George Nigh , Ty England and Others

Welcome back. Like many other writers at this time of year I am still on the road doing book signings and hitting all the Christmas parties that I can. This week I thought a few profiles of the well-known and just plain interesting folks I’ve run into along the way might appeal to you readers. I’ll start with a man who was Oklahoma’s only four term governor and who was also the only person to win all seventy-seven counties in the process. The first to recognize how important the film industry could be for Oklahoma, he pushed for incentives to encourage movie producers to come to our state. This man also appointed the first woman to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, boosted new highway construction, improved the Oklahoma prison system and promoted the arts. He expedited construction of Arrowhead and Fountainhead lodges at Lake Eufaula and following his terms as governor he became the President of the University of Central Oklahoma. By now most of you know I’m speaking about George Nigh. I’ve known George for several years and Sunday night I got the chance to visit with the ninety-three-year-old legend. He said he had a lot of friends in Bartlesville and to tell everyone hello, especially former State Representative A.C. Holden. Back in the day he and A.C. both played a big role in expanding highway 75 into Kansas.

I also spoke by phone to A.C. who is living happily in Texas with his wife Ann at their son’s home. He wishes all of his old friends here a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. At the same Christmas party where I saw George, I ran into former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and his wife Cathy who also have close connections to A.C, and Bartlesville. This Tulsa guy has held more positions in government than I can count including positions with the FBI, the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing. He was a U.S. Attorney General and as Governor he was responsible for the largest tax cut in Oklahoma History. He was also Governor on April 19, 1995 when the Murrah Building was blown up and he and Cathy led the recovery efforts following the bombing. Frank, Cathy and I first met at this Christmas party I’m talking about in Yukon, Oklahoma five years ago after he read my book about the Mullendore murder. They both send greetings to their friends in Bartlesville as well.

You Garth Brooks fans may know of Ty England and he is also a regular at this party. I am happy to say that Ty and I are friends and he is about as down to earth as it gets. He told me he’s back playing guitar with Garth at stadiums around the world and he’d just flown in from Canada to get here.

Five-time World Champion Saddle Bronc rider Billy Etbauer had come to the party from Las Vegas where the PRCA was wrapping up and I got a chance to visit with him about Tyler Milligan, a local boy who made the finals this year in tie-down calf roping. His dad Steve who was also a rodeo champ lives in Bartlesville and when Tyler is not on the rodeo circuit he trains in Stephenville, Texas which is the home of more world rodeo champions than any other place in the world. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, cops and even a few T.V. celebrities all attended the party.

Every day working people were there too and it’s always the same, when you get there every year you get a big hello and a warm handshake from the boss and when you leave you get a nice gift to remember the evening by. Well, where was I this time you may be asking. Sorry, I’m out of space so that will just have to wait till next week.

Merry Christmas and till next time I’ll see ya down the road….

Tulsa Flea Market

If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping you can find something unique at the Tulsa Flea Market tomorrow at the Expo Center. I will be there singing books so come check it out.

Holiday Giving

Welcome back. I find many of my stories while I’m traveling up and down our country’s highways and as it happened one came to me this past week on my way to Oklahoma City. It’s actually an old story, something I’ve written about before at this time of year. It is not about a famous murder, or a long forgotten town. There is no breaking news on the Cindy Kinney disappearance of 1976 or on the recent death of someone who played a big role in people’s lives like Donna Chaney. This week it’s not about giving to the needy or donating to charity because we all do what we can in our own way. So, with all that said, how about a gift to yourself that will last all year? I’m a member of several not for profit organizations including Woolaroc and the Frank Phillips Home and I’ve found that membership programs are especially common among museums. From the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western History Center in Oklahoma City to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City these programs offer free entrance to exhibitions usually with a guest, special discounts at their gift shops and reciprocal agreements for free entrance to other museums around the country. I think one of the best benefits offered by these membership programs are the members only events. Locally both Woolaroc and the Frank Phillips Home have great Christmas parties with wonderful decorations and delicious food. Although these organizations hold many other events throughout the year for members, I always try to catch a couple during the Christmas season because you never know who you’ll meet. Think about a gift of a membership for yourself this year, it’s money well spent. This coming week takes me to Oklahoma City once again where I’m meeting up with a bestselling Oklahoma author, lawyer and historian for a book signing at the renowned Full Circle Books which is located on Northwestern Boulevard among miles of shopping centers. Kent Frakes has written two volumes on “Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases” and both made the bestseller list. I’ve traveled with him before and I can tell you he is quite the investigator when it comes to researching information for a book as well as a very interesting speaker. Have you ever heard of Ardmore millionaire Jake Harmon? Here was a guy who made millions in shady deals and then lost it all. After rebuilding his fortune and going into politics, he was even mentioned as a possible presidential candidate at the 1920 Republican Convention. A married man, Harmon paid his nephew $10,000 to marry his secret mistress, a woman who would eventually shoot and kill the well-known politician. Kent’s books have around thirty of these stories about Oklahoma’s most famous murders, some dating back to statehood and others more recent like the murder of prominent Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler who unknowingly tangled with Boston’s Winter Hill Gang. Gang leader Whitey Bulger ordered a hit on Wheeler and for thirty years it was one of Tulsa’s most famous unsolved mysteries. These books are a must read for anyone interested in true crime. There will be five of us bestselling authors all together at Full Circle on December 14th from 3-4:30 and it should be a lot of fun. Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……

Hell on the Border World Premiere

Welcome back. Pawnee, Oklahoma was my destination this past Sunday to catch the world premiere of a new movie based on the true story of U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves. Marshall Reeves was from a time long ago when Judge Parker ruled over the Indian territories of what is now Oklahoma. I was lucky to be invited to this screening and when you see it advertised be sure to check it out. The movie is called Hell on the Border and the public release date is coming up soon. I’ll let you know as soon as I get it.

As many of you may know Pawnee has a lot to offer. Gordon William Lillie’s ranch and museum is a must see. Lillie is better known as Pawnee Bill, a star of Wild West shows that were popular in the late19th and early 20th century. Pawnee Lake and the beautiful bath house which was built by the W.P.A. in 1932 is another interesting stop. Another attraction is the Pawnee Agency and Boarding School which was established in 1875. The present native stone building was also built by the W.P.A. in the 1930s and was empty for years after the school closed. Today it is the home of the Pawnee Nation College. Pawnee is the home of four Medal of Honor recipients whose life stories are told in the town’s Veterans Memorial Museum. The museum also houses the largest collection of old military gear in the area. The movie was shown at the historic Buffalo Theatre and as you can imagine from the name, the theatre has some great history of its own.

There is one more thing about this town for you older folks who might remember the name Dick Tracy. This cartoon character was created by Pawnee native Chester Gould. When the Chicago Tribune began running the cartoon strip in 1931 Gould was a young man living six miles outside of town. Eventually the New York Times picked it up along with dozens of other papers across the country. Years later after he became famous Gould surprised many people in town when he told an interviewer that his cartoon characters were based on people he knew in Pawnee. If you want to learn more about Pawnee give their County Historical Society a call at 918-762-4681 or better yet take a drive to town. It is a bit out of the way from everywhere but once you’re there plan on exploring the interesting history and possibly eating at the well-known Click’s Steakhouse.

With Thanksgiving here and Christmas around the corner, you’re bound to have family and friends in town so you might think about an entertaining trip for them to one of the many museums in Bartlesville and Dewey. Woolaroc, the Frank Phillips Home, the Tom Mix Museum, the Dewey Hotel and the Price Tower immediately come to mind but there’s also one that’s frequently overlooked. The Phillips company museum tells the story of the founding of the company, their successes and failures and it’s very, very interesting.

I’ve got to go for now but this is the season so don’t forget to donate to your favorite charity. Happy Thanksgiving and till next time I’ll see ya down the road….. #

World Premiere of Hell on the Border Today at the Buffalo Theater in Pawnee, OK. 2&7 PM

Holiday Book Signings

 I have a full schedule of book signings coming up:

Tulsa Gun Show- December 7th-8th, 9-5

Moxie on Second Street, Bartlesville ,December 12th  5-7PM

Best of Books,  Edmond, December 14th, 12PM

Full Circle Books,  Oklahoma City, December 14th, 3-4:30 PM

Brace’s Book, Ponca City, December 19th, 5PM

Hope to see you there!

Killers of the Flower Moon Casting Call

Welcome back. It seems that every week there is something going on in Pawhuska and this past weekend I was there once again to check out all the action. Many of you may be familiar with Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann which was published in 2017 and is now being turned into a movie directed by Martin Scorsese. For those of you who haven’t read the book, it is the story of the Osage murders which took place in the 1920s when oil leases had made the tribal members rich. Unscrupulous white men began marrying Osage women and many of those women disappeared or were found murdered enabling their husbands to get control of their money. Grann’s book reexamines these crimes while describing the early days of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover through the experience of Tom White, the investigator assigned to the cases. Grann also provides a detailed portrait of Pawhuska and Osage County in the 1920s. Auditions were held on Saturday at the Osage County fairgrounds for Osage men and women who were interested in working as extras in the movie. I was curious about the turnout and when I got there the line to apply was two blocks long. The application process itself was simple, fill out a form and get your picture taken, then wait for a call. I’m currently talking with a couple of the people involved so I’ll keep you up to date on the progress of the project. Since I’ve been in Pawhuska so much lately I thought a little more history of the area might be appropriate for you readers. The year was 1867 and with the surrender of General Lee’s forces to General Grant at the Appomattox County Courthouse, any threat of an invasion of Indian Territory by the south was ended. However a few years later an invasion of a different kind took place in the Osage in the form of cattle. Thousands of them were being driven up from Texas along the now famous Chisolm Trail to be fattened up on the rich grass in the Osage before shipping out to the Kansas City stockyards. With the expansion of rail service in the area by 1892 cattle shipment records were broken on virtually every trip, the largest being a shipment of 800 cars all full of cattle. Over the years dozens and dozens of ranches popped up in the Osage, some came and went with the ups and downs in the industry but others lasted and grew. In 1965 the Tulsa Tribune published an article proclaiming that four of these ranches were “veritable empires.” The Chapman Barnard Ranch, part of which is now owned by the Nature Conservancy, had over 100,000 acres under the hat brand. In the 1950s the owner of Adams Ranch, Phillips Executive Boots Adams was buying as much land as he could. Even after his death in March of 1975 his heirs continued to expand the ranch in the Osage. The original Drummonds came to the Osage from Scotland. After first opening a successful trading post or mercantile as Ree calls it, the family became involved in ranching. Today the Land Report lists the family’s holdings among the top twenty largest in the country. One of the largest ranches at the time started with the Cherokee Land Run of 1893 when brothers John and David Mullendore staked their claim over by Cleveland. It would be Gene Mullendore, together with his son E.C., who would go on to create what the Tribune called the largest ranch in the country operated by one man. Estimated at 375,000 owned or leased land, the Cross Bell continued to grow until E.C. was murdered in 1970. A bankruptcy followed but even today the family owns one of the largest ranches in the area. I’m just scratching the surface in the history of the Osage but I’m out of space so till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..

Will This Mystery Ever Be Solved?

Welcome back to part four of the case of the missing cheerleader and the end of this road for me.  The Osage County Sheriff’s department never gives up on a case. I’ve spent hours researching several cold cases in their offices and this week’s column just shows their determination.

On June 24, 1976 Pawhuska had two city newspapers and the disappearance of Cindy Kinney the day before was front page news on both of them. The street where the laundromat was located was a busy thoroughfare and a new bank was being built right across the road. Behind the laundromat was a steep hill and at the top was the Osage Indian Headquarters and there were always people coming and going. How could Cindy vanish in broad daylight and no one saw anything? I found out that there was one other person in the laundromat during this early morning mystery but at the time of the initial investigation that hadn’t attracted much attention.

A youth minister’s wife, this lady might have known Cindy well, both from church activities and from the laundry but Sheriff Wyman had other more promising leads than a man of God and his wife. A group of people from the Unification Church led by Sun Myung Moon had established a foothold in the area and it was rumored that these people were dangerous.  It did seem strange to law enforcement that the preacher and his wife left town shortly after Cindy’s disappearance but during the 1970s criminals from Tulsa often dropped dead bodies in Osage County and the caseload in the Sheriff’s office was enormous.

Over the years many people have confessed to the kidnapping but none of them were credible.  However, I have learned that the preacher’s name keeps coming up. There may have been a domestic dispute call to his home before he left town and it also came to light that he may have tried to abduct another girl in another town. It was also possible that he had been committed to a psychiatric hospital at one point.  I know there’s a lot of maybes to this story but this information, which the Sheriff’s office already had, has the current Sheriff, Eddie Virden hot on the trail trying to solve this 43-year-old mystery.

After being asked not to reveal a few details about the case I’ll have to leave you in suspense but I will tell you that a few months ago a cadaver dog got a hit around some concrete at the preacher’s former church in Pawhuska. The Sheriff’s office spent three days sawing up a section of that slab and I think the results of their efforts will soon be told.  I am hoping Sheriff Virden will come to Bartlesville to speak about this investigation as well as the murders discussed in the bestselling book Killers of the Flower Moon at Arvest’s Friday Forum.

“If you see something say something” is a phrase often used by police and friends they need the help of the citizens of this great county in solving this case and other cold cases like it.

As for me, it’s time to move on and this week I’m off to Enid.  The town was founded during the opening of the Cherokee Outlet during the land run of 1893. It is the birthplace of many notable people including Pulitzer Prize winning author Marquis James and I am looking forward to my visit.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….

More on the Case of the Missing Cheerleader

Welcome back to the case of the missing cheerleader.  As previously stated over the last two weeks the date was June 23, 1976 and the location was 801 Kihekah Street just a few blocks away from Ree Drummond’s Mercantile. Although it is not yet solved, I have discovered some new leads in this 43-year-old cold case.

A couple of days before Cindy Kinney disappeared eight convicts escaped from the state prison in McAlester and three of them were convicted killers William Franklin, Edward Jones and Rex Brinlee. Franklin and Jones had been convicted of killing a state trooper and a state park superintendent. Brinlee, who had escaped once before during the prison riots earlier in 1976, had been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List after being convicted of a bomb blast that killed a kindergarten teacher whose husband was about to testify against him and his gang of criminals known as the Dixie Mafia.

The gang included killer Tom Lester Pugh, Brinlee, Albert McDonald who kept an apartment above a bar in Dewey and Cleo Epps who was known as the Queen of the Bootleggers in Tulsa and was also McDonald’s part time girlfriend. Dynamite was their weapon of choice and they used it often, in one instance blowing up District Judge Fred Nelson’s car with the judge in it. Then the cops found Cleo Epps’ body in a septic tank just before she was scheduled to testify in the case.

Epps was a beautiful college educated woman who at one time taught kindergarten in Stony Point.  The big money in bootlegging brought her to Tulsa and got her involved with the Dixie Mafia. In her heyday she sold liquor to some of Tulsa’s most prominent citizens and supplied many of the swank hotels in town. Her love affair with McDonald and her knowledge of Brinlee’s activities proved fatal as the two men had no conscience when it came to murder.

Brinlee often bragged about using dynamite to fix his problems and had also sent threatening letters to both Oklahoma Governor David Hall and Tulsa attorney Pat Williams. Williams had represented Brinlee’s ex-wife during their divorce proceedings and had also represented Chub Anderson on a hand gun possession charge in 1970.The letters simply stated that Brinlee owed Hall and Williams four sticks of dynamite and that he planned to pay them back for the wrongs they had committed against him as soon as he got out  of prison.

Epps’ murder had been followed by the kidnapping of then Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune’s father and in the 1960s and early ‘70s the members of Dixie Mafia gang were considered some of the most dangerous people in the area. Now just days before Cindy disappeared one of the gang members was on the loose and possibly spotted in nearby Neosho, Missouri. Could Brinlee, a former plumber and night club owner from Tahlequah turned gangster, be involved? After being on the run for over a week Brinlee was captured in a small grocery store in Canadian County and returned to the state prison. As far as I could find out he was never questioned in Cindy’s disappearance.

Another interesting lead came to me from Terri Surritte, the other cheerleader who always picked Cindy up at the laundromat in the morning and first reported her missing.  Her dad Andy who worked for a veterinarian was just about to testify about members of a drug ring from Kansas who had broken into his clinic looking for drugs. At the time investigators thought that whoever had kidnapped Cindy might have made a mistake and taken the wrong cheerleader. For her protection Terri was sent to a remote cabin in Colorado until the trial was over.

Bill Hall, the Osage County D.A. during this time, told me that finding only Cindy’s purse, her pompoms and a half-eaten donut at the scene hadn’t given investigators much to go on but there had been a woman in the laundromat that attracted their attention. She was a local preacher’s wife and they left town right after the kidnapping.  During a meeting at his office last week, I asked Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden about this mysterious woman and what she might have known about the case but I am out of space so this story will have to be continued.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….

In Memory of Donna Chaney and The Mystery Continues

Welcome back.   In the case of the missing cheerleader from last week’s column I’ve found there’s still heartache and crying surrounding this tragic story which occurred 43 years ago. I’ll have more on this mystery but first let me take you back in time once again to another lady who died way too young.

The exact year escapes me but I’ll call it 1966 or 67. The location was the intersection of Highway 75 and Tuxedo Boulevard and sitting on the northwest corner is a rock faced building which now houses several small businesses but back in the middle 60s it was one of the most popular restaurants in town especially with the late night bar crowd. Many customers from Mary’s Bar in Dewey, the After Five Club which was a bit further south on Highway 75 and the Bam Tam nightclub, located where Dink’s is today came to Denny’s Tuxedo Café. Denny’s was one of the first cafes in the area to offer broasted chicken and a line usually started around 8PM that stretched down the street from the door. It wasn’t just the chicken that drew crowds though. The owner, who was also a local rancher, and his family had the type of charisma that attracted people. A reputation for good food, top of the line service and a friendly attitude along with a big heart made Denny something of a legend in town. It was during my freshman year in high school when  I got a job washing dishes there after school and on weekends to make some pocket money.

This is when I first met Denny’s ten-year-old grand-daughter who on busy nights washed dishes right alongside me. This little girl would grow up ranching like her grandfather and operating what many call the best country café in the four-state area. Before that she had managed the famous Embers Steakhouse as well as the equally famous Marie’s Steakhouse and then in 1993, she opened her crown jewel which she still ran, the Copan Café and Truck Stop on north Highway 75 just before you cross the state line into Kansas. From prime rib to pies, she had a treasure trove of recipes, a love of people, a strong work ethic and a good husband to support her. Over the years the Copan Café developed a loyal following just like Denny’s Tuxedo Café and there was frequently a line at the door there too. The lady who died last week was of course Donna Kay Forrest Chaney and because of the crowd her funeral was held at the Copan High School. Just like in the case of the missing cheerleader, the heartache and the crying over her loss will go on for years. As for her pride and joy, the Copan Café is of course a family run business where Donna had trained many family members so she left it in good hands. If you have never been there you need to check it out for sure.

Before I move on to Cyndi Kinney’s disappearance, here’s a quick recap of last weekend in Bartlesville and Dewey. Hotels were full and restaurants were packed with waiting lines. I was out and about as the 50-year reunion of Sooner and College High graduates was held in Bartlesville along with the multi-year reunion of Dewey High graduates which drew well over 650 people. Throw in a show at the Bartlesville Community Center and Western Heritage Days in Dewey and you’ve got a lot of people spending money which is always a good thing for the tax coffers.

Now back to the case of the missing cheerleader. The Osage Laundry where the case unfolded still sits at 801Kihekah Street while directly across the street construction of the National Bank of Commerce was in full swing back on June 23, 1976 the day when everyone in Pawhuska began searching for this missing girl. Sorry to leave you hanging but I’m out of space so I’ll have to continue the story next week unless the death of another prominent citizen demands my attention.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road………………….