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







5/24/19

UFO's ARE REAL! We Think

Decades of stories and research into strange lights, hovering crafts and bizarre beings have been flung like a tennis ball between two courts of belief and skepticism. The two form a continuum of rigid debunking disbelief all the way to blind faith belief. Between those two points there is a lot of ground to cover.

Through the years the topic has been muddied by clouds of competitive military might, dueling scientific achievements, and political-social-economic forces playing a game of coverup, obfuscation, and lies about scientific possibilities and activities.

Scanning back over the last 70 years it is possible to see clearly - as records are made public - and scientific certainties are no longer so firmly in place, that we may not have known as much as we kept telling ourselves we knew.

One of the worst foundations of this series of events was a government that believed it had to protect its people from everything. Facts could not be handled - and in the early years of the 20th century when literacy, education, and scientific knowledge was not as widespread that might have been true. Even then, however, our culture swelled with amateur astronomers, geologists, electrical hobbyists, and more. Correctly handled, our society and culture could have been easily led into understanding and accepting as nonthreatening the probable reality of humanity not being alone in the universe.

This parental control of society by the government led directly to the UFO outbreak of the 1950's through the 1980's.  The reality of the situation aside, the mishandling of experiences, the 'swamp gas' scenarios, and the ridicule of those who were witnesses or promoted an alternative scientific paradigm, did not serve the public or the government well.

The more something remains hidden, out of reach, unexplored, the easier it is to control the storyline.  What results is reaction and bizarre stories, Draconian conspiracy theories, and more emerge.

As I have noted before, the long time 'truth' was there was absolutely NO water on the planet Mars. Suggestions of it were ridiculed, discounted, and swept off the discussion table. This happened repeatedly.

Then, one day, it was no longer the 'truth'. No apologies. No Will Rogers-like amused scratching of the head drawling, well, I guess we were wrong about that...

Now,as the Navy re imagines a better way to survey witnesses of 'unexplained phenomena and crafts' and the Pentagon admits they have tracked those nonexistent things in the sky and scientists are admitting that there can be areas that leave them pretty stumped. They do not, despite decades of claiming otherwise, have all the answers no matter how hard they look.

One of the most important features of those heady days of the early 20th century was the involvement of people - people who observed the natural world, who looked to the sky - and became aware of what was 'normal' up there enough to recognize when something appeared that was beyond the everyday. Walk done any street and see people have their eyes fixed on cell phones, attention on earbuds in their ears or fixated on hurrying to the next event on the schedule. Light pollution has stolen our night skies and fear of crime keeps people huddled inside.

One of the closing lines in a favorite classic Sci-Fiction movie is 'keeping looking to the skies'.  If we are no longer looking up, observing around us, and becoming in touch with what is normative, how will we ever recognize the new or the strange when it arrives?  At the rate of modern observation skills of the natural world we will not need to worry about that asteroid coming to wipe out the world. No one will be aware it is up  there - remember all eyes glued to cell phone screens - and recognize it as out of the normal.



1/23/19

Who Was the Liar Reporter?

In the 1890's in Oklahoma there were a lot of stories printed in the newspapers, news outlets competed for dollars and readers, and - occasionally - they were not at all adverse to coming up with flights of creative fiction.

I first noticed this trend in researching the great airship flap of the same period that stretched across the country. I learned a liar's contest of sorts had emerged where newspaper publishers and editors all sought to gain the most attention determined by who created the most fanciful tale. Then, as I researched female outlaws for my book Oklahoma Bad Girls (2017) I saw that the color of the paper was often an irksome and repulsive yellow form of journalism. The women were lied about, stories created around smoking bar room tables, and others apparently simply the Gilded Age equivalent of "calling it in."

Some of the worst came out of Guthrie, O.T. in reference to the saga of Flora Quick Mundis, aka 'Tom King", the female horse thief who donned men's clothes. She was splattered with garish labels of whore, murderer, loose woman, and so much more without any proof that she was any of those things. Salcious western writers merely continued the infernal legacy of name calling- again without any proof - until today nearly every western history book on a popular level continued the lies and misinformation.

Someone else, however, noted the same tendency and they writing in 1895 in the Cushing Herald (Oct. 4, 1895, pg. 2).  The rant of the local editor was over teh bad name the "Guthrie Liar" had given to the area of Cushing in printing a story about murderous outlaws attacking a farm outside of town, exchanging 100 rounds of hot lead, killing the man's wife and two daughters. The story was picked up and reprinted in the St.Louis Republic newspaper before it came to the attention of the local editor in Cushing. There was no such man named Tom Davidson, no such ranch, no such farm One can easily picture that fellow gritting a cigar and turning the air blue as he wrote, "such articles...are written by either a fool or a rascal...it is a pity the fool killer can't locate him."

So - the major question is then just who was this fellow whose bent was obviously more into creative fiction than hard nosed factual journalism?



12/30/18

Stones in the Cemetery

On a recent field investigation, I saw a stone in a cemetery where visitors had left small stones atop the name marker. Familiar with the folk magic custom of picking up a stone when passing a scary place or cemetery (dropping it without looking back once the boundary was passed) I was curious about this custom.

Best sources indicate that it is an ancient behavior often seen in Jewish cemeteries. It harks back to the ancient memorial marker or cairn building behaviors of ancient peoples. The placing of one or more small stones is a symbol of remembrance and a memorial to the life of the person buried there.

A modern development in this process of memorials could be seen all over the cemetery I visited. There, colorful pinwheels, stuffed animals, wind chimes, and other mementos adorned the markers of lost loved ones and friends. They were a poignant reminder of the tragedy of death and the grief that such loss leaves behind.

12/10/17

The Killer Loosed - Still Unsolved? Kansas City to LA and South to Texas and Florida A Trail of Mystery

The roads - Highway 66, Highway 81,  and later Interstates 40 and 10 - played prominent roles in a string of unsolved murders in the 1940-1960's. They spanned several states (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Florida....and California?)  and many jurisdictions before easy sharing of information or wanted status was available to most departments of law. Yet, they have some startling similarities....

-The killer had some familiarity or skill in butchering; Oklahoma medical authorities noted it, and they thought it appeared more related to animal butchering than to human dissection (i.e., a doctor). The multi-state task force examining the Texas and New Mexico crimes also noted skill in this area.

- The killer made little attempt to hide bodies; indeed some seem to be placed in places where they will be found quickly.  For example, The Black Dahlia was posed in a public area.  This is additionally demonstrated through graves less than a foot deep, ground barely covering remains, placed to be seen, sent down a water way regularly fished and into areas people often traveled.

- The killer frequently used newspapers to wrap body parts and provide dating clues. A copycat act, inspired, or drawn from the use of newspapers in the Cleveland murders?

- The killer sometimes marked the body ; in later cases in Pennsylvania attributed to the Cleveland killer, one of the torsos in the boxcar had “Nazi” carved into the flesh; in the 1941 case of  Leila Welsh the writing in blood of an initial or two. Initials were also found on The Black Dahlia and on other bodies. In 1952 with Stevens there was the carving of the word “RAT.”

- The killer often took away body parts ; in 1941 a hand sized hunk of flesh was cut out and then tossed over a fence as the killer left (was he nervous? Afraid of being caught?). It should be noted that if this is the same killer and he is connected in some manner with the packing industry, butchered meat is stamped as to grade.  In the Depew and Stevens case there was indication that parts were not present; in the 1959-1964 cases in Texas there was also missing body parts. (Although a family member alleged a deathbed confession of Depew's spouse to her death, this may be incorrect.)

- The killer often hid parts of the body so they were never found or found much later disassociated from the major crime; just like the Cleveland killer who hid many a torso or head to never be found, the Texas cases also saw parts that were not located.

- The killer sometimes used grocery and dairy style boxes; butcher wrapping paper; plastic bags.

- The killer used, at least once, a freezer or cooling unit. In the 1959 case, where the body parts were found in two states (Texas and New Mexico), there was evidence the body might had been refrigerated for as many as six days. Who would have access to a freezer or cooling unit of size and privacy enough to hold a body and its parts for a week? Who might be traveling roads allowing one to dump body parts in two states? Who would have the privacy to dismember a body in some isolation? A delivery truck with a refrigerated unit moving from one delivery site to another might have such things. Someone who picked up meat and delivered it to grocery stores and butcher shops might have such a resource.

- The killer often removed hands, feet and heads; although often assumed to be a means of hiding identity. Recall the removed thigh segments; this might all point to the signature or a ritual of a serial killer.

- The killer’s actions often accompanied news of a strike, or threat of a sympathetic strike, from unions and employees associated, interestingly enough, with packing house workers. Such was found in the 1941 Kansas City death of Welsh. Rumbles of strikes were often as important as actual walk-outs, slow-downs and strikes. Unions gained strength from workers collectively supporting the struggles of others. These might be events across the country but would impact local unions and employers. The first half of the decade saw a lot of press coverage of talks, threats, counter offers and strikes across the country. In the 1951 death of Depew there was both currents of Packing worker Union strike talk and a local bus strike. In the summer of the 1952 death of Stevens, papers were once more filled with the threat and reality of major walkouts. It was the same, for the period of the 1959-1964 matching the deaths in Texas, Georgia and Florida. Could a mob (or other organized criminal group) related killer have been loosed to quell union movement and to satisfy his own morbid hungers?

- Was the strike a trigger for this individual? Strikes were often very violent events; had something happened in one to push this killer off the edge? Did the fear of loss of wages, loss of jobs and the problems associated with a strike trigger his need to kill? Did he kill and dismember then as a means of asserting his control and mastery of his environment? Just as a butcher in a slaughterhouse masters the animals sent to him in his acts of violence was he taking apart his own personal problems?

- The killer may have, like many serial killers, have inserted himself into the investigations. In the 1962 case in Cleveland, Texas a truck driver identifies a “bushy haired man” as one seen tossing boxes over the bridge and into the water where later boxes of body parts will be found. The term became prominent a few years earlier when Dr. Sam Shepherd used it as his defense in the Marilyn Shepherd murder case near Cleveland, Ohio. In the use of a Borden Dairy box investigative suspicion is then directed to a man who works at the nearby Texas plant; was that the killer’s intention? Were there other instances, lost in the notes or investigation records of other cases, that reveal a similar mysterious or strangely helpful individual?

- The killer on several occasions made use of suitcases. In the 1959 case, just north of El Paso, a suitcase was used to carry part of the body. In some New York City and New England cases in the early 1960’s suitcases are once more prominent as carriers of human remains. This is significant because by the early 1960’s the killings appear to have stopped in Texas and the south. At that same time, however, strikingly similar cases crop up in the northeast. Suitcases may indicate travel and the killer may have picked up stakes and moved to greener pastures.

A Killer Loose in the 1940's and 1950's

The facts are there, the evidence grisly, and it is simply a case of how one puts the pieces together that determines the resulting image.

1941 - Leila Welch is murdered in her bedroom in Kansas City. Her throat is cut, a slice of flesh cut from her thigh, letters carved into her flesh (G or S)...
 https://killerswithconscience.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/leila-adele-dorothy-welsh/

1947 - Elizabeth Short is murdered in Los Angeles. Her face disfigured, her body bisected, a slice of flesh cut from her thigh...letters carved into her body ...

1952 - July 29, Betty Jack Stevens, Dallas,  her body parts are recovered in both Union City and Yukon, Oklahoma.  Her body carved, beheaded, and letters carved into her flesh (R.A.T.)...


They were all young, attractive, and most were dark haired...

In 1955, Andrea Lopez Phares, 20, left a town in Texas to return to her home and never was  seen again. Her car was found with a key still in it, her purse and wallet in place (but missing a large amount of money according to her husband) and the trunk mat and a blanket were gone. Her husband and his brother would both go to court charged in relation to the disappearance but neither convicted.  Her husband finally moved to Oklahoma.

In 1958, Carol Ann Batterman,19, left the motel where she and her brand new husband were staying to meet him and look at apartments and was never seen again. Reports of a woman struggling with two men by a local lake and strangers asking for a shovel to dig worms, yet lacking normal fishing gear, was under investigated.  Local deputies shrugged wondering what the fuss was all about when reports of clothes found just northwest of the same area a year or two later. It was a known "lover's lane" after all; apparently making it safe from murder. Despite searches, digging, and lack of activity on a savings account, the woman was never seen. Her case is still considered open by local police.

In 1959, Billie Schaffer, 37, drove to town to do some shopping and meet with friends and several weeks later her body is found far from home in a lonely field. Her Air Force Captain husband was in Greenland when she died but rushed back to join the search.  Her car had been found abandoned far from where she had been driving and no sign of the purchases or her purse where found. [She may also be one of string of murders where the victims were placed in hard to reach fields One was in 1953, a rancher riding in the Osage Hills of Northeast Oklahoma came across the body of a white female, 21-25 years of age, 110-125 lbs. and about 5'2".  She was unknown and unidentified. The place where she was found was not easy to get to according to locals].

In 1959, a young bride Virginia Moore, 19, leaves El Paso, Texas to visit relatives and apparently disappeared.

In 1963, a young and expectant woman disappears on a short trip in the Kansas City, Missouri area and is last seen at the side of the road.  Weeks later her slip clad body is found in a corn field, her hands severed and part of her head missing. She is six miles from where  her car was found. Patricia Willoughby, 22, had been seen, possibly, being "led" or "steered" (drugged?) toward another vehicle, along a stretch of road.

12/6/17

UPDATED: On The Trail of A Killer

It is just a theory but what if it is correct? A string of decades old unsolved murders yet there may be a shadow of a connection...  an excerpt from Into Oblivion by Marilyn A. Hudson.  "Here's opening that in the spirit of opening gifts someone will reopen these old cases and maybe find an answer."




The trail of a killer – a THEORY

Just as decades earlier (than the previous 1950's cases) police were stumped by the 1930's Cleveland Torso Killer, authorities in Texas, New Mexico, Florida and Georgia would be left scratching their head over a series of connected by unsolved brutal killings.  They began in 1959 and, according to most law enforcement reports, they continued until 1964.  Stepping aside a little to see the “big picture” hints that there is more to this story. Perhaps this killer did not start in Texas and, just maybe, he did not end there either.
What follows is my own theory about a particular set of crimes during a specific time frame.  I have looked for similarities in the methods used, processes employed, correlating circumstances, and other hints as to the nature of the person involved in these deaths.

YOU GOTTA KNOW THE TERRITORY
From the early drama of the “Butchers of Kings Run” in Cleveland, Ohio through the “Black Dahlia” in Los Angeles, the dismemberment of human victims was not new.  What was increasingly clear with so many of these cases what that knowledge of the region was an important fact.  In the Cleveland killings the murderer returned repeatedly to the same area. Apparently, he never stood out in that setting enough to arouse suspicions.  Why did he not seem out of place in that area? The logical answer would be he was part of the area or astute enough to know how to blend in without causing alarm.

Kingsbury Row – Cleveland, Ohio
The Cleveland Torso Killer struck in an area not too different from  areas found  in Kansas City and Oklahoma City. The status of the occupants in these regions was low, they were termed the “working class poor” and both reflected elements of depression era “shanty towns.” These were popular terms to describe abysmal poverty and homelessness. In Cleveland the area where the killer struck was part of the “Flats.”  It was rough, wild and overgrown.
Each of the regions were speared by rail lines, dotted with developed factories and had jobs that brought people seeking better lives or simply a means to survive.  The regions around these magnets in the post-Depression era swelled with new, and often highly anonymous, people.

Packing Town – Oklahoma City
 In another town, along a similar geographic feature also called “The Flats” was another area rough, wild, and uncertain. “Packingtown” and the “Stockyards” are synonymous terms in Oklahoma City history. A 1911 postcard shows the corner of Agnew and Exchange with its arched street sign, with its long horn head symbol, marking the entrance to “Packingtown” and the “Stockyards”.  It was an area in central Oklahoma City, south of the river, where from the 1890’s, the animal stockyards and packing houses were found.  Its single purpose was to provide a place to sell, buy, invest and profit from the meat industry.
It occupied an irregular pattern along Agnew and Exchange Avenue. It stretched in early days from roughly from West Reno to about South 15th Street with Exchange Avenue at its heart.  Its location shifted as the river changed course, as it did, several times and with frequent flooding.  Roads were eventually straightened and Oklahoma City street names flowed down into the area even as it remained an entity to itself in many ways.  This area, according to the Register of Historic Places, covers today 220 acres, 19 buildings, and 1 object.
Around this area various neighborhoods emerged. The first neighborhood was established by ex-slave Freedman in 1880 and was called both “The Bottoms” and “Sandtown.” Researcher Ronald James Web in his “Oklahoma City’s Historic Sandtown Neighborhood” captures the diverse, rich, and now largely eradicated, aspect of history in the area.  Other neighborhoods were: Mulligan Flats, Packing House Park, Morrisville, and the Stockyards Addition. These were all north of SW 15th street. The common denominator for all of these housing additions was poverty. These were largely people who had little, had few prospects, and often struggled to survive. The few surviving residential examples seen in early 20th century photos are all small houses of about 800 square feet.  Their replacements, many constructed circa World War I, were equally humble.  Although the companies filling the packing houses constituted the city’s number one industry into World War II and had budgets in the multiple millions, many workers did not see as much prosperity.
In the Depression years the area south of the river, from Byers to Pennsylvania, would be turned into ad hoc settlements of the dispossessed and homeless.  It was called the “gray zone”, a no man’s land that nobody could use due to frequent floods, rough, overgrown terrain and free range trash dumps.  It became home to many families and individuals during the depression of the 1930’s.  Almost in its center runs South Agnew from Reno south to SW 59th Street.
Numerous rail lines spurred off to deliver thousands of animals for auction or for slaughter.  It’s most noticeable feature was the distinct aroma rising from the yards.  It was south, “over the river”, and away (it was hoped) from the delicate sensibilities of the people who enjoyed the end product in some of the finer houses and hotels in the downtown area.  The wind in Oklahoma seems to always be blowing from the southwest and the aroma enriched the memories of many early citizens and lingered well into the mid twentieth century.
It was also, significantly, “outside of town” to avoid paying city taxes. This was an arrangement made with local officials dating back to 1910 and one that continued until recent decades. The packing firms were wooed and won by any means necessary to build a strong Oklahoma economy. That meant to keep the cattlemen, workers, and buyers happy there was also ample supplies of liquor in a “dry” state. “Fringe” comforts were also seen to, locals said, with brothels a staple of every building with an upper story.  Oklahoma had been the “Badlands” before statehood and, in some pockets of the community, that ethos survived long into the modern age.
The major packing companies included industry greats such as “Morris & Co.”,  “Schwartzchild and Sulzberger (S&S) of Chicago”, “Armour”, “Wilson and Co.,” and local favorites such as “Butcher’s Packing Co.” and “The People’s Packing Co.”
In general terms, the area would retain a strong, blue-collar look and feel for decades. Today, it skirts Capitol Hill (an early community), it stands hesitantly on the edge of renovation of the nearby “Stockyards City” on its north side and a strong Hispanic presence on its east side. West, it has changed little, due to the highways systems and beyond the airport spanning many dozens of acres.


Some Cases
Called “torso killers”, “fiends”, “butchers”, or “butcher-killers” since the days of Jack the Ripper, murders displaying extreme violence done to the human body by another person have kept people fascinated.  It is like the two-headed snake that we cannot believe exists but keep looking at because it is so beyond our comprehension.  Who could do that to another person? Surely they would bear some stigmata, a mark of Cain, which set them apart?  Could they hide behind the smiling cab driver, the shop clerk, the construction worker or the business man?  “They seemed so normal and nice” is a reoccurring description for murderers and encapsulates the dilemma.  These killers are so often, too often, invisible because they look just like everyone else.  When the murders occurred in places where people stayed out of other’s business, did not pry or pay much attention to anything but their own survival, it becomes a little easier to understand how they might never be noticed.
1933-1938 – Cleveland, Ohio twelve (12) dismembered bodies were recovered. Although a topic of much speculation and investigation by Elliot Ness, and others, no one was ever charged with the crimes. Unsolved.
March 10, 1941 – In Kansas City, Missouri, a 24 year old nurse cadet was viciously murdered in her room. She had been mutilated, her skull crushed and her throat slit. In addition, part of her body had been removed and discarded elsewhere. Unsolved. [Update: One theory does try to link this to an individual who may have killed the 'Black Dahlia". See Eatwell's recent work on the subject.]
April 1, 1947 – Body of a woman found stuffed inside a sewer outlet near The People’s Packing Company, 130 SE 7th in Oklahoma City.  The company had been established in 1920. The body was found clad in just a slip and one sock. Unknown.
One of the attractive aspects of Oklahoma City for good and bad is the fact that bisecting it are two major continental transportation routes. East to West runs Interstate 40 (I-40) and North to South runs Interstate 35 (I-35).  These have been in place since post WW-2 and the building of the interstate infrastructure for transportation.  Prior to this, however, the great ‘Mother Road’ of Route 66 crossed the state heading toward California and the U.S. 80 provided ready access to points south into Texas and north into Kansas.
For companies shipping material, or for criminals transporting illegal goods or escaping law enforcement, the state was a natural for getting from point A to point B. In the 1950’s these roads were booming with cafes, gas stations, small towns with their motels, and ready exit onto smaller county and state roads when there was a need.  
If we look at just the 1950’s are there  any “interesting” events along some of these major arteries?

Just Off the Road
Getting around in the early 1950's was different and the landscape was often vastly different. There was no Interstate as it is known today.  Think of box placed over the modern Oklahoma City.  On the north side of this box would be Route 66 heading west toward Bethany, Yukon and El Reno.  I-40 heading west would go past turnoffs to Yukon, El Reno, Mustang, New Castle and further west. To the south the I-35 would head toward Moore, Norman, and south to Ardmore and on to Dallas.  and to the northeast the I-35
The major arteries of transportation were Route 66 (angling down from Tulsa skirting the northern part of OKC and then heading west to Bethany, Yukon, El Reno and then Amarillo in Texas) , HWY 77 (Skirted down on the eastern side of OKC, traveled along Route 66 briefly and then angled downward to go into southern OKC, Moore, and Norman and eventually into northern Texas, east of Dallas/Ft. Worth), and HWY 81 (it came out of north Texas and the Dallas/Ft. Worth Area heading north to Duncan, Chickasha, Union City, El Reno and Enid before heading into Kansas).
A person could take HWY 81 to Union City and then north to El Reno and get on Route 66 heading east into Yukon and make a loop by taking HWY 77 (roughly the route of the current I-35) to head back south.  If they wished, a driver could reconnect with US 81 if they used Newcastle Road, to go to Highway 92 (92 at Yukon) or HWY 152 to go through Mustang and on west to Union City. US 81 was a primary route south to Texas. In the center of this farther road "box" was the small farming community of Tuttle.

This map clearly illustrates the significance of the Agnew Avenue, Exchange Streets and the route to the Airport that would cross Newcastle Road. What this means is that in the case of Lois Depew who went missing in 1951, someone could have offered her a ride on South Agnew as she walked the few short blocks to her SW 32 street home that night. Further, this person could have taken her to Newcastle Road, and then easily deposited her body in Tuttle. He could easily have stopped at Newcastle to burn her clothes on the way back to the city.
Further it also lends itself well to the Betty Jack Stevens case.  What this means is that in the case of Betty Jack Stevens someone could have picked her up on HWY 81 (as is believed) and (as some believed at the time) brought her into the city to friends or a familiar haunt at a tavern on South Agnew.  There, someone may have offered her a ride as well.  Just as before, with the Depew murder, they could have easily exited the city and taken Newcastle Road to Union City to dispose of part of Steven’s body and then cut north to Route 66 and Yukon to dispose of the rest of her body west of Yukon. After that it would be a simple trip HWY 92 across to easily reconnect to the south side of Oklahoma City.  [Update: Another intriguing idea has been the use of railroads and the proximity of them to all these murders].
The question in both cases is where would this type of extreme murder and dismemberment take place?  A killer would need isolation or at least a sense that they would be uninterrupted while they proceeded to torture and then cut apart a human body. There would be mess, there would be a need for no witnesses, and the ability to concentrate on the process.  There was never any mention of a killing sight ever located and despite rumors of blood soaked cars that never panned out the question of where remains.
Strangely enough at the northern end of South Agnew is probably a perfect place for someone who might have worked in the area and for one of the companies.  At that area was the Stockyards, also known as Packingtown because of the slaughter houses and meat packaging companies there.  Wilson & Co., Armour and others would be there for decades to process the cattle brought into that area.   From South 15th and the Agnew Street area there is a short jump over to Newcastle Road and environs to the west of the city and to the places where bodies were discovered. 
All of this makes the missing butcher, or someone similar, an interesting wrinkle in the list of probable suspects.
Now, if a killer was operating in the area wouldn't there be other missing persons? Could someone who was that involved with the idea of not simply killing but in dismembering their victim simply stop at one or two?   A search of newspapers did reveal some people reported missing. 

Here is a list of some names :

May 1951 - Two teen girls, students at Capitol Hill High School, Charleen (Sharlene) Wright (17 SE 30) and Shirley Anne Cuica (40 SE 30) go missing. Although it is possible Shirley may have run away to rejoin her father there is no clear trace of her found.
Aug 1951 - Nancy Durkin, 600 SW 25, goes missing. She is later located on city directories in Kansas indicating that she may have had personal reasons for her sudden and seemingly mysterious disappearance. The prominence of the story suggests, however, that there were undercurrents of anxiety in the region. Even though these stories may not have made it to the papers, the way these are covered, seem to indicate  more than a little community uneasiness. What else was going on that authorities may have kept out of the papers or that they might have mis-labeled youth run-aways?
Oct. 7, 1951 - Lois Depew, 2708 SW 32, goes missing; March 1952 her body parts found in Tuttle in two shallow graves. [Update: 2016 Correspondence from family members have claimed that a deathbed confession by the husband of Depew has resolved this mystery.]
June 1952 - Mrs. Ruth Gee, Roberts Hotel,  15 N. Broadway, (Downtown area), missing. Her home address was Jones Street on the north side of the Stockyards.
Jul 1952 - Dorothy Moss, missing days before the body of Stevens is discovered.
July 1952 - Tillie Pennington, 7041 SW 7th, reported missing days before the body of Stevens is discovered.
July 29, Betty Jack Stevens, Dallas, body parts are recovered  in Union City and Yukon.
Sept. 1952 - 2 teen girls missing in Hobart ; the story may be an indication of a drug and prostitution (aka “white slavery”) ring operating throughout the region in this time.  While never spelled out, inferences in many news and police reports suggest such a possibility.
Searching local newspapers in OKC found no follow ups for these missing, and cemetery, city directories and other sources failed to find any evidence of their presence and beg the question did all these missing woman come home?  In addition, no other stories of missing persons emerged in the city that were not located in this time period in the south side. There were also, at the time of the Stevens murder, girls missing in the panhandle and in Enid.

1951 Was An Active Year
In March of 1951 the mutilated and headless body of a 63 year old local farmer was found north of Okemah in northeastern Oklahoma.    The farm of Jackson Hicks was found just four miles north of Okemah and easily accessible as a turn off of a major highway (now I-40).  He was found by his brother at the edge of a field in a creek bottom. His head was 100 yards beyond that in a shallow hole. He was partially dressed and there were what appeared to be stab wounds slashing across his abdomen. Description of how the body was positioned suggest the possibility it was posed.
 Sheriff Dewey Smith quickly called a coroner jury who determined foul play and suggested the body might have been there for up to five days before it was found.  Little additional information was found during research of this case.
As mentioned earlier, in April of 1951, 16 year old Charlene (sometimes spelled Scharline and Sharleen) Wright  (17 SE 30th) and her friend Shirley Anne Cuica (40 SE 30) disappeared from SW Oklahoma City.  They had left to make a hurried purchase for a school project and promised to be home early. One girl was in curlers when she left.  Six weeks later a follow-up article begged for information because neither girl had been heard from in the intervening time. Parents even sent a message that if the girl’s had run away they would accept that if only they would tell them they were well.   According to all indications, neither girl was seen or heard from again.
Against this background it is little wonder the disappearance of another girl would be run in a prominent place in local newspapers. In August of 1951, a 19 year old girl working as an optometrist’s assistant disappeared from her SW Oklahoma City home (600 block of SW 25 and worked at 324 W. Commerce).  She was described as red-haired, 5 feet tall and about 100 lbs. The only clothes they could determine to be missing were the ones she had been wearing when last seen the night before when her date took her home. In the previous decade a serial killer had preyed on victims   with red hair and so it is certain that police may have been concerned given the apparent stable nature of the young woman.
It was apparently a misunderstanding as she is found later living back in Kansas according to city directories and other public documents. It is assumed she may have been summoned home or left rapidly for reasons of her own. 
It is still noteworthy as possibly reflecting concern residing under the surface of the community.  It leads to questions of what was not being written about in local papers?  The 1950’s was a time where there was a placid exterior that fought desperately to project a solid normalcy after the years of want and war. The pressure to conform to that image was more than some could achieve but like the earlier Victorian and Edwardian era there was a lot seething below the surface.
In several locations in this decade there is a problem of narcotics, alcohol, gambling, and prostitution.  Oklahoma had a chaotic legal system related to liquor making it a prime target for bootleggers long after Prohibition had put most out of business.     
During the Victorian era young innocent girls heading off to the big city were often welcomed by grandmotherly figures who offered them help. These were not representatives of Traveler’s Aid but madams and those employed in the service of various bordellos and resorts catering to sexual merchandise. Just as able bodied young men were often bundled aboard a ship as unwilling sailors, young women were impressed into a different type of service.
This “white slavery” as it was called continued for many decades into the 20th century. The victims were drugged, coerced, shamed and beaten into submission.   Some ran away a ‘ruined woman’ , some chose to remain and hide their shame from families and some disappeared into oblivion.
There had been two world wars, technological and social advancements but it was a system often still used well into the later 20th century.   There were several stories of young girls seduced into running off with young men, some promised great jobs, and some merely drugged.  A few girls “wised up” and by reading through the lines of news accounts it is clear that something of sexual and illicit nature rests in the background of the stories.   
There is also evidence that some children fell prey to these monsters as well.  The market catering to pedophiles meant a national network of procurers was in place to acquire, transport, use and dispose of victims.   In the aftermath of a devastating tornado in Woodward, Oklahoma in the late 1940’s a little girl was removed by unknown men from a makeshift hospital.  Three children remained who were never identified. At the same time, children from Wisconsin and points south and west were disappearing. Police trying to solve the missing Oklahoma girl hurried to California to investigate one child.  She had been disposed of in an alley, horribly beaten and abused, with no memory of where she came from or who she was.  It may be that many of these crimes are never solved because the child is older when they are at last released from their prison and far away from where they called home.   
       If the same process was in use in the 1950s, as is suggested, than missing persons would often be more likely found in another location, across state lines, and far away from home.  This may be why that databases of missing persons and those of found but unidentified bodies are so huge.  Only now, through application of such things as DNA, fingerprinting, dental records, and shared information are some of these finally being closed.  The next important step in that process is to open more of the oldest, coldest case records to volunteer investigators committed to bringing closure to families and friends.  Empty Buildings sit where some of the giants of meat packing once dominated the area known as ”Packingtown.”




COMMON THREADS
To sum up the theory presented here let’s review the common features. The major cases surveyed from Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, Florida and Georgia suggest -
-          The killer had some familiarity or skill in butchering; Oklahoma medical authorities noted it, and they thought it appeared more related to animal butchering than to human dissection (i.e., a doctor). The multi-state task force examining the Texas and New Mexico crimes also noted skill in this area.
-          The killer made little attempt to hide bodies; indeed some seem to be placed in places where they will be found quickly. Demonstrated through graves less than a foot deep, ground barely covering remains, placed to be seen, sent down water way regularly fished and into areas people often traveled.
-          The killer frequently used newspapers to wrap body parts and provide dating clues. A copycat act, inspired or drawn from the use of newspapers in the Cleveland murders?
-          The killer sometimes marked the body ; in later cases in Pennsylvania attributed to the Cleveland killer, one of the torsos in the boxcar had “Nazi” carved into the flesh; in the 1941 case of Welsh the writing in blood of an initial. It should be noted that if this is the same killer and he is connected in some manner with the packing industry, butchered meat is stamped as to grade; in 1952 with Stevens there was the carving of the word “RAT.”
-          The killer often took away body parts ; in 1941 a hand sized hunk of flesh was cut out and then tossed over a fence as the killer left (was he nervous? Afraid of being caught?); in the Depew and Stevens case there was indication that parts were not present; in the 1959-1964 cases in Texas there was also missing body parts.
-          The killer often hid parts of the body so they were never  found or found much later disassociated from the major crime; just like the Cleveland killer who hid many a torso or head to never be found, the Texas cases also saw parts that were not located.
-          The killer sometimes used grocery and dairy style boxes; butcher wrapping paper; plastic bags.
-          The killer used, at least once, a freezer or cooling unit. In the 1959 case, where the body parts were found in two states (Texas and New Mexico), there was evidence the body might had been refrigerated for as many as six days. Who would have access to a freezer or cooling unit of size and privacy enough to hold a body and its parts for a week?  Who might be traveling roads allowing one to dump body parts in two states?  Who would have the privacy to dismember a body in some isolation? A delivery truck with a refrigerated unit moving from one delivery site to another might have such things.  Someone who picked up  meat and delivered it to grocery stores and butcher shops might have such a resource.

-          The killer often removed hands, feet and heads; although often assumed to be a means of hiding identity, this might also be a signature or a ritual of a serial killer.
-          The killer’s actions often accompanied news of a strike, or threat of a sympathetic strike, from unions and employees associated, interestingly enough, with packing house workers. Such was found in the 1941 Kansas City death of Welsh. Rumbles of strikes were often as important as actual walk-outs, slow-downs and strikes.  Unions gained strength from workers collectively supporting the struggles of others. These might be events across the country but would impact local unions and employersThe first half of the decade saw a lot of press coverage of talks, threats, counter offers and strikes across the country. In the 1951 death of Depew there was both currents of Packing worker Union strike talk and a local bus strike.  In the summer of the 1952 death of Stevens, papers were once more filled with the threat and reality of major walkouts. It was the same, for the period of the 1959-1964 matching the deaths in Texas, Georgia and Florida.
-          Was the strike a trigger for this individual? Strikes were often very violent events; had something happened in one to push this killer off the edge? Did the fear of loss of wages, loss of jobs and the problems associated with a strike trigger his need to kill?  Did he kill and dismember then as a means of asserting his control and mastery of his environment?  Just as a butcher in a slaughterhouse masters the animals sent to him in his acts of violence was he taking apart his own personal problems?
-          The killer may have, like many serial killers, have inserted himself into the investigations.  In the 1962 case in Cleveland, Texas a truck driver identifies a “bushy haired man” as one seen tossing boxes over the bridge and into the water where later boxes of body parts will be found. The term became prominent a few years earlier when Dr. Sam Shepherd used it as his defense in the Marilyn Shepherd murder case near Cleveland, Ohio.  In the use of a Borden Dairy box investigative suspicion is then directed to a man who works at the nearby Texas plant; was that the killer’s intention?  Were there other instances, lost in the notes or investigation records of other cases, that reveal a similar mysterious or strangely helpful individual?
-          The killer on several occasions made use of suitcases.  In the 1959 case, just north of El Paso, a suitcase was used to carry part of the body.  In some New York City and New England cases in the early 1960’s suitcases are once more prominent as carriers of human remains. This is significant because by the early 1960’s the killings appear to  have stopped in Texas and the south. At that same time, however, strikingly similar cases crop up in the northeast. Suitcases may indicate travel and the killer may have picked up stakes and moved to greener pastures.

Could it be that…
A killer learns his ropes in Kansas City, spurred on by tales of the old Ohio murders.  He works in the meat packing factories learning the craft of butchering.  He moves on to Oklahoma City where, perhaps, he first works for The People’s Packing Company and kills a woman stashing her body in the sewer outlet.  He moves on to the better paying companies in The Stockyards.  He drives through the area regularly, maybe goes to the theater where Lois Depew works.  He goes to the local taverns where he may see other women and girls.  He has a normal, kind, and ordinary face.  He gives rides to women walking. Maybe he has keys to the killing floor or to some off site facility where there is privacy, equipment and the necessary tools to clean up.  He knows the area and uses local roads to discard the body parts across, at least, two counties.  
After the Stevens murder and its higher profile he heads out of town and heads west toward California.  Maybe he gets a job in New Mexico or southern Texas.  He may trade in his job as a butcher for driving a refrigerated meat or grocery truck that gives him mobility, storage and work space. He can travel the new Interstate 10 from California to Florida. As he gets a little older, he heads north (back home?) toward New York and Connecticut.
 It is all just a theory.  A theory with some interesting and logical links that give food for thought. Maybe it will spark some renewed interest in local police to dust off old notes, forage for forgotten facts, and find the proof necessary to finally stamp “closed” on some of these cases.
For murder, and for uncovering the truth murder strives to conceal, we should always remember that there is no statute of limitations.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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