Listen: We begin the way the Government began their case: with the stories of the survivors. Mike Shannon’s story appears next on the show, though he didn’t actually testify until much later in the trial. The same with the detailed analysis of the type of weapon used. From there, we follow an axle from the crime scene to Elliott’s Body Shop. The Script for the show, including some pictures introduced at the trial follow.1Like all trial lawyers, I steal good phrases from other trial lawyers. The title of this episode comes from McVeigh Prosecutor Larry Mackey who declared in closing arguments, “The hands of time fell to rest that morning at 9:02 A.M.” All quoted statements in the script came directly from the testimony of the witness.
Timothy McVeigh vs. The USA – Episode 1
I hop right into that car of mine and ride around the world
Yeah I’m the wanderer, yeah the wanderer
I roam around around around, let’s go.2Dion, The Wanderer on Runaround Sue (Laurie 1961). Timothy McVeigh “began calling himself ‘The Wanderer’ after the old 1960’s song by Dion and the Belmonts.” See Richard A. Serrano, One of Ours (1998)(page 21).
A Marine woke up before dawn and drove his 1992 Ford Ranger North from his home in Allen, Texas. Just before 9 AM, he rode the elevator upstairs to his office. He talked with a friend of his who asked him to make a phone call and check the status of a promotion. But the line was busy. He told his friend he’d be back in 5 minutes. He walked to the next office over and was about to say good morning to another friend when a blast threw him against a wall. The day: April 19th, 1995. It was 9:02 AM. His office was on the Sixth Floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. His nose broke, his skull fractured but he survived. For this marine named Michael, a busy signal saved his life.
Susan put on her face and threw on some clothes in a rush to make it to work at Murrah by 7:30. She arrived and began by working on a few administrative tasks leftover from the day prior. She talked with her friends at the coffee maker. She walked past another colleague’s cubicle, said “hi” to another, and went on her way to speak with her assistant. It was 9:00 AM. She paused and joked with another co-worker about having to hurry to catch her friend and assistant Freida before her smoke break. Just as she made it to Freida’s desk, the bomb went off. Those 12 friends she saw, said hi to or walked by on the way to Freida’s desk? She never saw them again. A joke about a cigarette break saved her life.
For Ryan, it was a slideshow. He got a cup of coffee from the community coffee pot at the Department of Agriculture on the 5th floor at 7:30. He found a dark empty conference room at the end of a hall that provided the perfect place to put together his presentation. He was alone there until the explosion. The dark office was now sunlit, and he could see clear across the street.
Martin was on a conference call with recruiters in Texas when he got thrown through a wall in his office. His arm was bleeding profusely, and he felt like he’d been beaten up in a boxing ring. He heard the voices of his colleagues but they were far away from him. He worked in the United States Army on the 4th floor. For Martin, it was a conference call.
As Eric went to work at the Social Administration on the 1st floor, he walked by a waiting room full of about 20 people. For him, it was helping a colleague compose a letter on a typewriter. Lawrence was one of 7 secret service agents who worked on the 9th floor. He left the other 6 at 8:45 to make a court appearance at the Federal Courthouse across the street. One of the 6 was working on a personnel matter, the others were preparing for a mission to guard the President of the United States. For Lawrence, it was a 9:00 AM Court appearance.
Florence moved the location of her meeting from a conference room to her office because of an empty printer cartridge. As she and her 7 co-workers gathered there, she leaned back in her chair listening to another woman speak. That’s when she was thrown against the floor with a force like that of a tornado. The next thing she remembers, she was standing on 18 inches of concrete floor. Her office was gone. So were her colleagues. Only blue sky remained. She was the CEO at the Federal Credit Union. 18 people she personally hired went to work that day but never came back.
At daybreak, Anne told her 18 month old boy to go wake up “sissy.” He followed the command in the best way he knew how – by hitting his kindergarten-aged sister with his little plastic toy vase. She never got mad, though. Big sisters have a way of tolerating their little brothers. Anne played airplane with him as they set out to get ready for the day. And as so often happens when trying to corral little ones for the day, they were running late for daycare. The patient sister told her mother Anne she didn’t want to go to daycare because they were going to practice their kindergarten graduation ceremony at her school. Anne relented, and let her skip daycare that day. She dropped her 18 month old off at the daycare and left for her office across the street. Murrah’s entire north side was made of glass. The second floor housed the daycare. A driveway for cars and deliveries runs adjacent to Murrah on 5th street. If you stood on the street and looked up, you could see children running round and playing. Sometimes they put their hands against the window. On her way to her office, Anne did as she normally did, and paused to take a look back through the windows on the second floor. And there he was, her little boy in the arms of one of the daycare workers. An hour later, he was gone, one of 18 children and day care workers killed that morning. So, for Anne’s daughter, it was kindergarten graduation.
There were many others, of course. For every tale where a coffee run or a printer cartridge equated into survival, there were 168 others where the same fates conspired for death.3I’m stealing another good phrase here, this time from Melvin Belli’s Opening Statement in the Jack Ruby Trial: “I say this not in argument, but in fact, that the fates conspired that [Ruby] went by right out here where wreaths were…” The quote appears in Volume 6, page 592 of the trial transcript on the Texas State Library Archives. The Jack Ruby Podcast can be found here. For those that happened to live through the initial blast, their survival now depended on escaping the jagged labyrinth of rebar, drywall and concrete of the grotesquely reconfigured office building they toiled in every day.
Luke worked for the ATF and was assigned to Murrah. Two of the agents he worked with actually helped serve a warrant during the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian Compound near Waco. He was on the phone with another agent, seeking an arrest warrant when he heard and felt a loud bang. Everything came apart. In a blur, the walls collapsed, the ceiling fell down, and a fluorescent light fixture hit him. He found a handheld radio in the rubble, and called out for help. But his attempts proved to be fruitless, met only with the screams of his colleagues. He found a poster board among the damage and wrote a sign for help: “ATF Trapped, 9th Floor.” He was trapped for about an hour waiting when he heard alarming screams from the floors below. He looked out a crevice and saw rescuers scurrying away from the building, agonizingly concluding that they’re running because there must be a second bomb. “It was like someone reached in and grabbed my heart and squished it because I had nowhere to go if there was another bomb. I didn’t think I could do anything about it. I was scared, very scared.” Once the mind concludes a set of circumstances will lead to certain demise, unthinkable decisions must be made. And in that moment, Luke decided “I would rather die falling off the building than go through another explosion.” He decided to make a risky attempt at an escape that would lead him outside of the building 9 floors up. “So I started kicking a hole in the wall and got through. I crawled over some rubble, and proceeded down the window ledge on the outside of the building, I tried not to look down.” Holding on to window frames, concrete and steel, he scooted for safety, unsecured, 90 feet in the air. He came to the end, finding a ledge separated from him by smoke, ash and air 9 stories high. Left with no choice, he jumped over all that empty space. He landed safely and found a stairwell. Still under the impression he was racing a bomb, he went as fast as he could. “I remember sliding down the stairwell, it being covered in blood. I made it to the bottom floor and came out.” He survived.
The line between survival and peril isn’t black and white. Along the way, able-bodied survivors encountered the wounded in the gray area between life and death. Priscilla worked for the Secret Service. She was on the phone, and one of her colleagues stood behind her, looking over her shoulder at a file they were working on. She heard an extraordinary push from behind, felt herself tumbling, and came to rest. She wasn’t sure where, she knew only that it was somewhere else, where the air was heavy and her head was trapped. It was hard to breath and deathly quiet. She heard a voice say, “this is the child care center.” She thought to herself, “why would they say that? That’s on the 2nd floor. I work on the 5th.” Someone must have seen her. “We have a live one here,” they screamed. She felt someone grab her left hand, and promised to get her out. “We’ll be back,” he said. She mustered a whispered protest, “please don’t leave me.” The man couldn’t get her out barehanded, though. He needed a tool. “I’m so sorry,” he said and left. She was alone again, and remained so for the next couple hours 3 floors below her desk. True to his word, the man came back. She survived. Her colleague looking over her shoulder did not.
Priscilla’s rescuer is Mike Shannon. He served in the Navy as a young man, and like his father and uncle, became a firefighter. By April 19, 1995, he had risen through the ranks of 1,000 other firefighters to become a Second Bugle Chief – 4th overall in command of the Oklahoma Fire Department. He was 5 blocks away when the explosion happened. Grabbing his self-breathing apparatus on his way, he headed for Murrah. He would eventually become the Chief of Rescue Operations, a hero trying to tame the unstable beast Murrah became from within its belly.
The assignment caused him to be pulled in one of two directions – duty to the survivors on one side and responsibility to his team of rescuers on the other. You’ll recall the agonizing conclusion Luke the ATF agent drew that there must have been a second bomb because rescuers were scurrying away from the building? Turns out that another ATF agent had a black spherical ornamental clock for his desk shaped like the bombs we’ve all seen in movies and cartoons. And it ticked. After the explosion, it rolled into a stairwell. People saw it, and word quickly traveled. Shannon’s responsibility was first to make sure the rescuers would live to rescue another day, to return only when the area was safe. On that occasion, when he received word about a second bomb ticking in the stairwell, he made an agonizing decision of his own: he told his rescuers to leave. They protested, begged and pleaded to stay. But his responsibility to his rescuers won out, and they had to leave the rubble until it was safe. It was a decision made with full knowledge that victims remained in the belly. He made sure he remembered where they were, making mental notes. Why? He was coming back. Duty one way; responsibility the other.
Rescuers faced three major problems according to Mike Shannon. The first he termed the “fall,” and included things like computers, lights and chairs. The second was the “collapse.” Steel and concrete jarred lose from their anchors of origin, their weight causing them to collapse on top of each other. This collapse caused what he termed the “pancake.” All the things in an office – the computers, the furniture, the chairs, the cabinets, and the people – were crushed into a very small space he measured as that between his hand and his elbow. Shannon calls this the grape effect. The gravity-induced dripping fluid and buildup caused significant problem number 3 for rescuers: biological hazards. “The fluid at the bottom reached 3 to 4 inches.”
Things in the beginning were chaotic to say the least. Shannon and his team didn’t have access to a floor plan or blueprint. They were in the building, but didn’t know precisely where, nor did they know how many people they were looking for. “It was like trying to find needles in the haystack, but you don’t know how many needles there were. And if you pick the wrong straw from the stack, you cause further damage.” And that’s how it was for the first 4 or 5 days. Moving straws in a haystack, hoping against hope not to pick the wrong one while praying for needles. The spaces were excruciatingly small and narrow, forcing rescuers to crawl through random, suffocating burrows. In order to clear debris along the way, the leader would pass the debris under his or her belly to the next in line, and then to the third. On down the line, piece by piece, inch by inch, working their way through this tumultuous pile of gargantuan pixie sticks.
The dust from fallen drywall made it nearly impossible to discern figures. A graphics specialist named Danny Atchley heard groans and looked around helplessly. The dust was so thick, it perfectly camouflaged a child until he opened his two eyes. Oklahoma City Police Sergeant Avera heard a woman’s voice and the dry cry of a baby. He and some others lifted up some of the debris and located the source. He handed the child to Sgt. Helmuth who took the child away for help. Sgt. Avera found another one. He ran out of the building, searching for help. He found a fireman named Chris Fields, and handed him the baby. Her name was Baylee. The exchange was caught by amateur photographer Chuck Porter in the very famous and future Pulitzer Prize winning photograph.
On Day 6, Mike Shannon and his team of rescuers caught a break. Many from the medical examiner’s office and police department had been interviewing witnesses for the habits, routines, and clothes of the missing who worked in and around the building. Based on this, Todd Ellis and Chuck Smith, Medical Examiners from Texas and Louisiana respectively, created and shared a map with rescuers. It was a blueprint with numbered circular overlays corresponding to various expected locations of personnel. Rescuers then set about clearing those areas and locations. Once cleared, Shannon didn’t have to subject his rescuers to anymore falling debris, fluids or any other hazards.
And this brings us to a very stark reality of dealing with mass casualties like this one: how do you properly account for the departed? In-person identification was one way, fingerprints another. Employees who did survive had the unenviable task of identifying the bodies of their colleagues at a makeshift trauma center at a nearby hotel. Family members collected dental records and household items like Coffee cups and hair brushes so fingerprint experts could lift samples to identify victims. For little Tevin, the 18-month-old with the vase, it was the mickey mouse picture that hung over his bed, his high chair and the glass on his mother’s stereo door. For some of the missing, the identification process took a week and a half. On May 5th, 1995, the search and rescue officially came to an end.
Richard Williams used to manage all of the federal buildings in Oklahoma. In the 70’s and 80’s, that included the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, situated between Robinson and Harvey Streets on Northwest 5th, and owned by the US Government. It housed a number of federal agencies, including the Army, Health and Human Services, Federal Credit Union, Federal Highway Administration, and the Department of Agriculture. The busiest time of the day was 9:00 AM.
When the dust cleared, Murrah’s bitemark was 9 stories deep, falling into what rescuers referred to as “the pit” or “the cave.” The explosion sheared off the enormous support columns. The 40,000 ton concrete slab that rescuers called the “mother slab” anchored the entire building collapsed causing the floors to pancake. All told, there were seven thousand square feet of rubble. That’s 55,000 square feet of office space compressed into 7,000. The question facing investigators at that point became determining what type of instrument could have caused that type of damage?
In every murder case, some weapon is used that causes some specific type of mortal damage. The weapon could be anything: hands, the ground, a gun, a sword, poison. The Forensic Pathologist is charged with conducting an autopsy of the victim so as to determine the cause and manner of death. In conducting their analysis of the body externally and internally, they examine any wounds and their appurtenant paths. The appearance and characteristics of these wounds guide the forensic pathologist in making conclusions as the type of weapon that caused the wound. The more information available to the medical examiner during the autopsy, the more specifically a weapon can be identified. Further, the more unique the type of weapon used, the more specifically a weapon can be identified. The more uniquely identifiable the weapon, the more focused the investigation can potentially become. That’s the reason it becomes necessary to try and determine that a wound was caused not just by a sharp object, for example, but by a single-edged sharp object of some approximate size.
It also becomes necessary to look for and collect the remnants or component parts of the weapon. The most common, of course, is a bullet recovered in a victim’s body during the autopsy. If a gun is discovered during the course of the investigation, forensic analysts can potentially determine if the recovered gun fired that bullet. The same could be said for the broken blade of a knife recovered during an autopsy. If a knife is recovered during the investigation, forensic analysts may be able to determine whether the broken blade fits the knife. Although poison is unlike a knife-blade or bullet in that it doesn’t cause impact-type damage, remnants of it can still be discovered during the autopsy, and subsequently analyzed by chemists.
In whatever form, once the type, size, and individual characteristics of the weapon is determined, and any remnants from it collected, the investigation turns to finding out who possessed it with the ability to use it at the time of the killing. In this way, the analysis of the damage to Murrah is exactly like an autopsy in a murder case: the type of weapon needed to be identified as specifically as possible, and remnants of it needed to be collected for future analysis. Once completed, the investigation would progress into proving who possessed it with the ability to use it at the time of the killing.
The Autopsy of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
Dr. Linda Jones would conduct “Murrah’s Autopsy” with photographs and blueprints, not scalpels and forceps. She is part of the Ministry of Defense in England, working in the Forensics Explosives Lab. For her work in this field, Her Majesty, the Queen of England, appointed her to be an officer of the British Empire. She is an explosives expert, having studied and examined all types of explosions both in the lab and in the field. She explains that an improvised explosive device or homemade bomb, has different components, including an explosive, a blasting agent, and a detonator. Once detonated, a massive fireball emanates from the explosive device followed by a blast wave. The emerging pattern of destruction is called the dispersion pattern. The type, quantity and ratio of the explosive chemicals determine the speed of the explosion and the dispersion pattern. Speeds can range from 9,000 feet to 16,000 feet per second.
For Dr. Jones, the dispersion pattern shown in aerial photographs surrounding the bite mark indicates that the blast was shaped or directed into the building from the center of the observable crater on 5th street. Further, the building appears to have been sheared, not disintegrated. “Mid-range” or “mid-velocity” explosives create damage like this. That’s why they are used in rock quarries to sheer large rock structures into sheets instead of pebbles. Cars parked near Murrah were pushed back away from the building, and their hoods were pushed inwards towards the windshield. Also of note, the cars were not shattered. She concluded that the mortal instrument was 1 mid-range velocity homemade explosive device, containing approximately 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of explosives, detonated in front of the building on 5th street, shaped in an easterly direction directly into Murrah.
The resulting damage gave investigators insight into the chemical makeup of the bomb. Additionally, since all these explosive chemicals were delivered to that spot in front of Murrah at some point prior to the detonation, Investigators needed to determine how.
Richard Nichols is the maintenance worker at Regency Tower apartments, and got to work at 7 AM on the 19th. He was to meet his wife to take their little nephew Chad to the doctor. His departure was delayed a few minutes when he struck up a conversation with a coworker. Just before 9AM, he walked outside onto 5th street to meet his wife when he heard the explosion.
He heard this, “humongous object coming to me out of the air, spinning like a boomerang.” The large flying object came straight for him in his car. He grabbed his wife and nephew and ran away, guarding them like a mother hen. It was a good thing, too. The large object nearly beheaded him on its way to crashing on top of his 1990 red Ford Festiva, crushing it’s hood. It was a large axle to a vehicle weighing 250 pounds. It was 575 feet from Murrah’s bite mark. Etched on the axle: PVA26077. It’s called a Vehicle Identification Number, and this one had quite a story to tell.
There is a public VIN number on the drivers side windshield of every motor vehicle, 17 characters in length. A Confidential VIN consists of the last 8 of those 17 characters, and is stamped on different parts of the car. Since investigators knew the Confidential VIN from the axle, they were able to learn the full VIN: IFDNF72J4PVA26077. The first three digits – IFD – mean the Work Manufacturing Number. Each of the next 5 – NF72J – correspond to certain attributes of the vehicle itself. The middle 4 is referred to as a check digit, a number used by manufacturers in North America to validate the VIN. The next 2 digits, the letters P and V, mean the vehicle was built in 1993 at Ford’s manufacturing plant in Louisville, Kentucky. The following A means that it’s a heavy truck, weighing more than a passenger truck, but less than 100,000 pounds. The final 5 digits – 26077? That’s called the sequential component number. It is the number assigned to the truck as it rolled off the assembly line. The one before it was 26076, the one after 26078. From that axle, investigators knew that Ford manufactured the truck between February 15 and February 25th of 1993. The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s office is in Dallas, and kept track of all registrations back then. This Ford 700 had a 20-foot body and belonged to Ryder. At the Ryder headquarters in Miami, Florida, Clark Anderson answered the phone. It was the FBI, inquiring about any possible rentals of this particular truck. In his records, Anderson matched the VIN number to lease agreement number, 137-328 made at Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City, Kansas. The truck was rented to a Mr. Robert Kling.
Eldon Elliott runs a number of businesses in Junction City, one of which is a body shop off the frontage road running parallel with I-70 on Goldenbelt Blvd. On April 14, 1995, he quoted a price for a 20-foot Ryder truck to a man named Robert Kling. It was a one-way request. Although the customer didn’t request insurance, he did request a device used to help move heavy objects called a hand truck. The quote came to $200.32. The truck was to be picked up three days later on April 17th. In order to finalize the deal, the customer had to pay up front. So the next day, April 15th at about 9:00 AM, the customer walked into the body shop to pay the rental fee. He identified himself as Robert Kling. He declined insurance, saying he wasn’t going far, to Omaha then Iowa. Besides, he was a good driver because he “drove those deuce and a half’s at Fort Riley.” Elliott described the customer as a white male, somewhere between 5-10 and 5-11, cleanly shaven, skinny, and possibly wearing camouflage. Kling wasn’t alone that day. He was with another person described as a white male, 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 8 inches tall, and wearing a white baseball cap with 3 prominent stripes. On Monday the 17th at about 4:15 PM, Kling picked up the rental. The address on Kling’s drivers license was 428 Mile Drive in Redfield South Dakota. Date of birth 4/19/1970. Mr. Elliott took the money and performed a customary inspection. Once finished, the parties finalized the agreement. Elliott listed the VIN Number, and Robert D. Kling signed off.
Elliott, Vickie Beemer and another coworker named Tom Kessinger relayed their descriptions to a forensic sketch artist for the FBI named Raymond Rozycki. After receiving their description, he goes over an FBI facial catalogue with them. Witnesses choose facial characteristics from the catalogue that match their memory of the questioned individual. Based on all this, Rozycki makes sketches. He, “uses his skills to be the hands of another,” to borrow a quote from prosecutor Larry Mackey. From Rozycki’s hands, the world saw for the first time two people that could be responsible for the bombing: John Doe #1 (left) and John Doe #2 (right). –End of Episode 1-