Timothy McVeigh fled the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing driving a battered old yellow Mercury Marquis that was missing a license plate. He was spotted fleeing the scene, with a passenger sitting next to him in the Marquis, by witness Gary Lewis. FBI agent John Hersley testified about the witness during an April 27, 1995, preliminary hearing, excerpted below1U.S. vs. Timothy McVeigh, № M-95–98-H (Western District of Oklahoma.) Preliminary Hearing, 27 Apr. 1995. Testimony of Jon Hersley, pp 86-87. See also Gary Lewis 302 reports: (1) FBI 302, interview w/ Gary Lewis by SA Leslie Farris. 21 Apr. 1995. 174A-OC-56120 D-245. (2) FBI 302, interview w/ Gary Lewis by Donald J. Albracht. 29 Apr. 1995 #174A-OC-56120 D-1705. (3) FBI 302, interview w/ Gary Lewis by Donald J. Albracht. 29 Apr. 1995 #174A-OC-56120 D-820.:
MR. HERSLEY: the individual saw the Mercury, the yellow Mercury,
speeding away from the location, obviously in an effort to avoid the
MR. COYLE: Did this particular witness indicate to agents of the FBI
how many persons were in the speeding yellow Mercury?
MR. HERSLEY: Two.
By the time McVeigh was arrested—about an hour after the bombing—he was alone in the Mercury Marquis. What became of his passenger, and where McVeigh might have dropped him off, is a mystery. Also unknown today is what became of McVeigh’s other accomplices who were at the time subjects of a nationwide manhunt.
Dozens of newspaper accounts were published in the days immediately following the bombing that detailed the escape of the other suspects. For example, an April 28, 1995 Associated Press account declares that “authorities
now believe that four or five people were involved” and that “investigators have an Oklahoma City videotape that shows both the Ryder truck believed to have carried the bomb and a vehicle other than the Marquis bearing Arizona license plate LZC646.”2“Blast Probe Zeros In On Missing Plate.” The Buffalo News, 28 Apr. 1995 Additional reports would add detail, reporting that “Timothy McVeigh’s missing Arizona license plate appears on a mystery vehicle in a videotape taken just before the Oklahoma City bombing, and authorities believe the elusive “John Doe 2” may have used that vehicle for his getaway.”3“License Plate Of McVeigh Caught On Tape.” Associated Press, 29 Apr. 1995
“Timothy McVeigh’s missing Arizona license plate appears on a mystery vehicle in a videotape taken just before the Oklahoma City bombing, and authorities believe the elusive “John Doe 2” may have used that vehicle for his getaway.” – Associated Press, 4/29/95
Preceding the press accounts of the mystery vehicle, an FBI teletype dated April 20, 1995 says that “several leads are outstanding relative to a brown pickup truck.”4FBI teletype from Director FBI to Field Offices, April 20th 1995 According to law enforcement sources cited in the press accounts, the FBI’s search for this brown truck was based on surveillance footage from the scene. In addition to the press accounts there is also testimony from multiple eyewitnesses, recorded by the FBI in 302 reports. Taken together, the evidence for additional suspects and corresponding vehicles is compelling.
What became of this mystery vehicle and the videotape so widely publicized just one week after the blast? This second vehicle was a key component of the FBI’s early investigation but has long since disappeared from the FBI’s official narrative of the bombing. However, if you look at the historical record you will find abundant detail concerning the truck: in newspaper accounts, FBI teletypes and 302 reports, in court records. It is through these records that a reconstruction of what might have happened can be illustrated. This is the story of the brown pickup truck, as told by the records on this case.
Downtown Oklahoma City Witnesses
The first appearance of the brown truck in the available records comes about an hour before the bombing. Near 8:00 AM, motorist Leonard Long was traveling down 5th street, adjacent to the Murrah building, when he had to swerve his vehicle to avoid an accident. Long reported that he watched as a brown pickup truck with tinted windows raced out of the parking garage of the Murrah building onto 5th street, changing lanes at a high rate of speed. Long said that the driver, who he identified as Timothy McVeigh, had sitting next to him in the passenger seat a dark-skinned stocky man wearing a camouflage jacket. Long, who is African-American, said that the passenger spewed racist language at him as the vehicle sped past in a reckless and erratic manner.5Mark Hamm. In Bad Company. p 229. See also: J.D. Cash and Jeff Holladay. “Startling New Evidence: At Least 4 People Directly Involved in Bombing.” McCurtain Gazette, Jan 23, 1996. Indiana State University professor and criminologist Mark S. Hamm speculates that Leonard Long may have observed Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice performing a “last-minute security check” in the Murrah parking garage that morning. It’s hard to know precisely what was going on here; however, Long’s sighting won’t be the only one
involving McVeigh and other vehicles in downtown Oklahoma City that morning.
The next significant account involving the brown truck comes from a handful of witnesses who were in front of the Murrah federal building just minutes before the blast. A few minutes before 9:00 AM, the brown pickup truck was parked along 5th street, with its engine idling. The vehicle was parked offset from the curb, described as being “in the lane of traffic” by witness Rodney Johnson.6FBI 302 report, interview w/ Rodney Johnson by SA John Hippard. 28 Apr. 1995. #174A-OC-56120 D-3253 Meanwhile, witnesses Ann Domin and Margaret Hohmann were on their way to the Murrah Building for a meeting. The pair drove down 5th Street mere minutes before the blast, pulling into a parking space in front of the Murrah building. As they arrived, Domin and Hohmann spotted the brown truck parked along 5th Street. Domin and Hohmann would tell the FBI that they watched the truck suddenly accelerate away from its parking spot, “peeling out.”7FBI 302 report, interview w/ Ann Domin by SA Donld Borelli. 5 May, 1995. #174AOC-56120 D-759. See also: interviews w/ David Hoffman 1997. Just a few minutes later, Domin and Hohmann would be inside of the Murrah building’s restroom when the bomb detonated at 9:02 AM. Based on the timing, it’s estimated that they must have arrived and spotted the brown truck peeling out just a few minutes before the blast.
At the same moment Domin and Hohmann arrived, witness Manuel Acosta also saw the brown truck. Manuel Acosta speaks Spanish, but not English. What he observed the morning of the bombing was relayed to the FBI via Dr. Claudia Rossavik, who translated for him. What Acosta told the FBI through Rossavik was that around 8:55 AM he observed two middle-eastern looking males—”in a hurry”—run towards a brown pickup with tinted windows parked on 5th street.8 FBI 302 report, interview w/ Manuel Acosta & Dr. Claudia Rossavik by SA R. Martin Mag (FBI) and Gilbert Salinas (ATF). 19 Apr. 1995. #174A-OC-56120 D-1054. FBI 302 report, interview w/ Manuel Acosta & Dr. Claudia Rossavik by SA Philip R. Hines and James E. Strickland. 20 Apr. 1995. #174A-OC-56120 D-4556 The pickup truck was parked with the engine running. Acosta says that after the two men hurried into the truck, the vehicle “sped away”–driving the wrong way down 5th street, then turning and speeding down Hudson against the flow of traffic, again on a one-way street. The dramatic exit of the two men,
hopping into a brown truck and furiously speeding down two separate one-way streets, would likely have been viewed by law enforcement as a description of suspects fleeing the scene. In retrospect, it still has that appearance, and when you consider the independent witness accounts of Ann Domin and Margaret Hohmann, what Acosta saw can largely be confirmed. Acosta puts the time at around 8:55 AM, while Hohmann and Domin’s sighting of the brown truck speeding away was reported to be shortly before 9:00 AM.
All three witnesses spotted the same brown truck and their accounts serve to establish its presence, along with what appeared to be three men (the fleeing pair plus the driver) leaving the scene. Acosta would, with Dr. Claudia Rossavik’s help, report what he had seen that morning to law enforcement around 11:00 AM. Rossavik approached a police cruiser where she told an officer, in English, what Acosta had seen. The police got on the radio and requested an FBI agent from the command post. FBI Special Agent (S.A.) R. Martin Mag and ATF agent Gilbert Salinas arrived within a half-hour and interviewed Acosta.
S.A. R. Martin Mag would document the sighting, writing in his notes that Acosta spotted a brown Chevrolet pickup with tinted windows idling on 5th Street. Mag notated that Acosta observed two men cross 5th Street—in a hurry—crossing the street from the side of the Murrah building over towards the opposite side of
5th where the brown truck was idling. Acosta would tell the FBI that the first man he saw was 6′, 35 to 39 years of age, dark-skinned, with a beard, muscular build, wearing a blue t-shirt, vest, blue pants and black boots. He said the second darkskinned male was 6′, 25-29 years of age, dark hair, with a muscular build, dressed identically to the fist man. SA Mag documented that after crossing the street the two men got into the brown pickup, which sped off.
“Be on the lookout for a late model, almost new, Chevrolet full-size pickup, will be brown in color with tinted windows and smoke-colored bug deflector on the front of pickup” – OKC Sheriff’s Department APB
Based on Acosta’s report, law enforcement agencies issued an APB for the brown truck that ran for several hours after the bombing.9Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee. The Final Report on the Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee, 2001. pp 289-290 The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s department issued the APB around 11:15 AM where it was dispatched to “be on the lookout for a late model, almost new, Chevrolet full-size pickup, will be brown in color with tinted windows and smoke-colored bug deflector on the front of pickup. Middle Eastern male, twenty-five to twenty-eight years of age, six feet tall, athletic build, dark hair and a beard.” Law enforcement would broadcast the APB for several hours. At 4:15 PM the FBI would, without explanation, quash the APB for the brown pickup, instructing the Sheriff’s department to cease broadcasting.
Did Acosta, Domin, and Hohmann all watch as one or more accomplices made a getaway in the brown truck The April 28 news reports and FBI teletype of April 20 indicate that the FBI did, in fact, believe this to be the case. Unfortunately, the APB for the brown truck was issued too late. Had it been broadcast just an hour earlier, it’s possible that the vehicle might have been stopped when Timothy McVeigh was pulled over. As it turns out, a brown pickup truck was traveling in tandem with McVeigh as he made his escape down I-35.
Highway Patrol and the Brown Pickup
When State Trooper Charlie Hanger first heard about the Oklahoma City bombing he was at the Cimarron Turnpike in Noble County, 80 miles from Oklahoma City. Highway Patrol headquarters issued a request over the radio for all units to head to Oklahoma City to assist. Hanger got in his patrol car and headed west on the Cimarron Turnpike to the first exit, U.S. 64. Hanger went west on U.S. 64 through the city of Perry, Oklahoma; on the west edge of Perry, Hanger got on Interstate 35 and began traveling south. Hanger had his lights and siren on and was traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour as he headed towards the city. Mere minutes had passed when Hanger received a radio call from his headquarters advising him to stay put, and to return to his patrol area.10Oklahoma County Grand Jury #CJ-95–7278. District Court of Oklahoma County, State of Oklahoma. Testimony of Charlie Hanger July 10th, 1998.
Hanger turned around and proceeded north on I-35 when he received a dispatch call to assist a motorist whose vehicle had broken down. Just past the Perry exit, Hanger came upon two ladies with a broken-down van where he stopped for approximately 5-10 minutes to render assistance. Thereafter, Hanger proceeded on I-35 north when he came upon Timothy McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis. Traveling in front of McVeigh’s Mercury, in tandem, was a brown pickup truck.
When Hanger saw that the Mercury had no license plate, he pulled in behind the vehicle and turned on his lights, signaling McVeigh to pull over. McVeigh pulled over to the side of the road, between mile marker 202 and 203, about a mile south of the Billings exit. When McVeigh pulled over to the side of the road, the brown pickup truck pulled over too.
Motorist Kevin Brown was traveling north on I-35 when he passed by Hanger, McVeigh, and the brown pickup. Brown was interviewed by SA Gary Bolin of the DEA when he said it was his impression that the brown truck and McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis were traveling together.11FBI 302 report, interview w/ Kevin Brown by SA Gary Bolin (DEA). 27 Apr. 1995. #174A-OC-56120 D-451. FBI 302 report, interview w/ Kevin Brown by SA Daniel V. Risner. 3 May, 1995. #174A-OC-56120 D-1461. Brown described the brown pickup as a long-bed Chevy, 1974-75, brown paint and dark tinted windows. Motorist Scott Gregory saw the brown pickup too. Gregory testified at the Nichols State trial where he said that he saw McVeigh being arrested along I35 north. Gregory said that he saw a brown pickup truck driven by a man in a baseball cap backed up near McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis. He testified “I thought that was so odd. I thought, ‘what an idiot. Why are you stopping to talk to that police officer when he’s obviously in a high stress situation?'”12“Testimony at Nichols Trial Suggests Other Bombing Suspects.” Associated Press, 9 May 2004.
When McVeigh was pulled over, law enforcement wasn’t yet looking for a brown pickup truck, but they soon would be. It was about an hour later, around 11:15 AM, that the OK County Sheriff’s Department issued an APB for a brown truck in connection with the bombing. The APB was based on Manuel Acosta’s sighting in downtown Oklahoma City. Was the brown pickup truck that pulled over with McVeigh the same truck described in the APB? Trooper Hanger’s dashcam footage might yield clues that would allow that question to be answered. Indeed, the license plate is a key detail that needs to be clarified given the news reports from April 28 and 29 that say that the brown pickup on surveillance camera footage fleeing downtown Oklahoma City had Timothy McVeigh’s LZC646 license plate attached. Without Hanger’s dashcam footage it’s impossible to know if the two trucks are one and the same. Additionally, the truck reportedly seen by Acosta, Domin, and Hohmann was reported as “almost new” while the truck that pulled over ahead of McVeigh was described as 1974-75. Unfortunately, the FBI has not produced any copies of the footage that their agents cited with such finality to newspaper reporters on April 28 and 29 so we’re left only to speculate what it might actually show.
Sophisticated Enhancement Techniques
Further complicating the FBI’s story about the brown pickup is an unusual report issued in May of 1995 that twists the facts considerably. Published by the Houston Chronicle, May 12, 1995, the report cites an anonymous law enforcement (read: FBI) source who says that “sophisticated enhancement techniques” were applied to Trooper Hanger’s dashcam footage to reveal the license plate on the brown pickup. The unnamed law enforcement source told Dan Thomasson and Peter Copeland of the Chronicle that the footage showed the
license plate belonged to Arizona fugitive Stephen Colbern.13Dan Thomasson and Peter Copeland. “Third Suspect Identified in Oklahoma Bombing.” Houston Chronicle. 12 May, 1995.
Colbern was arrested in Oatman, Arizona on the Friday the Chronicle story ran. However, the piece says that “sources said Thursday night that Colbern was identified through his brown pickup”—with the source relaying this information to the newspaper the day before an arrest was made. The report further alleged that Colbern’s truck “contained traces of ammonium nitrate,” but how that was determined the day before he was taken into custody is a good question. It’s also worth questioning why law enforcement was distributing information about an alleged accomplice to the press before he was charged with any crime. Colbern issued strong denials concerning everything in the Chronicle’s report, asserting that the FBI was desperately trying to frame him. Colbern’s father, Robert Colbern, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a dentist for the state Department of Corrections, was equally skeptical. On the afternoon of Colbern’s arrest, his father told reporters gathered at his home “I don’t believe it. It appears to me that someone’s looking for a patsy.”14May 13th 1995 press conference at Colbern home w/ AP & NBC, ABC, CBS coverage Later press accounts would detail interviews with Colbern’s neighbors, who noted “the brown pickup truck next door hasn’t been moved for six years” and that “it has been broke down. It hasn’t moved, it has been sitting there.”15“Fugitive Captured in Arizona.” Saturday Oklahoman. 13 May 1995. See also “Agents Arrest Third Man in OKC Bombing.” Associated Press. 13 May, 1995 Following these reports, TV news coverage became far more equivocal about the FBI’s so-called “sophisticated video enhancement,” saying instead that “FBI agents say Colbern may have been the man driving a brown pickup that was traveling in tandem with” McVeigh.16NBC affiliate KDLT Channel 5 news, Mitchell/Sioux Falls, South Dakota. May 13, 1995 broadcast. 2 minute segment on Colbern arrest, w/ background on Colbern and excerpt from Colbern father’s press conference.
Similarly, news reports about Colbern issued between May 12 and 14 transformed rather quickly: The first reports on May 12th say that Colbern “matches the description of John Doe #2” with an Upland Police Department press release issued the same day saying that Colbern was “also known as John Doe No. 2.” The press released was withdrawn at the request of the U.S. Marshall’s Service a day later17Ronald Ostrow and Tom Gorman. “Biochemist Held in Federal Building Blast Investigation.” Los Angeles Times, 13 May, 1995. The Times piece covers the Upland Police Department press release and U.S. Marshall’s request to rescind the ID as John Doe #2. Meanwhile the Houston Chronicle 12 May 1995 story & “The Third Man” Time Magazine, 12 May 1995 both identify the Colbern as the elusive suspect. and by May 14, news reports would begin saying that Colbern “bears little resemblance to John Doe 2” and that “in Washington, sources familiar with the investigation downplayed Colbern’s possible link.”18Tony Perry and James Rainey, Biochemist Is Held on U.S. Weapons Charges. LA Times, 14 May 1995 and George Lardner Jr and Serge Kovaleski, Biochemist Arrested in Bomb Case.” Washington Post, 13 May 1995. So much for the apparent certainty of the previous days’ reporting.
Making these reports all the more baffling is a May 3rd FBI document—dated more than a week before Colbern’s arrest—which plainly declares that “COLBERN has been eliminated as a suspect.” 19FBI Insert #174A-OC-56120 E-4153, by SA Thomas P. Ravenelle, San Francisco Field Office. 3 May, 1995. The Insert notes “In view of the fact that COLBERN has been eliminated as a suspect in this matter, San Francisco will conduct no further investigation concerning lead #10,220.” Also highly noteworthy is the insert says that “the Oklahoma Command Post has directed all offices to hold unsub #2 leads in abeyance” — a stunning fact that indicates the FBI stopped looking for John Doe #2 at the direction of the OKBOMB task force command post in Oklahoma City, less than two weeks after the bombing. This suggests that the investigation must have identified John Doe #2 very early on and it must have been a person that FBI did not want publicly identified It is unclear why, after being eliminated as a suspect, FBI sources would be pumping reporters with details seemingly designed to incriminate Colbern through the press, both identifying him as John Doe 2 and suggesting the FBI had videotape evidence he was McVeigh’s accomplice. It is similarly unclear why it was reported nationally that he was arrested in connection with the bombing when the reality is he was arrested for failure to appear in court for a minor firearms violation for which he had been a fugitive long before the bombing occurred.
Supporting Colbern’s denial is the May 3rd FBI report and the fact that at the hearing held the day after Colbern’s arrest the subject of the bombing wasn’t even mentioned! Unusually, future Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, then the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona appeared at Colbern’s hearing. It is notable (and highly irregular) for a U.S. Attorney to make an appearance, on a weekend, at an arraignment for a simple failure to appear & firearms violation charge.20Roger G. Charles, interviews with w/ author. Charles is a journalist who has been investigating the case since 1996 and has published numerous reports on the case, conducted countless interviews, and served as an associate producer and researcher for ABC News 20/20 and CBS News 60 Minutes II. Charles pointed out the irregularity of Napolitano appearing at the arraignment, and also noted that the May 3rd FBI Insert cleared Colbern as a suspect 10 days before his arrest. See also: “Probe Nets 2nd Man in Oatman.” The Arizona Republic, 14 May 1995 which says “Napolitano, who appeared in court with Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Hannis, refused to answer questions about whether the FBI was in investigating a link between Colbern and the bombing in Oklahoma City” and “authorities say Colbern owns the brown pickup that was caught on an Oklahoma trooper’s video camera when McVeigh, the prime suspect in the April 19 bombing, was stopped” Napolitano’s presence at the arraignment illustrates that there was something very unusual about Colbern’s arrest that wasn’t limited to the nearly slanderous reporting.
The Department of Justice never did press any charges against Colbern in relation to the bombing. Today, Colbern remains a footnote of the case, barely remembered for having been arrested in May 1995 when he was convicted in the eyes of the public through the press via anonymous FBI sources. However, the damage to Colbern’s life and to the official narrative remains, as do legitimate unresolved questions: if Colbern was “cleared as a suspect” on May 3, why was he later arrested and declared a bombing suspect by FBI agents? If the FBI had really “enhanced” the video from the Hanger dashcam footage, how come we’ve never seen it? If the footage did identify Colbern’s truck, why wasn’t it introduced at the trials or otherwise touted as evidence? The Nichols defense certainly would have put a high premium on evidence like this, e.g. incriminating to someone
other than Nichols, and presumably evidence of this nature would have to have been included in discovery—but it wasn’t.
Anonymous FBI sources first claimed that the fleeing brown pickup had Timothy McVeigh’s license plate, only to say several weeks later that the plate on the truck traveling with McVeigh was Steven Colbern’s. These conflicting anonymously sourced “identifications” have only served to obfuscate the real truth of the matter. In retrospect, it seems like FBI agents cited in the various wire service reports were stretching the truth, or even lying. But, to what end? Why would agents make such absolute claims—to include declaring they have
videotape evidence—if they didn’t have the goods? The videotape evidence (both from downtown OKC and the Hanger dashcam) that could clear the matter up once and for all have never seen the light of day, and remain citations buried beneath bold declarative headlines. Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue tried to contact the May 12, 1995 Houston Chronicle story’s reporters in an attempt to clarify crucial details concerning their source for the Colbern allegations. Trentadue’s attempt to reach the reporters was unfruitful; his calls and messages
left unreturned.21Jesse Trentadue, interviews w/ author. Trentadue has been involved in a very complicated and long-running lawsuit against the FBI over the FBI’s failure to comply with FOIA law relating to the OKBOMB case. Trentadue’s brother, Kenney Trentadue, was murdered in federal custody after being brutally beaten and interrogated during the OKBOMB investigation. See: James Ridgeway. “In Search of John Doe #2.” Mother Jones, July 2007 for details on the Trentadue saga. Colbern, for his part, was readily available to set the record straight and responded to questions about what remains today a confusing and poorly documented episode in the largest investigation in the FBI’s history.22Steven Colbern discussions w/ author. I reached out to Colbern to ask him about his arrest, his treatment in the press, and what the FBI had to say about him in the press. Colbern compared the statements in the press about him to libel and slander. When I showed Colbern the document that says he was “cleared as a suspect” and noted it was ten days before his arrest, he expressed anger and suggested that it shows the FBI knowingly spread deliberate lies about him. Colbern told me that the FBI was trying to frame him and make him into John Doe #2, and denied that it was possible his truck could have been captured on video. In Colbern’s opinion, there is no videotape at all and the FBI is explicitly lying about that tape. After an analysis of the known facts about the so-called video evidence, I tend to agree with Steven Colbern. The bigger question then becomes: why was the FBI issuing lies to newspaper reporters about videotape footage of a brown truck? This remains a burning question.
Feds Impound Stolen Vehicle
Editor’s note: Almost the entirety of the following account concerning the stolen vehicle comes from Jim Crogan’s 2004 LA Weekly piece “Secrets of Timothy McVeigh.” Some additional details come from the 2001 “Final Report on the Oklahoma City Bombing” published by the Oklahoma Bombing Investigative
As it turns out, the sought-after brown pickup truck may well have been recovered by the FBI just one week after the bombing and immediately before the April 29 news reports concerning the truck. On April 27, 1995, Oklahoma City Police recovered a stolen vehicle at the Woodscape Apartments, located about five miles from the Murrah building. Oklahoma City police noted that the stolen vehicle had been “spray-painted yellow” and “its GMC emblem was replaced with a Chevy Silverado emblem.” Oklahoma City police officer Sean Shropshire noted the truck’s original color (brown) and general description matched that of the truck described in the 4/19 APB and an FBI teletype about a “Brown Chevy pickup involved in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.” Based on this, the OKCPD notified the FBI of the discovery.
OKCPD was instructed by FBI to lift fingerprint evidence from the vehicle. Oklahoma City police spokesman, Captain Jeffrey Becker, stated that three sets of prints were pulled from the brown truck and the police turned over the prints, and the truck, to the FBI. Becker went on to say at a press conference that “We never knew where it was stolen or heard anything back [from the FBI] about a suspect.”
On April 28, 1995 FBI Special Agent Jim Ellis and an officer from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation interviewed the owner of the vehicle. The FBI told the owner they were only able to identify the truck as his because one of his bank-deposit slips was found under the front seat. Without that, they wouldn’t have been able to easily identify it: the thieves had obliterated the vehicle identification numbers on the vehicle, repainted it, and even made cosmetic changes to disguise the truck. In addition to the cosmetic modifications, the thieves even repaired the four-by-four drive that was broken when the truck was stolen. All of these bizarre changes, even repairs, suggest that this was no ordinary stolen vehicle case. A letter to the owner from the Oklahoma City FBI field office, dated July 11, 1995, detailed the extensive modifications, stating that “the vehicle also had been painted and subjected to cosmetic changes which made it appear to be a Chevrolet.”
FBI Special Agent Jim Ellis told the owner that “‘We have some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is, we found your truck. The bad news is, it was used in the Murrah bombing.’”23Jim Crogan. “Secrets of Timothy McVeigh.” LA Weekly, 26 Mar. 2004. Agent Ellis also interviewed other residents at the Woodscape Apartments, asking about the truck. He told one of the residents ‘Remember that APB the day of the bombing, with two Middle Eastern–looking men in it? Well, this is the truck.”
Jim Crogan of LA Weekly wrote a story about the truck in March of 2004, where most of the details in this account are sourced from. In that piece, Crogan cites a spokesman for the FBI who issued strong denials about what Special Agent Ellis had told the owner and residents at the Woodscape apartments. When asked about SA Ellis’ reported statements, FBI spokesman Gary Johnson said “I don’t know what he said. But if he said the truck was involved in the bombing, he was wrong. The Bureau is convinced everyone involved has been prosecuted.” Asked how the Bureau knew that the truck and its occupants were not involved in the bombing, as SA Ellis had originally said, Johnson replied, “It simply wasn’t consistent with our investigation.”
Gary Johnson attempted to characterize the situation with the stolen truck as just a routine matter, simply “impounded by the FBI, examined by forensics, and returned to its owner.” But this makes little sense, as the FBI is not in the business of investigating auto thefts that don’t cross state lines, therefore, the FBI would have no reason to impound a vehicle or have it examined by forensics. That wouldn’t occur unless the truck was linked to an active FBI investigation. If we’re to go by SA Jim Ellis’ original statements, it was linked to the OKBOMB
investigation, and furthermore, the FBI had reason to believe that the truck had been used in the bombing.
Spokesman Johnson also confirmed that fingerprints were found—but said none were matched to a suspect. His intention appears to have been to suggest that the FBI had tried to identify a suspect in an auto-theft investigation it had no jurisdiction to manage. John Vincent, a retired FBI agent who worked on the OKC bombing investigation countered the FBI in Jim Crogan’s LA Weekly piece, saying that “It sounds like Johnson is saying the truck didn’t match up with the scenario of the bombing they put together, so the Bureau threw it out. I believe they should have followed up on all their leads.”
The author believes it is highly likely that the FBI did follow up on all their leads, and in the case of John Doe #2, and the brown truck, those leads led down paths that the FBI did not want to acknowledge. John Vincent summarized it perfectly when he said that the brown truck simply didn’t match up with the scenario of the bombing that the FBI had put together. So, too, did FBI spokesman Gary Johnson when he stated that all of the evidence concerning the brown truck “wasn’t consistent” with the official narrative. It seems like a great deal of evidence wasn’t consistent with the official narrative: Not the video surveillance evidence, not the fingerprint evidence, nor what every witness told the FBI they saw: Timothy McVeigh with other individuals on the morning of the bombing.
Another interesting thing occurred right after the FBI recovered the stolen brown truck: it was reported on May 8th, 1995, that the FBI had recovered Timothy McVeigh’s Arizona license plate, LZC-646. However, “officials declined to elaborate on how the plate was recovered.”24Lee Hancock & David Jackson. “Recovered License Plate Providing Clues in Blast.” Dallas Morning News, 8 May 1995. Recall that news reports from April 27, 28, and 29 stated that McVeigh’s LZC-646 license plate had been captured on videotape, affixed to a truck fleeing the scene of the bombing. The news reports actually say that the truck was “involved in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.” Was McVeigh’s LZC-646 Arizona license plate recovered from the brown truck picked up by the OKC police and turned over to the FBI on April 28? Was McVeigh’s license plate on that truck, and was that the reason SA Ellis was able to say with assurance that the truck had been used in the bombing? Ultimately, we are left only to speculate about all of this.
Terry Nichols adds an entirely new dimension to the story concerning license plates, providing details that make the story even more convoluted than it already is. On February 16, 2007, Terry Nichols produced and signed a 17-page affidavit containing material facts concerning the bombing. On page 15 of that affidavit, Nichols writes that “Thursday, April 20th, 1995 I went to the Herington, Kansas storage shed where McVeigh kept some of his things. In that shed, I found the rear license plate from the yellow Mercury.” Nichols goes on to say that on Friday, April 21, he threw the license plate into a river in Kansas.
Based on these revelations, the immediate questions that come to mind are (1) how did the FBI come into possession of the license plate as reported on May 8, 1995? (2) if the license plate was in Terry Nichols’ storage shed on April 19, why did the FBI tell reporters that it was captured on tape on another vehicle? Assuming Nichols is telling the truth (he has no discernable reason to lie about the plate) it only makes the previous reports concerning the license plate that much more incredible, and leaves us with a complicated and patently untrue narrative concerning the license plate that was unfortunately spread throughout national news media by the FBI for reasons that today are still impossible to grasp.
What can be said with any level of certainty is that the FBI linked a brown truck to the bombing, as reported by multiple witnesses and in FBI teletypes and a police APB. Like John Doe #2, only contradictory explanations have been offered concerning the brown truck and like the suspect, the truck has slipped into obscurity becoming just another mysterious footnote buried within the investigatory record. There are several possible distinct conclusions that can be reached concerning the brown truck, none of them satisfying: it was a vehicle used by still-unknown conspirators. It was a vehicle used as a diversion, in press accounts, by the FBI for reasons still unexplained. It was, in a sense, a plot device which at one point was a part of the official narrative, described in certain terms in national news reports. Or, perhaps the truck was just a figment of the imagination, just one more lie sold to a gullible public by equally gullible reporters. We may never know.