12 Years Later, John Doe No. 2 Remains Focus Of Conspiracy Theory

Monday, April 16th 2007, 6:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- He was the focus of one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history, a dark-haired, muscular man known only as John Doe No. 2. Some witnesses claim they saw him with Timothy McVeigh in the days leading up to the deadly Oklahoma City bombing, but he was never found and investigators say he probably never existed.

But 12 years after the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people, Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue says he knows the identity of this mystery man and that his brother's death may be tied to his resemblance to a suspect who died in 1996.

Horrific events like the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building can inspire talk of conspiracies for years.

But Trentadue's theory is full of intrigue. He claims it points to a wide conspiracy, a conspiracy the government says did not exist.

He has collected volumes of information from the government and other sources as he investigates the death of his brother, Kenneth Michael Trentadue, at a federal prison in Oklahoma City just four months after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Trentadue believes his brother was murdered in a case of mistaken identity with a member of a white supremacist bank robbery gang with ties to McVeigh.

It was this man, Richard Lee Guthrie Jr., who formed the basis for the sketch of John Doe No. 2. According to the theory, Trentadue's brother looked much like Guthrie. They both had a dragon tattoo on the left arm. They both were about the same height, build and had the same dark eyes.

Guthrie was accused of bank robbery -- the same charge Kenneth Trentadue was accused of while in federal custody before his death.

Each was found hanging in a jail cell -- Trentadue on Aug. 21, 1995, and Guthrie in July 1996 in Kentucky after he was convicted of bank robbery charges.

FBI documents and other evidence point to a relationship between McVeigh, the bank robbery gang and Elohim City, a white separatist community in eastern Oklahoma.

Members of the gang, known as the Midwestern Bank Bandits, robbed 22 banks in the mid 1990s and were frequent visitors to the Elohim City compound. They used profits from their robberies to support white-supremacist causes.

"They robbed banks with McVeigh," Trentadue said.

McVeigh also had contact with the compound. McVeigh telephoned Elohim City in the days leading up to the bombing in what authorities said was an attempt to recruit help to carry out the bomb plot. Guthrie was a member of that gang, Trentadue said.

"I'm convinced now that Guthrie was John Doe No. 2. Guthrie was a perfect match," Trentadue said.

Descriptions of John Doe No. 2, were provided by employees at a Junction City, Kan., body shop who said he accompanied McVeigh when he rented the Ryder rental truck that was used to carry the deadly bomb.

Weeks after the bombing, federal investigators concluded witnesses had mistakenly identified an army private from Fort Riley, Kan., as McVeigh's accomplice and that John Doe No. 2 did not exist. The soldier, who wore a Carolina Panthers baseball cap and vaguely resembled the composite drawing, came into the shop the following day to rent a truck.

Trentadue, himself a convicted bank robber who pleaded guilty to two robberies in the late 1970s, was picked up by federal authorities at his home in San Diego on an alleged parole violation in June 1995.

He was transferred to Oklahoma City on Aug. 18, 1995. Three days later, he was found hanging from a braided bed sheet in a supposedly suicide-proof isolation cell.

Trentadue's body was bloody and bruised, and the medical examiner initially said he was "very likely" murdered. His neck had a ligature mark apparently made by plastic handcuffs and his knuckles were black with bruises.

"There was a hell of a fight," Jesse Trentadue said. But following a lengthy investigation, authorities ruled the death a suicide.

Trentadue said he believes his brother died during a violent interrogation by federal authorities who mistook him for Guthrie and were questioning him about his knowledge of the bomb plot.

"And, of course, he wouldn't know anything about it," he said. "I don't think they intended to kill him. I think it got out of hand."

A November 1999 report by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General states that, shortly after arriving at the Federal Transfer Center, Trentadue asked to be placed in protective custody and said he had a feeling "things aren't quite right."

"He said that his problems might have resulted from a case of mistaken identity," the report states.

"It is incredible, sickening if it is true," said Trentadue, who is in a protracted and bitter court fight with the government over his brother's death.

"I didn't start out going down this road. I was led down this road by the evidence," Jesse Trentadue said. "I think I have proven who committed the bombing. I don't think I will ever prove who killed my brother."

A spokesman for the FBI in Washington, Paul Bresson, said the agency believes everyone responsible for the bombing has been prosecuted.

"While conspiracy theories continue to circulate twelve years later, no evidence that others were involved in the bombing was corroborated by the investigation," Bresson said. "Furthermore, such unfounded claims only serve to add to the pain and suffering of victim families who have lived this tragedy now for more than a decade."

Suggestions that others were involved have played a key role in the defense strategies at criminal bombing trials, most recently bombing coconspirator Terry Nichols' trial on Oklahoma murder charges in 2004.

Nichols' defense attorney, Brian Hermanson of Ponca City, said the FBI aggressively searched for the John Doe No. 2 suspect until a few weeks after the bombing, when they announced they had rounded up all the suspects.

He said McVeigh's 2001 execution for federal murder convictions means lingering questions about the suspect's relationship with the bomb plot may never be answered.

"I wish they wouldn't have killed McVeigh so we could ask him those questions," Hermanson said. "That's the problem with killing people -- you lose your source."

Nichols is serving life prison sentences on federal and state bombing charges. A third person, Michael Fortier, pleaded guilty to not telling authorities in advance about the bomb plot and was released from a federal prison last year after serving about 85% of a 12-year sentence.