Name at birth: Vernon Wayne Howell
Vernon Howell was an aspiring rock guitarist who became the charismatic leader of the Branch Davidian sect, an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. The Branch Davidians, an apocalyptic Christian sect founded by Ben and Lois Roden in the 1930s, believed a new Messiah would arrive, as prophesied in the Bible, and that his arrival would signify the beginning of the "Last Days." Howell joined the Branch Davidians in 1981 and was quickly in good graces with Lois, the head of the church. She died in 1986 and Howell was left in control. By 1990 he had changed his name to David Koresh and had settled with more than a hundred followers in a compound called Mount Carmel, ten miles outside of Waco, Texas. Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tried to execute a warrant for Koresh on February 28, 1993, part of an investigation into allegations of illegal weapons and child abuse. A shoot-out ensued that left ten dead: four BATF agents and six Branch Davidians. Koresh and his followers holed up in their compound and a confused state of negotiations went on for 51 days, ending on April 19, 1993 when the compound burned to the ground, killing Koresh and 74 followers, including 21 children. Although a special investigation by the U.S. Justice Department exonerated the government, the debate over who started the fire goes on.
Timothy McVeigh chose the second anniversary of the fire as the date to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people… Lois Roden’s son, George, battled Koresh for control of the church, a feud that culminated in a shoot-out. Koresh and seven others were charged with attempted murder, but Koresh’s case was declared a mistrial (the others were acquitted). George went on to commit murder and was sentenced to a prison for the criminally insane.