Vernon Howell’s pride and joy, a 1968 black Chevrolet Camaro, could become a collector’s item worth as much as $30,000 to $40,000.

James Lenzke, the senior editor of the Old Car’s Price Guide in Iola, Wis., said his “pure guess work” estimate is based on the interest in the Camaro’s infamous owner.

“People are fascinated by death and mayhem,” he said.

The value is also high, he added, because the car is a collectible in its own right.

The Camaro is currently at the Mount Carmel site about 10 miles east of Waco. Billy Simons of Big Boys Wrecker Service said his company towed the car late last month to Texas State Technical College and then towed it back to the compound.

Mike Cox, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, said the car was towed away to be processed for fingerprints and other evidence.

During the 51-day standoff between federal agents and Branch Davidians, Howell criticized the agents when they had the car towed away.

The ultimate fate of the car could depend on whether federal or state agencies try to seize the vehicle.

“The government would be smart auctioning it off,” Lenzke said.

Crawford Long, first assistant McLennan County district attorney, said no one on the state or federal level has tried to seize the Camaro.

Long said state forfeiture laws stipulate that the government can take the property if it is involved in a crime.

“You can forfeit anything under state law that is used in the commitment of an offense,” he said.

Steve Markardt, a spokesman for the FBI in Washington, D.C., said the federal government can take property if there is a direct link to a crime or if the property was purchased with money gained from a crime.

In the case of a car, Markardt said, the government also could keep it and use it rather than sell it.

“The FBI has a lot of seized vehicles which they use,” he said.

Lenzke said the longer the car takes to get on the market, the lower its sale or display value could be.

He said people at the magazine, which gives current prices of collector cars, had been speculating about the value of the Camaro.

The June 1993 issue of the magazine states that a 1968 Camaro in perfect condition could bring $45,000. A car in good restored or original condition could be worth $12,000.

The car was apparently not an original because Howell bought performance parts for it from a local auto parts shop.

David Sauer, assistance manager of Super Shops Automotive Performance Center, said Howell spent $4,000 on the car at the shop in the past 2½ years.

“He bought several sets of wheels and tires,” Sauer said. Howell also bought a set of cast iron heads for the car’s 427 cubic-inch engine.

Howell apparently did most of the work on the car himself. “He was pretty smart on that sort of stuff,” Sauer said. “He seemed to know what he wanted when he came in.”

Lenzke said the car could be a moneymaker for a new owner. He said an “entrepreneur” or a “fast-buck artist” could display it at county or state fairs “and make a lot of money on it.”

He also said a carnival owner could display it or someone could take it to car shows.

Al Capone’s car is displayed around the country, Lenzke said. So is Bonnie and Clyde’s 1930 Ford, complete with bullet holes.

But Lenzke said a car connected to a single event, such as the assault, standoff and fire at the Branch Davidian compound, limits its long-term value.

For instance, a recent sale of a Ford Mustang owned by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray, did not bring much money, he said.

In other developments:

  • Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh, a pathologist hired by families of Branch Davidians, spent three hours examining the charred corpses of Howell, second-in-command Steve Schneider and Judy Schneider-Koresh at the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office and said he concurs with previous autopsy results.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.