By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
J.D. Cash looked at me incredulously. He couldn't believe that anyone bought into the supposed confession of Timothy McVeigh.
"People in Dallas believe it?" he asked, speaking from the living room of his buddies, the Wilburns, in Oklahoma City last Saturday night.
Yes, I insisted. Not only that, but any journalist I know would have killed to have had reporter Pete Slover's enormous scoop in The Dallas Morning News--if, indeed, the "confession" documents on which his February 28 story was based are genuine.
"So it's only the Dallas people? OK. OK," said Cash, sounding somewhat reassured that acceptance of the story appears to be confined to just one benighted city, Dallas. "Everyone outside of Dallas is going, 'poor guy.' He has created one of the stupidest things in the world.
"I call it the 'mystery of the purloined hoax,'" he said with a wheezing chuckle, between drags on a cigarette. "It's really a shame, because it's taken everyone's eye off the ball."
That it has. And while Oklahoma City bombing aficionados like Cash, who consume every article generated on the subject, believe it's a hoax, most people--presented with little evidence to the contrary--do have faith in the story.
It's been nearly two weeks now since the Morning News dropped its bomb on the Internet, posting a story purporting to detail McVeigh's confessions of guilt to a member of his defense team. According to Pete Slover's copyrighted story, McVeigh, the prime suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing, told a defense team member that he'd bombed the federal building in the daytime because a "body count" would get his message across to the government. McVeigh also insisted that he alone drove the Ryder truck containing the explosives that blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people.
Slover's scoop was based on "confidential defense reports,"documents that had been "culled from summaries of several 1995 interviews with a defense team member," according to the March 1 newspaper story that followed the posting on the Morning News' Web site.
One such document, quoting a defense team member's notes of a July 1995 interview, stated, "Mr. McVeigh looked directly into my eyes and told me, 'That would not have gotten the point across to the government. We needed a body count to make our point.'"
McVeigh's lead attorney, Stephen Jones, has labeled Slover's story a "hoax" published by "the most irresponsible paper in the country."
Slover's original story--as well as follow-ups by Slover and other Morning News reporters--have not named the source or sources for the defense documents, nor described how they were obtained.
No confirmation of the documents' validity has ever been offered, either, except for the Morning News' assurance, through editor Ralph Langer, that "Clearly, we would not publish a story if we weren't confident of the quality of information we have."
Today, reverberations from Slover's story are still being felt all over the country.
While Stephen Jones immediately denounced the "confession" and speculated that it might delay McVeigh's federal trial, set for March 31 in Denver, the Morning News stood behind its story--while agreeing not to print any other stories based on the documents.
Then, in a matter of days, new developments in the story began to revolve around a mysterious, unorthodox investigative reporter named John D. Cash. The same day the Morning News' story hit the paper, in fact, Cash surfaced seemingly from nowhere, claiming that Slover had been snookered--and offering a simple explanation for what McVeigh's "confession" documents really were.
It was Cash whom I tracked down late last week in Oklahoma City, trying to figure out who he was, and whether his explanation was credible. I spent some three hours interviewing Cash on the phone and in person during a quick trip to Oklahoma City, and spoke to several of Cash's friends, acquaintances, and colleagues--from former 20/20 associate producer Roger Charles to Paul Hall, editor of the Jubilee--chief chronicler of the white supremacist Christian Identity movement.
Through all of these conversations, I found that the answers to both of my questions about Cash remained maddeningly elusive.
What's clear, though, is that Cash deserves a hearing in the press--and not, as the Morning News did in a March 5 story, merely for the purposes of knocking him down.
Pete Slover may have pulled down the scoop of the year. If he did, more power to him; we applaud any evidence of gutsy, aggressive journalism in the Morning News. But if J.D. Cash is credible, and if there's any truth to what he's saying, Slover and his editors probably aren't sleeping very well these nights.
J.D. Cash settled into Glenn and Kathy Wilburn's comfortable living room last Saturday night and reeled out his story. Cash, a tall, lean man with combed-back gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard, wore a starched, blue-striped button-down shirt and jeans, with ostrich-skin cowboy boots. He chain-smoked throughout our conversation, despite the admission that his father died of emphysema shortly before the Oklahoma City bombing.
At one point, Cash pointed out a sad remembrance of that horrific day--twin photos on the mantelpiece of chubby-cheeked toddlers Chase and Colton Smith, the Wilburns' grandsons, both of whom were killed in the federal building's daycare center.