Ryders of the Storm

The ham-loving plainsman couldn’t sleep. Rustlers or martians were after his tasty pigs. So he called the leader of the Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia. Then he called the Osage County sheriff.

It was late Monday, April 17, 1995, about 36 hours before the Oklahoma City bomb blew up. Near a pigpen south of Topeka, the deputies and the militiamen bumped into one another. Kansas’ militia commander and two others ended up in jail on minor charges. For about 36 hours. And if you believe that, you’re as gullible as the dicks at the FBI.

“That’s bullshit,” proclaims Charles Farley of Wakefield, Kansas, who is certain that Kansas’ top militiaman was not in jail the evening before the bombing. “I know exactly where he was on the 18th at 6 o’clock.”

Farley is still smarting from the skeptical news coverage he received after testifying in Terry Nichols’ 1998 federal bombing trial. Though hardly anyone has interviewed Farley, newspapers nationwide have disputed his testimony. But as recently as last week, Timothy McVeigh’s lawyers argued in court that the FBI had hampered the bomber’s original defense team by withholding Farley’s story.

The evening before the bombing, Farley scouted the fishing conditions at the Geary County Lake and Wildlife Area about 130 miles west of Kansas City, near Junction City. McVeigh was at the lake that day too, making a bomb out of fertilizer, funny-car fuel and a Ryder truck, with the help of only Nichols, according to the FBI and McVeigh himself.

But Farley says he came upon four vehicles along the 195-acre wildlife area’s northern border: a green and white Chevy pickup, circa ’73 to ’75; a ’50 or ’53 flatbed GMC farm truck, heavily loaded with bagged fertilizer; a brown Buick-like sedan. And a Ryder truck.

Suspecting a breakdown, Farley, then a civilian mechanic at nearby Fort Riley, pressed the button to open his Lincoln’s passenger window. He got a dirty look from a man near the flatbed, so he offered no help. “I thought, ‘Well, piss on you, you asshole,'” Farley recalls.

Exiting the wildlife area between the flatbed and the sedan, Farley looked left for traffic and glimpsed three men standing near the Ryder truck — perhaps two were McVeigh and Nichols, but Farley doesn’t know. Looking right again, Farley saw a fifth man — a heavy fellow in his twenties, with dark hair over his ears and collar, wearing blue jeans. “We’ve got to get this shit done now!” the glaring man called out.

Farley figures that the men were preparing to transfer the explosive fertilizer from the flatbed to the moving van. “They had the tailgate off it. They were obviously going to unload it right there,” he tells the Pitch. (McVeigh told the authors of American Terrorist that he and Nichols loaded the Ryder truck at a storage locker in Herington, Kansas, not at the lake.)

Farley headed home, thinking about the lake’s level, guessing that the crappie, bass, catfish, bluegills and walleye would bite if he sent boaters out from Fort Riley’s Outdoor Recreation Center, where he maintained the Army’s Evinrudes and advised renters on fishing spots.

A fifty-something retired Army radar technician, Farley served 22 years in such places as Korea, Vietnam, Germany and the Dominican Republic. He knows how to make ammonium nitrate fertilizer explode; as a kid on the farm, he’d seen his father take one hundred pounds of the crop booster, douse it with oil and hook up a fuse. “Shit, you can dig yourself a pretty good pond pretty quick,” he says.

Farley hotlined the FBI a few days after the bombing when he saw Kansas militia commander Morris Wilson on a TV news show. “When I told them I couldn’t identify Nichols or McVeigh, they weren’t interested,” he said. For Nichols’ defense lawyers, Farley testified that a militiaman in a newspaper photo looked like that glaring man at Geary Lake. It was a photo of Wilson.

Wilson — who has moved to Loveland, Colorado, and keeps his telephone number unlisted — can account for his whereabouts: He was arrested 95 miles from Geary Lake around midnight on Monday, April 17, 1995, near the Osage County acreage of Bob Thornburgh, who had fretted about the safety of a few porkers he kept for his own eating. “The little green men and so on and so forth were scaring his pigs,” recalls Sheriff Kenneth Lippert, who was undersheriff back in 1995. Thornburgh called the sheriff’s office at around 10 p.m. “Shoot, he’d called the militia boys hours before that,” Lippert says. (Thornburgh did not return telephone calls from the Pitch.)

Sheriff Lippert says deputies found a curious scene at the Thornburgh place. “We had four guys carrying all kinds of weapons and this clown shooting up at the house,” he recalls. The pigman was firing into the night. Four militiamen had nineteen weapons. “They were ready for war, apparently,” Lippert recalls. (The Kansas militia has reportedly disbanded since then.)

Finding a little .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol in Wilson’s pocket, the deputies busted him on a concealed-weapon charge. Another militiaman’s gun looked as though its serial number had been filed off, so he was arrested too. A third fellow got charged with an alcohol violation. “The fourth guy we cut loose,” Lippert says. After the three spent two nights in jail, “The judge and the county attorney decided to kick them loose,” dismissing the charges.

The time in jail gives Wilson an alibi, but Farley smells a cover-up. “They’re not above being in the militia themselves,” he says of small-town badge men.

That makes Lippert laugh. But during an interview with the Pitch, Lippert made enough contradictory statements to fill an Oliver Stone script. First, he said the militia commander “never got out of jail until 1 p.m. on the 18th.” Actually, that would leave plenty of time to reach Geary Lake from Osage County Jail by 6 p.m.

Reminded that other newspapers had quoted him saying Wilson left jail after the bombing, Lippert claimed he hadn’t looked at the investigative file for years and that it was stored in an attic somewhere.

Finding a jailhouse booking log, Lippert then gave the Pitch his official story: Wilson was in jail from 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, April 18, until 10:27 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, getting free 86 minutes after the Murrah building explosion. Finally, Lippert mentioned that he’d briefly retrieved the investigative file just a few days before the Pitch interview — probably on June 4, 2001, when the FBI again checked Wilson’s jail dates as McVeigh’s judge decided whether to grant a delay in the bomber’s execution because the feds mishandled his records.

Asked whether he would allow the Pitch to compare the investigative file and the jail booking sheet to see whether Wilson’s jail dates match, the sheriff refused, citing confidentiality rules. Still, he’s sure the records check out. “It was good enough for the FBI,” he says.

But not good enough for Farley, who insists, “There’s a lot more people involved in this shit than the FBI has been telling us. At least three other people have gotten off scot-free.”

Even if Farley is wrong about Wilson, his story is still compelling. Too bad it’s not as believable as the one about the pigs and the martians.

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