Federal authorities, who charged two elderly Branch Davidians with murder conspiracy two weeks ago and then dismissed the charges, asked the women to diagram the inside of the Mount Carmel compound for them, the women’s attorneys said.
Both Catherine Mattson, 77, and Margaret Lawson, 75, declined to draw what the inside of the heavily fortified compound looks like for fear that government agents could use the information against the 100 or so members inside.
“They wouldn’t do it, and they asked them to do it several times,” said Waco attorney Gary Coker, who represents Mattson. “My client didn’t want to draw the picture because she felt it might somehow harm the people inside.
“But it makes me wonder. If they had these people who were so interested in the Bible – their plants inside – and they had such detailed knowledge of firearms and alleged explosives, as they have said, I would think that they would know what the floor plan is or know something about it,” he said.
Four federal agents and at least two cult members died in a Feb. 28 shootout at the compound while officials attempted to serve arrest warrants on cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.
Jack Killorin, an ATF spokesman in Washington, D.C., declined comment on requests for diagrams.
“I would have no comment on that at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to say anything about what information they were trying to gain or for what purpose.”
Two Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who moved into a house across from the 77-acre Mount Carmel encampment posed as college students and expressed interest in Bible studies and weapons to gain access to cult members, former cult member Steve Schneider has said.
Cult members soon grew wary of them because they appeared too old for college students and exhibited more than a passing familiarization with weapons, Schneider said
Mattson, who has extremely poor eyesight, and Lawson left the compound March 2 and were charged with conspiracy to murder federal agents.
The charges reportedly angered FBI negotiators, whom a source in the U.S. attorney’s office said were not notified. The action also reportedly angered Howell and hampered the delicate negotiation process, which has been continuing now for 18 days.
Federal authorities, who have denied that charging the women caused a rift between agencies, dismissed the charges a day later and released the women. They are now staying at an undisclosed location, their attorneys said.
Harker Heights attorney Oliver Kelley, who represents Lawson, said he was “mystified” authorities waited until attorneys were present to ask the women to draw the compound.
“It is a mystery to me. I would be interested to know why they were coming at this late date for that kind of information,” Kelley said. “It was my understanding that they had the place under surveillance while it was under construction and had aerial photographs of the tunnels. So I rather suppose that if they had suspected criminal activity for a year or more that they wouldn’t need to ask two elderly ladies, 77 and 75 years old, where the men’s room was.
“I would think that they would have had that information at hand,” he said. “I assume that they did know where all these things were and were just trying to follow every lead and confirm some things with the two old ladies. That is the conclusion that I have come up with. It is a charitable one, I’ll grant you.”