Due to the graphic nature of these events, listener discretion is advised this episode includes discussions of violence and death that some people may find offensive. We advise extreme caution for children under 13. On April 19th, 1995, at nine 00 two a.m., a blast pierced 24 year old Jason Williamson's ears, sitting at his desk at the Federal Employees Credit Union. All he saw was darkness inside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Soon, the air cleared a little, revealing sunlight in the distance. Suddenly, his colleague, Bobby Pervin screamed. What happened? He didn't have an answer.
Williamson helped Bobby climb over her desk. They huddled together in shock, fixating on the light from outside as they moved toward it.
They realized the sunshine wasn't coming through a window. The entire north side of the Murrah Building was gone, reduced to rubble. Welcome to Conspiracy Theories, a podcast original every Monday and Wednesday, we dig into the complicated stories behind the world's most controversial events and search for the truth. I'm Carter Roy.
And I'm Molly Brandenburg Brandenberg. Normally we take things story by story, conspiracy by conspiracy. But in this four episode special, we're looking into one devastating moment in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing. At the time, it was the worst terrorist incident on American soil and it changed the social landscape of the country forever.
Previously, we detailed the rise of separatist militias and their impact on Timothy McVeigh's life. Today, we'll take a deep dive into the day of the attack, followed by McVeigh's arrest and trial.
Next episode, we'll look at how the legacy of the bombing shaped U.S. policy and rhetoric in the years afterward and how it still impacts our world today. We have all that and more coming up. Stay with us. On the morning of April 19th, 1995, Oklahoma City had clear skies and a calm breeze, but 24 year old Dana Cooper had no time to take in the perfect spring day.
Cooper was one of the 550 people who worked in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. She just landed a new job as the director of the America's Kids Daycare Center. The role allowed her to bring her two year old son, Christopher, to work and spend more time with him.
America's kids was caring for 21 children that day, ranging in age from six months to five years old for cribs lined the second floor windows. The infants liked watching the clouds and reaching for sunlight.
Cooper arrived at work with her son just before nine a.m.. All the older children sat in a circle and sang along to the Barney theme song. I love you, you love me. We're a happy family.
At that same moment, Timothy McVeigh parked a writer rental truck in a drop off zone directly below the daycare. At nine a.m. sharp, he ignited the two minute fuse and fled the truck filled with dense smoke. The flame inched closer and closer to the more than 4000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil until.
The blast instantly killed Cooper and her son, along with the babies by the window. They were among the 19 children and three daycare employees who perished in the bombing.
Those who weren't killed in the explosion may have died during the collapse of the building's north side. The bomb shattered the nine storey structures glass facade and destroyed support pillars. Within seven seconds of detonation, the entire north side crumbled into a pile of rubble in a 30 foot wide, eight foot deep crater.
In total, at least 168 people died in the incident. Only 99 of those were federal employees. McVeigh's intended target, over 500 more people were injured at the time.
People had no idea the source of the blast was a bomb. Many thought the explosion was from a gas leak or a foreign terrorist attack.
They certainly didn't think it was done by an American like McVeigh. He was nowhere to be found disappearing into a getaway car after the explosion. The Murrah Building was ground zero for the bomb, but most of downtown Oklahoma City felt the destruction. Glass shattered and structures collapsed in 258 properties within a 10 block radius.
Two of the 168 deaths occurred in this area five blocks north of the Murrah Building. EMT Bill Kenny was teaching a class in the Emergency Medical Services Authority building at nine or two a.m. He heard the explosion.
Seconds later, a third of the classroom ceiling collapsed.
Kenny and the other medics rushed to the back door, thinking the blast came from their own building. Then they saw the dark smoke rising from downtown.
The EMT immediately jumped into the ambulances and rushed toward the smoke when they realized the blast came from the Murrah Building. The EMT is braced for the worst.
The ambulances arrived at the wreckage at nine a.m., four a.m., Kenney and his colleagues got to work treating the injured people, filling the street, confused, bloodied and disoriented survivors. Within the hour, the EMTs transported more than 100 victims to the hospital, but there were still so many more who were missing.
Some of them were trapped in the rubble, like 28 year old Amy Downs.
She worked at the Federal Employee Credit Union with Jason Williamson, but she wasn't as lucky as him. The credit union was located a floor above America's Kids and Downs desk face the front of the building. She got caught in the collapse and fell to the basement level. Her body was buried under 10 feet of rubble.
Downes was wedged between two concrete floor slabs in an upside down seated position. She tried to move, but she couldn't. Her body was numb. All she saw was darkness.
She heard voices outside talking about the daycare center. She prayed aloud and yelled for help, hoping they'd hear her screams.
They didn't. Around ten, thirty a.m., an hour and a half after the explosion, she gained the strength to maneuver a hand out of the debris. A first responder named Ron spotted it. He removed some of the rubble, but soon his two way radio crackled with an urgent alert. Rescuers had found another bomb. The police ordered a mandatory evacuation of the area. Ron apologized to Downes and left, joining swarms of people running away from the building, stuck under the concrete downs, had no hope for surviving a second bomb.
She prayed and braced for another blast, which never came.
Police determined that the suspected second bomb was actually a three foot tow missile that had been stored in the building's U.S. customs office. It was dormant.
An hour later, law enforcement cleared the building for first responders to return. Firefighter Alan Hill led his crew back into the rubble, looking to recover dead bodies. They didn't think anyone was still alive. But while surveying the basement, he saw Dan's hand in the concrete wreckage. They immediately started clearing the debris down.
Lower half was trapped by steel.
She had a big gash on one of her legs and shards of glass were embedded in her back, making it more difficult to move her hill determined that they needed to work especially carefully. One mistake could exacerbate her injuries or possibly kill her, to make matters worse.
They didn't have a lot of time to do it in industrial sized refrigerator dangled by loose live wires above them. Meanwhile, below them, water pooled in the basement from the building's broken water pipes after being buried in rubble for six hours. Downs was finally freed.
Rescues like hers continued throughout the day until the final survivor, a 15 year old girl, was recovered at seven p.m. After that, first responders didn't find anyone else alive. The rest of the efforts would be focused on finding the bodies of the dead.
The rescue and aftermath received wall to wall coverage by local and national news news choppers circled above the Murrah Building Broadcasting, the devastating footage to the world.
Reporters noted that the blast occurred on the second anniversary of the 1993 Waco siege.
They wondered if the two incidents were connected or if it was a follow up to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which was done by radical Middle Eastern terrorists, The Washington Post reported.
The attack was caused by an apparent terrorist car bomb. Headlines in the Daily Oklahoman newspaper declared terror in the heartland. And things like this don't happen here. At the time, terrorism was seen as something that happened in other countries.
It had no place in the peaceful Great Plains of the United States until now.
As reporters lamented over America's lost innocence, the search for a suspect began but unknown to everyone. The culprit was already in custody. Next, the FBI hunts down Timothy McVeigh and he almost gets away.
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Now back to the story. On April 19th, 1995, just before nine a.m., 27 year old Timothy McVeigh parked a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, once the fuse lit, he placed earplugs in his ears, crossed the street and never looked back. He felt the explosion. As he walked north, the buildings wobbled and glass shattered around him. He dodged tumbling bricks and falling power lines, catching sight of the dark smoke rising above Oklahoma City.
McVeigh felt satisfied, thinking the blast had completely destroyed the Murrah Building. He'd targeted the structure because it housed the local offices of agencies he despised the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service.
Social Security offices and a credit union were also in the building, but he just considered those casualties as collateral damage. The higher the body count, the more likely his message would make it to the federal government. He wouldn't be pushed around anymore.
Federal law enforcement had tried to dismantle the white supremacist pro-gun groups he idolized throughout the early 90s. This resulted in the 1993 Waco siege and the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff. As revenge, McVeigh executed the blast to coincide with Waco second anniversary.
And as far as McVeigh knew, he'd taken down the federal structure feeling triumphant. He walked toward an alley behind a YMCA where he'd parked his getaway car, a yellow 1977 Mercury grand marquee.
McVeigh peeled out of the city as he headed north on the highway. He sat in silence.
He refused to turn on the radio. He was today's news. Instead, he listened and looked for any helicopters or unmarked police cars on his tail. He wasn't nervous about getting caught. He was actually trying to bait the police. McVeigh dreamed up the perfect scenario after his arrest. He'd be famous at the right moment when everyone was watching he take credit for the bombing and reveal the government's anti-gun agenda to the world. He'd warn them that they needed to join together and fight for their right to bear arms to hasten his arrest.
McVeigh made himself as suspicious as possible. His getaway car didn't have license plates, and inside the car he had a sealed envelope filled with pages from the Turner Diaries. He chose a relevant excerpt in which a white supremacist group leaves a truck bomb at FBI headquarters. Just after 9:00 a.m., the Oklahoma Highway Patrol ordered all units to Oklahoma City to help with rescue efforts. State Trooper Charles J. Hanga halted his usual patrol near the Kansas border and headed south.
A little over an hour later, new instructions came in. Hanga was ordered to stay where he was. They'd received reports of a broken down minivan a few miles north. Hanga turned around and headed north when he happened to spot McVeigh's unpadded car at 10 20 a.m., he pulled him over. McVeigh pulled onto the grassy shoulder behind Hangar's patrol car, they got out of their respective cars and McVeigh was cooperative. Despite his hatred for federal agents, he still had some respect for local cops and he wanted to see where this traffic stop went.
McVeigh claimed he just bought his vehicle, hence the missing license plate. While the excuse was partially true, Hanga didn't buy it. He thought the car might be stolen, so he asked for McVeigh's license. As McVeigh reached for his wallet, Hanga noticed the bulge in his jacket.
A Glock pistol hanger withdrew his own gun and arrested McVeigh, cuffing him against the trunk. He loaded McVeigh into the patrol car, then asked for his permission to search the mercury.
McVeigh watched intently through the rearview mirror as Hanger searched the car and found the incriminating envelope. He wanted Hanger to read the articles inside, but instead he just left it in the car. Then he drove McVeigh to the Noble County Jail. McVeigh was booked on four misdemeanor charges related to his unrelated car and illegal concealed weapon while Hanga fingerprinted him, they listen to a TV news report on the bombing. The reporter relayed a vague description of the bomber, a white male who stood between five foot nine and six foot one hanger stared at the tall and lanky McVeigh.
McVeigh laughed it off and said, That ain't me. I'm six foot two.
While lying in his cell, McVeigh overheard everyone talking about the bombing. The inmates couldn't believe the rising death toll as more bodies were recovered, but McVeigh remained silent. He didn't react or engage with anyone. It wasn't time to come clean yet.
He tried to remain aloof, but he was anxious. McVeigh wondered how long it would take the FBI to tie him to the bombing and give him the public platform he longed for. In the meantime, federal agents and police officers were chasing leads from all across the world.
Law enforcement thought foreign terrorists were likely responsible just two years earlier. A group of Middle Eastern radicals had bombed the World Trade Center. Terrorism experts noted the Oklahoma City attack was similar bombs and large office buildings that exploded from the ground level.
But FBI Special Agent Clinton Van Zandt disagreed with that assumption. An expert profiler, he'd worked as the lead negotiator on the 1993 Waco siege. He immediately noted that the Oklahoma City bombing occurred on Waco's two year anniversary.
Van Zandt believed the bomber was angry with the U.S. government about Waco while working on the siege. He'd spent hours studying the Branch Davidian leader, David Koresh, and he'd also gained a good grasp of who Koresh, his loyal followers were.
Van Zandt's early psychological profile of the culprit matched McVeigh almost exactly. He predicted that the bomber was a mid 20s, white male military veteran. He'd belong to a militia group as a fringe member, and the bomber probably worked alone or with one other person.
Van Zandt supervisor, however, dismissed his theories right away. It sounded so unlikely that an American would attack their own country. Such a thought was unfathomable.
The rest of the FBI continued to follow leads on foreign terrorists while police investigated Ground Zero just two hours after the bombing at 11 a.m., Oklahoma City Detective Mike McPherson arrived at the Murrah Building. As he walked through the debris, he noticed a large piece of metal. He took a closer look and realized that it was a charred axle. Its mangled appearance meant it was probably close to the bomb.
When it detonated, he cleaned off the metal, revealing part of the vehicle identification number, or Vin McPherson sent it to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, hoping they'd find a match in its database immediately.
The partial number turned up a result a 1993 Ford truck owned by a rider rental shop in Miami, Florida. Recently, Rider had sent the vehicle to Elliot's Body Shop in Junction City, Kansas, at five p.m..
Seven hours after the bombing, the FBI visited Elliot's body shop. The owner told agents that a man named Robert de Kling had rented the truck. Two days earlier, he and several workers described the two customers to an artist who do sketches of their prime suspects, John Doe's number one and number two.
Finally, law enforcement had a few major leads, the name to physical descriptions and a vehicle. The next day, on April 20th, agents showed the sketches of the John Doe's to every business between Johnson City and Oklahoma City.
Late in the evening, investigators reached the Dreamland Motel. The manager recognized John Doe number one, but not as Robert Kling. Six days earlier, that same man had checked into the motel under the name Timothy McVeigh.
The manager recalled that McVeigh had two vehicles a rider rental truck and an old yellow mercury grand master key. For his contact information, McVeigh had written down a Decker, Michigan, farm as his current residence.
Suddenly the. I had not only another name, but an address to agents quickly figured out the land belonged to a third person, Terry Nichols, who'd served in the Army with McVeigh. Now equipped with these names, investigators called every police station in Oklahoma for leads.
They also checked all the names with the FBI's National Crime Information Center database. Their search found McVeigh had been arrested.
Almost immediately after the bombing, the FBI contacted the Noble County Sheriff, Jerry R. Cooke, at ten thirty a.m. on April 21st. Cook confirmed that McVeigh had been arrested. In fact, he was still in the Noble County jail awaiting a hearing. The FBI agents rushed to their helicopter.
But while the agents were on their way to Noble County Sheriff Cook double checked the paperwork. He didn't realize how close McVeigh was to securing his release. His hearing was scheduled for 10-15 a.m. That was 15 minutes before the FBI called because he had no prior convictions. The judge would likely let him go on minimum bail. Cook needed to stop McVeigh's release before he got away.
The sheriff ran two blocks from his office to the courthouse. When he arrived out of breath, he spotted the prosecutor still waiting for McVeigh. In a stroke of luck, the hearing hadn't started yet. Cook passed a note to the prosecutor asking to keep McVeigh in custody. The FBI was on the way, stunned.
The prosecutor called the district attorney's office to confirm it. McVeigh's hearing was indeed postponed because the inmate was a suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing. Meanwhile, Cook escorted McVeigh from his holding room back to the jail, saying the judge wasn't ready to see him yet.
McVeigh knew something was up. Everyone seemed to be acting different. Sheriff Cook seemed more cautious around him. The guards gave him sideways glances. When he arrived back at his cell. All the other inmates had been removed from his block. He decided to take a look outside from a window. McVeigh saw reporters gathering in front of the police station.
He smiled to himself. The FBI had finally figured it out.
That afternoon, FBI agents landed at the Noble County Jail. According to McVeigh, they showed him photos of the children killed in the bombing to encourage a confession. The FBI, however, denied this.
Meanwhile, agents searched the Mercury grand marquee and opened the envelope of Turner Diaries pages. Forensics found traces of explosives on the clothes McVeigh was wearing during his initial arrest. By four p.m., McVeigh was officially arrested. At the same time, agents in Buffalo, New York, were interviewing McVeigh's father, Bill. The 55 year old factory worker recalled his son's anger over Waco.
Then he confirmed that his son was close friends with Army veterans Michael Fortier and Terry Nichols. Bill told the FBI if Tim was involved, Nichols was probably involved, armed with that information.
Agents went on the hunt for McVeigh's accomplices. Next, Timothy McVeigh faces the ultimate punishment. Now back to the story. On April 21st, 1995, two days after the Oklahoma City bombing, the FBI arrested their prime suspect, 27 year old Army vet Timothy McVeigh. His father, Bill, alerted agents to two possible accomplices, 40 year old Terry Nichols and 26 year old Michael Fortier. The FBI didn't have to look too far for Nichols that day in Harrington, Kansas.
Nichols heard his name mentioned as a suspect during a radio news report on the bombing. He panicked, fearing the FBI would raid his home in a deadly siege like Waco. Nichols wanted to keep his wife and baby daughters safe, so he brought them to the Harrington police station and turned himself in. That afternoon, the FBI questioned Nichols for nine hours. He was charged with conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter and eventually sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Following the tip from McVeigh's dad, Michael and Lori Fortier were next on the FBI's suspect list. The couple tried to clear themselves of wrongdoing even though they didn't know about McVeigh's plan. Lori had made a fake I.D. for McVeigh, and Fortier went with him to scout the Murrah Building on April 27th.
The Fortier's read a statement on CNN denying any involvement and asserting McVeigh's innocence. A month later, the FBI called them in for questioning. At first, the 40 years refused to give the FBI any information. Michael told friends that if he was called as a witness in court, he'd stay silent and pick his nose.
That summer, the Justice Department offered him a deal. If he and Laurie would testify as witnesses in Nichols and McVeigh's separate trials, Lori would receive immunity from criminal charges. Michael could also plead guilty to reduce charges, illegal firearms trafficking and knowledge of the bombing. He wouldn't be charged with any direct involvement. The Fortier's were hesitant to take the deal. But once they heard the death penalty was being considered for McVeigh, the Fortier's realized Michael could get the same.
By August, he accepted the deal. He would serve 12 years in prison and his wife received immunity even with their star witness secured, the Justice Department worked to strengthen their case against McVeigh. Agents worked for 32 months to amass 28000 interviews and three point five tons of evidence. McVeigh was indicted on 11 total charges, three related to the bomb and eight for first degree murder of federal law enforcement officers.
The murders of the rest of the victims fell under the state's jurisdiction. He'd be indicted on those counts after the trial.
Nearly two years after the bombing on April 24th, 1997, McVeigh's trial began. The prosecution called 137 witnesses to testify, including Michael and Lori Fortier and McVeigh's sister, Jennifer.
The prosecution said McVeigh's anti-government ideology was his primary motivation for the bombing. His pages of The Turner Diaries, his hateful pamphlets and bumper stickers were all used as evidence on the other side.
Stephen Jones led McVeigh's defense team.
The 55 year old Oklahoma native was no stranger to high profile political cases, but McVeigh and Jones had a strained relationship from the start.
McVeigh wanted him to use the necessity defense, arguing that the bombing was necessary to prevent more harm. McVeigh believed that the government posed an imminent threat to gun owners, as evidenced by Waco and Ruby Ridge. His bombing prevented any further federal action.
Jones rejected the idea because he couldn't prove McVeigh had faced any imminent danger from the government.
But McVeigh kept pushing for it because he could use it as a platform to spread his rhetoric. He even told his lawyers that he was willing to testify in court, admit to the bombing and say this was a necessity.
Jones held firm on his decision to keep McVeigh's politics out of court. Instead, the defense played into the initial fears that foreign terrorists had committed the Oklahoma City bombing. He argued that the blast wasn't only executed by McVeigh, it was sponsored by Iraqi terrorists.
The jury didn't buy it. Almost two months later, on June 2nd, 1997, they found McVeigh guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection. Is would be the first federal execution since 1963 after a series of failed appeals.
McVeigh's execution was finally set for May 16th, 2001. The 33 year old dropped any remaining appeals, saying he'd rather die than stay in prison, according to a fellow inmate.
In the months before his execution, McVeigh starved himself so he'd look like a, quote, concentration camp victim.
He wanted to be seen as a martyr for anti-government and white supremacist groups.
But one thing derailed McVeigh's plan. Five days before the execution date on May 11th, the FBI found over 4000 missing documents from his case. They had neglected to show them to Jones before the trial. As a result, the attorney general delayed McVeigh's lethal injection by one month. This gave the defense team time to look through the documents, although it seemed unlikely they would find any useful new evidence.
McVeigh was hopeful, though he had a feeling the government had withheld evidence in its case.
But he was surprised the FBI actually admitted it. He figured the bureaucratic error would buy him at least 60 more days alive.
He was wrong. On June 6th, a federal judge ruled that the released documents didn't change the verdict. There'd be no more appeals, no more delays. McVeigh's death was finally set for June 11th, 2001.
At 7:00 a.m., McVeigh prepared for his death by writing letters to newspapers using his infamy to spread his rhetoric one last time.
In one letter published by The Buffalo News, McVeigh apologized for the bombing.
Sort of he wrote, quote, I am sorry these people had to lose their lives, but that's the nature of the beast.
It's understood going in what the human toll will be.
June 10th was McVeigh's last full day alive. He spent it napping, eating ice cream and watching CNN. He smiled at the news coverage about his demise. In the early hours of the next morning, he turned off the TV and became restless. He tossed and turned in bed, then paced in his cell.
At six a.m., guards led McVeigh to the execution chamber.
Before he was strapped into the gurney, he handed a piece of paper to the warden. On it. He had transcribed William Ernest Henley poem Invictus. The last verse ends with the lines. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.
As the execution got under way, McVeigh didn't say a word in communicated primarily by nodding his head.
Survivors of the bombing and family members of the victims closely watched his final minutes. Ten of them attended in person, while 232 watched via a closed circuit TV feed in Oklahoma City.
At around seven 10 a.m., a doctor injected a fatal dose of chemicals through a catheter in McVeigh's right leg. The medication collapsed. His lungs then stopped his heart. McVeigh remains stoic as the chemicals flooded his bloodstream. He stared at the journalists, then the survivors and victims family members. He looked up at the ceiling, gulping for several breaths. Then he stopped.
Timothy McVeigh was pronounced dead at 714 a.m., the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing was gone.
But sadly, his hate lived on and led to more deaths. Thanks for tuning in to conspiracy theories, and we'll be back Wednesday with our final episode on the Oklahoma City bombing.
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Conspiracy theories was created by Max Cutler and as a podcast studio's original executive producers include Max and Ron Cutler, Sound Design by Anthony Valchek with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Travis Clark. This episode of conspiracy theories was written by Malerie Carra with writing assistance by Ali Whicker and stars Molly Brandenberg and Carter Roy.
It's the most powerful position in American politics and arguably the world, but behind the oath to preserve, protect and defend lie dark secrets posed to leave some legacies in disgrace.
Don't forget to check out the new Spotify original from past very presidential with Ashley Flowers. Every Tuesday through the 2020 election, host Ashley Flowers shines a light on the darker side of the American presidency, exposing wildly true stories about history's most high profile leaders.
To hear more follow very presidential with Ashley flowers free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.