The Oklahoma City Bombing Surveiled: What Do the Videos Show?

by | Aug 9, 2020

The Oklahoma City Bombing Surveiled: What Do the Videos Show?

by | Aug 9, 2020

Cctv

Today, closed-circuit surveillance cameras are ubiquitous. You find them everywhere: at gas stations, stoplights, on government property, on private property. At the time of the April 19th, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, you could find surveillance cameras mounted at over a dozen properties in downtown Oklahoma City: the Regency Towers apartment building, the Journal Records Building, the Southwestern Bell building, the post office, and elsewhere. The properties surrounding the Alfred P. Murrah federal building were littered with surveillance cameras, some of which captured the April 19th, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing on film. That film has never been released to the public; however, what appears on the surveillance footage is described in documents, trial testimony, and news reports on the bombing.

Hersley’s testimony is worth citing here because it is so specific concerning footage that the FBI had seized during their investigation:

Q. So you say there is film available that shows the — a Ryder Truck in an easterly direction, that is traveling in an easterly direction on Fifth Street?
A. Yes.
Q. Is it past the street that we know as Harvey?
A. I am not — I have not studied that film in detail. It’s in that general vicinity right in there. It may be the video that I saw. I believe it is just before — well, I am not sure. I better not say that.
Q. Well, Harvey Street —
A. I don’t know.
Q. Harvey Street is the street that is immediately west of the Murrah Building?
A. That is correct.
Q. Are the photographs that you saw or, is it still photo or film?
A. What I saw was the still photos.
Q. Is it a still photo that has been removed from a film?
A. Yes.
Q. So it was a close-up more of the truck than it’s location?
A. It wasn’t a close-up photo, it was taken from a camera off one of the buildings in the vicinity.
Q. Did you make a determination of what building it came off of?
A. No, I did not myself.
Q. Okay, did anyone?
A. I believe one of the other agents was able to determine that it came from one — one of the filmscame from the Regency Tower Apartments.
Q. Was there a time indicated on the picture of the film that you saw?
A. Yeah.

Agent Hersley’s testimony clarifies that the FBI had multiple surveillance camera recordings from the area. When Hersley stated that “one of the films came from the Regency Towers Apartments,” his use of the word “films,” plural, indicates there was more than recording. In addition to having seen photos taken from a surveillance video depicting a Ryder truck on 5th street, Hersley testified that he had seen pictures depicting another location—a parking lot next to the Journal Records Building. Hersley testified at length about a key witness who had seen Timothy McVeigh—and another suspect—speeding away from an alley adjacent to the Journal Records Building. The seized surveillance footage had covered this vicinity.

Hersley’s testimony concerning the Journal Records building and associated surveillance footage is excerpted:

Q. Where did this witness see the yellow Mercury speeding away?
A. Over in the direction — in the parking lot, in an area where the witness I had previously testified about said that the individual he identified as Mr. McVeigh was walking in a northerly direction towards.
Q. Where is that parking lot, sir?
A. Over on the north side of Fifth Street, close to the Journal Record Building.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Q. This particular male witness has indicated that he saw the — a yellow Mercury speeding away?
A. Yes.
Q. Did this particular witness indicate to agents of the FBI how many persons were in the speeding yellow Mercury?
A. Two.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Q. I assume speeding away on Fifth Street; is that correct?
A. Well, I think it is actually the alley area that would be immediately north of Fifth Street.
Q. Immediately north of Fifth Street is a parking lot there. Are you talking about the —
A. The north side of that parking lot.
Q. So the alley between the Journal Record Building and the parking lot? I’m sorry to interrupt you, I didn’t mean to.
Are you talking about that area, that alley?
A. I’m talking about the area on the north side of the parking lot that we have been speaking about.
Q. That’s where you are telling the Court that the yellow Mercury was speeding through that particular alley?
A. Yes.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Q. In your review of the surveillance photos, did you find any surveillance photos of that parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building?
A. Yes.
Q. Have you been shown a photograph of that particular parking lot, sir, across the street from the Murrah Building that includes the speeding Mercury in the photograph?
A. We don’t know for sure yet. Those photographs are not real clear. They are taken from a pretty good distance away. There appears to be a light-colored car in the very vicinity where this witness testifies — or provides the information was speeding away from. We are not able to determine yet if that is in fact the yellow Mercury.
Q. The pictures that you saw of that particular parking lot — now I’m talking about the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building — in a northerly direction, that parking lot, there is a film of that parking lot prior to the time of the explosion?
A. Yes.
Q. Correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Is it time-stamped so that you can tell a particular time of day on the 19th of April that that camera is viewing, scanning that parking lot?
A. Yes.

Q. Who are those agents that are tasked with the responsibility of reviewing photographs and film footage?
MR. GARLAND: Objection, Your Honor. This is now purely speculative.
THE COURT: Overruled.
A. The agent that showed me the photographs was Walt Lamar.
Q. And is he the one that you inquired as to whether or not there were any photographs of the accused, Mr. Timothy McVeigh, in possession of the government, at or about the Ryder Truck? You asked him that question I assume; did you not?
A. I did not inquire of Agent Lamar about these photographs. He brought it to my attention because there is a possibility of a particular car being involved in one of those photographs that he was showing me. We are continuing investigation to try to determine the actual identity of that car.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
A. I know there was at least one male that observed the Ryder Truck and the occupants of the Ryder Truck. That person also advised that the individual in the truck closely resembled the individual depicted in composite one.
Q. Did you tell me he saw occupants of a Ryder Truck and there were more than one?
MR. GARLAND: Objection. The only person on trial at this hearing is Mr.McVeigh. It doesn’t matter whether there were two or a hundred people in that truck as long as there was somebody representing Mr. McVeigh there. It is discovery and totally outside the scope of this hearing.
MR. COYLE: May I respond? I think it is important to see if we distinguish it as the same truck or not. I think it is very important to the credibility of the witnesses and credibility of the evidence and what they saw as to whether or not the next person saw three or five or six or —
THE COURT: Objection overruled. Go ahead.
A. This witness advised that there were two individuals in the truck. The individual resembling Mr. McVeigh was the driver.

FOIA Lawsuits Over Secret Footage

FBI and Secret Service Officials: We Had McVeigh On Tape

Danny Coulson was the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas Field Office and founder of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. Coulson was one of the commanders of the OKC bombing investigation, in charge of the crime scene. In 1999, on a BookTV (C-SPAN) broadcast where agent Coulson is promoting his book No Heroes, Coulson said point-blank, “we had the videotape of the truck being pulled up a couple of minutes before nine” and that “we had him [McVeigh] on videotape.”

News Reports Cite Law Enforcement: Passenger Appears on Tapes

Oklahoma City Excerpt 2In addition to the FBI evidence log and Secret Service timeline, there are contemporary news media accounts published after the bombing where law enforcement sources familiar with the recordings describe what appears on the footage. An October 28th, 1995 Associated Press report headlined “Surveillance Tape Shows Shadowy Passenger in Bomb Truck” quoted one law enforcement official stating that the surveillance footage shows a passenger in the Ryder truck with McVeigh. The source of that footage was identified in the article as a security camera mounted on a nearby apartment building. That camera is presumably the Regency Towers apartment building’s camera, cited by FBI agent Hersley in the April 27th, 1995 preliminary hearing.

“A Ryder truck with two men inside of it parked at the bomb site in front of the Murrah building. The driver’s side door opens and McVeigh steps out, and walks away towards 5th street and the Journal Records building. The passenger stays inside the cabin for a period of time, then exits on foot in the same direction as McVeigh.”

Attempted Sale of Footage to Dateline: NBC

  • The agent was a GS-13. (pay grade)
  • The agent was a 16 year FBI veteran in 1995.
  • The agent was between the ages of 38–42 in 1995.
  • The agent was a former sniper instructor at Carlos Hathcock School.
  • The agent served in the U.S Marine Corps from 1982–1988.

Conclusions

Sources/Further Reading

The story of the Murrah Federal Building surveillance tapes comes from a variety of sources, including CNN network news, contemporary accounts from newspapers, with specific details about the recordings found among FBI and Secret Service documents from the Oklahoma City Bombing investigation.

TV News Reports:

  • April 1995 CNN broadcast <link> reports that “the FBI says that it has surveillance camera video of the bomb site”
  • April 1995 CNN broadcast <link> reports that “the FBI says that it has obtained videotapes from security cameras in the vicinity of the blast and may have tape of the Ryder rental truck used to house the enormous bomb”
  • October 1995 KFOR-4 TV Oklahoma City NBC affiliate news broadcast <Link>
  • BookTV: “Inside the FBI’s Secret Counter-Terror Force.” C-SPAN, 1999. <Link> — at 1hr 1m 30 seconds, FBI SA Danny Coulson says “We had videotape of the truck being pulled up at a couple minutes toward nine.

Newspaper and Magazine Reports:

  • Michael J. Sniffen. “License Plate of McVeigh Caught On Tape, Vehicle Believed Used In Suspect’s Getaway.” The Buffalo News, 29 Apr. 1995. <Link>
  • ”Surveillance Tape Shows Shadowy Passenger in Bomb Truck.” Associated Press, 28 Oct. 1995. Print. 3A. <Link>
  • Lawrence Myers. “A Closer Look.” Media Bypass, December 1995. Print. <Link>
  • J.D. Cash and Jeff Holladay. “Videotape Won’t Help Theory.” McCurtain Daily Gazette, 12 Sep 1996. <Link>
  • “Some Witnesses Leery of Bombing Grand Jury.” Daily Oklahoman, 10 August 1997. Print. <Link>
  • Don Harkins. “Final Report Reveals FBI Has Fingerprints of John Doe #2; High Quality Pre-Blast Surveillance Tapes.” The Idaho Observer, 12 Dec. 2001. <Link>
  • James Patterson. “Time to unseal videotapes of Murrah Federal Building.” Indianapolis Star, 16 Nov 2002. Print. <Link>
  • John Solomon. “Document: Oklahoma City Bombing Was Taped.” Associated Press, 19 Apr. 2004. <Link>
  • Tim Talley. “Attorney: Oklahoma City Bombing Tapes Appear Edited.” Associated Press, 28 Sept. 2009. Print. pp. A3; <Link>
  • Dennis Romboy. “FBI Explanation of Missing Oklahoma City Bombing Tapes Not Credible, Judge Says.” Associated Press, 21 Mar. 2012. <Link>
  • “Witness: More Oklahoma City bombing videos may exist.” Associated Press, 30 Jul. 2014. <Link>

Court Records:

  • U.S. vs. Timothy McVeigh, № M-95–98-H (Western District of Oklahoma.) Preliminary Hearing, 27 Apr. 1995. <Link>
  • U.S. vs. Terry Nichols, № 96-CR-68 (D. Colorado), testimony of Germaine Johnston on 5 December 1997.
  • Hoffman v. DOJ, № 98–1733 (Western District of Oklahoma.) Order, 15 Dec. 1999 <Link> — This FOIA lawsuit over the surveillance tapes reveals the FBI has 23 recordings of the Murrah Building and surrounding area.
  • Hoffman v. DOJ, № 98–1733 (Western District of Oklahoma.) Order, 10 Jul. 2001 <Link> — Judge Wayne Alley’s ruling on the sealed surveillance tapes.

FBI and Secret Service Documents:

  • Secret Service document — OKBOMB timeline, 5/1/95, pp 73 <Link>
  • Secret Service document — OKBOMB timeline, 5/1/95, pp 79 <Link>
  • FBI document, inventory log, #174A-OC-56120 LCN #12649A, by SA Pamela A Matson <Link> — This inventory of seized surveillance footage deems at least two recordings “positive” — that is to say, they show the bombing and/or the bombers and the “bomb truck.”
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-4553, 4/19/95 interview Danny Payne w/ SA John Hippard re: Journal Records Building surveillance footage. <Link> Payne told Hippard tapes “may have obtained photographs of the persons responsible for the bombing.”
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-140, 4/19/95 interview [REDACTED] re: Southwestern Bell surveillance footage. <Link>
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-245, 4/22/95 interview Gary Lewis w/ SA Leslie E. Harris <Link> — observed McVeigh + JD2 in Mercury driving past Journal Records building.
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, D-1705 LCN #5654, 4/30/95 interview Gary Lewis. <Link> — observed McVeigh + JD2 in Mercury driving past Journal Records building.
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, E-8508 10/27/95 — Dateline NBC attempted sale of surveillance footage <Link>
  • FBI document, 302 report, #174A-OC-56120, E-8507 10/30/95 — Dateline NBC attempted sale of surveillance footage <Link>

Richard Booth is an independent citizen journalist and member in good standing with the Constitution First Amendment Press Association (CFAPA). A student of the OKC bombing case since 1995, Richard began researching the Oklahoma City bombing case in earnest in 2012 and is currently writing a book, John Doe #2 and the Oklahoma City Bombing. Richard has appeared on podcasts to discuss his interest in this case, highlighting areas that warrant additional research and expressing the need for more students to actively research this case. In April 2020, Richard donated his archive of research materials—thousands of news reports, articles, magazine pieces, FBI documents, ATF documents, court records and trial transcripts to The Libertarian Institute. You can find this archive here. You may contact Richard at rbooth@protonmail.com

This article was originally featured at Medium.com and is republished with permission.

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