The desperate pleas emerged online shortly after the four friends went missing last week – a man asking if anyone had seen their cousins. A woman looking for her husband. A mother looking for the father of their four children.
A few days later, their families obtained the devastating news. The dismembered remains of their relatives had been found in a shallow section of a river on the edge of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, which has a population of around 11,300.
Now the families of the victims and their community grapple with a dark mystery: what happened in the hours before Alex Stevens, Mike Sparks and brothers Billy and Mark Chastain disappeared – and who is responsible for their horrible deaths?
The disappearance, the death of four friends in Okmulgee, Oklahoma
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Dawn Carter, a member of Okmulgee City Council. “When you’re part of a tight-knit community, when minor things happen, it gets attention. Something so important? It affects everyone. »
“Tell people to pray for us,” she added.
Who were they?
The four men grew up together in Okmulgee, a town that Megan Gordon, the widow of Billy Chastain, described as a “very small town” – a place where “everyone’s parents know everyone’s parents”.
“Everyone knows everyone here.”
Mark Chastain, 32, and Billy Chastain, 30, were the “definition of brothers and were always together,” their grandmother, Milissia Smith, told a verified online fundraiser. Billy Chastain – who went by the name BJ – was a handyman with four children, two girls and two boys aged 2 to 12, Gordon said.
“He was funny, he was loving, he was spontaneous,” she said. “He was perfect.”
“It was all about his kids,” she added.
Mark Chastain had two children and worked in an oilfield as a rig laborer, his friend Ron Pelham said. Chastain “worked hard for everything he had” but would offer the shirt off his back, said Pelham, 34.
“He was doing good to improve the lives of his family in every way possible,” Pelham said.
Alex Stevens worked as a kitchen assistant at a nursing home, his widow, Teresa Hall, said. He struggled with drug addiction and the two met after he was released from prison in 2013, she said.
They wed in 2014 and split soon after, Hall, 35, said, although they never legally divorced and remained best friends. Stevens had bouts of depression, but “there was never a day that he couldn’t put a smile on your face,” she said.
Efforts to reach relatives of Mike Sparks, 32, have been unsuccessful.
The four friends went on a bike ride on October 9, the Okmulgee Police Department announced last week. Getting around on two wheels isn’t unusual in Okmulgee, Pelham said, especially if it’s the weekend and there’s been booze.
The group reportedly left a house where Billy Chastain lived part-time around 5.30pm, Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice said in an interview this week. Investigators obtained GPS data from mobile phones carried by two of the men which showed them traveling east and then south. No video was found that captured their movements after they left, Prentice said.
“I don’t know what they had in mind when they left the house,” Prentice said. “I’m as dark as everyone else.”
At one point, two of the men invited someone described by authorities as a witness to ‘hit a pretty big lick for all to see,’ Prentice said, using a slang term for committing a profitable criminal act. .
In the interview, Prentice said the witness “wasn’t feeling well and his bike wasn’t running, so he told them to keep going.”
The police chief did not know which of the men would have made the offer and he refused to identify the witness. Investigators have no additional details about the alleged conspiracy, Prentice said, nor have they collected evidence to corroborate the witness statement.
“I can’t think of a reason he would want to make it up,” Prentice added.
A review of the four men’s court records shows that Alex Stevens pleaded guilty to felony drug charges in 2013 and 2015, and Billy Chastain pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge in 2014. None have been charged of violent crimes, robberies or burglaries, the records show.
Gordon said the last time she spoke to Billy Chastain was the day before he disappeared. She had no idea what he had been up to until the night he disappeared, but said “licking” was not something her husband would have said.
“My children’s father didn’t talk like that,” she said. “It does not make sense.”
Pelham questioned Mark Chastain’s involvement in a criminal scheme, saying he made a lot of money from his job and “was never a thief”.
Hall also didn’t believe that Stevens would rob anyone.
“Alex was not that kind of person,” she said. “If he had no money, he would go to work to earn money.”
The last time Hall spoke to Stevens was three days before he disappeared. They video chatted about how she was doing following her recent release from a drug treatment program, she said.
“I didn’t know that was the last time I would see him,” she said.
“We knew that whatever happened to them was not going to be good”
Gordon learned her husband was missing when Mark Chastain’s wife called early on October 10 and asked if the brothers were home.
Initially, Gordon believed they were at Mark Chastain’s. As the hours passed, she realized they were running late or had a flat tire. But, 1 p.m. passed, then 5 p.m., she said. So they alerted the police and reported them missing, she said.
“I was hoping and praying that they would find them safe,” Hall said.
Okmulgee Police Department issued the first missing person alerts October 11. Initially, the agency said there was no evidence to indicate violence or foul play and Mark Chastain’s phone was found without power in an area south of town.
Over the hours, relatives posted their calls on Facebook and witnesses reported seeing missing men as close as the local YMCA and to Monroe, Louisianaauthorities said.
Pelham, who lives about an hour northwest of Okmulgee, said he traveled to the town with his younger brother to knock on doors and help with a search.
“These boys weren’t small. They could handle themselves. We knew whatever happened to them was not going to be good.”
Ron Pelham, friend of Mark Chastain
“That four grown men were missing, it blew our minds,” he said. “These boys weren’t small. They could handle themselves. We knew whatever happened to them was not going to be good.”
Five days after the men were last seen, Prentice told reporters that a passerby informed authorities of something suspicious in a shallow stretch of the Deep Fork River southwest of Okmulgee. Near a bridge, authorities found “multiple” human remains and “body parts protruding from the water”.
From Monday, the the remains have been identified like the Chastain brothers, Sparks and Stevens. They had been shot before their dismembered bodies were thrown into the river, Prentice said.
None of their bikes have been found, he said.
Also Monday, Prentice named a person of interest in the case: Joseph Kennedy, owner of a local junkyard where investigators found evidence of a “violent event” on a nearby property, the chief said. He declined to provide further details of the evidence recovered.
Kennedy had been missing since Saturday, Prentice said, and was believed to be driving a blue Chrysler PT Cruiser.
At 8:29 a.m. Tuesday, more than 1,200 miles from Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., a police officer’s license plate reader identified a passing Toyota Tundra as stolen, the city’s police department said. . Kennedy, 67, was the driver of the van.
Officers arrested him and determined he was a person of interest in the quadruple homicide. It was booked without incident suspected of grand theft of a motor vehicle and being a fugitive from justice, the department said.
Kennedy has not been identified as a suspect in the Okmulgee murders. The fugitive allegation is linked to two unrelated charges from 2012, also in Okmulgee, authorities said – felony assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and misdemeanor obstructing a police officer.
Court records show that in 2013 Kennedy did not contest the charges, which related to a shooting at one of his businesses, his attorney in the case said earlier this week.
The attorney, Luke Gaither, said a “number of people” broke into the property and Kennedy fired for protection at someone he believed had a gun.
“The state clearly had another side to this,” Gaither said.
To avoid jail, Kennedy had to remain on probation until next year. But in court documents filed Tuesday, Oklahoma prosecutors argued he violated those terms and should be convicted for the 2012 crimes.
Gaither said Friday he was not representing Kennedy in the alleged probation violation, and it was unclear if he had an attorney to speak on his behalf. A woman who answered the phone at a number identified in public records as Kennedy’s declined to comment.
A public defender handling the Kennedy case in Florida did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An affidavit filed for the grand theft charge says Kennedy told the arresting officer that the owner of the truck told him he could borrow the vehicle anytime he wanted.
Kennedy told the officer he took the truck last week and went to Florida for a vacation weekend, the document says. He allegedly told the officer he was suicidal, the document says.
Volusia County correctional records show Kennedy remained in custody Friday and was being held without bail on the fugitive charge.
In the interview, Prentice declined to say whether Oklahoma investigators had interviewed Kennedy since his arrest, and Prentice did not know when he might be extradited.
Prentice declined to provide additional information about Kennedy’s connection to the killings, citing the ongoing homicide investigation.
For Gordon, finding out the truth about what happened to her husband and the other three men can’t come soon enough.
“I really thought they were coming home,” she said. Finding out they’ve been “cut off is horrible to know that my kids will never see their dad again.”
“I feel like I’m cracking up,” Gordon said in tears. “I feel like I’m already broken.”