The Ashes of Waco website Portal page to the digital collection. Includes a transcribed interview with author Dick J. Reavis, and information about the author, the book, the papers, the grant, the digital collection and the Southwestern Writers Collection.
Memorializing Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas Excellent site for photos and descriptions of the Mount Carmel property over the past eight years. Also includes photos of the Mount Carmel building model created by the author of the site, and links to other resources.
Waco Siege entry from Wikipedia Information from various contributors on the raid, including its prelude and aftermath, as well as references and a bibliography.
Waco: A New Revelation 1999 documentary on the incident, which uncovers new evidence. Website includes a link to the Danforth Report. You can watch the entire documentary on the Google videos site (video.google.com).
Waco: Rules of Engagement Probably the most famous and successful of Waco-related documentaries. You can order it from this site or rent/buy it from various sources.
Waco: The Inside Story Website for PBS' Frontline program, with a lot of good resources, including pictures, audio clips, official documents, and a bibliography.
Arguably the biggest informational treasures in the Dick J. Reavis Papers is the collection of negotiation transcripts. From the first 911 call made by Branch Davidian Wayne Martin during the height of the Feb. 28 shootout, to FBI negotiator Byron Sage's loudspeaker instructions during the fiery chaos of April 19, the drama is captured in these transcribed conversations between the adversaries.
I believe we have the full set of transcripts, which were procured by Reavis during his investigation from defense attorneys. Technically one can get them from the FBI with a Freedom of
Information Act request, but from what I hear, one will have to wait a while.
Most, but not all, of these transcripts are in digital format, and many of those are already included in the digital collection. You can see what's there so far with this link: http://tinyurl.com/yeh2kmk,
or by searching "negotiation transcript" in the search bar of the
I have been working on adding these
lately and will continue to do so until they are all up there. They are one of
the most researcher-requested items in the collection, and I can see why. Now,
they will be fully keyword searchable, making this aspect of research much quicker
and more productive.
The other type of item most
requested are the actual negotiation recordings. Those will all eventually be
in the digital collection too, and when they are, researchers will be able to
find recorded content using the transcripts, all at their own desks at home.
Just thought I would check in and update our scores of readers on what's been happening with the project lately. Aniket and I have been working together designing a template for the site. It will consist of: an opening page with a banner, navigation links, and rotating sample images and/or video clips; an "About the Project" page that gives background information on the project; an "About the Incident" page that describes the incident through the lens of Reavis' collection and book; a page to contact us to request copies; and a "Guestbook" where visitors can leave and read comments. In addition, there will be links to this blog and to the digital collection itself.
The pages that Aniket and I create will link to the CONTENTdm pages that contain the actual records, where users will be able to search the metadata and bookmark records of particular interest to them. Because of space concerns (and time and copyright concerns, somewhat) we are not able to provide digital surrogates of all the items at this time. I'm hoping to continue to add more digitized items periodically after the grant period ends. Of course, I will keep the world posted via this blog whenever newly digitized items are added.
Many other CONTENTdm sites that contain audio and/or video files embed them into the site, so no downloading or pre-installed media players are necessary. We plan on doing this for our site. As far as design goes, we're keeping it simple, like the upcoming Wittliff Collections website will look, and stark, like the background and text colors of this blog.
I'm going to place the Reavis 12/30/08 interview transcript either on the site or in the collection itself, or both. Some students here worked hard to transcribe the interview, and our admin assistant, myself and Reavis all made passes editing it. I think it is a good resource as to how the book and the project came about, as well as why investigating and remembering what happened at Waco in 1993 matters.
Kurt's last day here was May 1, but he stopped in today to say goodbye to the Wittliff Collections crew. He's off to Ohio, then to West Virginia for the summer and plans to be back in the area in September. We're going to miss him around here but hope to see him again soon. Thanks for all your hard work on the Ashes of Waco Project, Kurt!
By the way, per the very slight chance anyone reading this blog needs to hire--or know someone who needs to hire--an a/v preservation specialist, Kurt is your man!
Today was also Aniket Kulkarni's first day as our Web Design Intern. He's going to work 20 hours a week for the remainder of the grant period. This is the last leg, the home stretch--time to turn the records that Kurt created in CONTENTdm into a vibrant and interactive website. Stay tuned!
Here is the letter she wrote to District Court Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr., who presided over the trial:
Dear Judge Smith:
the "erroneous" action on Count Three [use of firearms in commission of
a crime] by the jury in the trial of the eleven Branch Davidians, it is
with some chagrin that I ask the Court to consider some of our
discussions as the Court determines the sentencing for the defendants
involved in Count Three and also Count Two.
Generally, I feel
that it is necessary to address the jury's considerations in bringing
guilty verdicts, and specifically, I feel it is necessary to address
our deliberations on the involvement of certain defendants.
jury asked the Court for clarification of what seemed to be a
discrepancy in the use of "and" and "or" in Charge Three as it pertains
to "using and carrying" versus "using or carrying firearms. . ." The
Court advised that the Government would have proven its case if it
proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant had "used or carried
a firearm . . ." With those instructions we found seven of the
At the time, the jury questioned among
ourselves how sentencing could be carried out fairly since there surely
must be a more serious penalty for "using" as opposed to "carrying" a
firearm, and since we were not charged to identify which defendants, if
any, should be found guilty of actually "using" the firearms. To each
other, we voiced our desires that perhaps the simple act of "carrying"
a firearm might serve to diminish the penalty associated with "using a
I now understand that the "sentencing guidelines" stipulate a penalty of from five to thirty years in prison. I am incredulous!
the crime that the "carrying/using" took place was that of aiding and
abetting a voluntary manslaughter and not conspiracy to murder or
aiding and abetting murder (all defendants were found not guilty of
these charges), there surely must be a different set of sentencing
guidelines that can be followed. After we had delivered our verdict to
the Court and prior to its being presented to the public, we jurors
discussed what most of us felt was the possibility that with the
consideration of time already served by the defendants, none would be
facing severe penalties. Even five years is to severe a penalty for
what we believed to be a minor charge. All of us agreed that Kathryn
Schroeder probably would be serving a lesser charge if she had remained
a part of the case!
Specifically, I am most concerned with the
sentences that are facing two defendants on Count Three and five
defendants on Count Two (part two).
Regarding Count Three and the charges faced by Ruth Ottman Riddle and Graem Leonard Craddock:
Craddock was found guilty of Count Three for only one reason: For Count
Seven, it had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he had been in
possession of a hand grenade. But further in Count Eight, it was proven
that he was not guilty of conspiracy to posses such a device. However,
since "carrying a firearm . . ." created a guilty verdict in Count
Three, we felt we had no choice but to find him guilty in Count Three.
We even discussed whether or not this was not a type of double jeopardy
-- not of being tried twice for the same crime but of being punished
twice for the same crime: possession of a hand grenade. Again, we felt
we had no choice.
In the case of Ruth Ottman Riddle, we debated
whether "carrying" was to be taken literally, as "moving around
transporting a firearm"; or whether it was to be taken figuratively, as
"being, even briefly, in possession of a firearm." We were in agreement
that Ruth Riddle had, upon her request, retrieved a "long gun" (rifle?
shotgun?) from under her bed and had passed it downstairs. It is
unfathomable that for this act she is facing even five years, much less
thirty years, in prison. Are there no other sentencing guidelines that
can be brought to bear? If we had interpreted "carrying" literally, she
would be totally free since there was no proof beyond a reasonable
doubt that she even walked to the window of her room while in
possession of a firearm!
For these two individuals I beg the Court's utmost leniency.
on Count Two (part two): the five individuals found guilty: Brad Eugene
Branch, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Jaime Castillo, Livingston Fagan, and
Renos Avraam, were not found guilty of voluntary manslaughter but of
aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter. I implore the Court to
recognize that the jury never believed these individuals themselves
committed the crime of voluntary manslaughter. Further, we did believe,
and the charge to the jury gave credence to the belief that aiding and
abetting was "a lesser charge.''
For these five individuals, I beg the Court's utmost leniency.
regarding what was deemed an error on the part of the jury: finding
certain defendants guilty on Count Three after having found all
defendants not guilty of Count One [conspiracy to murder federal
agents]: In our defense I submit that we determined that certain
defendants did "use and (?) carry a firearm during and in relation to
the commission of a crime of violence which may be prosecuted in a
court of the United States." We further interpreted the following
portion of that statement, "to wit: conspiracy to murder federal
agents," to mean "for example, conspiracy to murder federal agents" --
with "conspiracy to murder" being but one example of a crime that could
be prosecuted in a federal court. On that basis, we began our
deliberations on Count Three. We certainly had no knowledge that the
penalty for a guilty verdict would be tied to a conspiracy charge as
alleged in Count One!
On a more personal note: I cannot explain
the honor and responsibility I felt when I was chosen to serve on this
jury. It was the most intense forty-eight days (my thoughts did not
take a break on weekends and holidays!) of my life. If justice is
served in the end, I and my fellow jurors did our duty. It is now in
the Court's hands to assure that our intentions are not belied.
Sincerely, Sarah L. Bain Juror #16, Foreman Branch Davidian Trial
At the end of last year, Joel visited Dick Reavis, the author of The Ashes of Waco, at his home in North Carolina. Together they recorded an interview that lasted for several hours. A complete transcript will be available when our website goes up, and we will post excerpts here from time to time. In this installment, Reavis describes how he met Branch Davidians after the siege and how he came to write the book:
DR: After it burned, you could walk on the site. I was there within a week afterwards. My wife and I walked around it.
JM: After the Texas Rangers had done their investigation?
DR: I say within a week. It seems to me it was. At some point, it was put off limits for sanitary reasons, but there was a gap.
JM: Cause people were taking souvenirs?
DR: Yeah, people were doing that. My wife and I walked the grounds. You have to understand, she is a South American. We were walking through all this charred stuff. I’m trying to think why I was down there. I think I know, but anyway. I said, “What do you think of this?” I didn’t know what to think of it. She said, “I never thought I would get a chance to see what your country did to the Indians.” And I thought, “What the heck is this? What do the Indians got to do with this?” And she said, “The Indians had a different religion. They had different marriage customs. And they had guns. So, you wiped them out.” And I thought, “Oh my gosh! Revelation to me.” And I’ll tell you why I was down there. After this place burned, I looked for two or three days for the stories that would tell me the other side of the story, and I didn’t see a one. Meaning, the press didn’t interview the people who came out of jail. And I thought, “That ain’t right.” And then I got a call. I’m pretty sure it was from Jim Pace at Soldier of Fortune, who told me that all of the people who had gotten out of jail and all of the other assorted Koresh followers who had never been put in, or whatever, and the children, were all in one hotel in Waco. He called and told me that. And I said, “Well Jesus, they’ve been wanting me to do a story about this and I’ve been refusing cause I couldn’t get the other side.” Well I went to my editor and I said, “Let me check into that hotel for a week.” And it was probably at the end of that week that I brought my wife to Mt. Carmel. I went down there for a week or so… a week or ten days. Checked into the hotel. It was pretty obvious who the Koresh followers were. I’d seen some of them on TV as they were arrested. And they wouldn’t talk to me. And I said what am I going to do -- this happens to reporters. And I said: I’m gonna sit here in the lobby and see what I can learn. Sitting in the lobby, I heard one of them, Ruth Riddle, call her insurance company to file a claim on her car and they said, “What happened to your car?” Tanks ran over it. “Do you have a title?” No. It burned up in the fire. And I saw they didn’t have cars anymore. That’s why she was making the call. Taxis were showing up. Well, I had a car. I said, “If I just sit here in this lobby long enough, somebody’s gonna need a ride. And on the second or third day, somebody did. And the next thing you know, I was taxi service for the survivors. I didn’t charge them nothing. And while I drove them places, I asked them questions. They couldn’t refuse. Three or four days of that, and I had made friends with them.
JM: Did you tell them you were a reporter?
DR: Oh yeah. I told them I was a reporter. When I say they’re not talking, they might have talked to me if I had said I’m a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church at Podunk, Texas. But I told them up front I was a reporter. So they wouldn’t talk to me until they needed a ride. So that’s how I began to get into the story, was a taxi guy to them. Little by little, they’d start inviting me to lunch and stuff. There was a restaurant where they all went, cause they could eat cheap. One day at the restaurant, I said, “Look, ya’ll have seen me smoking and stuff and nobody yet has asked me when I’m gonna accept Jesus as my lord and savior. What kind of religious group are you?” And they said, “We don’t do those kind of things.” And I said, “Why not?” “Because it would take us more than 15 minutes to explain our religion.” Well I decided as long as 15 minutes never came, I’d be willing to talk to them and I began to hear things from them that contrasted greatly from what I had read in the press. And some of them were black and I began to think, “There’s a story here.” I went to my editor and I said, “Look. This is like the Kennedy assassination. It’s gonna take a year after it happens to figure out what happened. Put me on it.” He said talk to Lacey. Lacey said no. Lacey had to attend a conference of alternative weeklies in Austin and I went down there. I said, “Look. You gotta let me spend at least six months figuring out what happened.” And he said no, again. I mean, he said it to my face. And I said, “Why not?” And he said it’s not a Dallas story. And I said yeah well neither was the Kennedy assassination. And besides, in Dallas at that time, there was a great movement of gun rights, patriot, constitutionalism, militia people. They held monthly meetings at which six and eight hundred people showed up. And I had readers. Everything I had written about Waco, we got letters from. So it was a hot topic, just inside of Dallas, and then nationally it seemed to me of some import. He told me no and I said, “I’m going to have to write a book about this to get to the bottom of it. And if I write the book, I’m gonna have to quit my job.” So I wrote a letter to my agent, proposing a book. When I got the contract, I quit my job.
Next we have the opening minutes of a video made by Failure Analysis Associates and commissioned by the National Rifle Associatation. The tape uses computer models to take the viewer through the various gas attacks that occurred on April 19. The physical origins and development of the fire are also covered, as well as the causes of death and distribution within the building of those who perished that day. Click on the link below.
Here is an excerpt from a tape that was sent out of Mt. Carmel during the siege. In this clip, Steve Schneider interviews several of the girls about how they were getting along during the ordeal. To view, click the link at the end of this posting.
Multiple tapes were sent out to the FBI over the course of the standoff. Dick Reavis, in The Ashes of Waco, has this to say:
Whatever disagreements one might have with the residents of Mt. Carmel, the film humanizes its subjects. In their post-April 19 investigation of the Waco affair, Justice Department investigators reported: "The negotiator's log shows that when the tape was reviewed there was concern that if the tape was released to the media, Koresh would gain much sympathy." Though the document was news, and would have been ideal for television, it wouldn't have served the agency's public relations goals. Instead of presenting it to the press, the Bureau sat on the videotape[s]. (pp. 228-29)
The girls seen here are, in order of appearance, Lisa Martin (13), Audrey Martinez (13), Rachel Sylvia (13), Abigail Martinez (11), and Sheila Martin (15). All five of them perished on April 19th.
It is well known that David Koresh was an ambitious musician, but recordings of him singing and playing guitar are very rare. A couple of songs, along with a sermon, were compiled and released as "Voice of Fire" by the Junior's Motel label in 1994, and in 1996 survivor Clive Doyle and Koresh's mother Bonnie Haldeman released, on cassette, an audio letter that Koresh had recorded for his grandfather, the proceeds of which benefited the Mt. Carmel Survival Fund. Along with music, "Songs to Grandpa" contains lengthy spoken sections featuring thoughts, prayers, memories, and introductions. At one point, Koresh talks to his son Cyrus. "Songs to Grandpa" is cataloged in the Reavis Papers as RA058.
Entry RA152 is an unassuming cassette with pencil-written labels that say only "undated sermon DK?" on side A and "music DK?" on side B. We can confirm that it is Koresh on this tape. Many of the songs on side B also appear on "Songs to Grandpa", but they are interpreted differently here. In addition, Koresh plays an electric guitar on this tape while "Songs to Grandpa" features an effects-laden acoustic. Click on the link at the end of this entry to hear 'The Lonely Man' from RA152. Koresh used an old, off-brand tape, and we don't know what kind of recording equipment he used, so please overlook the low quality of the file. The song title was gleaned from "Songs to Grandpa", where an alternate version can be heard along with introductory remarks such as:
"Who am I to preach to someone what they must do to be saved when I myself have not yet known? We're saved by hope and that through faith...The spirit of God moves upon our hearts, and it's not a feeling, it's an acknowledgement, it's an admittance that we're wrong. This song came to me after I realized that, even after being a Christian for many years, that I am still far away from what God would have me to be. I realized that I had been a bad example to many people who were looking to me...the more I learn about Christ the more I realize that I have many, many apologies that I must give people--my own family members, people I've met in times past--but even though I have to apologize for being a misrepresentative of Christ, God still loves me, and because I know that, and I've seen that, I can tell my brethren and everyone else that God still loves them, too."
For a time, the Branch Davidians maintained two houses in California, which became a base for recruiting new members. California was also a place where Koresh tried to further his musical ambitions. These business cards were passed out to promising contacts; a similar card was given to future member David Thibodeau in a music store.
Shortly after the siege began, all communication between Mt. Carmel and the outside world was cut off. A direct line was installed between the building and FBI negotiators, but the besieged were denied contact with anyone else. Figuring reporters' cameras might be able to photograph signs (reporters were relegated to an area about two miles away from the building), the Branch Davidians painted messages on bed sheets and hung them out the window. Here are two examples: