By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Perhaps more information will come out about the truck during Nichols’ trial. The pickup’s owner tells the Weekly that the defense recently mailed him a subpoena to testify at Nichols’ trial. “The date to appear is April 6,” he explains. The owner phoned the defense team and was told his court appearance would likely come at the end of the month. But defense attorneys seem to know very little about his truck.
“When they called, they just asked me if I owned a truck and if it was returned to me. I said yes. And they said, ‘Thanks.’ That was about it,” says the owner. Citing a court-imposed gag order, Brian Hermanson, Nichols’ lead attorney, declined any comment.
The missing truck was actually a brown 1983 GMC High Sierra four-by-four. When the FBI returned it, the truck had been spray-painted yellow and its GMC emblem replaced with a Chevrolet Silverado one. Before it was stolen, the four-by-four drive had broken down. The thieves repaired it. A letter, dated July 11, 1995, sent on behalf of Oklahoma City’s FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Bob Ricks confirmed the extra efforts taken to disguise the truck. “The vehicle also had been painted and subjected to cosmetic changes which made it appear to be a Chevrolet.” The FBI paid the truck owner $822 to repair damage from the forensic exam.
The pickup was found in an Oklahoma City apartment complex, about five miles from the Murrah Building, by a security guard on April 27, 1995. He called police to impound it. The guard recorded the abandoned vehicle as a “yellow Chevy Silverado.” He also documented the missing public VIN numbers and the truck’s original color — “brown.”
Oklahoma City Police Officer Sean Shropshire noted the missing public VIN numbers and license plate, and the yellow paintwork. He also called the FBI in response to its Teletype about a “Brown Chevy pickup involved in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.” A Bureau supervisor told him to get the truck fingerprinted.
Police spokesperson Captain Jeffrey Becker says three sets of fingerprints were found on the pickup: one on the driver’s-side window, a second on the frame around that window, and a third set near the driver’s-side door handle. Becker says his department ran the prints through a nationwide criminal database but came up empty. The police then handed the truck and the fingerprints over to the FBI. “We never heard back from them,” says Becker. “We never knew where it was stolen or heard anything about a suspect.”
A resident of the complex where the pickup was dumped, speaking confidentially, says he saw the truck parked at the complex a week after the bombing. His wife got a close look at the driver, on April 25. He says its “ugly yellow color” caught his eye. Ellis, he adds, came to the complex looking for witnesses. “He showed me a picture of the pickup and asked if he’d seen it. I told him yes,” says this resident. “Ellis then told me, ‘Remember that APB the day of the bombing, with two Middle Eastern–looking men in it? Well, this is the truck.’”
His wife told Ellis she remembered the driver because he glared at her. She said he was “clean-shaven, with an olive complexion, dark wavy hair, broad shoulders, 28 to 34 years old, and of Middle Eastern descent.”
The agent re-interviewed them a few days later. “Again,” according to the resident, “he said, ‘This is the brown pickup from the APB. It had no license plate, no VIN numbers, and was painted yellow.’ He also told us it was fingerprinted by the FBI.” His wife put together a crude drawing of the driver that Ellis picked up. The agent then refused to take their phone calls. “I never heard from him again,” says the husband.
Ellis, who’s assigned to the FBI’s Dallas office, didn’t return the Weekly’s calls. But Lori Bailey, an FBI spokesperson for the Dallas office, confirmed that Ellis worked on the bombing case. She also stood by Kalisch’s claim that the pickup was not involved in the bombing. Asked how she knew this was true, Bailey responded, “I don’t have that information. You’ll have to call our Oklahoma City office.”
Gary Johnson, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma City FBI office, says the truck was impounded by the FBI, examined by forensics and returned to its owner. Johnson also confirms that fingerprints were found. But he says none were matched to a suspect.
Responding to Ellis’ reported statements, Johnson adds, “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 the truck and its occupants were not involved, Johnson replies, “It simply wasn’t consistent with our investigation.”
John Vincent, a retired FBI agent who worked on part of the OKC bombing investigation, counters, “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,” he adds.