Oklahoma City -- Timothy McVeigh complains about life in his cell, jokes about his favorite TV shows and laments the children burned to death in the cult disaster at Waco.
In two years of correspondence with a reporter, though, he never mentions the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, including 19 children.
Phil Bacharach, former reporter for the weekly Oklahoma Gazette in Oklahoma City, says people looking for an answer to the April 19, 1995, tragedy won't find one by reading the letters published in the May issue of Esquire magazine.
"It is beyond me to reconcile the Timothy McVeigh who murdered 168 people with the writer of these letters," Bacharach writes. "True, this correspondence offers only a small window through which to look. I do know one thing: In the written word, at least, he has not a whisper of conscience."
McVeigh, 32, is scheduled to be executed May 16. He is now in a federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind. The letters were written while he was at Supermax, a federal prison at Florence, Colo.
In his letters, McVeigh tells Bacharach he spends as much time as possible relaxing in front of the television, catching "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill" and his favorite movies "The Unforgiven," "Forrest Gump" and "The Rock."
"Simpsons once in a while has a good comeback -- but they're pretty much out of originality, too. (An exception would be the Simpsons where Homer became an astronaut. That was great!)," he says in a 1998 letter.
"Lest you think I'm only a mindless cartoon addict, I will admit that I am a Star Trek junkie, too (whenever one of this unit's `panic alarms' goes off, I start screaming: `Red Alert! Shields up!') (Hey it gives me something to do! A man has to exercise his vocal cords on something!)."
He complains about his fellow prisoners at Supermax, where his neighbors included Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.
McVeigh says that before Kaczynski arrived in 1998, McVeigh was moved to a new cell, which he cleaned thoroughly. Three weeks later, McVeigh was moved back to his old cell, only to find that it had been "brutally thrashed by a pig inmate," a leader of the Latin Kings gang.
"So I began cleaning again," the former GI writes. "Guess who they moved into the one I had just cleaned?!? Kaczynski." He also complains about guards rattling their handcuffs outside his cell and the prison system changing the policy on lighting.
McVeigh ridicules Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, who had promised to put McVeigh on trial in state court for the 160 deaths not part of the federal case.
"I am so sick of hearing `Bozo' brag about how he's going to press state charges," he writes in 1998. "He is really milking it for all it's worth, and the taxpayers of Oklahoma are the ones who will end up sucked dry. Macy is a punk."
McVeigh calls the FBI "wizards at propaganda," saying agents manipulated the facts of the Branch Davidian inferno near Waco, Texas. Prosecutors say the Oklahoma bombing was retaliation for the Waco catastrophe, which happened exactly two years earlier.
A passage from a letter dated Nov. 26, 1996, may be the closest McVeigh ever comes to offering an explanation of the bombing.
"The public never saw the Davidians' home video of their cute babies, adorable children, loving mothers, or protective fathers," McVeigh writes. "Nor did they see pictures of the charred remains of children's bodies. Therefore, they didn't care when these families died a slow, tortuous death at the hands of the FBI."
Bacharach says it was an unwritten rule that he not ask McVeigh about his involvement in the bombing.
Bacharach says he had hoped to understand "what made a person who didn't seem like evil-incarnate commit that evil act." He never could. "It is this fact -- that he was not dead behind the eyes, a sheer lunatic -- that troubles me the most," Bacharach writes. "He didn't have the right to be normal, glib and pleasant, I thought. He owed the dead of Oklahoma City the decency of at least showing his evil."
Bacharach says McVeigh quit writing him when he left journalism to work as a press secretary for Gov. Frank Keating. He says he is donating the $6,000 he made from the article to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. Kathy Wilburn, whose two grandsons died in the bombing, says she hates that McVeigh has "celebrity status." Just the same, she admits she will probably read the article "simply because I want to know anything I can about McVeigh."
Others will not give in to the curiosity Kathleen Treanor, whose 4-year-old daughter and in-laws were killed in the blast, says: "He's an egomaniac that seems to thrive on this kind of attention. I'm disappointed the media seems to give him what he thrives on. He had every opportunity to tell who he was in the trial and he's given up that opportunity."
David Granger, editor in chief of Esquire, says he knew the letters would offend some people. But "McVeigh is an important and horrible figure in our history," he says. "Especially on the occasion of his execution, it's important to try to shed any light we can on the motive ... or the mindset."