When law enforcement officials sifted through the ruins of a fire-ravaged Mount Carmel, they came away with fragments of two lifestyles.
One of militaristic violence. One of peaceful pastimes.
Federal documents unsealed last week list possible illegal weapons. On Feb. 28, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to serve arrest and search warrants on cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, for possession of illegal weapons — namely fully automatic machine guns.
At least 40 machine guns were listed in the federal documents. Many were AK-47 machine guns. Others included 9 mm pistols converted to machine guns. Reports did not say if they were fully automatic.
Silencers, anti-tank rifles, pistols, sawed-off shotguns, two .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifles and parts for making grenades and pipe bombs also were strewn among the remains.
Mixed in among the war-making devices are items that tell another story, though.
A Samsonite briefcase found in a Toyota Corolla contained documents belonging to Wayne Martin, a Waco attorney considered a high-ranking cult member who died in the April 19 fire that ended the 51-day standoff between government officials and Branch Davidians and killed as many as 96 cult members.
Inside the briefcase investigators found stock market forecasts based on moon phases. The car also contained 26 drawings related to the Bible and Branch Davidian beliefs.
Waco City Council member Lawrence Johnson, who tried some court cases with the Harvard-educated Martin, said Martin was successful in playing the stock market.
But like just about everything else at Mount Carmel, Howell had the final say on Martin’s special skill.
“I was asking him to teach me,” Johnson said.
“He was very good at the stock market, but he told me Koresh forbade him from doing it.”
Other signs of everyday life also are visible in the ruins, but Howell’s influence seems to touch them, too.
Investigators found a T-shirt with the slogan “David Koresh — God Rocks” that belongs to cult member Brad Branch. They also discovered a blue and black ski mask found in a red Honda civic registered to Rita Riddle.
Branch left the compound March 19, and Riddle left March 21. Branch was charged with conspiring to kill federal agents, and Riddle is being held as a material witness.
There is pottery with the name “Robyn” on it, baseball cards and a plastic bucket with the words “Judy’s rain water” written on the exterior.
Robyn Bunds, a former wife of Howell, said in a phone interview from California that the pottery is probably something she made in kindergarten that she had to leave behind when she abandoned the cult.
“I think it might be something I made as a kid,” she said. “He wouldn’t let me have it.”
Bunds believes Howell denied her such personal items as a way to “spite” her for leaving the cult.
Jim Lavine, a Houston attorney who represented cult member Judy Schneider, said such everyday items attest to the human element of the Branch Davidians.
Schneider was one of Howell’s wives, and her legal husband, Steve, served as Howell’s top lieutenant. Both died in the flames of Mount Carmel.
“She was a very warm-hearted mother,” Lavine said of Judy. “She wasn’t a danger to anybody.”
He said he blames the government for snuffing out the lives of the Branch Davidians.
“The government crushed them,” Lavine said. “I think some of the things that you’re finding are going to paint a picture of a very righteous group of people that intended no harm on anybody. . . .”
But that picture is not the one former cult members paint of Howell, who claimed to be Christ.
Former members said Howell reportedly had sex with children as young as 12, used profanity and said it was all right to lie. In their eyes, Howell used the Bible to suit his own needs.
If a hand-painted sign left in the rubble is any indication, perhaps the ex-cult members are right.
“This is not a restaurant,” the sign said. “If you don’t like the food, F U.”