An Exploded Life

When the Dust Settled Over Oklahoma City, Kathy Wilburn Had Lost Two Grandkids and Gained an Obsession: Finding the Truth

April 16-18, 1999, Las Vegas
Kathy met with Carol Howe, the former Tulsa socialite who became a neo-Nazi, then turned informant for the ATF and got a movie contract.

"She had this big Nazi swastika tattooed on her arm," Kathy says. "She's had several operations to laser over it. Now instead of being that black ink, it's just a big raised red scar. She didn't look like that little petite debutante she did at her trial. I really think she's trying to get over her racist ways, but she's not there yet. She'd like to straighten up, but she's a screwup.

"Carol and I stayed up late nights gambling. Carol is a strange little duck."

June 7, 1999, Oklahoma
During her first visit to Elohim City, Kathy's guides motioned to a clearing and said those were "the bunkers," for big shootouts with the feds. She decided to put up $900 an hour and rent a chopper to inspect them from the air.

"When we went to see the guy with the helicopter we didn't want to tell him where we were going because we were afraid he wouldn't take us. Finally he says, 'Oh, is that that place with all those little Smurf houses?' He goes, 'Lady, I'm not going there. Those people are crazy.'

"I pull out my pictures of Chase and Colton as little angels and I tell him who I am and what I'm doing. A lot of times in this journey I've had to pull the guilt card on people. I made him feel kinda bad. He goes, 'Lady, I'll take you, but if they come out, I'm out of here.' He tried to stay up high so they wouldn't hear his blades. We weren't there for very long because we were heard and they did come out."

June 27, 1999, Oklahoma City
Kathy invited McVeigh's sister over. "I had Jennifer McVeigh here at my home for dinner," Kathy says. "I felt she was like a little weasel and I couldn't trust her."

September 1999, Idaho
Kathy went to the Aryan Nations headquarters near Hayden Lake, where she'd heard McVeigh spent time. "You drive up this long, ominous driveway. There's an armed-guard shack and a big sign that says For Whites Only.

"There's a big building. The whole roof is painted with a Nazi swastika. I get out and say I'm here to see Pastor Butler. So they take me in his house to meet him. I say, 'Pastor Butler, my name is Kathy Wilburn, and I lost both my grandchildren in the Oklahoma City bombing.'

"And he loves me! I grew up in church. I know the scriptures. We sit there and discuss the scriptures. Finally I came out arm in arm with Pastor Butler, and he liked me so much that he invites me to come to church the next morning. The next day I set out for church dressed in my Sunday best. When I walk in the door of the church there's a Jewish flag there that's got the Star of David on it that the members wipe their feet on.

"Inside, the vestibule is just covered from floor to ceiling with Nazi propaganda. When I walked down the aisle of the church I was stunned because up on the podium they had a big bust of Adolf Hitler. So we pull these hymnals out of the back of the pews and we sing the same songs I'd sung in my church, like 'Amazing Grace.' In my church you'd say, 'Amen,' but they go, 'Heil, Hitler.'

"Pastor Butler gets up, introduces me to the congregation, and he proceeds to tell me the Lord has laid a new sermon on his heart and that it was for me and it explained why my grandchildren had to die in the Oklahoma City bombing. He said, 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Tim McVeigh is a great man and a martyr for the cause.'

"After church we are visiting out under the trees and there's a black dog there, and he says, 'See our nigger dog there? That dog has no more of a soul than a Jew or an Asian or a homosexual.' "

That afternoon, the two shared a meal in a Hayden Lake café. Butler hugged her goodbye. Kathy remembers him telling her not to worry, that she would see her grandchildren again in heaven. "I felt I had danced with the devil," she says.

February 2001, Oklahoma City
Kathy has kept in touch with Bill McVeigh, whom she interviewed for her documentary. "When I heard the execution date of May 16, I immediately called Bill," she says. "Nobody brings a child into this world that you don't love it and nurture it, and then it grows up and does something like this. I think Bill McVeigh is the forgotten victim of this crime. So I called Bill to tell him how sorry I was they set the execution date. And he didn't know. Nobody had bothered to tell him."

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