Mcveigh Text Review
Published on January 31, 2004 By Wahkonta Anathema In History
For archive on OKC. Hanmer was on death row with McVeigh and this discusses a Kenny Trentadue AKA Guthrie, or suspect #2.
Does one man on death row hold the secret of Oklahoma?
One of the most notorious criminals in the US, David Hammer was imprisoned alongside Timothy McVeigh. As he faces execution, his memoirs will only fuel the whispers of conspiracy around the 1995 bombing. Andrew Gumbel reports
29 January 2004

If he had only his own tale to tell, the story of David Paul Hammer - career criminal, scourge of the US prison system and, now, the next federal prisoner in line to be executed - would already be extraordinary enough. In his native Oklahoma, where he first entered the prison system 26 years ago at the age of 19, he so exasperated and terrified the state prison authorities with his spasms of extraordinary violence and his two successful escapes that they constructed a special isolation cage for him with shatterproof glass and reinforced steel doors. Since arriving on federal death row, he has often been likened to Hannibal Lecter, the savagely intelligent man-eating serial killer of pulp fiction and Hollywood movies. And not without reason.

Like Lecter, the crimes he has admitted committing are little short of flabbergasting. At the age of 18, strung out on PCP and contemplating suicide, he held several hostages at gunpoint at the Oklahoma City Hospital. At 24, during the second of his two prison escapes, Hammer took a man at gunpoint, ordered him to undress on a lonely road and shot him three times in the head. The man, who somehow survived, later testified in court he found Hammer to be "crazy, man ... completely insane".

Having been transferred to the federal prison system - Oklahoma could not cope - Hammer then brutally murdered the first man unlucky enough to be assigned as his cell mate, tying him to his bunk with knotted bedsheets, stuffing a sock in his mouth and slowly garrotting him with a braided cord. That was the crime that earned him the death sentence and a final transfer to "Dog Unit", the federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Like Lecter, Hammer is also a man of impish deviousness. In Oklahoma, he ran scams using the credit card numbers of prison guards, set up a bogus church with himself as minister and his fellow inmates as the board of directors, conned a department store into sending him thousands of dollars of merchandise, orchestrated death threats against elected officials and, on one notorious occasion, brought the Oklahoma legislature to a standstill with a chillingly convincing bomb threat.

For a long time, the system simply did not know what to do with him. The judge who tried him after the kidnapping and shooting incident sentenced him to 1200 years behind bars, prompting a shocked Hammer to blurt out: "But, your honour, I can"t do 1200 years!" The judge replied: "That's okay, son, just do as much as you can."

Hammer is more than just a criminal monster, however. He may be deeply tormented, for reasons stretching back to earliest childhood, but he is also highly intelligent and almost limitlessly resourceful when it comes to understanding the prison environment and figuring out how to take his quiet revenge on the system.

Already before he arrived in Terre Haute, he made himself useful to lawyers and researchers working on cases that depended on an intimate knowledge of the US prison system. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to read of a possible miscarriage of justice and then volunteer his services as the most inside of inside sources.

After he arrived in Terre Haute, he was granted access to one of the most notorious and, in many ways, least understood American criminals of modern times, the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. For 23 months, between the establishment of the Terre Haute death row in 1999 and McVeigh's execution in 2001, the two men lived three cells down from each other. Although each had plentiful reason to be wary of the other " McVeigh, like everyone, appears to have been terrified of Hammer at first " they eventually formed a bond that deepened into genuine friendship.

And now Hammer has written a book about it. Or rather, he has written a book that promises to unlock a whole treasure chest of secrets about the Oklahoma City bombing, based in part on his conversations with McVeigh. The book, entitled Secrets Worth Dying For and due to be issued by a small Indiana publishing house next month, is likely to be Hammer's epitaph since he has just relinquished all further appeals and is awaiting an execution date, expected to be set sometime this spring or early summer.

It turns out that Hammer has not one but three extraordinary stories to tell " his own, McVeigh's and that of a certain Kenneth Michael Trentadue, who starts out as a bit player and ends up taking on a role of surprising prominence. Even if one chooses not to believe everything (this is, after all, the memoir of a violent criminal, not a work of investigative journalism) what is inescapable by the end is an absolutely hair-raising trail of dead bodies, many of them found hanging in prison cells under less than transparent circumstances, and all of them traceable in some way back to the Oklahoma City bombing. Real-life mysteries don"t get much better than this.

The first time Tim McVeigh spoke to David Hammer, he immediately bragged about the death toll at the Oklahoma City federal building in a characteristic mixture of bravado and utter tastelessness. "All I have to say is that the official score is 168 to 1. I"m up," said. To which Hammer replied: "Well, I guess they can"t kill you more than once."

Even on federal death row, McVeigh's crimes were on a scale that disgusted his fellow inmates. He was frequently tarred as a "baby killer" (the bomb exploded directly beneath a children's day care centre) and taunted for everything from his conviction that the world would tumble into chaos as the year 2000 rolled around, to his apparent dearth of sexual experiences. "Virgin McVeigh", they called him.

Hammer describes McVeigh as being obsessed with posterity and his reputation as the lone-wolf mastermind of what was then the worst peacetime atrocity committed on US soil. He refused to keep any compromising items in his cell, for fear that they would be found in the event of his sudden death. He didn"t even want a dictionary, in case people accused him of being a bad speller. When he needed medicine, he would ask another inmate to describe his symptoms to a doctor and get the prescription on his behalf. Illness, he thought, might be interpreted as a form of weakness.

Slowly, though, Hammer, McVeigh and a third inmate, Jeffrey Paul, started to spend time together, if only because they were the sole white prisoners on death row. They nicknamed their regular meetings "Klan rallies", even though McVeigh was the only white supremacist among them. Hammer explained the relationship this way: "Our associations were not always amiable, there were intense disputes and allegations of broken promises and even treachery, but in the end the necessity for cooperation won out." Hammer and Paul helped McVeigh project the image of himself that he wanted, and McVeigh, in turn, started talking to them about some of the details of the Oklahoma City bombing that he was not willing to share with anybody else.

Much of what Hammer writes about the bombing goes over terrain already explored in a number of books and articles challenging the lone-wolf theory put forward publicly by both McVeigh and his government prosecutors. Notably, he runs through the compelling evidence, laid out in The Independent in May 2001, that McVeigh was part of a neo-Nazi bank robbery gang which financed the bombing and actively participated in bringing it to fruition " a version the government has been at great pains to pooh-pooh, because it would make a mockery of the scenario its prosecutors impressed upon the courts and the public at large. It is not clear how much of Hammer's material came directly from McVeigh, and how much from outside sources " the manuscript suggests a bit of each.

Sifting through Hammer's information and deciding how much to believe is a delicate process. The McVeigh in the book is not immune to paranoid self-aggrandisement, to put it mildly, and some of his claims say much more about him than they do about the bombing itself. In an extended riff, for example, he suggests he was approached towards the end of his time in the armed forces by a shady US government operative calling himself only The Major. The Major supposedly recruited McVeigh to infiltrate the militant far right, and later encouraged him to go ahead with the Oklahoma City bombing because its sheer brutality would shock the right-wing militia movement into breaking apart. In other words, the whole thing was a convoluted government plot, with McVeigh as the feds" fall guy. It's an intriguing story, except there isn"t a shred of credible evidence to back it up.

Other avenues of conversation proved much more fruitful from a factual point of view. None seems to have drawn Hammer and McVeigh together more closely than the story of Kenny Trentadue, a man neither of them had ever met but who came to fascinate them both and serve their mutual interest in embarrassing the federal government.

Trentadue was a convicted bank robber who had served his time and then skipped out on his parole officer, apparently because he was outraged at being barred from drinking beer. On August 18, 1995 " four months after the Oklahoma City bombing " he was picked up crossing the border from Mexico to southern California and then, for reasons the government has yet to explain, was transported to the Department of Justice's brand-new Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City. Three days later, his bloody, battered corpse was released to the state medical examiner's office. Prison officials claimed he had committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell.

There the story might have ended, but for Trentadue's family which refused to accede to official requests to have the body cremated and insisted on an autopsy. In the contorted events that followed, it turned out that Trentadue's body was covered in blood from head to toe. He had suffered three massive blows to the head, rupturing his scalp and skull, and his throat was slit. The government continued to insist that his injuries were self-inflicted, even as a growing chorus of journalists, congressmen and legal experts voiced their suspicions of foul play.

David Hammer read about the case in the papers and wrote to Trentadue's brother Jesse, a lawyer in Salt Lake City, to offer his help in negotiating a path around the federal prison bureaucracy in the hunt for the truth. At that time it occurred to nobody that Kenny Trentadue's death might have had anything to do with the Oklahoma City bombing.

That changed, however, when Hammer arrived in Terre Haute and showed McVeigh a picture of Trentadue. McVeigh responded immediately: "Now I know Trentadue was killed, because they thought he was Richard Guthrie."

Guthrie is a name that looms very large in all of the alternative theories of the Oklahoma bombing. He was one of the neo-Nazi bank robbers suspected of involvement in the bombing, a former Navy SEAL with explosives training and a track record of anti-government violence. At the time of Trentadue's arrest, he was at large, believed to be in either Mexico or Canada, and urgently sought by the FBI. He was the same height and the same weight as Trentadue, with similar complexion and a similar thick moustache. Both men used aliases. They even had the same dragon-motif tattoo on their left arms " something they had in common with the police sketch in circulation at the time of McVeigh's presumed accomplice, referred to simply as "John Doe 2".

In other words, Trentadue's fate appears to have been the result of a disastrous case of mistaken identity. As the Trentadue family now sees it, Kenny was apprehended at the border, immediately flagged as a possible "John Doe 2", and shipped off to Oklahoma City for further questioning. Why he ended up dead in his cell is a matter of pure speculation, but he was not the only person connected to the Oklahoma bombing to end up that way.

The real Richard Guthrie was apprehended in January 1996 and charged on bank robbery charges only - the government having apparently lost interest in linking the robberies to the bombing by then. (The hunt for John Doe 2 formally ended a year later, with the FBI publicly announcing they now believed McVeigh acted alone.) Six months after his arrest, Guthrie was found hanging in his cell under circumstances that some friends and family found suspicious. He had been due to give a major television interview the very next day.

As the Trentadue investigation deepened, an inmate who had been in the Oklahoma Federal Transfer Center at the time of Trentadue's death came forward claiming to have witnessed the whole thing. According to FBI documentation repeatedly disavowed by the Justice Department, Alden Gillis Baker had actually been sharing Trentadue's cell on the fateful night. And now " this was sometime in 1999 - he was volunteering to testify that Trentadue was murdered. But then something went wrong. In December 1999, Baker told a lawyer he feared for his life because of threats from the guards in his new prison in California. In August 2000, he was found hanging by a sheet in his cell.

Is it outrageous to think these deaths might all be related? Is the federal government that scared of having its lone-wolf theory of the Oklahoma City bombing contradicted? Or is this string of 'suicides" explainable simply as a result of unstable prisoners coming into contact with less than upstanding employees of the criminal justice system?

The nuances of the cases are too complex to go into in this space, but here are a couple of considerations. First, in May 2001 the Trentadue family was awarded $1.1 million in damages for "intentional infliction of emotional distress" by the Justice Department, lending considerable credence to their suspicion that Kenny was murdered. The federal judge who ruled in their favour lambasted three government witnesses for what he said were 'serious questions about their truthfulness". The court was unable, however, to rule on the exact cause of Trentadue's death because too much evidence in the case had been destroyed. Trentadue's family has lodged an appeal to try to push the case further their way.

Secondly, the crucial clue McVeigh gave Hammer about the resemblance between Trentadue and Guthrie looks more and more convincing on closer inspection. It is perhaps appropriate to approach the source of the information with some scepticism, but if McVeigh didn"t say it, then Hammer must have made it up, and there is absolutely no reason to presume Hammer knew who Richard Guthrie was, let alone have a detailed idea of what he looked like. Conversely, if McVeigh did say it, then he not only offered a plausible explanation for Trentadue's transfer from the Mexican border to Oklahoma City, he also linked himself to Guthrie and the neo-Nazi bank robbers " the most significant admission extant from him to that effect. We do know from a separate source that McVeigh was extremely interested in Trentadue's case: Trentadue took up a large chunk of space in McVeigh's correspondence with a writer from Esquire magazine, published shortly after his execution in 2001. McVeigh also told Hammer he had come up with a new verb participle, "trentadued", meaning murdered by the federal government. The Trentadue family has gladly adopted the term as its own.

What could Hammer's motivation be in revealing all this now, on the eve of his own death? Part of it, no doubt, is a continuing desire to stick it to the system and shame the prison system with some unpalatable truths from deep within its bowels. He has gone on record many times to say how strongly he opposes capital punishment and the way the US prison bureaucracy works. Another part of his motivation, bizarrely, is an homage to his friend Timothy McVeigh. Hammer was so upset by McVeigh's execution that he attempted suicide the night before by injecting himself with an overdose of insulin (he is diabetic). After he recovered, he wrote the following diary entry which is reproduced in his book:

"My friend, Tim, is a troubled and misguided man. We disagree on most issues, but he is also a kind, loving and caring person with a quick smile, keen wit and a sense of humour. I will miss him and I continue to pray for his soul." The psychotic monster and the headline-grabbing mass murderer: it must have been one hell of a relationship.


on Feb 13, 2004
the narrative was well written and interesting. but as the author points out, nobody in his or her right mind would believe anything stated by two loonies on death row who care about everything and anything but the heinous crimes THEY committed and the people THEY hurt. but alas, such are the losers of our world. they hurt all sorts of innocent people both psychologically and / or physically and they lack the courage to recognize the animals that they are. two good examples of why the death sentence prevents repeat crimes. good riddens. my hope would be that their poor relatives learn to go mainstream and avoid criminals and criminal behavior so they don't end up like their animalistic, creepy, manipulative, untrustworthy death row 'family.' it isn't about race. it isn't about money. its about having the intelligence to live a normal life whether wealthy or poor.
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