Matthew D. Wittmer
Last updated June 2016
Seeing the director’s cut of a documentary by Michael McNulty called Waco: The Rules of Engagement (the red-jacket, director’s cut released in 1998) is what started my interest in studying the property. That version of the documentary, as well as the mass produced version later released by Somford Entertainment, galvanized me with juxtapositions of survivor accounts and primary source video and photos taken throughout the raid, siege, and final fire.
Initially I was very interested in understanding more about how and why the building that the FBI and press always referred to as a ‘compound’ had been initially constructed. In 1999 I contacted some of the survivors of 1993 fire. I started visiting the property and in 2000 when survivors Clive and Edna Doyle were living there. I have continued to revisit the property and survivors ever since.
Survivor Clive Doyle states that the 1993 building at Mount Carmel was built starting around 1990 and was made to a significant degree from recycled lumber taken from dismantling smaller residential houses that had been built on the property back in 1957. Historical photographs prove this to be true. Part of the goal in tearing those small houses down to make a single building in 1990 was to construct a communal residential facility so elderly members didn’t to walk between houses. A central center would also create a more communal environment conducive for bible study sessions and communal living. According to Clive Doyle, oversight of the design and construction of the building was primarily directed by David Koresh. The people who knew the most about the history behind that building’s construction were those who had worked on it. Most of those people were killed between the raid on February 28th and the destruction on April 19th of 1993. The building’s design remains accessible only through the surviving photos and oral history as recalled by the survivors and those who had been inside of it.
Functions of the large building’s rooms changed as the complex was expanded as construction was always evolving up until the raid. The front lengthwise section of the building accommodated residential rooms. Other sections incorporated included a kitchen (behind the living quarters on the northern end), a gymnasium structure (located behind the chapel), a four-story residential tower to the south of the kitchen, a mill shop (to the north of the gym), and a swimming pool just behind the kitchen.
Through developing observational drawings from video footage and photos of the complex, I constructed a model of the exterior of this series of buildings to better understand the layout and to provide a memorial model to the survivors. My model was installed on the Mount Carmel property in late 2000 in the property’s then Visitor’s Center Museum (created by Clive in 1998). The Visitor’s Center was in operation between 1998 and 2006 and was managed by Clive Doyle and Ron Goins. During that time it exhibited artifacts from the building, surviving photos of the life on the property prior to the siege, donated photos from family and friends of community members who lived there, defense exhibit photographs of the property, and event logs from survivor’s perspectives. See Photos from 2000 to see pictures I took of the event logs.
Clive decided to move off of the property in March 2006 and he packed up the contents of the Visitor’s Center at that time. Since 2006 the property has been managed by Charles Pace, a longtime Branch Davidian who was not in David Koresh’s community. Since 2006, and as of March 2016, what was the Visitor’s Center has been vacant room near the front gate.
In August of 2008 I received the Burney Parker Fellowship from Baylor University’s Carroll Library to research material holdings (i.e. records/documents) pertaining to Waco Branch Davidian history they have there, as well as materials pertaining to the events of 1993. These materials are part of Baylor’s Texas Collection, an archival research center in Carroll Library on the Baylor University campus.
At that same time in 2008, The Wittliff Collections in Alkek Library at Texas State University-San Marcos received a Texas Heritage Digitization Initiative grant to digitize a portion of research materials they hold from investigative author Dick Reavis. This was Reavis’s research he amassed for his book The Ashes of Waco in 1995. In February of 2009, I introduced survivors Sheila Martin and Catherine Matteson to archivist Joel Minor and Kurt Johnson from the Wittliff Collections since Joel and Kurt were the ones working diligently to digitize the Reavis materials now available on a website managed by the Alkek library at Texas State University-San Marcos (see the References section on this page for that link).
In October 2009, the Wittliff Collections at Texas State accessioned my wooden model of the building at Mount Carmel as it had been off of the Mount Carmel property since 2006. I created Chart A in 2009 on this website in order to provide a published timeline of events related to the Mount Carmel property (see the Documents section on my Waco homepage for Chart A).
Religious studies professor Catherine Wessinger of Loyola University in New Orleans has graciously assisted three of the people who survived the 1993 fire to create and publish their respective autobiographies. Bonnie Haldeman’s autobiography was released in 2007 (Bonnie was David Koresh’s mother). Sheila Martin’s autobiography was released in April of 2009 (Sheila’s husband Wayne and four of her children were killed during the 1993 siege). I was honored to be a coauthor with Clive Doyle and Wessinger for Clive’s autobiography that was released in 2012 (Clive survived the fire; his daughter Shari was killed in the fire). Wessinger also interviewed survivor Catherine Matteson, a long time Branch Davidian who exited the building during the siege of 1993 but who had also been Lois Roden’s assistant (Ben Roden’s wife) in the 1960s prior to David Koresh’s leadership at Mount Carmel. Wessinger created oral history transcripts of Matteson’s interviews and donated them to the Texas Collection at Baylor University.
Please consider reading the survivor accounts to learn more about their community and the events of 1993.