noted however that the FBI and the "Justice" Department is infamous for framing people, and they brought enormous pressure on the Fortiers, threatening them with knowledge of a terrorist plot, weapons violations and other charges if they did not testify against Nichols and McVeigh. Federal prosecutors subsequently coached Lori Fortier heavily before McVeigh's trial, having her practice her testimony in two mock trials.
Yet if Nichols had no involvement in the plot, what was he doing with large quantities of ammonium nitrate, blasting caps, detonator cord, and a collection of 55-gallon drums? Why the purchases of diesel fuel? Were these items planted by the FBI?
If Nichols was involved in the bombing, why didn't he make any attempt to hide or dispose of these incriminating items before April 19, or even by the 22nd? Why would a man,who had allegedly just blown up a building, killing 169 people, plainly leave a receipt for the so-called bomb ingredient in his kitchen drawer?
In fact, Nichols didn't attempt to hide any of these items, before he casually walked into the local police station on April 22, after hearing his name on TV. Such do not seem like the actions of an intelligent, calculating, cold-blooded killer.
But, then there were the mysterious trips to the Philippines. Those trips, and Nichols' clandestine meetings with some mysterious players in Las Vegas, would begin to intrigue a handful of journalists and investigators, as the Oklahoma City bombing plot took them down an even darker and more insidious road.