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Bodies found in rural Oklahoma identified as 2 missing Kansas women

The remains were discovered in Texas County, Oklahoma, where a victim's vehicle was found abandoned last month.
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Remains discovered in rural Oklahoma have been positively identified as belonging to two Kansas women reported missing last month, authorities said.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday that the state's chief medical examiner confirmed the bodies were those of 27-year-old Veronica Butler and 39-year-old Jilian Kelley.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones, along with everyone throughout their community," the OSBI said on social media platform X.

A custody battle might have led to the deaths of the women, who vanished on their way to pick up one of the pair's children for a birthday party last month in Oklahoma, court papers revealed Monday.

Remains of the women from Hugoton, Kansas, were discovered in Texas County, Oklahoma, the same jurisdiction where their vehicle was found last month.

"It has been a tragedy for everyone involved," Aungela Spurlock, director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation told reporters. "Our condolences go out to the family."

The OSBI had said in a statement on X on Sunday that its agents — along with Texas County sheriff’s personnel — recovered the bodies in a rural part of the county.

Four people were booked into the Texas County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder Saturday in connection with the probe. The suspects were subsequently formally charged.

The OSBI identified them as Tad Bert Cullum, 43; Tifany Machel Adams, 54; Cole Earl Twombly, 50; and Cora Twombly, 44. The four were arrested in Texas County and neighboring Cimarron County.

Court documents do not list an attorney for any of the four. An initial court appearance for the suspects was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Texas County court.

The state public defender's office in Texas County did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday evening, and no one answered a phone call.

Adams was in a "problematic custody battle" with Butler, who had two children with Adams' son, Wrangler Rickman, according to an affidavit by OSBI Special Agent Jason Ott.

Butler had supervised visits with her children every Saturday, and she, along with her friend Kelley, were on their way for such a meeting on March 30, according to Ott's affidavit supporting Adams' arrest.

"Butler planned on bringing her daughter to a birthday party but after they did not arrive, the family began looking for Butler," the affidavit said.

Butler's car was discovered in Texas County with signs of a violent struggle, officials said. Blood stained the nearby ground, and Butler's glasses "were also found in the roadway south of the vehicle, near a broken hammer," Ott wrote.

Rickman was "in a rehabilitation facility in Oklahoma City" at the time of the disappearance, the affidavit said, and he does not appear to be a suspect.

Rickman also had disputes with his mother, Adams, the affidavit said. At times, Adams would keep the children and refused to turn them over to Rickman, even though he had legal custody of them, according to Ott.

A key witness in the case is the 16-year-old daughter of suspect Cora Twombly.

The girl, identified as "CW," said Cora Twombly and the suspect's husband, Cole Twombly, told her on March 29 that they wouldn't be home when she got up the next morning because they were on a "mission," according to the court affidavit.

When the couple returned home at noon, they asked their daughter to clean their Chevy pickup truck, the affidavit said.

"CW asked Cora what had happened and was told things did not go as planned, but they would not have to worry about her [Butler] again," the court document said. "CW was told that Cora and Cole blocked the road to stop Butler and Kelley and deliver them to where Adams [and] Cullum ... were. CW asked about Kelley and why she had to die and was told by Cora that she wasn't innocent either, as she had supported Butler. CW asked Cora if their bodies were put in a well and Cora replied, 'something like that.'"

Adams purchased three pre-paid cellphones from a Walmart on Feb. 13, according to the affidavit, and all three were "in the areas where Butler's car was located and the last known location of Butler and Kelley, at the time of their disappearance."

Butler and Kelley were the subjects of an “endangered missing advisory” by Oklahoma authorities distributed on March 30 after the vehicle they were in was found in Texas County, the OSBI said.

Texas County Sheriff Matt Boley didn’t reveal many details of the alleged crime when he met with reporters Monday morning, but he did say that Butler and Kelley were victims of a “targeted” attack and that authorities didn’t believe anyone else in the public was in danger.

“We felt this wasn’t a random deal,” Boley said. “We felt that with some of the information coming in that it was more targeted, and we started to look in those areas.”

Lawyer Garrett R. Oates, who had represented Butler in the past, said the saga highlights the bitter nature of custody battles.

“This case highlights the conflict, stress, and magnitude of decisions that go into any child custody case," he said in a statement. "This was a case that was contentious from the beginning and had become increasingly contentious as time went on." 

He continued: "I am so deeply saddened by the loss of my client, Veronica. I know all she ever wanted was to love her children.”