WACO, Texas -- Evidence from the fierce gun battle between federal agents and Branch Davidians was destroyed after FBI negotiators inadvertently tipped cultists to its significance, sources told the Houston Chronicle.
The possible destruction of the crime scene has created bad blood between the FBI and the other two lead agencies involved in the 39-day standoff -- the Texas Rangers and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which conducted the Feb. 28 raid on the cult.
Four ATF agents were killed in the gun battle, and two cult members are confirmed dead. Five others are believed to have died, and they were buried in the compound.
The evidence is crucial for the Texas Rangers -- who are investigating the shooting deaths of the four ATF agents -- in making a criminal case against cult leader David Koresh and members of his group.
"They [FBI negotiators] stated they're not concerned about what happens from an investigative standpoint. They're concerned only with getting everybody out of there," said one source familiar with the Rangers' probe of the ATF raid.
"This has been a big-time breakdown," one source said.
Cult members who have been released from the Mount Carmel compound have told Texas Rangers that all the blood on inside walls has been washed away and all of the brass shell casings have been swept up.
"It's hard to do a crime scene when there is no crime scene left," said one source. He, like the others, spoke only on the condition of anonymity, but all of them are familiar with both state and federal input in the standoff.
Rangers have confirmed the destruction of evidence through interviews with those who have been released from the compound.
In addition to the missing evidence inside, Rangers also have reportedly complained that the FBI -- through its use of Bradley armored personnel carriers and Abrams tanks -- destroyed a lot of evidence by crushing and moving cars, trucks, trees and other debris outside the compound.
Additional evidence outside has been covered up, sources say, as FBI negotiators created their bunkers where they sit poised for the possibility of a future gunfight.
The length of time the cultists have remained inside also is creating problems of "tainted evidence," one source said.
The Branch Davidians are smart enough to figure out on their own what evidence should be destroyed, one source said.
"They are not dumb people," he said. "I would think that [destruction of evidence] would be the first thing I did if I were in there. And they have an attorney [cult member Wayne Martin] in there who can advise them."
But the source said Rangers became particularly irritated when they learned that those inside the compound had asked negotiators specifically: "Who are the Texas Rangers and what are they going to be looking for?" FBI negotiators, the source said, answered the question, although he did not know specifically how it was answered.
Additionally, when Rangers have tried to suggest what they need from a criminal investigation standpoint, sources said, they have been shunted aside by FBI officials.
Cult members released from the compound also have reportedly told Texas Rangers that five cult members killed during the raid have been buried in an underground bus, according to one source.
Meanwhile, federal authorities said the cult's second-in-command, Steve Schneider, had informed them that the Branch Davidians' Passover begins at sunset today.
"It evidently depends on the beginning of the first light of the moon and it was overcast the day they expected the moon to be out, and that was a problem for them," FBI spokesman Dick Swensen said. "So they tentatively resolved it to beginning at sundown and ending at sundown on the 14th."