Custody Battle At Center Of Missing Kansas Moms' Killings: Authorities

One of the four people arrested Saturday on suspicion of murder and kidnapping in the May 30 disappearance of two Kansas moms was in a custody battle with one of the victims, authorities said in an arrest affidavit obtained by HuffPost. Their bodies were found Sunday.

Authorities on Monday confirmed the deaths of Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, who disappeared on their way to pick up Butler’s 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son from their paternal grandmother, Tifany Machel Adams, 54, for a birthday party, authorities said. Butler never showed up, and relatives later found her abandoned car by a desolate stretch of highway across the border in Oklahoma and called the police.

Adams; her boyfriend, Tad Bert Cullum, 43; and married couple Cole Earl Twombly, 50, and Cora Twombly, 44, were arrested Saturday on suspicion of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in connection to Butler’s and Kelley’s disappearance.

Jilian Kelley, 39, (right) was accompanying Veronica Butler, 27, on a scheduled visit with Butler's children when the two were killed in Oklahoma, authorities said.
Jilian Kelley, 39, (right) was accompanying Veronica Butler, 27, on a scheduled visit with Butler's children when the two were killed in Oklahoma, authorities said. Veronica Butler (left), Jilian Kelley via Facebook

The four were involved in a religious anti-government group called God’s Misfits, Cora Twombly’s daughter told investigators, according to the affidavit.

Investigators said they found “evidence of a serious injury” inside and near Butler’s car, including blood on the road and a broken hammer near Butler’s glasses behind the car. In Butler’s purse, they said, they found a pistol magazine but no sign of the gun.

A court had ordered that Butler, whose ex-boyfriend, Wrangler Rickman, had custody of their children, have supervised visitation with their son and daughter on Saturdays, and Kelley was scheduled to supervise the visit on March 30, investigators said. Rickman was in a rehabilitation facility at the time, and Butler told relatives she’d arranged to meet Adams that morning at an intersection known as Four Corners in the Oklahoma panhandle to pick up the children. Butler’s car was found 5 miles north of that spot.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced Sunday that the two bodies had been found in rural Texas County. According to the affidavit, OSBI investigators tracked burner phones that they said were used by the suspects to a private property, where they also found evidence of a hole that had been dug, refilled and covered with hay. Internet searches of Adams’ cellphone, investigators said, included information related to prepaid phones, tasers and gun shops. On March 23, Adams bought five stun guns at a local gun shop, investigators said.

The Twomblys’ 16-year-old daughter said in an interview with the OSBI that her mother told her that she, Cole Twombly, Adams, Cullum and a fifth person, who has not been arrested, were involved in Butler’s and Kelley’s deaths, according to the affidavit.

Authorities said that the identities of the bodies found in Oklahoma and the cause and manner of their deaths were not being disclosed pending a report from the medical examiner, but representatives of law enforcement agencies who spoke at a news conference Monday morning confirmed that Butler and Kelley were dead and expressed condolences to their families.

Both women lived in Hugoton, Kansas. Kelley’s husband, with whom she shared four children, is the pastor of a local church.

It was unclear whether the defendants had retained an attorney. They are currently being held without bond in the Texas County Jail in Guymon, Oklahoma.