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'God's Misfits' held in killings of Kansas women over custody battle

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two Kansas women who went missing on a trip to pick up children for a birthday party two weeks ago were killed over a custody dispute involving a small group of anti-government Oklahomans who called themselves “God's Misfits,” au
FILE - This combination photo shows Veronica Butler, left, and Jilian Kelley, right. On Saturday, April 13, 2024, Oklahoma authorities said they arrested and charged four people with murder and kidnapping over the weekend in connection with the disappearances of the two Oklahoma women. (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two Kansas women who went missing on a trip to pick up children for a birthday party two weeks ago were killed over a custody dispute involving a small group of anti-government Oklahomans who called themselves “God's Misfits,” authorities said Monday.

Their vehicle was found along a rural Oklahoma highway just south of the state line, with ample evidence of a bloody confrontation, setting off a two-week effort to secure the children's safety while searching for the women and avoiding more violence. Ultimately, their bodies were found a day after four suspects were arrested without incident on charges of kidnapping and murder, authorities said.

Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, of Hugoton, Kansas, had arranged with the grandmother of Butler's two children to meet at a highway intersection and pick up the 6- and 8-year-old for the March 30 birthday party in Kansas. Butler's family found the vehicle just a few miles from the meet-up spot after the women missed the party.

“This case did not end the way we had hoped. It’s certainly been a tragedy for everyone involved,” Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Director Aungela Spurlock said.

The suspects arrested Saturday include 54-year-old Tifany Adams, who was the children's grandmother, and three others who call themselves “God’s Misfits,” according to their arrest affidavits. Adams, 43-year-old Tad Bert Cullum, 50-year-old Cole Earl Twombly and 44-year-old Cora Twombly are charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree.

The affidavits say Butler was in a “problematic custody battle” with Adams. Her son, the father of Butler’s two children, was in a rehabilitation facility in Oklahoma City, hours away from Guymon, and Butler was allowed only supervised visits each Saturday. Kelley, the wife of a pastor in Hugoton, was Butler's court-authorized choice to supervise visitations.

As investigators searched for the women, Adams told them she had left the children in the care of another couple on the morning of March 30; the couple was part of God's Misfits, her arrest affidavit said.

It was a gruesome scene that law enforcement encountered.

“Blood was found on the roadway and the edge of the roadway. Butler’s glasses were also found in the roadway south of the vehicle, near a broken hammer. A pistol magazine was found inside Kelley’s purse at the scene, but no pistol was found,” one of the affidavits said.

A teenage witness told authorities that Cora Twombly said that she and her husband Cole Twombly blocked the road to stop Butler and Kelley and divert them to where Adams, her boyfriend Cullum and another person were waiting for them. The teen asked why Kelley had to die and was told that “she wasn’t innocent either” because she supported Butler,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit also said that according to Cora Twombly, at one point "the plan was to throw an an anvil through Butler’s windshield while driving, making it look like an accident because anvils regularly fall off of work vehicles.

Authorities revealed no details at Monday’s news conference about where the bodies were found, but the affidavits say pre-paid phones bought by Tifany Adams stopped transmitting that morning not far from the crime scene, in the vicinity of a pasture rented by Tad Cullum, where “a hole had been dug and filled back in and then covered with hay.” The property's owner said he saw Cullum using heavy equipment to dig the hole on March 29.

The issue was that Butler had asked the court for more time with her children, and Butler’s attorney told investigators that her request for unsupervised visitation was likely to be granted at a hearing in April, the affidavit said.

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals issued a ruling in 2022 directing a trial court to enter a shared custody arrangement.

“We acknowledge both of these very young and immature parents presented conflicting testimony about the other party’s inappropriate behavior and choices,” the appellate court wrote, but said “the children are nurtured and comforted by Mother” and ”happy and excited to be with Father."

On March 23, with a court date looming, Adams bought five stun guns at a store in Guymon, according to the affidavit.

It wasn’t entirely clear where the children were at throughout the crime. Authorities said the affidavits weren't unsealed until Monday, with all the suspects in custody, in part to protect them.

”The reason they were filed under seal was to protect our law enforcement officers and to try to keep the children out of harm’s way," said District Attorney George Leach III. "We were successful. No shots were fired and the children were kept out of harm’s way.”

All four suspects are being held without bond in the Texas County Jail and are scheduled to make an initial court appearance Wednesday morning, said Texas County Court Clerk Renee Ellis. Court records don’t indicate whether any have an attorney who could speak on their behalf.

Relatives of Tad Cullum, Cole Twombly and Cora Twombly didn’t not immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. Tifany Adams’ stepmother, Elise Adams, said she didn’t know if she had a lawyer and had no information on her arrest.

“I don’t know a thing about her business,” Elise Adams said. “All I can tell you about her is she was a wonderful step-daughter to me.”

OSBI spokesman Hunter McKee said Butler and Kelley are dead, and that the four defendants were responsible for the women going missing, but would not confirm that the bodies found were identified as the missing Kansas women, pending a report from Medical Examiner’s Office.

“This case is tragic," McKee said. "You have two people who are dead and four people who committed an absolutely brutal crime.”


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas..

Sean Murphy And Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press