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Profile: Santa Fe Trail Diner (Herington, Kansas)
Santa Fe Trail Diner (Herington, Kansas) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Two witnesses see whom they believe to be Oklahoma City bombing suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see September 13, 1994, October 20, 1994, (February 20, 1995), and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) at a diner in Herington, Kansas. Barbara Whittenberg and her husband Robert own the Santa Fe Trail diner in Herington; the restaurant is near Highway 77, which leads to Junction City (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Early in the morning, Barbara Whittenberg sees McVeigh, Nichols, and a third man she does not recognize eating together in her restaurant. They have three separate vehicles in the parking lot—a white car with an Arizona license plate (see April 13, 1995), a Ryder truck (see 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995 and 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995), and a pickup truck, presumably the truck owned by Nichols. Whittenberg’s son Charlie notices the car’s Arizona license plate and strikes up a conversation with the three, a conversation that Barbara Whittenberg joins. Whittenberg recognizes Nichols as an occasional patron, and recognizes McVeigh from a single visit he made sometime earlier. The third man has a dark complexion, she will later tell investigators, and looks Hawaiian. She will say that the third man bears a general resemblance to the sketch of “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995), but his face is thinner, his cheekbones more prominent, and his nose wider than what the sketch depicts. During their brief conversation, she asks where they are going, and the third man replies, “Oklahoma.” She replies that she has relatives in a town south of Oklahoma City; the remark, she will recall, stops the conversation. “It was like ice water was thrown on it,” she later says. The men stay for about an hour, she will recall, and leave around 9:00 a.m. After 2:00 p.m., she and her husband drive to Junction City, she will recall, going past the entrance to Geary State Fishing Lake, the site where the FBI will later say Nichols and McVeigh assemble the bomb. The Whittenbergs see a Ryder truck parked by the lake and think of the three men. The truck appears identical to the one they had at the diner. “They couldn’t find a place to stay,” she will remember saying. According to chronologies assembled by the FBI and McVeigh’s lawyers, the two have left the lake before 2:00 (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). [New York Times, 12/3/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
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