9/18/19

THE MISSING BRIDE OF 1958: MOORE, OKLAHOMA



Permission granted to use Photo
The Crown Motel, 9501 S. Shields in Moore (OK), was owned by the Blasdell family and managed by son Jim Blasdell in May of 1958.  It was on a busy thoroughfare in the growing south Oklahoma City suburb and linked drivers to the four quadrants of the compass.  One was  the southern linking US 77 and the new Interstate I-35.

A future thinking manager Blasdell was adding and upgrading his holdings. Seeing the growing need for living space he added apartments. All around Oklahoma City was booming and expanding and the future looked bright.  The Naval training facility in Norman was once more drawing people for training and the University there was growing as well. 
The motel was in a prime location. It was a short jog to US 77 to take one south to Norman and north to Oklahoma City.  This military facility was located in the area of the present “South Campus” of the University of Oklahoma and just north of HWY 9 in Norman.

Author Hudson in front of area where the hotel once stood
A young couple, married barely two weeks, took a room there.  The young husband was reporting for duty to the Navy Air Training Center in Norman and the bride would search for their first real home. Carol Ann Hlavac Batterman was an attractive young woman with a friendly disposition making and keeping friends easily. She had a savings account back in Illinois and wrote her parent’s long letters regularly.  She had married just two weeks prior to her disappearance; she and her husband were originally from the Chicago, Illinois area.

She had long brown hair, usually worn loose to nearly her shoulders. Her olive complexion was tanned and dotted with freckles on her nose and forehead. Over her clear eyes arched two bold eyebrows. Her smile was very open and pleasant and revealed two prominent front teeth.  On that morning her husband took their car to work, and the plan was that she would follow by bus and they would later go house hunting in Norman. 
That day, no doubt eager to make a good impression on her new husband and prospective landlords, she dressed with special care for the expedition.  She slipped into a beige suit, high-heeled shoes, and proudly slipped on her yellow Provo Township High School class of 1956 ring with a black stone worn on her right hand, and a wedding band with 13 engraved stars (it was engraved on the inside with their initials  and wedding date ( "DB to CH - 5/17/58"). She put approximately $35 in a small white purse (6" x 3-4") and the couple’s only room key.  As the motel door closed behind her, the room held all her clothing, makeup, jewelry, and $100 in cash.

She was last seen waiting for a bus outside of the Crown Motel in Oklahoma City at 3:35 p.m. on May 31, 1958. She never got on the bus and was never seen or heard from again.
The road in front of the motel
Witness reports varied.  One story from June recounted someone seeing her voluntarily enter a white ’55 or ’56 Chrysler station wagon with an OK auto tag.  Another reported a witness seeing a gray pickup truck, possibly a 1953 Ford, stop at the curb near Batterman shortly before she vanished. The witness could not be sure if the vehicle was connected because something interrupted the line of sight and when it was cleared the vehicle, and the young woman, were both gone. It's unclear if the driver of the truck (reported wearing a large cowboy style hat) had anything to do with her disappearance.

Oddly, in early June, a room key was returned via the mail to manager Blasdell of the Crown Motel. It was thought it was the room key last seen with the missing bride.  The lead was an intriguing mystery but ultimately a dead end.
East of Norman, was Reynolds Lake, a reservoir and dam, east of Lake Thunderbird . It was just north of HWY 9 and close to present SE 224. The caretaker, Mrs. E.F. Kelly, of the fishing resort reported in June having seen a woman struggling with two men in a white station wagon. It appeared she was attempting to jump from the vehicle but the men restrained her.    Several days later the caretaker reported she loaned a shovel to two men who claimed they had to dig worms.  She did note they did not appear to have any fishing equipment with them.  As a result, the lake became epicenter to searches for the missing woman.

Three years later, her young husband was living in Tennessee, seeking a divorce so he could marry another woman and start a new life.  Of Carol Ann there was no word.  Significantly, her savings account remained untouched and her parents, to whom she had written so often and at length, never heard from her again. They retained hope, however, that she was somewhere well and safe.
A retiring police officer in 1973 looked back at the case of Carol Ann Batterman as one that still baffled him with its apparent unsolvable nature. To this day, she is listed as missing, because although she was declared dead to accommodate the remarriage of her husband, a body was never found.

The time period of her disappearance was riff with undercurrents of crime beneath the "Leave It to Beaver" domestic bliss projected in the era.  Across the country in these years other young wives will also strangely go missing and some of their cases also remain open or unsolved.

Silken webs may also stretch out from that same Naval Base in Moore - Norman to touch other crimes. A busy crossroads of highways, military bases with changing personnel, and a growing university leave many possibilities.


Carol Batterman is still listed as a missing person on The Charley Project. This author had brief contact in 2014 with a researcher working with her family hoping to finally solve the case (Weston DeWalt, of DOCUMENTARY SCIENCES (Research l Investigation l Analysis) in Pasadena, California USA). Several Capitol Hill High School students in south Oklahoma City and other young women in the region had disappeared in the late 1950's and the possibility of a serial killer in the region seemed possible to this researcher.
On that sunny May, however, the young bride eager to find a new home to begin married life joined that day a select group of unfortunate travelers whose journey was into oblivion in a vehicle fashioned of mystery and unanswered questions.

--Marilyn A. Hudson, c2014, updated 2019


9/7/19

The Cinderella of West Texas: The Disappearance of Andrea Lopez Phares (1955)


THE CINDERELLA OF WEST TEXAS: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ANDREA LOPEZ PHARES


Late in the night of May 4, 1955, near Hale Center in the West Texas panhandle, a 21 year old pregnant wife encountered, close to her home, the man who would end her life and the life of her unborn child.  The young “Latin-American” woman, newspapers agreed, was “pretty”, “had a nice shape”, was “fair complexed”, with lovely long black hair. She also wore cat-eye eyeglasses, loved driving her husband’s new Lincoln Continental, and her husband “allowed” her to carry large sums of cash around because it made her happy. The woman dubbed by newspapers as leading a "Cinderella" life apparently found her life taking a sharp turn that fateful day.

On that fateful day her husband, a 44 year old prosperous cotton grower on leased land west and north of Hale Center, said they were at home, alone, at around 7 p.m. and she received a call, spoke Spanish to the caller, and then said she was going into town. Her husband told reporters that she asked, “I suppose you don’t want to go with me?” to which he said he responded with a sleepy, “Don’t think so.” She then left about 8 p.m. driving away in the Lincoln with her eyeglasses left behind at the house.

The next few hours are a mystery. The young wife and soon-to-be mother, Andrea Lopez Phares, was never seen again.

Andrea Lopez was born about 1935 in Matamoros and had at least two brothers, Andy and Gene Lopez. Before coming to Hale Center was said to have lived in Weslaco, Texas. When she met C.W. “Bill” Phares she was working as a cotton weigher for his operation.

C.W. “Charles William” (known as “Bill”) Phares was born in 1912 in Ada, Oklahoma to Thomas and Nettie Phares. He served in the Army in WW2 from Oklahoma and married there. He is listed on the 1940 census in Brown Township, Seminole county, Oklahoma with his wife Helen, two children (eldest born in New Mexico) and a brother-in-law.  Newspapers indicated he had arrived in about 1945-51 in Texas living in the area of southeast Hale County.  This seems proven because records indicate a daughter born there in March of 1951.  Newspaper accounts provided sketchy and oft times conflicting details of the Phares family prior to 1955.  At that time small pieces of information came forward indicating he had a brother named Jack, a sister named Iva Bottoms, and a relative named Bill Ellis. His arrest in January of 1956 in Pontotoc county, Oklahoma indicated his family association with that region and that his father was named Thomas.

Charles William Phares’s  image appears at least twice in newspaper accounts related to the disappearance of his young wife; hers was found only one time. In those images he appears very different. In one, taken shortly after the disappearance he is pointing to the portion of missing mat in the auto’s trunk, caption to the image revealed he was offering a $1000 reward for information about his missing wife. He is a burly man with glasses, a straw western style hat that had been pushed back off his dark hair enough to reveal a slightly receding hairline and looks a man entering his middle years.

Andrea and C.W. Phares became involved, it is believed, before he finalized his divorce from his first wife, Helen Keller Welch Phares.    Andrea and “Bill”, newspapers reported, married in Mexico when she was 19. Then in September of 1954, he married her again in a Baptist Church in either Hale Center or in Clovis, New Mexico (accounts seem to differ). 

Hale Center, Hale County, Texas in the 1950’s was classic west Texas thirty some miles north of Lubbock. It was largely flat interrupted by small indentations and officially classed as a semi-arid landscape occupied by hardy souls numbering less than 2,000.  To the north and west was a section of the Muleshoe Sandhills that stretched in to the next county and further west. The town was severely destroyed in the middle of the sixties by a tornado but valiantly rose from the ashes. Today, this “Oasis of the Plains”, has grown and changed some but retains its feel of small town life and history. 
Cotton Fields of Hale County, TX. Public Domain Image


May 4, 1955

What is known about that night is subject to which story is believed.  There is the story that emerged post May 4, 1955 and the story that emerged post the January 30, 1956 newspaper accounts of Phares’ arrest for murder.

According to various accounts offered via newspapers, C.W. “Bill “ Phares selected to stay at home, alone,  when his wife said she was going into town around 8 p.m. He claimed she received a phone call, spoke briefly in Spanish and then told him she had an errand.  Phares had claimed that two weeks before the disappearance masked gunman had held him demanding $2000. On that night he stayed home while his seven month pregnant wife drove into town with $1400 in cash.

According to the husband, the car’s odometer showed it had been driven some 150 miles. The abandoned vehicle, with the wife’s papers and billfold still inside, was found on the east side of town the next day (opposite the side of town where the Phares farm was located). The ignition wires had been ripped out.  Also missing, was a cut or ripped out section of the trunk floor mat and a heavy blanket kept there. 

Despite widespread searching, the family that included her two brothers Andy and Gene Lopez and brother-in-law Jack Phares and sister-in-law- a Mrs. Iva Bottoms, no sign of the woman’s body was ever found.

In July it was noted the Phares farm had been sold and Phares had gone to family back in Oklahoma seeking work in the oil fields there. He inferred the tragedy had ruined him financially and emotionally. Later newspapers indicate he arrived in Oklahoma in December so his exact whereabouts are debatable.


The January 1956 Arrest
The carefully structured story first issued after the woman’s disappearance had begun to show signs of internal collapse by year’s end.  In November of 1955, road crews had found a .357 magnum pistol buried near the road to Abernathy (between Hale Center and Lubbuck). The gun was traced to one sold by a New Mexico gun dealer (either in Hobbs or Clovis, accounts vary). Phares claimed it had disappeared a month after the May 1955 disappearance.

Early the next year (January and February 1956), police are arresting Phares in Oklahoma and returning him to Texas where he is charged with the death of his 21 year old and seven-month pregnant wife. His brother, Jack Phares, is charged with perjury for claiming he had not been at the farm but at the cinema.

Quickly, another version of the night’s events are laid out across newspapers. On the day and evening of May 4, 1955 Andrea and C.W. had been at home along with brother Jack, sister Iva Phares Bottoms, and other kin. Mrs. Iva Phares Bottoms substantiated that a quarrel broke out between the young couple and Andrea left early twilight in the Lincoln. Jack claimed C.W. got in his own old model Chevy and followed her shortly after sun-down.  

C.W., it was alleged, did not return until 11 p.m. claiming he had not found Andrea and enlisting the help of his family members: Mr. and Mrs. Bill Ellis, Iva Bottoms, and Jack. They spent the next several hours searching Plainview, Olton unsuccessfully.  At 4 a.m. C.W. reported his wife missing to local police and shortly after dawn the Lincoln was found east of Hale Center with ignition wired ripped, billfold inside, and items missing from the trunk.

Significantly, Texas Rangers Gene Graves, W.E. Renfrow, and Raymond Waters, along with Hale County Sheriff Tom Anderson, all seemed convinced the woman was dead and that she had probably been shot by her husband. They did keep the cause open admitting strangulation or physical violence was also a feasible cause. Once retrieved in Oklahoma, Phares was driven around a wide area associated with the likely events of May 4, 1955: Hale Center, Plainview, Olton, Abernathy and the Sandhills of northwest Hale and northeast Lamb counties. Volunteers were on site in this last location but winds curtailed effective searching for signs of a recent grave. Recent information (9/11/19) from the Texas Department of Public Service under which the Texas Rangers operate, states they have no records of rangers being involved in the 'murder investigation' of Andrea Phares.

Quickly acquired lawyers from nearby Lubbock moved to bring both men before   Judge E.A. Bells (64th District Court) under a writ of habeas corpus (a legal move that forces authorities to bring forward the evidence causing a person to be held). The law did that, presenting the retrieved pistol and the buried watch and rings as evidence, along with the testimony of family. The Judge refused to release the men but did lower their bonds. The case moved forward to a grand jury.  

Later February 1956 a posse from Hockley, joined one from Lamb County and the Petersburg Riding Club joined a group of Latin Americans with shovels who were seeking likely spots a body might have been buried.

Although C.W. “Bill” Phares received most of the newspaper space, the Lopez family suffered during this same time. Various fortunetellers, psychics, dousers, and con artists preyed on the family in the traumatic months after Andrea disappeared. They reported how such attempted to bilk the family out of funds to locate their missing relative, her grave, or to receive messages from the grave. A year after  her disappearance her brothers Andy and Gene were prominent among those searching with tractors and backhoes the now abandoned Phares Cotton Farm and locations in the region where a body might have been buried.

When the Judge lowered the Phares brother’s bonds there may have been several things influencing that decision. What may have influenced the Judge was the troublesome discovery that Bill Phares had buried his wife’s wrist watch and engagement and wedding rings in a culvert near a bridge not far from the cotton farm. Phares’ explanation was that he had found them in the jacket he had worn that early May and was afraid police would think he had something to do with his wife’s disappearance. So, instead, he wrapped them up and buried them. They were located by Texas Ranger W.E. Renfro of Lubbock. Renfrew would later comment that this case was one he always wished they had been able to settle before he retired.

An additional factor in the decision may have been the discarded gun. A few months after the disappearance a road crew turned up a .357 magnum pistol in a ditch 3 miles north of Abernathy, TX (a short 16 miles south from Hale Center and on the way to where Phares said he was born in Lorenzo, Texas, circa 1911). The pistol was traced back to Phares as one sold to him Feb. 24, 1955 by a Clovis, NM dealer. 

Grand Jury Fails to Indict Husband

Despite these rather significant issues, a grand jury convened failed to indict and the men went free. Coupled with the apparently unaddressed claims that Jack Phares had lied about being at the home that night and that he had heard his brother confess to having murdered his wife and buried her in the sand hills nearby, the decision of the grand jury is thought provoking.  Phares was reported to have moved, by 1959, to Arizona. A recent search of death notices found Phares had died in Oklahoma. His grave memorial indicates he was  C.W. “Bill” Phares (Charles William Phares) born 1912, in Ada, Pontotoc, Ok and that he died and was buried in the same county in 1988.

Every few decades, the haunting story of the young mother-to-be was revisited, recapped, and yet always concluded the same chilling way. No one, anywhere, had ever seen the young wife after that fateful day in May of 1955.  There was one suspicious rumor that showed up from the Oklahoma panhandle but it was questionable on many levels and was not picked up or repeated with any belief. 

Soon, it will be 65 years since that event, and the mention of Andrea Lopez Phares, appears to have been removed from the missing networks checked online. Originally found prior to 2014 she  was not listed as the time of the writing of this essay. She is not listed under cases solved or closed. Requests to agencies have gone unanswered. In 1969, newspapers recapped the story of this Latin-American Cinderella tale that took a dark turn and quoted a member of the law who admitted the case had slipped to the back burner and no one had looked at it for awhile. Sometimes a case can grow too cold and the hoary frost of neglect builds.

As early as late May 1955, local police and law enforcement were pretty convinced the young woman was dead. Newspapers did not recount any other suspects beyond the husband and police never admitted such. So many unanswered questions remain.

1.       What are the details of the alleged kidnapping attempt of C.W. “Bill” Phares, two weeks before the disappearance?

2.       Why did he have the habit of carrying large amounts of cash around with him and why did he ‘allow’ his wife to do so at the time of her disappearance? Especially in light of the attempted ransom demand claimed by Phares.

3.       Why does her pregnancy play such a small role in discussions of her disappearance?  Few newspapers included the fact she was pregnant or that she was seven months along.  Early conjecture in newspaper columns and comments appeared to be that she must have run off with another man but at seven months pregnant that story seems awkward. Such missing persons cases in the 1940’s-1960’s often enlarged the salacious possibilities even at the cost of accuracy.

4.       When she left that last night she did not take her glasses. What was her prescription for (reading farsightedness, nearsightedness, did she need them to drive? Especially at 8 p.m.?)  The only photograph found of her in a newspaper (another oddity) shows her nicely dressed and wearing eyeglasses. Why did she not take them that last night?

5.       What about the missing rings and watch? Why did her husband think it made sense to bury them? He had no need to hide them or to try explain how they came to be in his coat.

6.       Why did his brother Jack Phares claim that C.W. “Bill” Phares had confessed to him of the killing and subsequent burial? What happened to the flip-flop claims about where he was the night of the disappearance?

7.       Why was the car’s wiring ruined? Why was the trunk mat ripped leaving a gap and the blanket taken? How did the car thief/murderer get away from the scene of the abandoned car? A logical rationale would be that someone wanted the car to remain exactly where it was found. A much loved car simply abandoned might have been too tempting to a passerby. Did someone want to make sure he would get the car back? The ripped out section of mat might have been blood stained due to injury to either the wife or the fetus. The blanket would make a handy carryall for an injured or dead body. A dead body might have bleed or released bodily fluids necessitating the removal of the incriminating rug. One wonders, if and when, her remains are located will they be associated with a ripped out section of car mat and a heavy blanket?

8.       If the husband’s claim that the night added some 150 miles is true that might mean that someone could have driven anywhere in a 70-75 mile radius of the Hale Center farm house to dispose of her body. It is interesting to note that a .357 magnum pistol tracked to Phares had been dumped near Abernathy, Texas.  How many miles might have been added in the process of dumping a body, burying a handgun, and jewelry before driving to the other side of Hale Center – as far away from the cotton farm – as possible?
      
      Finally, one of the most troublesome questions in this mystery. Why were the wires of the Lincoln ripped out in the first place? Why was not this car stolen and simply driven away? Did someone want to make certain the car did not leave the area?

 The Theories

Three possible scenarios might account for disappearance and have been expressed by researchers over the years:

The flighty young Latin-American woman grew bored with the hard life on the cotton farm and left with a lover or family members.   As a young girl born into poverty who married the boss winning the right to drive a fancy car and live in a neat stucco and wood farm house carrying lots of cash in her wallet, this explanation seems thin.

Someone kidnapped her. Her husband claimed he had been taken by masked gunman demanding money just two weeks earlier. This also seems farfetched for two reasons. If this had been the case, why was no ransom demanded and why did Phares allow his pregnant wife to carry large sums of cash and drive unaccompanied?

Looking over the stories as they appear in newspapers across several states some things appear to stand out and point toward a single conclusion.

Is it possible that trouble broke out at the farm house that late afternoon or nearby on the evening of May 4, 1955? Did this result in violence occurring (perhaps involving the .357 magnum?), and the young woman being driven away (perhaps in the trunk?) by someone in the Lincoln Continental while an accomplice followed?  

As police seemed certain at the time, was she driven to a place where her body could be easily disposed of (in the sand hills as claimed by Jack Phares?). Who took off her watch and rings? Were a blood soaked car mat and a blanket buried with her?  On the drive back, was the gun buried, the car abandoned with wires ripped out to insure no loss of the beloved auto, and did someone pocket the $1400 alleged to be on  her person, and did someone then bury her jewelry and watch. 

Andrea's Disappearance Turns 65 in 2020

As this case prepares to turn 65, the woman in question would be about 81 in 2020 and the child, if it was alive, might be turning retirement age.  A cold case for some, a haunting loss for others, and a reminder that for those lost we should never stop looking. As of September 2019, The Doe Network reports they never received a listing for this missing person. The Charley Project does not show her listed and neither do various Texas missing person sites.  If someone did her and her unborn child harm, the books should never close until justice can write ‘finished’ at the end of the story.

After all, in the end, there is no statue of limitations on the truth.

--Marilyn A. Hudson (based on research originally conducted in 2014-2015, printed in the work 'Into Oblivion' (now out of print) and augmented by additional research in 2019. All data from public documents, records, and statements related to the investigation).

9/3/19

Avard Mystery - Oklahoma 1956


A 22 year old, newly married woman, driving down a country road from home to the school where her husband worked dies under mysterious and tragic circumstances. The end cause of death was fire but many questions lingered as to what happened between the start of her last journey and its fiery end.

Mildren Ann Newlin Reynolds died March 13, 1956 near Avard, Oklahoma and her charred remains were found in the front seat of a 1949, dove gray Chevy sedan. Billowing black smoke from the blaze alerted a nearby farmer out plowing but by the time help arrived it was already too late.

The puzzling aspects include the amount of items linked to the victim found outside the vehicle, the spots of blood found outside the vehicle, and the skull fracture that might have occurred prior to the death in the fire. All odd, all unanswerable but all of them deeply thought provoking.

One possible scenario could be the woman was shot, thus causing the fracture, the subsequent "pulling" of the vehicle to the left as she might have jerked the wheel, overcompensating, to run into a tree, back up and start again with sudden erratic driving.

The unanswerable includes a  trampled down area by the side of the road,  along with the items such as charred buttons outside the vehicle, one partially charred shoe near the front left fender, her 90% scrotched coat some 10 feet away from the car, and one some distance away (250 ft.) near the fence near a flattened area  with a smudge of blood on it. Near this drops of human blood had been found on a thistle and some grass. All would tend to suggest she might have been outside the car - under her own steam or forced there by a killer.

She would not be the first or last young wife to suffer from fatal encounters in the decades of the 1950's and 1960's. Their stories criss-cross the land leaving tragedy and mystery in their wake.

In the end, the tragedy of a young and dream filled life was cut short by circumstances some 60 years plus that remain open to question.

If inclined, light a candle, say a prayer or place a flower on their graves. What is more tragic than senseless death is when those who remain forget about the loss to all of our lives. When no one contemplates how the world would have been had that one life lived its fullest, enriching and making it something else - perhaps - something better.


Important sources on this story:
'60 Years Down a Cold Case Road'
'Found at the Scene'
'Find A Grave'
'60th Anniversary"

8/13/19

This Month in Murder - 67 Years Ago. Betty Jack Stevens



The girl in a red plastic belt

The horrific murder of Betty Jack Stevens
Canadian County, Oklahoma, July 29, 1952

Late July 1952 in northern Texas and Oklahoma was fairly normal. The mid to high nineties   It was the kind of weather locals called ‘leaving the door to hell open.’   Electric fans sold well and water cooler air systems were kept damp and freshening by barefoot children eager for any excuse to get wet in the soaring heat  and  humidity. In August of 1953 the victim was identified and efforts to discover her murderer were turning out to be more challenging than first supposed.
In the news was a story a of  surprise strike of Packinghouse Workers at the Oklahoma City Stockyards on July 22.  Other news included the high temperatures, news of Egypt’s King Forouk ousted, the Air Force assurances that the strange “UFO blips seen over Washington D.C. were nothing but “cold air”, and a Houston chlorine gas plant leak that sent over three hundred to treatment; all in all it looked like the month would end much on a pretty average note.
On Tuesday, July 28, 21 year old Betty Jack Stevens was hitchhiking.  She was the daughter of O.S. Stevens and had been born in Waxahachie before her family moved to the Dallas area. Her mother had died several years before but her aging father still lived in Grapevine and several siblings were in north Texas.  She had left home at age 16 for a short, and soon annulled, marriage. Ever since then she had been working the odd waitressing job and moving around in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona.  She had a police record in a few locations in Texas but mostly for vagrancy and a couple for public intoxication. 
Her exact timetable on that Tuesday is hazy in spots. Witnesses placed her leaving a West Dallas motor court early morning. Later, around mid-afternoon, she would tell people in  she had been to Odessa.  What is known is that she arrived in Henrietta, Texas over the weekend. That was where she purchased some new clothes. She discarded, perhaps because of the heat, a dark skirt and blouse.  She replaced them with a new blue sweater, blue jeans, lavender shoes and a red plastic belt. The colors went well with her dark eyes and dark hair with red highlights worn in a shoulder length cut, and her brown eyes.  Her eyes were one of her best features; piercing and direct with a no nonsense bravery. 
Hitchhiking she arrived in the small town of Alvord where she stopped at the local CafĂ©. Alvord was a small community on US 81 and located northwest of the Dallas area.   The male owner spoke with her and she told him she needed to get back to a job.  Around 5 p.m. she finished a meal, as she had done so many times before,  headed out the door to find a ride.   No one ever saw her alive after that.
On Wednesday July 30, 1952 the forecast in the center of Oklahoma was more hot and sweltering.  The Stockyards section of the metropolitan area was still struggling with the effects of a strike of union workers at the Oklahoma City Armour plant. Competition from non-union Wilson & Company was creating some tension. With many workers off or on the picket line the yards were busy but sales were “lame.”
J.P. Brooks, of Yukon, was traveling along a minor county road (Richland Road) that Wednesday not far from the old West Point School (near SW 15th).  Along that stretch was a small bridge over the usually dry and sandy bedded Shell Creek. As he drove down the road that day, something in the ravine caught his eye.   A nude human torso was there in the ravine on a slight incline of the bank. Oddly enough, it could be seen from the road if the driver came from the south but was not visible to vehicles coming from the north. The nearest telephone was down the road at the farm of Lee Florence and Brooks hurried there to report his find to the County Sheriff.
At this time the community of Yukon did not even have a police force.  All law enforcement came through the Canadian County Sheriff or state police in the form of the State Crime Bureau (a predecessor of the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation).  Tiny Royse, the county sheriff, had never encountered any crime scene like that which awaited in the dry creek bed.  Local doctors seemed thrown off their game as well.  Early examination of the mutilated female body described it as belonging to a young teenager of perhaps 13-16 years.
If they were off their game, they had good cause.   The woman’s body was nude, headless, handless, and someone had attempted to cut off at least one of her feet.  There were obvious marks of beating and torture on various parts of her body and incised in the flesh of the abdomen were the letters “R-A-T”. 
Soon the small road was clogged with District Attorney’s, law officers, news hounds and the curious. One early photo clearly shows a hodge-podge of onlookers, searchers, and others wandering up and down the area where the body had been left.  Despite all this traffic, they did find evidence the torso had been dragged across the dirt road and thrown down into the ravine.  It was apparent that the person had then climbed over into the creek bed and pulled the body up further into the ravine. This might indicate some posing of the remains especially since it visible from one direction and not the other.  Did the killer want his work found? Uncertain but after that, with hands or perhaps a branch, the killer had rubbed away his foot prints.
The remains were taken to a local funeral home while attempts at identification were made.  Calls from several states and from Oklahoma communities (Enid, Woodward, Oklahoma City and Guyman) flooded local switchboards as worried parents, brothers and husbands attempted to find missing daughters.
Apparently there was an appalling number of missing women in this time period.  One early wrinkle in the case was the firm conviction and publication that the mutilated woman had been the 20 year old daughter of an Oklahoma City woman,  Mabel Pennington. The mother was desperately searching for her missing daughter, Tillie Mae Pennington, who was also the mother of a two year old child.  The young woman had gone missing the previous Friday (July 25) in the late afternoon.  Yet another OKC mother was also concerned it was her missing daughter, one Dorothy Moss, who had not been seen since Monday, July 27. 
Police were stumped and clearly not sure where to go with the case that left everyone so horrified and fearful.  Repeatedly the stressed that it was unclear if the individual had even been killed in Oklahoma. Unspoken was heard loudly seemed to be a prayer: please not have been done here.
On Friday August 1, at about 11 a.m., a local Oklahoma City salesman, Fuller R. Cummins, was traveling  the north-south run of U.S. 81. The road comes up out of Texas (and Alvord) through Duncan into Union City and north to El Reno.  About 4 miles south of Union City, south of the South Canadian River Bridge, he saw something bobbing in a shallow pool of stagnant river water.  His immediate thought was the headless victim found just days before.
Authorities found there the badly decomposed and battered head of a young woman with shoulder length dark hair. Nearby were two female severed hands.  Searching along the brush and in the water they found several items of women’s clothing; one a now faded blue item.
Texas authorities, near Decauter, had meanwhile discovered a man’s dead body. It had been dumped in Texas not far from U.S. 81 and so the Texas investigators entered the picture wondering if the two deaths might be related.  Local law enforcement officials in Oklahoma made hearty and hopeful statements to the press. They hoped, that through the partnership of Texas authorities, there would surely be a swift end to the sad situation.
With just a torso and no hands identification of the victim had ground to a halt.  She did not seem to match any known Oklahoma missing person reports.  Now, after the discovery of the head and the hands the case gained new impetus. Through fingerprints she was identified. At the start of the new week, the story had now grown to include the fact the woman was an out of work waitress from Dallas with a penchant for hitchhiking. 
The victim of this appalling ‘butcher-murder’ was 21 year old Betty Jack Stevens.  The autopsy would only add to the horror as it became clear she had been beaten savagely, hands bound, tortured, and she was beheaded while still alive. Blood in her lungs indicated it had been a series of attempts to complete the beheading before she succumbed. The carved letters may have been incised prior to death or just after. 
In the way of the times, the fact she was ‘known to police’ in Texas and Dallas was titillating fodder. The degree of her trouble with police ranged from a claim that charges had been only minor vacancies and drunken fines in her home state of Texas made little inroads in the salaious tone in some reports. Some  newspapers made allegations (Oklahoma newspapers) that she had also been a prostitute. Verification for her ever being a prostitute were never offered in print by any police or creditable news writers.
The letters carved into her abdomen, spelled “R-A-T”, and was seen as significant by many police investigators.   Indeed, it may offer some of the most important clues. The term was one then popular among the underworld and criminal classes for an informant.  Searching into the life of the victim it was found that just the year before she had witnessed the murder of a man  and had given testimony that put the murderer away in a Texas facility.  Despite the fact police were never able to make any connections to the prisoner or the death of Stevens this is an interesting fact.
A ghost lingered, however, in the minds of many of the law enforcement personnel.  As they stood by the side of the dry creek bed or searched among the stagnant water pools and  walked the muddy banks of the river they knew they were too close to another unsolved crime.  One that had many similarities to the one they now faced.
Just a dozen miles away was the small farm northeast of Tuttle where just that previous March 13th the bones of another dismembered woman had been found.  Had Lois Depew been a victim of this same butcher?  There were just too many parallels. As they searched in that sweltering heat of the early days of August many felt certain that a local man was responsible. Not all agreed and just as many knew deep in their bones that it had to be some out of state maniacs or criminal types. [Update: The Depew case, according to descendants, was solved closer to home with a deathbed confession of her husband].
Some were firmly convinced that the woman must have been killed in Texas.  Then, instead of disposing of the body anywhere between the state line and the many miles of lonely highway, the murderer had driven deep into central Oklahoma.  Finally discarding their kill there along obscure lonely roads few but locals would know existed.
The case was severely hampered in several important ways that would negatively impact the course of the investigation.  Convinced, as they were by the word of the local doctor that the victim was far younger, they may have missed linking her sooner with potential witnesses. The mother claiming her daughter was the victim distracted the investigation. As a result law officers became fixated on a local man who showed a lot of interest in the case. Out of left field, a Lawton woman apparently tried to pin the killing on a man with which she had some quarrel.  She gained her five minutes of fame by claiming she was friends with Betty Jack Stevens.  She claimed to be an eye witness to torture and Steven’s fearful confidences of fear about a menacing “Spanish looking man.”  Despite her written testimony, Dallas police quickly found serious holes in her claims.    Additionally, a man being held in the Oklahoma City jail “confessed” but soon proved false and officers in both Texas and Oklahoma busily searched for cars (largely non-existent) tracking down reports of blood on benders or in back seats.
Worst of all was the assumption, one made so frequently in the time, that such mutilation was solely the attempt of the killer to disguise the identity of the victim.  A simple and logical assumption that would prove to be less than comprehensive in all cases.  Repeat offenders who killed in the same manner or location were called “chain killers.” The era of understanding the “sadist killer” was just dawning. 
There are logical fallacies in assuming the mutilation was an attempt to send a message to ‘underworld informers’ about the dangers of ‘ratting out’.  The most obvious problem in the assumption is the message depends on being found and understood. The body was left in a low traffic area and dragged further back into a ravine. Investigators noted it could only been seen traveling from one direction. Unless the message was directed at someone a third party knew would be coming down that road, at the right time, and understand its meaning, it was risky.
Then, there is the obvious fact that letters carved into flesh in late July are not going to survive long as a readable message anyway.  Decomposition and the work of natural scavengers would see to that in a short time.  The assumption the head and hands were similarly removed to retard identification is then made a mote point when they are discarded, and found, together.  Again, they are tossed off a bridge into a shallow pool of water in an otherwise drought stricken waterway along the most traveled highway of that area.  These points all tend to present a killer who wanted his work found and knew enough about travel routes to know the chances of it being found were high. An argument emerges for a local man or men or someone familiar with the area due to their job.
The case provided so little information and generated so many unanswered questions.
Where, for example, was she killed?  There was no blood on her or around her when her body was found. To kill, drain the blood, and dismember a human body would require some privacy, access to running water and drainage, and some degree of being recognized as it being normal for the killer(s) to be in that location so as to not raise alarm.  This could be, as police suggested at the time, a house or farm.  It might also include access to a slaughterhouse, a butcher shop, a veterinary clinic or office, or some similar location allowing the necessary privacy and tools.
Interestingly enough, the location of where her torso was found, that Richland Road and SW 15th area may provide a significant clue. Although SW 15th does not go straight through due to the North Canadian River, the street is picked up again in south Oklahoma City, running right past the old Packingtown District. This was an area where slaughterhouses and meat processing plants once thrived.
Along the journey of this dramatic story,  a lot about the young girl who changed into a cheerful blue outfit with a bright red belt and fun lavender shoes became lost.  As this victim of human inhumanity was reduced to a collection of body parts her essential personhood was forgotten.  As this object of fragments she is distanced from her context as daughter, sister, and a girl too much like someone we know for own peace of mind. 
These crimes make us uncomfortable and so they should. They should make us so uncomfortable we do not stop until they are solved and the person, or persons, responsible is revealed. 
Until then remember Betty Jack Stevens not as the “nude, headless torso”, the “mutilated” victim of a “mad-butcher”, not the girl with a few run-ins with police for not having a place to sleep or drinking a little too much,  but on the life that should have been for the girl with the red plastic belt.
--Marilyn A. Hudson c2015


Original news article: https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc920084/m1/1/zoom/?resolution=4&lat=5072&lon=2848







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