The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on September 30, 1997 · Page 8
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 8

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Tuesday, September 30, 1997
Page 8
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A8 TUESDAY. SEPTEMBER 30, 1997 OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING THE SALINA JOURNAL An easy child, he longed to be a doctor When farming's fortune turned around, Uncle Sam became the enemy FROM PAGE A1 A surveillance plane flew overhead. Ten minutes later, Nichols, his daughter in his arms, walked into the Herington police station. "I'm Terry Nichols and my name's on TV," he said. "I want to know why." In the days after the bombing, three men sat in jail as material witnesses or suspects. One was Timothy McVeigh. One was Terry Nichols. One was Nichols' brother, James Nichols. James, an organic farmer, was held on explosives charges unrelated to the bombing. He later was freed and the charges dropped. But the FBI's treatment of him was so underhanded, family and friends say, that they do not trust the government's evidence against his brother. "Everybody talks about these trials being closure," James said this month, while harvesting barley near Decker, Mich. "This isn't closure. This is just the beginning. "The government is lying. They're lying, lying, lying. They don't want anybody to find out who really blew up that building." A trouble-free farm boy Terry Nichols' family has farmed for several generations in Michigan's "Thumb." The picturesque landscape northeast of Detroit is dotted with small towns, immaculate family farms and acres of flower and vegetable gardens. Nichols' parents, Robert Nichols and Joyce Walton, married in 1949. They eventually settled outside Lapeer, a farming community east of Flint near Lake Huron. Terry was the third of four chil- djren. Les, born in 1952, was the best looking, a popular athlete in high school. James, born in 1954, was the boisterous one. Terry, born on April 1,1955, was the least trouble. Suzanne, born in 1959, was the girl the family had longed for. "They had a good upbringing, really," said Joyce, 66, who still lives on the farm. "We didn't h^ave much money, but we had a big garden and fruit trees and we f^d them well." j The Nicholses owned 360 acres and gradually rented another 1,400. Robert occasionally worked construction and other jobs, and Joyce and the kids planted and harvested corn, wheat, rye, • beans, oats and sugar beets. But Terry didn't seem interested in farming. "He used to say, 'There must be an easier way to make a living. You can use your head instead of your hands,' " James recalled. Life wasn't always good on the farm. For years, Robert and Joyce Nichols fought for reasons they stUl don't fully understand. They separated in May 1973 and divorced a year later. Les nearly died in a welding accident in 1974 when vapors from a gas tank ignited. He spent six months in the hospital. His nose was gone. So were his ears. Severe scars lace his arms, torso and legs. "In many ways that was a lot bigger nightmare than this thing with Terry," said Robert, 72, who now farms in Imlay City, Mich. 6 years away, then home Terry graduated from Lapeer High School in June 1973 with a 2.6 grade point average and enrolled at Central Michigan University 100 miles away. His field: medicine. "From the time he was 6 or 7, he said he was going to be a doctor some day," Robert said. "I always encouraged him." But Terry's college grades weren't great, and he dropped out of school in January 1974. His father believes Terry's mother forced him to give up his childhood dream to help on the farm. "Mother did not make him quit," James disagreed. "Terry told me he didn't like it. He was confined into a dorm room, classrooms. It was like prison." Terry moved to Colorado in 1976 and repaired small machines for a living near Boulder. He got a state real estate sales license in September 1977, but it expired in 1980 without ever being activated. Terry went home to Michigan to help on the farm after only six or seven months in Colorado. Two years after the divorce, Joyce Nichols bought a 160-acre f^rm near Decker for Terry and J;ames. Terry lived there off and cm. James has lived there ever since. Farm fortunes change In '80s ! "In the '70s, we made money h(and over fist," James said. "Geez, we could do no wrong. Then the The Associated Press In his Decker, Mich., farmhouse, James Nichols talks about his brother's case recently. On the table are copies of a book written by Terry Nichols' first wife, the 1973 yearbook from Terry Nichols' high school and documents purporting to show a government cover-up. "80s hit, and you couldn't do anything right." Bankers had urged farmers in the 1970s to borrow money and buy more land and equipment. But in 1979, interest rates and fuel prices skyrocketed and crop prices crashed. Thousands lost land that had been in their families for generations. Robert eventually lost one of his farms. Many farmers blamed federal farm policies. Suicides were not infrequent. A rural mental health director warned Congress in 1989 about a growing antigovernment movement in rural America. James said he went to two militia meetings and decided the movement wasn't for him. "They just wanted to trot their guns around. They were morons," he said. "I told them the pen is mightier than the sword." Accusation angers brother James Nichols is a balding, bearded man who punctuates nearly every sentence with a laugh. His voice gets louder the longer he talks. He is a busy man these days — and not just because of his own land and the 590 acres he rents. He has co-authored a book with Bob Papovich, who lives down the road, on what they think really happened in the Oklahoma City bombing. He makes TV appearances to tell how he was wrongly arrested. He entertains journalists at what he calls "the second most famous white house in the world." James eagerly shows visitors what the FBI found when they searched his property.. An FBI evidence bag marked "shrapnel" contains a crumpled Schlitz beer can so old it has a pull-tab. "THAT'S WHAT THEY HELD ME ON!" he says, his voice booming. "THEY FOUND THIS IN THE DITCH." Terry's first wife Terry Nichols was driving a tractor when he met Lana Walsh Vatter. She lived next to the property he was farming. She was a twice-divorced real estate agent with two young children. Terry was interested in buying property. They married in 1981. Terry was 25, Lana 30. "We didn't have his mother's blessing," Lana wrote in her 1995 book, "By Blood Betrayed," about the Oklahoma City bombing suspects. "In fact, Terry feared Joyce would disown him." Lana said her mother-in-law didn't thaw until their son, Josh, was born in 1982. Throughout her book, Lana portrayed Joyce as a domineering woman who controlled Terry. But Joyce and James say the book is "full of lies." "Lana is a liar who will do and say anything for money," James said. Terry and his family lived with James for almost two years and the family ties soon grew even more complex. Lana's younger sister, Kelly, baby-sat Josh one day — and soon fell in love with James. They married in 1984. A son, Chase, was born in 1985. But two years later, the marriage ended in a bitter divorce. James and Kelly have been in and out of court fighting ever since. Terry and Lana's marriage also was faltering. Her career was taking off while he drifted from farming and securities sales to real estate and insurance. In 1988, Lana picked up an Army recruiting pamphlet for Terry. "I knew he needed a purpose in life and something to believe in and something to care about," she wrote. "She just wanted to make it easier to run around on Terry," James said. Friendship in the Army Terry joined the Army on May 24,1988, in Fort Benning, Ga. — the same day as a tall, skinny kid from New York named Timothy McVeigh. Nichols stuck out because of his age. Nearly everyone in his unit thought it unusual that he had waited until he was 32 to enlist. By the time the Army transferred McVeigh and Nichols to Fort Riley, Kan., they were close Ducks Unlimited Social Hour 5:30 pm Dinner 7 pm 825-4354 Banquet Oct. 7th Holidome friends. Nichols eventually moved off post, rented a house and brought Josh, then 6, to live with him. Lana stayed behind in Michigan and soon filed for divorce. Less than a year after enlisting, Nichols was out. The Army granted him a hardship discharge on May 15,1989, because he said he had child-care problems. Lana says that was just an excuse, that her husband couldn't adjust to Army life. A new wife, 'easier to train' Lana went to Las Vegas, seeking to cash in on a hot real estate market. Nichols went looking for another wife. A Phoenix agency that recruits foreign brides for American men hooked him up with Marife Torres, who lived in poverty with her family in the Philippines. They were married there on Nov. 20, 1990.Terry was 35, Marife 17. Marife later said that Terry told her a younger woman "is easier to train." Terry returned to the United States alone, confident his bride would join him in a month. But visa problems delayed her departure for five months. By that time, she was pregnant by a former boyfriend. Terry agreed to raise the child as his own. Jason Torres Nichols was born on Sept. 21,1991, near Las Vegas. Terry then moved his family to the farm in Decker. McVeigh joined them there after leaving the Army in 1991. Marife complained to her parents that she felt as if she had three husbands. Government hatred hardens James and Terry Nichols became known around Sanilac County for their extreme views on government. Terry renounced his U.S. citizenship, declared himself a sovereign citizen and argued that banks had no authority to try to recover money they had lent him. He filed court documents filled with legal babble. "I thought he was sliding off the edge," said Paul Izydorek, who lives l'/a miles from the Nichols farm in Decker and believes there is overwhelming evidence that Terry helped bomb the federal building. McVeigh also griped about government, especially gun control. But the galvanizing moment for McVeigh came on April 19,1993, as he sat in the Nichols farmhouse, glued to the TV set. The government's disastrous standoff with the Branch Davidians outside Waco would set in motion the events that culminated exactly two years later. Terry Nichols and his new wife were often on the move, back and forth between Las Vegas, the Philippines and the farm in Decker. Their daughter, Nicole, was born Aug. 1,1993, in Decker. Three months later, 2-year-old Jason, Marife's son by the former boyfriend, suffocated in a plastic bag in the Nichols farmhouse. The death was ruled an accident, but Marife initially suspected her husband or McVeigh. "Do you think Terry could have done something like this?" she asked Lana. This Place Is For the Birds. We carry a wide selection of bird feeders, gifts & garden accessories. You'll like your new neighbors! Wild Bird Grassing Your ultimate backyard nature store" 4 Galaxy Shopping Center > Sallna Mon.-Sal. 10-6 (785) 452-WILD Moving to Kansas In March 1994, Terry signed on as a ranch hand near Marion, Kan. He, Marife and Nicole lived there through September. It was here, the government says, in the rolling wheat fields southeast of Topeka, that Nichols and McVeigh hatched their plan to inflict terror in the heartland. Prosecutors say they bought fertilizer and racing fuel and hid the materials in storage lockers they rented under assumed names. The government also says they stole explosives from a quarry and that Nichols robbed an Arkanas gun dealer. In November 1994, Nichols' almost nomadic travel patterns continued — this time to the Philippines. He gave his ex-wife, Lana, now remarried, a package to open if he did not return. Fearing he planned to kill himself, she opened the package within hours. She discovered a letter to McVeigh, telling him to clear out storage lockers in Kansas if Nichols did not return. "Your on your own," Nichols wrote McVeigh. "Go for it!!" Nichols did return from the Philippines — and appeared, finally, to be settling down. He put $5,000 cash down on a 900-square- foot house in Herington in January 1995. McVeigh that spring told another former Army buddy, Michael Fortier of Kingman, Ariz., that Nichols was no longer interested in the bombing. "Terry wanted out and Terry did not want to mix the bomb," Fortier testified at McVeigh's trial. The government says Nichols did not get out but helped mix the bomb and stash McVeigh's getaway car in Oklahoma City. Amid the black smoke, crying • babies and falling glass that horrible morning in Oklahoma City, agents found a twisted axle from a Ryder truck. That discovery led to McVeigh, who had used the Decker address when he registered at a Kansas motel in the same town where the bomb truck was rented. Federal agents poured into ;..»(_,Michigan. Two days after the ^, i .^> blast, agents surrounded James',..,;, farm as he returned from an er-,,j rand. Officers ordered him from,,!) the car, searched him for .. .. Th weapons and told him to open tne trunk. ^-^ "Real slow,' they kept saying. 'REAL SLOW!' They were parav • noid," James said. "I thought, boy, whoever gave them inform*' 1 • tion on me really brainwashed',.', ' these people." -it.' James was in jail for the next,-.''^: 32 days. While he was gone, his iin friends planted his crops. ;•>£*• Terry Nichols told FBI agents .l^-. at the Herington police station: , -v, that McVeigh had said "some---j ,,",'; thing big" was going to happeivO but Nichols didn't know whatj'Fiv ^ nally, after almost 10 hours of r> , <'> questioning, they arrested Faith in Terry as life goes on.''U The Nicholses' friends and >.v> neighbors rallied around them^i!'. 1 bringing food and flowers andtha'' most important gift of all: Their if^. utter belief that Terry was not a->tv, mass murderer. > i ,'ifR. The leaves in Michigan havej i turned red and yellow. The pretti« • est tree on Joyce's farm in Lapeer'' is the maple Terry planted for her-! , as a boy on Mother's Day. • « i .". The calendar near the kitchen n^ contains a single entry for Sept; -n' 29: "Terry's trial in Denver • ,; •.',!: starts." ;_'< ," Joyce has rented an apartments, in the metro area. She will attends. the whole trial. 'unn"U Marife moved to Denver eadyil'. this year. She and the two children regularly visit Terry federal prison in Jefferson County. Robert, who plans to attend some of the trial, wishes in Oklahoma City. ' !l ' tMl "Oh, I mean it," he said. "The" people there, they know what's'-' •' going on. They know it didn't •'"'•'-*• happen like the government says""* ' it did. '--^ "If you're fortunate to live for 1 ';?the next 100 years, you may fino" '•' out what really happened in OKla-' homaCity." " r '^' Way Windows Doora 'Window! • Storm Doors Wayne Wetzel, Owner DougWetzel • (913) 827-5600 Carl Strecker - (913) 827-5050 Financing Available .Whfnyou think of Windows think ofWoyne. A family serving families for three generations... m RYAN'S Member By Invitation National Selected Morticians, 137 N. Eighth Shelter Siiper Term Level premium life policy to age 40. Ask us about Policy form L-630 Jean Curry 2737 Belmont 823-5129 u We'll at be mere I Shcltw Ufa Insufano* Co.. Horn* Offlcn CdwnbU. MO Enhancing Community Resources Meet someone you've helped through United Way. Jamie participates in a supervised youth program that works to enhance the life skills of youth. Thanks to this program's partnership with a United Way program, youth learn valuable skills and respect for the community though volunteerism. This is just one small example of how your gift to United Way links volunteers to needed A A services and provides necessary information and referral to people in need. Together, we're building a better community. 19 Salina Area United Way P.O. Box 355 / Salina, KS / (785) 827-1312 A public service announcement of the Salina Journal

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