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………………….

A Mysterious Disappearance

Welcome back.  In Pawhuska nowadays along Kihekah Street Ree Drummond is the talk of the town but back on June 23, 1976 there was another person that all the locals were talking about. Cindy Kinney was going to be a junior in high school at the time. Her dream of being on the pom squad had come true, she’d met a nice boy and she had a part-time job at her aunt’s laundromat which gave her some spending money so life was grand.

Early that morning on June 23rd as usual she had gone to the laundromat before school to work for a couple of hours before her pom squad teammate Terri Surritte came by to pick her up for practice at the school. At 5’6” and 95 pounds Cindy was the smallest girl on the squad but when the petite brown-haired girl with the big brown eyes got in front of a crowd people remembered her. Well liked in school also this all-American girl was the last person in the world to cause the kind of commotion that occurred when Terri got to the laundromat a little after 8 am to pick Cindy up and couldn’t find her. Terri made a quick drive through town and still no Cindy. Everyone at pom practice was worried because it wasn’t like Cindy to disappear without a word. Then at 9 am her hysterical aunt contacted the police and before long the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations had been called in. Eventually they would spend thousands of hours working on the case, spreading her high school photo around and chasing down dead-end leads. At the school hundreds of kids formed a human chain and searched the countryside. Four different psychics were consulted and still no leads.

It’s the strangest missing persons case of former Osage County D.A. Bill Hall’s long career and it remains unsolved today or does it?  A purse, her pom-pom and a half-eaten donut was all the cops had to go on but now 43 years later they may have identified a suspect in Cindy’s disappearance.

I’ll call it “The Case of the Missing Cheerleader.” Stay with me, there’s more to come about this true story.

Upcoming Screening of Footprints in the Dew:The Last Ten Tapes

For Immediate Release:

Documentary about the Unsolved Murder of E.C. Mullendore III to be shown at the First Methodist Church of Dewey, Dewey, Oklahoma

Oklahoma writer and columnist Dale R. Lewis, aka “the Original Buffalo Dale” has completed a documentary entitled Footprints in the Dew: The Last Ten Tapes. The film is based on the extensive interviews Lewis conducted for his bestselling book Footprints in the Dew: Chub Anderson and the Unsolved Mullendore Murder.

The film will be screened at First Methodist Church of Dewey in Dewey, Oklahoma on Saturday November 2, 2019 at 2PM and 6:30PM. Tickets are $6 per person and children under 11 are free.  50% of the ticket sales will be donated to the Washington County Historical Society. Doors will be open 1 hour prior to each screening and tickets will be sold at the door.

Lewis’ book is about the life of Damon “Chub” Anderson and his role in the unsolved murder of prominent Oklahoma rancher E.C. Mullendore III. On September 26, 1970 Mullendore was killed in his home on the vast Cross Bell Ranch in Osage County. Although Anderson was in the house with him at the time, he was never charged with the murder. In the following years both the murder and Anderson’s own life took on a mythic quality.

Footprints in the Dew tells the story of what really happened on the night of the murder as well as the events of Anderson’s life before and afterwards. Anderson collaborated on the project until his death in 2010.

Since its release in 2015, Footprints in the Dew has been consistently listed on the Oklahoman’s list of bestselling books in Oklahoma. Books will be available on the night of the screening and $5 from every book sale will also benefit the Washington County Historical Society.