THE JOHN DOE TIMES
Volume V, No. 5
24 March 1997
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Some John Doe Times Transmission Problems
- Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's Latest.
- The John Doe Times Makes the Washington (Bleep) Post.
WATCH FOR SIGNIFICANT PRESS CONFERENCE FROM OKLAHOMA JONES TODAY, 24 MARCH
IN DENVER. SUBJECT: ??? BUT GUARANTEED TO CAUSE PROSECUTION TEAM GAS PAINS.
ALSO, A JOHN DOE TIMES PERSONAL AD: "SWEET THING": I'M BACK AT THE
CABIN. SIGNED: "AN ADMIRER"
The John Doe Times is an on-line, electronic newsletter published by
the First Alabama Cavalry Regiment and friends. Our Motto: Sic Semper
AN APOLOGY TO OUR READERS:
We discovered this week that most of our subscribers have not received John
Doe Times, Vol. V, No. 1 and subsequent issues. This is the latest in a series
of transmission problems we have been having with AOL, the Feds' favorite
server. We will be retransmitting the last four issues to our entire subscriber
list and we can only apologize for the delay, or any duplications which may
result. Our sincere regrets for any inconvenience. -- The Mgmt.
OBSERVATIONS UPON THE ACUTE FEDERAL PROBLEM KNOWN AS CAROL HOWE BY OUR
FAVOURITE BRITISH JOURNALIST--
International News Electronic Telegraph
Sunday 23 March 1997 Issue 667
US turns on its star witness in bomb case
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
THE US government has brought criminal charges against a key witness who
gave advance warning of a bombing conspiracy in Oklahoma in what looks like a
flagrant attempt to cover its own tracks.
Carol Howe, a former Tulsa beauty queen, has been indicted for allegedly
conspiring to make an unrelated bomb threat and possession of a "destructive
device". It is a remarkably thin case stemming from an inflammatory
anti-government message that her boyfriend recorded on an answering machine.
The indictment followed interviews that she gave to an Oklahoma newspaper,
the McCurtain Daily Gazette. She revealed she had been recruited by the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) as an undercover informant, at $120 a
week, to spy on the activities of a neo-nazi group at Elohim City in Oklahoma.
From June 1994 until March 1995 she filed more than 70 reports on her
activities to her ATF case officer in Tulsa, Angela Finley. At Elohim City she
learned that a group called the Aryan Republican Army was discussing a terrorist
attack on buildings in Oklahoma. According to Howe, the prime instigators
included a former German army officer named Andreas Strassmeir.
Strassmeir, the son of a prominent politician in Berlin, is widely suspected
of being an undercover agent. In a series of interviews with The Telegraph last
year he admitted that he engaged in undercover intelligence work in the German
military. He said that he had first come to the United States in 1989 with the
intention of working for the US Justice Department.
According to Howe, the group targeted three buildings, including the Murrah
building. She said that they "cased" the Oklahoma building three
times, in November and December 1994, and February 1995, once in her presence.
It was blown up on April 19, 1995.
Whether or not she filed ATF reports detailing specific threats is now a
subject of great contention. The documents were turned over to the defence team
of Tim McVeigh, whose trial for his role in the bombing opens next week, after
their existence was revealed in the press.
The critical material dates from December 1994 when Carol Howe moved into
Elohim City for five weeks and collected sensitive intelligence. The December
documents have vanished. However, a debriefing report filed two days after the
bombing quotes Howe reminding her ATF handlers that she had told them of the
group's interest in the Murrah building. She also identified an artist's sketch
of suspect John Doe II as Strassmeir's housemate, Michael Brescia.
The FBI, which has conducted more than 23,000 witness interviews, did not
question either Strassmeir or Brescia after the bombing. Fifteen months later,
when Strassmeir's name surfaced in the press, the FBI telephoned him in Berlin,
but only to reassure him that he was not a suspect.
The Justice Department is now claiming that Carol Howe was unreliable and
had to be dropped as an informant. But the documents show that she was given 17
polygraph tests to check whether she was telling the truth: she passed every
Immediately after the bombing the ATF, then in a panic, recalled her at a
much higher pay of $400 a day and sent her back into Elohim City to find out
what had happened to Strassmeir, Brescia and other members of the Aryan Republic
Army. Carol Howe is likely to be the star witness in the trial of Tim McVeigh,
which starts on March 31.
Is that why the Justice Department decided to indict her?
In all the speculation and spin surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing, John
Doe 2 has become a legend -- the central figure in countless conspiracy theories
that attempt to explain an incomprehensible horror. Did he ever really exist?
The Shadow - Did He Ever Really Exist?
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, March 23, 1997; Page 11
The stripper sits in a dark booth in a Tulsa topless bar called Lady
Godiva's. She sips a Coke and stares at a picture of Timothy McVeigh, the man
accused of setting the bomb that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City on April 19,
1995. She studies his face for a long moment.
"Yeah," she says, nodding. He's one of three guys who were in Lady
Godiva's 11 days before the bombing.
She has long blond hair and she's wearing a light blue bikini and knee-high
white go-go boots. She introduced herself as Cassie, but that's just her stage
name. She won't reveal her real name. In her line of work, that can be
Cassie looks at another picture, this one an FBI sketch of John Doe Number
2, the bombing suspect who was never apprehended, who prosecutors now say was an
Army private with no connection to the bombing.
"I recognize him," she says. "He's the one who was sitting in
a back booth, talking with other girls."
She remembers the night of April 8, 1995, vividly, she says, because there
was a wild screaming match between two strippers in the dressing room. That tiff
was captured on a security videotape that was avidly replayed by Lady Godiva's
owner, Floyd Ratcliff, who thought it was hilarious. After the bombing, Ratcliff
saw that the video also showed one stripper telling the others about a customer
who said he'd be famous after April 19. Ratcliff took the tape to the FBI. He
also gave copies to the media. It's been shown on TV in at least two countries.
Cassie gets a signal. "I gotta dance," she says. She leaves the
booth and climbs up on the stage. As the PA system plays a slow rock number, she
steps out of her bikini and goes to work.
Outside, a TV crew from MSNBC is waiting to tape interviews with Cassie and
other dancers who supposedly saw McVeigh with John Doe 2. This isn't the first
TV crew to come to Lady Godiva's since that dressing room video surfaced. The
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. was here a few months ago. So was the tabloid show "Extra!"
Not to mention the print and radio reporters and, of course, the FBI agents.
Lady Godiva's has achieved a kind of cult fame: It's a must-see stop on the
John Doe 2 mystery tour.
'With Others unknown'
He stares out from one of the most famous sketches of the decade, perhaps
the century. His dark hair is swept straight back, his jaw is square, his lips
are full, his gaze is intense. A T-shirt hangs from his thick, muscular neck.
The FBI released the sketch on April 20, 1995, the day after the bombing. It
was accompanied by a description: John Doe 2 was a white male in his late
twenties or early thirties, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches tall, 175 to 180 pounds.
He had a tattoo on his left biceps that "appeared to be a snake or a
serpent." The feds put a price on his head: $2 million.
On April 25, the FBI released a second sketch, which showed John Doe 2
wearing a baseball cap. Six days later, the bureau released a third, this one
depicting him in profile.
The sketches were published in hundreds of newspapers, shown over and over
on television. An FBI hot line received more than 10,000 calls from people who
thought they might have information. More than 1,000 state and federal agents
followed the leads. At least a dozen men who resembled the sketch were hauled
into custody, several of them at gunpoint, at least one of them on live
television. None proved to be the right person.
There was a huge buildup and then ... nothing. The most intensive manhunt in
American history failed to find its man.
In August 1995, the federal grand jury investigating the bombing indicted
McVeigh and his Army buddy Terry Lynn Nichols (who does not resemble John Doe 2)
on murder charges. In a phrase that still resonates, the grand jury alleged that
the two men had conspired "with others unknown."
Now, a week before McVeigh is scheduled to go on trial, the "others"
remain unknown, if indeed they exist, haunting the proceedings like apparitions.
Early this month, the case against him was thrown into deeper confusion when
the Dallas Morning News reported that it had obtained confidential defense notes
indicating that McVeigh had admitted to the bombing, saying he'd acted alone and
done it during daylight hours to ensure a high "body count." The
defense countered by saying the "confession" was a fake designed to
persuade a witness to talk to defense investigators. The entire case is like
that: Each hard fact is surrounded by layers of theory, speculation or spin.
As events have played out, John Doe 2 has become a legend, a kind of Lee
Harvey Oswald for the '90s -- the shadowy central figure in countless conspiracy
theories that attempt to explain an incomprehensible horror. He has joined the
ranks of people famous for disappearing mysteriously -- Ambrose Bierce, Amelia
Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa -- and the ranks of creatures who are frequently sighted
but never captured, like Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster.
There are lots of theories: John Doe 2 is an Iraqi terrorist. Or he's an
American Nazi. Or a federal agent. Or a common criminal hired by McVeigh and
Nichols to help with the scut work of mass terror. These theories have been
popularized in right-wing newspapers and magazines, as well as in the video "Oklahoma
City: What Really Happened?," which was produced by Oklahoma state Rep.
Charles Key, and the book OKBomb! Conspiracy and Cover-Up, by Jim Keith, who is
billed as the "author of Black Helicopters Over America."
But the most widely accepted alternative to the official theory was
developed by a reporter for a tiny Oklahoma newspaper and carried to the wider
world by an Alabama militia member who produces an online newsletter called the
John Doe Times. In that theory, John Doe 2 is Michael William Brescia, a
24-year-old, part-time college student from Philadelphia who was recently
indicted on conspiracy charges in connection with a white supremacist
bank-robbery ring called the Aryan Republican Army. The mother of two boys
killed in the Oklahoma City bombing has gone so far as to name Brescia as a
defendant in a wrongful death suit. And mock wanted posters featuring the John
Doe 2 sketch and Brescia's picture have been plastered near his Philadelphia
home. Brescia declined to talk about the accusation, but his lawyer, Brian
McMonagle, vigorously denied it: "He had nothing to do with that
unspeakable tragedy." Federal prosecutors agreed, saying they have found no
link between Brescia and the Oklahoma City case.
The feds have their own theory, which is also somewhat ambiguous. They do
not deny the possibility that John Doe 2 exists, but since June 1995, they have
contended that the man in the sketch is actually Todd David Bunting, an innocent
soldier who happened to rent a truck the day after McVeigh allegedly rented the
one used to deliver the bomb. This January, in a widely publicized move, the
prosecutors reaffirmed the Bunting theory. But in a less-publicized aside, they
also conceded that the three people who said McVeigh rented the truck still
believe that somebody was with him. If it wasn't the man in the sketch, who was
it? And what about all the people who say they saw John Doe 2 with McVeigh in
Kansas and Oklahoma?
Those questions will almost certainly be raised during McVeigh's trial,
which is scheduled to begin on March 31, because it is, of course, in the
defense's interest to poke holes in the prosecution's version of the case.
"We will certainly contend," McVeigh's lawyer, Stephen Jones, said
in a pretrial hearing, "that there is a John Doe 2 and maybe 3, 4 and 5 ..."
'John Doe Number 2 remains at large'
John Doe 2 was born in Junction City, Kan., early on the morning of April
Less than 24 hours earlier -- at 9:02 on the morning of April 19 -- a truck
bomb made of nearly 5,000 pounds of fertilizer and fuel oil exploded in front of
the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, ripping the front off
it, scattering debris for blocks, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500.
Within hours, the FBI found one of the truck's axles, which bore a vehicle
identification number, and quickly traced it to Elliott's Body Shop, a Ryder
rental outlet in Junction City. The feds called Elliott's to say that agent
Scott Crabtree was coming to interview the three workers who had witnessed the
rental transaction -- owner Eldon Elliott and two employees, bookkeeper Vicki
Beemer and mechanic Tom Kessinger. Before Crabtree arrived late that afternoon,
the three gathered to discuss what they remembered of the transaction, according
to a brief filed by the prosecution. All three recalled the man who had rented
the truck -- he used the name Robert Kling -- but only Kessinger remembered
another man accompanying Kling. By 3 the next morning, an FBI artist was huddled
with Kessinger in a room at nearby Fort Riley, producing sketches of the two
Later that morning, when the sketches were released to the public, Kling was
identified as John Doe 1, the other man as John Doe 2. Meanwhile, FBI agents
were swarming all over Oklahoma City and Junction City, showing the sketches to
anyone they thought might have seen the suspects. At the Dreamland Motel in
Junction City, owner Lea McGown identified John Doe 1 as Timothy McVeigh, who
had stayed at the Dreamland from April 14 to April 18.
Immediately, the FBI started searching for McVeigh. They found him in a jail
about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City. He'd been pulled over by a police officer
90 minutes after the bombing because his yellow Mercury Marquis had no rear
license plate. The cop noticed that McVeigh was carrying a concealed pistol and
McVeigh's driver's license listed an address in Decker, Mich., that turned
out to be a farm owned by two brothers, James and Terry Nichols. The feds
immediately grabbed James Nichols. A few hours later, after hearing his name on
television, Terry Nichols turned himself in at a police station near his home in
Herington, Kan., about 30 miles from Junction City. Both men were held as
material witnesses, but only Terry Nichols was charged in the case. Neither man
resembled John Doe 2.
At a news conference announcing the arrests, Attorney General Janet Reno
reminded Americans that the case was not yet closed.
"John Doe Number 2 remains at large," she said. "He should be
considered armed and dangerous."
'The sketch was bad'
The sheriff stopped Scott Sweely on Interstate 75 in Georgia and ordered him
to crawl out through his car window and lie face down on the pavement.
Sweely's red BMW carried Oklahoma plates, and somebody who'd seen him at a
gas station called the cops to say he looked like John Doe 2. Now, the sheriff
handcuffed Sweely and hauled him back to the police station, where the FBI
grilled him for nearly four hours before concluding that he was exactly what he
claimed to be -- an innocent 32-year-old man who'd just left the Air Force and
was moving to Florida.
Sweely was one of at least a dozen men picked up after the bombing because
somebody thought they looked like John Doe 2. A Minnesota man was stopped at
gunpoint on a freeway near the Mall of America. An FBI SWAT team roused a pair
of drifters from their sleep in a cheap motel room in Missouri. An Australian
tourist was seized at gunpoint in Ontario, Canada. An Army deserter with a vague
resemblance to the mystery suspect was arrested in California, then fitted with
a bulletproof vest and marched into a Los Angeles federal building through a
crowd of angry people yelling, "You coward!" and, "I hope you
Something wasn't working. The FBI had expected a lot of bad leads. That's
normal in high-publicity cases. But after a week of intense searching, the feds
hadn't found the real John Doe 2. Maybe the sketch was faulty. Tom Kessinger,
the mechanic who'd helped create the drawing, told the FBI he wasn't happy with
it. The hair bothered him. The guy had been wearing a baseball cap, so Kessinger
had never seen his hair. He could have been bald on top. So the FBI created a
second sketch by drawing a baseball cap on the first sketch.
When that didn't work, the bureau called in Jeanne M. Boylan.
After producing nearly 7,000 sketches of suspects over 20 years, Boylan was
America's foremost forensic artist. She has been summoned frequently to assist
with high-profile cases, including the Polly Klaas kidnapping and the Unabomb
"I got called," she says, "because the leads were going
She arrived in Junction City a week after the bombing and was taken to
Elliott's to meet Kessinger. He was a Kansas country boy, a 44-year-old mechanic
who'd suddenly found himself the key witness in the biggest manhunt in American
history. He was very nervous.
"The first thing he said was that the sketch was bad," Boylan
recalls. "He said, 'That's not what I saw.' I was very casual in my
response. I said, 'Okay, what did you see?' Internally, I was thinking, 'What's
going on here?'"
Kessinger told her the whole story, she says. He'd been sitting behind the
counter at Elliott's, watching Kling -- the man who rented the truck -- chat
with Vicki Beemer while she typed out the rental form. Kessinger's attention was
focused on Kling, who was prattling nervously, but he recalled seeing another
man lurking in the background. That man never talked to Kling, or even looked at
him. He simply drifted in, stood staring at posters on the wall, and drifted
out. Kessinger recalled the man's baseball hat and his black T-shirt, but not
much about his face, which he'd seen only in profile.
"He never saw this man from the front view," Boylan says. That
fact stunned her. The John Doe 2 sketch was, after all, a front view.
It had been created using a method Boylan considers dangerously
manipulative: The sketch artist had shown Kessinger the FBI Facial
Identification Catalogue -- a book of 960 photographs of faces, all of them
front views -- and asked him to point out the pictures that showed the correct
nose and eyes and chin. The artist then used Kessinger's choices to create the
sketches. In the case of John Doe 1, this method yielded a sketch that looked
remarkably like McVeigh. In the case of John Doe 2, however, it produced a
front-view sketch of a man never seen from the front, a bare-headed sketch of a
man never seen without a hat.
Boylan concluded that the sketch was useless.
Gently questioning Kessinger about exactly what he'd seen, Boylan created
her own sketch, this one a profile. She showed it to Kessinger, who suggested a
few small changes and then approved it. "He was very relieved that we
finally got it right," she says.
After completing her sketch, she briefed half a dozen FBI officials. "I
said, `We have major problems. This witness never saw the guy from the front and
he never saw him without a hat.' " She recalls one of the frustrated FBI
officials muttering, "How did this happen?" She remembers replying: "The
questions were never asked."
A few days later, the FBI released her drawing. By then, though, the first
sketches had been played and replayed countless times on television for 10 days,
burning themselves into America's collective memory as the face of John Doe 2.
Citing a gag order issued by the judge in McVeigh's trial, the FBI declines
to comment on the creation of the sketch. So does Kessinger. But Boylan is
candid about her opinion of that first drawing. "It never should have
existed," she says. "Misinformation is worse than no information at
'I'm John Doe Number 2'
In the FBI's Las Vegas office, agent Debbie Calhoun laid two pictures down
on the table. The first was the original John Doe 2 sketch, the one Boylan had
denounced. The second was a photograph of Terry Nichols's 12-year-old son, Josh.
"Do you see a resemblance?" Calhoun asked. She was interrogating
Lana Padilla, who is Terry Nichols's ex-wife and Josh Nichols's mother.
Padilla stared at the pictures. She knew that her son had been visiting his
father in Kansas on the day the truck was rented. She also knew that Josh had
repeatedly said he was not in Elliott's that day. But she did see a resemblance
in the pictures. "The longer I stared," she wrote in a memoir titled
By Blood Betrayed, "the more the pictures started to blend together."
"I think Josh could be our John Doe 2," Calhoun said, according to
Padilla's account. "He was there. He's the right size. And if he was
wearing dark clothing or the clerk saw him from a distance, his build could
easily be mistaken for an older man's ..."
Padilla listened and looked at the pictures, thinking that she did see a lot
of Josh in the John Doe 2 sketch. She summoned her son, who had been in another
room with another FBI agent.
"Look at these pictures, Josh," she remembers saying. "In
this shot, you do look a lot like John Doe Number 2."
"I think you were there," Calhoun said.
"I was there," Josh replied. "I'm John Doe Number 2." He
waited a moment, then laughed. "Just kidding."
His mother didn't think it was funny. Neither did the FBI.
For two weeks, hundreds of FBI agents had been hunting for John Doe 2, and
all they'd found were innocent look-alikes and lots of people who claimed they'd
seen McVeigh with somebody other than Terry Nichols shortly before the bombing.
At the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, housekeeper Hilda Sostre told the
FBI she saw a man who looked like John Doe 2 walking toward a Ryder truck.
Connie Hood, a visitor at the Dreamland, said she saw John Doe 2 there. Her
husband said he saw McVeigh and Doe sitting in a Ryder truck. Thirty miles away,
in Herington, Barbara Whittenburg told the feds that McVeigh, Nichols and John
Doe 2 ate breakfast at her diner the day before the bombing. A retired teacher
said he'd seen McVeigh and Doe at a gas station in Herington the previous night.
To make matters more confusing, Jeff Davis, who delivered Chinese food to a
Mr. Kling in McVeigh's room at the Dreamland, insisted that the man who answered
the door there wasn't McVeigh or Nichols or John Doe 2. And the owner of the
Dreamland and her son both swore that they saw McVeigh sitting in a Ryder truck
on Easter Sunday, the day before he allegedly rented a Ryder at Elliott's. That
truck had the Ryder logo painted over.
In Oklahoma City, the eyewitness sightings were equally confusing. A Tulsa
banker told the FBI that he was certain he saw McVeigh driving a car that was
following a Ryder truck -- and that the car had two passengers. Mike Moroz, who
was working at a tire store near the Murrah Building, told agents that McVeigh
pulled into the store's parking lot that morning to ask for directions while
somebody sat in the passenger seat. And a woman injured in the bombing said she
saw a man who looked like John Doe 2 get out of the passenger side of the truck
just before the explosion.
There were others, too, some of them crackpots, but some quite credible. For
the FBI, it was a nightmare trying to sort out all the John Doe 2 sightings.
And where, they wondered, did Josh Nichols fit in? He might possibly have
been the John Doe 2 who appeared at Elliott's, but he definitely wasn't the John
Doe 2 seen with McVeigh in Oklahoma City on April 19. By then, Josh was back
with his mother in Las Vegas.
"I don't want to talk anymore," Josh told the FBI agents on the
night they suggested he might be John Doe 2. He folded his arms and turned his
back. "I'll only talk to my dad."
"You know," Calhoun told his mother, "he could be arrested as
a material witness."
"Arrest a 12-year-old kid!" Padilla remembers yelling. "Over
my dead body!"
The FBI didn't arrest Josh Nichols. But for weeks, agents tailed him
wherever he went.
They were still shadowing him on the morning of May 10, when his mother
picked her local newspaper off her front lawn. On the front page was a banner
headline: FBI QUESTIONS NICHOLS' SON. Beneath it were two pictures -- the first
John Doe 2 sketch and Josh's seventh-grade yearbook photo.
The paper quoted an anonymous federal official: "He's large for his age
-- a big kid. Because of his size, it is possible that someone mistook him for
an adult. It's a possible explanation."
'If ... John Doe 2 is innocent'
A month later, the FBI proposed another possible explanation: It had found
John Doe 2, and he had nothing to do with the bombing.
On June 14, 1995, the Justice Department released a cryptic statement about "an
individual" who had been in Elliott's on a different day than Kling: "That
individual resembles the sketch previously circulated as the second of the two
men who rented the truck on April 17, and who has been called John Doe 2."
After interviewing this "individual," the FBI had concluded that he "was
not connected with the bombing."
The statement ended with a sentence that raised more questions than it
answered: "The FBI is continuing to investigate whether there was a second
man who participated in the rental of the Ryder truck on April 17."
That was the official statement. Unofficially, the feds identified the "individual"
as Todd Bunting, a 23-year-old Army private stationed at Fort Riley. Bunting and
a friend rented a truck at Elliott's on April 18, about 24 hours after McVeigh
allegedly rented his. Bunting held a news conference, confirming the FBI's
statement and demonstrating that he did, indeed, look a bit like the John Doe 2
But neither Bunting nor the Justice Department could explain why the
Elliott's witnesses -- who weren't talking to reporters -- had linked Kling with
a customer from a different day. Nor could they say whether Kling was alone when
he rented the truck or had been with somebody other than John Doe 2.
"There are all sorts of permutations possible," said one
unidentified Justice Department official. "We're still trying to figure
McVeigh's lawyer, Stephen Jones, enjoyed the confusion. "If they have
decided John Doe 2 is innocent," he asked, "what does that say about
the witnesses that claim to have seen him with John Doe Number 1, my client?
Obviously, either the witnesses or the government are confused, or perhaps both."
Back in Oklahoma City, Glenn and Kathy Wilburn, who'd lost two grandsons in
the bombing, scoffed at the idea that John Doe 2 was a case of mistaken
identity. What about all the other witnesses who'd seen John Doe 2? Were they
all mistaken, too? It didn't make sense. Somebody, they concluded, was covering
They'd met a reporter named John Cash, who was pursuing the bombing story
for a tiny rural newspaper called the McCurtain Daily Gazette, and he was as
skeptical as they were. They decided to help him find out what had really
happened. They figured they owed that much to their grandchildren.
'We're not crazy'
Kathy Wilburn flicks on the light, revealing a big bedroom with two small
beds, their pillows piled with stuffed animals. "This is their bedroom,"
she says. She's 43, slender, redheaded. "It's just like it was that morning
when they left for school."
She's talking about her grandsons, Chase Smith, who was 3 years old when he
was killed in the bombing, and Colton Smith, who was 2. Colton was a chubby
little guy with a powerful sweet tooth, she says. She picks a crumpled candy
wrapper and a lollipop off the dresser. "After he died, I cleaned out under
his bed and found his little M&M wrapper and his sucker."
The boys' mother, Edye Smith, had moved into her mother and stepfather's
brick house in Oklahoma City after she got divorced. It was convenient. Edye and
her mother both worked at the IRS in downtown Oklahoma City, a few blocks from
the Murrah Building. On their way to work, they would drop the boys off at the
Murrah day-care center. Edye was feeling sick on April 19, 1995, but she went to
work anyway because her colleagues were planning a birthday party for her. She
was about to blow out the candles on her cake when the bomb exploded. She and
her mother hustled down to the street to see what had happened.
"It was like entering the twilight zone," Kathy says, still
standing in her grandsons' room. "There were big sheets of glass still
falling from skyscrapers around us. I looked up and said, 'Edye, the babies!' "
The two women sprinted to the Murrah Building and stared in horror at the
smoldering hole where the day-care center had been. "When we looked, we
knew the babies were gone."
In the weeks after they buried their grandchildren, the Wilburns heard all
kinds of rumors -- that the local bomb squad's truck had been seen near the
Murrah Building before the bomb exploded, that employees of the federal Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had been warned to stay home that day, that the
feds had had prior knowledge of the bomb plot. The authorities tried to quash
the rumors. The local sheriff said the bomb squad's truck was seen downtown
because some of its members were scheduled to testify at the county courthouse.
The ATF said rumors that its workers had been told to stay home were "entirely
false," and that four of its employees had been injured in their offices.
But the Wilburns were skeptical. They started making phone calls, asking
"The more questions we asked, the more questions there were to ask,"
Kathy says. "We're not crazy. We are bereaved. But we're not rumor-mongers.
We work with facts and we want to know the truth. We deserve to know the truth.
We paid the price."
She turns out the light in her grandsons' room and walks into the kitchen.
It's decorated like a '50s diner, complete with a traffic light, a big red Coke
sign and a life-size cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe. There's also a green
file cabinet stuffed with information on the bombing and, on the refrigerator,
the mock wanted poster that identifies Michael Brescia as John Doe 2.
Sitting at a counter is her husband, Glenn Wilburn, 45, a gray-haired,
soft-spoken CPA. He's got a shoe box full of tapes -- interviews he and John
Cash have done for their investigation. "John and I stumbled into each
other by accident," he says. "I showed him what evidence I had, and he
became totally intrigued by it. Since then, we've worked hand in hand on this."
John Cash wanders in from the living room, opens the refrigerator and takes
out a Budweiser. He lives a couple of hundred miles away, in Idabel, Okla., but
he spends a lot of time at the Wilburns' house. He's wearing a checkered work
shirt and a close-cropped salt-and-pepper beard. As always, he's got a Marlboro
in his mouth.
Cash is 44 and a little vague about his background. He says that he
graduated from law school but never took the bar exam, that he worked as a
banker before moving to the country to write a novel, that he'd written more
than 1,000 pages when the Murrah Building was bombed. He lost a friend in the
building and started his own investigation, publishing dozens of articles in his
For the past two years, Cash and the Wilburns have traveled across the West,
interviewing eyewitnesses and chasing down denizens of the violent, far-right
subculture that McVeigh and Nichols traveled in. They've interviewed people who
refused to talk to other reporters and they've accumulated an impressive
collection of supposedly secret FBI documents on the case. Now they think they
know who John Doe 2 is. And they're pretty sure about John Does 3, 4 and 5, too.
It's a long, complicated conspiracy theory that is mocked by both the
prosecution and the defense. It would be easy to dismiss this theory as
groundless, paranoid speculation except for one problem: Pieces of it have
'Tim and five others'
"I'm 90 percent sure -- I'll leave a 10 percent opening -- that John
Doe 2 is most likely a young man named Michael Brescia of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania," Glenn Wilburn says, sitting in his kitchen. "And if
he's not, that's okay, because Michael Brescia is in there somewhere. We've got
another five men besides Tim [McVeigh] down there that morning. Tim and five
The foundation of the whole Cash/Wilburn theory is one simple, uncontested
fact: On April 5, 1995, Timothy McVeigh placed a call from a motel room in
Kingman, Ariz., to Elohim City, a heavily armed, quasi-religious right-wing
compound in eastern Oklahoma. The call lasted one minute and 46 seconds. It is
not clear whom he was calling or why.
Brescia, then a 22-year-old college dropout, was living at Elohim City at
the time. So was Andreas Strassmeir, a former German army lieutenant, who has
acknowledged in an affidavit that he once met McVeigh at a gun show in Tulsa,
where they discussed the government's siege of the Branch Davidian compound in
Waco, Tex. Elohim City was also the home of Kevin McCarthy and Scott Stedeford,
who were recently indicted with Brescia on charges of conspiring to commit a
string of bank robberies pulled off by the Aryan Republican Army. Another man
indicted in the ARA case, a Pennsylvania white supremacist preacher named Mark
Thomas, was a frequent visitor to Elohim City.
Cash and the Wilburns believe that McVeigh and Nichols were part of the
Aryan Republican Army, and that the Oklahoma City bombing was an ARA operation.
They claim that a source they won't identify told them that Strassmeir was an
ATF informer who'd infiltrated the group and reported its bombing plans to his
handlers. They believe the ATF was poised to capture the culprits red-handed in
the early-morning hours of April 19. When the bombers failed to arrive by dawn,
they surmise, the feds left, figuring that their information was bad. The
bombers -- McVeigh, Brescia and other ARA members -- arrived a few hours later,
found the building unguarded and blew it up. Realizing that their bungling had
resulted in 168 deaths, the feds covered up the Strassmeir connection and the
identity of John Doe 2.
It gets more complicated, of course, but that's basically The Theory. It
manages to explain the enduring mysteries of the bombing -- the identity of John
Doe 2 (Brescia), the identity of other people seen with McVeigh (various ARA
members), how the bomb plot was funded (the ARA bank robberies), why items
stolen from an Arkansas gun dealer were found in Nichols's house (the robbery
was an ARA job), the Ryder truck with the logo painted over (an ARA vehicle) and
why the bomb squad was in downtown Oklahoma City before the bomb exploded (they
were part of the team waiting to bust the bombers).
Of course, the theory is, to put it mildly, unproven. There is no credible
evidence that Strassmeir was an ATF informer or that Brescia is John Doe 2. Both
men steadfastly deny the accusations, and the FBI, which investigated them,
failed to link the pair to the bombing. The ATF denies that Strassmeir was an
informer or that it had prior knowledge of the bomb plot. The prosecutors of the
Oklahoma City case deny that there's any connection between McVeigh and the
Aryan Republican Army, and so does McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones.
And yet ... some of Cash's conclusions have proven prescient. He named
Brescia as a member of the ARA bank-robbery ring months before Brescia was
indicted. He quoted from a hitherto-secret FBI affidavit in which McVeigh's
sister, Jennifer, stated that her brother had given her three $100 bills that he
claimed had come from a bank robbery. And recently, he published an interview
with Carol Howe -- a Tulsa woman who the government acknowledges was a paid ATF
informer -- in which she told him that she had met McVeigh at Elohim City about
four months before the bombing.
Although Cash's stories appear in the McCurtain Daily Gazette, a newspaper
with a circulation of only 6,500, his influence is far wider. His reporting has
been picked up by newspapers ranging from the far-right Jubilee to the leftish
Village Voice to the London Sunday Telegraph. His stories are regularly posted
on the Internet in the John Doe Times by Alabama militia member Mike
Vanderboegh. Both Cash and the Wilburns have been interviewed for countless TV
and newspaper features, particularly after the Wilburns' daughter filed her
wrongful death suit against McVeigh, Strassmeir and Brescia last fall.
Leesa Brown, who handles media inquiries for the Denver-based federal
prosecutors in the bombing case, spends a good bit of her time fielding
questions from reporters following up Cash's stories. "Sometimes I feel
like I work for him," she says. "He generates so much of my workload."
Brown operates under a heavy handicap in dealing with Cash's theories: She,
like the rest of the prosecution and defense teams, is working under the judge's
gag order. "The toughest job in PR has to be trying to answer conspiracy
theories when you can't draw from your facts," she says. "It makes it
But Cash is not covered by any gag orders, and he promises that he'll keep
producing stories of conspiracy and coverup. And, he says, the best is yet to
come. "Even if you don't believe anything I'm saying," he tells a
skeptical reporter, "leave yourself some wiggle room, because a lot of this
stuff is going to come out."
'The grassy knoll'
Hoppy Heidelberg doesn't buy John Cash's theory. He says it's a "red
herring" designed to obscure the real truth.
What's the real truth?
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he says. He's right about
that. He claims the feds blew up the Murrah Building themselves, for the same
reason they blew up the World Trade Center -- so they'd have an excuse to pass a
repressive antiterrorism bill. He also says there were two McVeighs in Oklahoma
City, just as there were two Oswalds in Dallas.
Heidelberg's outlandish views have turned him into a major embarrassment to
most John Doe theorists, but he used to be their hero. That was back in October
1995, when he was kicked off the grand jury that indicted McVeigh and Nichols:
He violated his oath of secrecy by publicly proclaiming that the prosecution was
hiding the identity of John Doe 2.
"They needed me off the grand jury because I was asking too many
questions," he says. "All my efforts to bring up John Doe 2 were
thwarted, and it became obvious that they weren't going to prosecute John Doe 2."
The Todd Bunting theory is "a hoax," he says. The real John Doe 2
was "working for the government."
Last year, Heidelberg, a horse breeder, tried to parlay his 15 minutes of
fame as a dissident grand juror into a political career. He ran in the
Republican primary for the Oklahoma state Senate, pledging to get to the bottom
of the bombing case. He made it to the runoff but lost there. He says the
Republican establishment "sabotaged" his campaign, but he also
concedes that the voters weren't ready for his conspiracy theory. "It's too
uncomfortable," he says. "I wouldn't want to believe it myself."
Heidelberg, it would seem, is working way out on the aliens-kidnapped- Elvis
end of the spectrum. On the other hand, he's not the only one who believes that
the government is hiding something. Charles Key does, too, and he's in a
position to do something official about it. The five-term Republican state
representative won reelection last November with more than 70 percent of the
vote, which he sees as a mandate to continue his crusade against the bombing "coverup."
In 1995, Key produced his videotape, "Oklahoma City: What Really
Happened?," which featured Cash, the Wilburns and other critics of the
government's investigation. Just last month, Key and Glenn Wilburn won an
Oklahoma Supreme Court case that gave them the right to petition for an Oklahoma
County grand jury to investigate the bombing. If they can gather 5,000
signatures in 45 days -- and they almost certainly can -- a grand jury will be
impaneled to reinvestigate the case. Now, Key is sponsoring a bill to
appropriate $500,000 in state funds to pay for the new grand jury.
These efforts have earned him much mockery in the local press. The Tulsa
World termed his views "nutty," and the Daily Oklahoman accused him of
trying to create "the equivalent of the grassy knoll in Dallas."
But Key persists. "We need to bring all these things to the grand jury
and let them decide," he says, sitting in his office in the state Capitol,
casually clipping his fingernails. "Let's not decide ahead of time."
He's not a nut, he stresses, he's a reasonable man with an open mind. Of
course, he does have some theories.
"Here's what I would guess right now as to who did it," he says. "I
think you've got Middle Easterners involved as well as neo-Nazi Aryan Nation
types. I've got the feeling maybe Middle Easterners funded this thing and gave
some technical advice and the other guys carried it out."
'To make John Doe #2 disappear'
Timothy McVeigh smiles. He chats with his lawyers. He rocks back and forth
in his chair. He glances around the Denver federal courtroom.
In court for a pretrial hearing, McVeigh is wearing a dark shirt with the
sleeves rolled up halfway to his elbows. His light brown crew cut is a bit
longer than it was on April 21, 1995, when he was shown on TV being led out of
an Oklahoma jail wearing an orange shirt and a somber look. He's not somber now
as he banters playfully with his defense team. He's 28, but he looks younger.
There's a boyish energy about him as he squirms in his seat, waiting for the
hearing to begin.
A few feet away, Terry Nichols sits at another table. He doesn't look around
or rock in his chair. He sits motionless. Behind his glasses, his face is ashen.
He's 42, but he seems much older. He wears the stunned look of a man who's just
been told he has a terminal illness.
Nichols, who will be tried after McVeigh, does not glance at his old Army
buddy, who does not glance at him. Their cases have been severed, and so has
their friendship. Now, as they face death by lethal injection, it's each man for
John Doe 2 is not in the courtroom, of course, but his presence can be seen
downstairs, in a tiny alcove where more than 10,000 pages of legal documents in
the bomb case are available to the media. Some of them have been censored -- "redacted"
is the euphemism the lawyers prefer -- with heavy black lines blotting out whole
sections. But it is still possible to follow the trail that John Doe 2 cuts
through the case and to discern the effect he is likely to have on McVeigh's
He's present in the very first document -- the arrest warrant for McVeigh,
which states that "two persons had rented the truck" and that the
sketches of John Does 1 and 2 are "fair and accurate depictions of the
individuals." He's present in the indictment, too, with its allegation that
McVeigh and Nichols conspired "with others unknown." He's also present
in many of Stephen Jones's early motions demanding information from the
prosecution on various shady characters who "might be John Doe No. 2."
About a year into the case, the legal papers about John Doe 2 begin to focus
on the issue that will almost certainly arise in McVeigh's trial -- a battle
over the eyewitness identifications at Elliott's Body Shop.
On May 1, 1996, Jones filed a motion that included a note he had received
from head prosecutor Joseph Hartzler -- a "confidential" letter that
contradicted the government's public assertion that John Doe 2 was probably Todd
Bunting. In it, Hartzler informed Jones that the Elliott's witnesses had been
shown a picture of the baseball cap that Bunting wore when he picked up a truck
on April 18, the day after Kling rented the truck used in the bombing. "They
both stated that the cap was not the same one they saw on John Doe II,"
Hartzler wrote, "and they reaffirmed that this second individual
accompanied `Kling' when he rented the truck." Hartzler also added this: "The
existence and identity of this John Doe II, whom we are confident is not Mr.
Bunting, is the subject of a continuing investigation."
The letter, Jones said in his motion, "indicates that the Justice
Department is still searching for John Doe No. 2 and may be releasing
disinformation to lessen public pressure to find John Doe No. 2."
Later, Nichols's attorney, Michael Tigar, filed his own brief hammering the
prosecution on the issue. "It now appears," he wrote, "that the
government is seeking to make John Doe #2 disappear. Fortunately, there are so
many witnesses that this may prove a futile effort."
In response, the prosecution called Tigar's charge "unfounded" and
added this: "Indeed, all the Elliott's witnesses continue to state that to
the best of their recollection a second person accompanied `Kling' when the
Ryder truck was rented on April 17." To make matters more mysterious, the
next 10 lines have been "redacted."
Then, on January 28 of this year, the prosecution switched its stance again,
officially resurrecting the Todd Bunting theory. In a long brief, the government
disclosed that Kessinger was the only one of the three Elliott's employees who
could ever recall John Doe 2 well enough to describe him. Now, after a November
interview with a prosecutor and two FBI agents, Kessinger was "confident
that he had Todd Bunting in mind when he provided the description for the John
Doe 2 composite." Kessinger, the brief continued, is "now unsure"
whether anyone accompanied McVeigh. But his two co-workers "continue to
believe that two men came in to rent the truck."
In that brief, the prosecution speculated that the defense might use "Kessinger's
admitted confusion" to challenge his identification of McVeigh. That's
precisely what happened when Kessinger testified at a pretrial hearing last
month. First he said he thought that someone had accompanied McVeigh, then he
said he wasn't sure. He was sure, though, that he'd "made a mistake"
by describing Bunting during his interviews with the sketch artists: "My
memory was in error."
"How can you be so wrong 60 hours after the event and so right a year
and a half later?" Jones asked him. "Could you be changing your mind
because the government wants you to?"
"No," Kessinger replied.
At the same hearing, both Kessinger and his boss, Eldon Elliott, positively
identified McVeigh as the man who had rented the truck used in the bombing. And
Elliott testified that McVeigh was not alone. "I saw another man standing
there," he said. "The second man was a little shorter than me."
Obviously, both witnesses are in for some intense cross-examination at
Not only will the John Doe 2 mystery affect the identification of McVeigh at
Elliott's, it has already affected the prosecution's ability to place McVeigh in
Oklahoma City on the morning of the bombing. Many people told the FBI that they
saw McVeigh there, but the prosecutors have disclosed that they will call only
one of them to the witness stand. He happens to be one of the few who say they
saw McVeigh alone. Why give Jones an opportunity to play the Doe card? one
Justice department official asks with a shrug. After all, Jones certainly won't
call any witnesses who saw his client in Oklahoma City, with Doe or without.
So John Doe 2 -- a man who may not even exist -- is likely to become a
factor in the biggest terrorism case in American history. Not the only factor,
of course: The prosecution says it has overwhelming evidence -- chemical
residues, telephone records and other eyewitness identifications -- linking
McVeigh to the bombing. Of course, the defense will attempt to refute all that
How much will John Doe affect the trial? That depends on whom you ask.
"It may complicate the issue for the government," says Jones, "and
it may make our task easier -- to get a jury to acquit Tim McVeigh."
Hartzler, the head prosecutor, scoffs at that idea. He believes he has
enough evidence to prove McVeigh guilty without any eyewitness testimony. He
gets irked by speculation about John Doe 2. "People need to have patience
and wait to hear the trial evidence before they reach any conclusion," he
says. "Many questions about the whole incident will be answered at the
conclusion of the trial."
Jones disagrees. He figures John Doe 2 will live on no matter what happens
at the trial. "How do you disprove that he exists?" he asks. "You
don't disprove it if you convict Tim McVeigh and you don't disprove it if you
acquit Tim McVeigh."
John Doe 2, he says, "has more lives than a cat."
`You're going to remember me'
At Lady Godiva's, Cassie dances to the edge of the stage, then steps on a
front-row table and squats so the customers can stick money into her G-string.
Floyd Ratcliff ignores her. He's in his tiny back-room office, rewinding the
videotape that has made his strip joint famous. He's 52, and he's been running
Lady Godiva's for a decade. He's wearing a blue Calvin Klein shirt with an
American flag on one shoulder and the letters USA on the back.
He stops the tape. It shows three half-naked women in the dressing room.
Wrong spot. He keeps rewinding. He always has a security camera going in the
dressing room, he explains: "It keeps down thieving." Usually, he only
keeps the tapes for about a week, but on the night of April 8, 1995, there was
that cat fight between two strippers. "It was so comical, I kept the tape,"
he says. When one of the strippers applied for a job at another bar, Ratcliff
sent the tape to the owner of that club, who noticed the now-famous reference to
April 19, 1995.
Ratcliff has that spot lined up now. Tara, a longhaired brunette in a
low-cut black dress, bursts into the dressing room and starts telling another
dancer what a customer just told her: " `I'm a very smart man ... And
you're going to remember me on April 19, '95. You're going to remember me for
the rest of your life.'"
Tara has left Lady Godiva's and moved away, Ratcliff says. But before she
disappeared, he says, she identified that customer as Tim McVeigh. And several
strippers who were there that night have supposedly identified pictures of
Strassmeir and Brescia as the men who accompanied him. And that's not all. Dale
Culpepper, the club's bouncer, remembers escorting the rowdy strippers out of
the club that night and seeing one of them squat to urinate behind ... a Ryder
truck with its logo painted over.
It's a fascinating story. But there are problems. McVeigh was almost
certainly in Kingman, Ariz., on April 8, 1995. He checked into the Imperial
Motel there on March 31, paying for seven days in advance. On April 7, he paid
for five more days. His car never left the parking lot. A maid told
investigators that she saw him every day. Strassmeir has also denied that he was
ever in Lady Godiva's.
None of this bothers John Cash. He points out that McVeigh was making lots
of phone calls from his Imperial room all week, and that the calls abruptly
stopped on April 7. Maybe McVeigh flew to Oklahoma and met the Aryan Republican
Army crowd from Elohim City. And maybe they all stopped at Lady Godiva's before
using the logo-less Ryder to haul bomb supplies. Maybe. Maybe not.
Cash is in a back booth, sipping a beer and interviewing a stripper named
Angel. Lady Godiva's has closed for the night now, and Angel is wearing a heavy
white Irish-knit sweater. She was here that night, she says. "I'm on the
video. Five people called me up and said, `You're on TV!' "
Cash shows her a picture of Brescia. "This guy looks familiar,"
He shows her a shot of McVeigh. She studies it for a while. "If his
hair was blonder, he might be the guy," she says. Then she adds this: "You
had better pictures the last time I talked to you."
"I've never talked to you before," Cash replies.
What does that say about Angel's ability to recognize faces? Or about
anybody's ability to remember people casually encountered months earlier?
But that doesn't matter. John Doe 2 has become a legend now. He has entered
the realm of myth, where truth is not only impossible to ascertain, it's almost
irrelevant. Maybe he'll be captured and convicted someday. If not, he'll remain
eternally at large, the one who got away, the mystery man at the center of
countless conspiracy theories.
It's possible that he never lived. It's likely that he'll never die.
And now the crew from MSNBC is ready and Cassie starts to do her dance for
Peter Carlson is a staff writer for the Magazine. Richard Leiby, a staff
writer for The Post's Style section, assisted in the reporting of this story.
CAPTION: Timothy McVeigh, top left, will be the first of the two men charged
in the Oklahoma City bombing to go on trial. Second will be Terry Lynn Nichols,
shown in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service in May 1995. Neither McVeigh
nor Nichols resembles the suspect known as John Doe Number 2.
CAPTION: The FBI's front-face sketch of John Doe 2, above, was succeeded by
a profile view, left. The prosecution now contends John Doe 2 was Todd Bunting,
far left, a soldier who was not involved in the bombing. Bottom, Terry Nichols's
son, Josh, who the FBI once thought might be John Doe 2.
CAPTION: Kathy and Glenn Wilburn lost two grandsons -- Chase Smith, 3, and
Colton, 2 -- when the bomb destroyed the day-care center in the Murrah Building.
Left, Kathy in the boys' bedroom. Below, Glenn with John Cash, right, a reporter
who has joined forces with him to investigate the bombings. When one of the
strippers applied for a job at another bar, Ratcliff sent the tape to the owner
of that club.
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