Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

License Tag Snag

Trooper Charles Hanger
Trooper Charles
Hanger (AP)

Long time Oklahoma Patrol officer — Trooper Charlie Hanger — had been dispatched to Oklahoma City. Like many law enforcement officers, he'd been summoned to provide whatever assistance he could.

Soon after, however, he received another order to remain in his usual patrol area — Noble County. He turned around and headed north on I-35. He was about 75 miles from the disaster area when he noticed a beat-up 1977 Mercury Grand Marquis. What caught his attention was the yellow car's lack of a license plate.

He pulled the driver over and got out of his patrol car. Timothy McVeigh got out of the yellow junker and went to meet him.

The business card left by McVeigh
The business card left by McVeigh

Hanger wanted to know why McVeigh had no license plate. McVeigh explained he'd just bought the car. When Hanger asked if he had insurance, registration, or a bill of sale McVeigh explained everything was being mailed to his address. Then he handed over his driver's license.

It was then Hanger noticed a bulge under McVeigh's jacket. "What's that?" the cop asked. When McVeigh said it was a gun, the trooper held his own weapon to McVeigh's head. Then Hanger confiscated the 9-mm Glock that McVeigh was packing, as well as an ammo clip and a knife.

McVeigh pointed out he had a legal right to carry a gun. Hanger cuffed McVeigh, put him in the police car and phoned his base. He asked his dispatcher to run a computer check on McVeigh's Michigan driver's license and the Glock.

Mugshot of Timothy McVeigh
Mugshot of Timothy McVeigh

After confirming McVeigh had no record, he explained that McVeigh's New York concealed-weapon permit was not legal in Oklahoma. With McVeigh's permission, he searched the Mercury and found nothing but a baseball cap, some tools and a plain white envelope. The prisoner was told to leave everything in the car, which the trooper locked before taking McVeigh to the Noble County Jail in Perry, Oklahoma.

On the way there, McVeigh managed to secrete a business card in the police car. The card was to cause problems for the man who'd supplied it — military supply dealer Dave Paulson. On the card, McVeigh had written "TNT $5/stick need more" and "Call after 01 May, see if I can get some more." He left the card as payback for the way Paulson had dishonored a dynamite and blasting caps transaction. He figured the FBI would eventually grill the weapons dealer on his connection with the bombing. And he was right.

At the jail, McVeigh was booked on four misdemeanor charges — unlawfully carrying a weapon, transporting a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, failing to display a current license plate, and failing to maintain proof of insurance.

The rear axle of the rented truck
The rear axle of the rented truck (AP)

His address on his driver's license was the Nichols family farm in Decker, Michigan. And although the charges were relatively minor, McVeigh would have to wait for his day in court. Normally, he would have been dealt with promptly. But because Judge Danny G. Allen was currently tied up in a protracted divorce case, McVeigh's bail hearing was held over until Friday, May 21.

As McVeigh quietly waited in a cell, events were moving rapidly in other parts of the country.

In Virginia, at the FBI's behavioral science unit, profiling was underway. Whereas most investigators were convinced the bombing was the work of foreign terrorists, Clinton R. Van Zandt had other ideas. A psychological profiler who had worked as chief FBI negotiator at Waco, Texas — site of The Branch Davidian siege, Van Zandt noted the date of the attack — April 19, 1993 — was exactly two years to the day when the deaths at Waco had occurred.

He believed the perpetrator would be white, male and in his twenties. Furthermore, he theorized the suspect would be a military man and possibly a member of a fringe militia group. His assessment would be proven correct as the investigation progressed. Terrorism expert Louis R Mizell Jr. noticed that the date coincided with that of Patriot's Day — anniversary of the Revolutionary War Battle of Concord, revered by the militia movement.

John Doe #1 and John Doe #2
John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 (AP)

The rear axle of the Ryder truck had an identifying number on the 250 pound part, which had been blasted through the air and landed on a Ford Festiva.  Also found was the rear bumper from the same truck - its license plate number still legible. Both truck parts were rapidly traced to the name of the renter - Robert Kling, an alias McVeigh used on the rental agreement.

Agents raced to the Ryder Rental agency in Junction City. There, owner Eldon Elliot and his employees assisted an FBI artist who created two pictures: one of the man who rented the truck, as well as another who'd been in the office about the same time. Labeled John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2, the suspects' portraits were shown throughout the rental agency's area. By the evening after the bombing, manager Lea McGown of the Dreamland Motel said she recognized the man federal agents called Kling.

But Ms. McGown said the man had registered under the name of Timothy McVeigh. And yes, he had parked a large Ryder truck in the motel lot. It was yellow, she said, the same color as the old Marquis he arrived in. Furthermore, when he signed in he gave the Nichols farm in Decker, Michigan as his address. It matched the one on his driver's license — and on the charge sheet at the Perry Police Station.

Time was running out for Timothy James McVeigh.


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