The Biography Channel’s Final 24 is a compelling documentary series which chronicles the last 24 hours of a celebrity’s life. The hour-long shows mix actual footage with staged dramatic recreations, along with interviews to piece together the events that led up to the subject’s death. The stories that are chosen for the series are generally some of the more lurid ones of the recent past. Marvin Gaye, John Belushi, and John F. Kennedy Jr. are just a few examples of people who died under somewhat cloudy circumstances. Nobody has gone out quite as spectacularly as David Koresh did in 1993 though.
David Koresh – His Final Hours manages to pack a lot of background information into its fairly brief duration. In some ways, his early years were almost a textbook example of how to create a sociopath. His mother gave birth to him at the ripe old age of 14, and bounced from man to man in his early years. He was an undiagnosed dyslexic, which led his schoolmates to nickname him “Mr. Retardo.” Finding religion in his teen years, the former Vernon Howell dropped out of high school and changed his name to David Koresh.
Koresh began sleeping with the 78-year-old Lois Roden, leader of the Branch Davidian sect of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The Branch Davidians were located in a compound called the Mount Carmel Center, just outside of Waco, Texas. When Lois Roden died a few years later, a struggle for control of the cult ensued, which Koresh eventually won. His reign was notable for the unbelievable sexual privileges he enjoyed. All couples who joined found their marriages immediately annulled by Koresh, who ordered celibacy for the men, while he slept with their wives.
To support this virtual harem, the Davidians began dealing in guns. This caught the attention of the ATF, which launched a disastrous raid on the compound February 28, 1993. The result was four dead agents, six dead Branch Davidians, and a siege that lasted until April 19.
The footage of that fateful day is still shocking, with tanks knocking down walls of the structure, and canisters of tear gas being thrown in. All of this engagement was just a prelude to the roaring inferno which would engulf the compound, and everyone inside. A few former Branch Davidians managed to escape, and some of them provide present day interviews, which offer some context for the actions taken that day. Most of them dispute the government’s claim that the Davidians set the fire themselves.
The conspiracy theory element of the story is one aspect of David Koresh – His Final Hours that does not get explored very deeply. I guess it is a little outside of the subject at hand, but it is a huge element of the overall event. Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995 — the two-year anniversary of Waco, which he cited as one of the major reasons behind his actions.
Overall, David Koresh – His Final Hours is an illuminating look at the last day of the man’s life, and of the strange series of events that led up to his demise.