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….