As Roger E. Moore stepped outside for his newspaper on a crisp Arkansas morning last fall, a man wearing camouflage battle dress and a black ski mask pointed a pistol-grip shotgun, slung with a loop of stainless-steel garroting wire, at his midsection.
"I'll never forget the sight of him," Moore said. "One look, and I knew this guy was a professional killer."Ordered back into his house and face down on the floor, Moore, a gun collector, was bound with duct tape and blindfolded while the masked man, and perhaps an accomplice, ransacked his home for an 11/2 hours, bundled up more than 60 rifles and pistols, gold coins, silver bars and $8,500 in cash, then took Moore's truck keys, tossed the loot into the truck and drove off to a getaway car. The haul was worth more than $60,000.
Federal prosecutors say the robbery, in Royal, Ark., last Nov. 5, is inextricably linked to a sight seared in the memory of people in Oklahoma City and throughout the country: the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building ripped open April 19 by a two-ton homemade bomb packed in a rented truck. At least 167 people were killed, including 15 children in a day-care center.
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two angry, frustrated former Army buddies, were formally charged Thursday with blowing up the building. The charges were brought in a federal indictment in which the robbery runs like a leitmotif, threading together the financing of the bombing plot with potentially damaging evidence like the stolen rifles and a ski mask Nichols left in a storage locker in Las Vegas.
While the indictment, as expected, blamed the two disgruntled former soldiers for the bombing, it also spoke of a wider conspiracy with "others unknown."
An examination of the events leading up to the bombing shows that the identities of those conspirators, if they exist, are just one of several questions left unanswered as the government prepares for trial.
The robbery was quite literally the key to the case, for it was Moore's safe deposit box key from a Hot Springs, Ark., bank - found, federal investigators say, in a barrel in Nichols' home in Herington, Kan. - that provided the critical link.
There is a disquieting aspect, however, to this neat package: The robbery appears to have been carried out by someone other than McVeigh or Nichols.
Reporting the robbery to Larry Selig, the sheriff of Garland County, Ark., Moore said he suspected that a fellow named McVeigh from New York had had a hand in it.
But, Moore said in an interview, he was sure that the robber was not McVeigh himself.
The doubts about the robbery - along with the startling disclosure last week that a severed leg clad in a combat boot had been found in the blast rubble, and repeated accounts by witnesses who say they saw another man with McVeigh not long before the explosion - underscore the possibility of one or more additional plotters, dead or alive.
FBI agents fanned out to homeless shelters and soup kitchens around the site of the federal building last week to see whether the extra leg, thought to be from a light-skinned, dark-haired man under 30, could have belonged to some derelict known to frequent the area.
The leg, which was found May 30 deep in rubble that was near the center of the blast, does not match any of the known victims.
There was a disconcerting detail in the medical examiner's report about the leg. The report said the leg had been clad not only in a black military-style boot but also in an olive-drab blousing strap, an elastic band used in the military to tuck trousers over the top of a boot for a neat appearance.
Active-duty military personnel in the federal building, mostly recruiters, were all accounted for swiftly after the explosion, the government says.
The indictment held other mysteries.
In language that suggested the possibility of future arrests, it said that McVeigh, 27, and Nichols, 40, had conspired "together and with others unknown."
But the only other person charged, in a lesser-four indictment, is Michael J. Fortier, a third veteran of the same infantry company at Fort Riley, Kan. He was linked to the robbery when agents of the FBI visited a pawnshop in Kingman, Ariz., Fortier's hometown, where McVeigh had lived with him for a time.