This combination photo shows Veronica Butler, left, and Jilian Kelley,...

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. Credit: AP

OKLAHOMA CITY — Two Kansas women who vanished as they tried to pick up children for a birthday party two weeks ago were killed over a custody dispute involving a group of anti-government Oklahomans calling themselves “God’s Misfits,” authorities said Monday.

Their vehicle was found March 30 along a rural Oklahoma highway with ample evidence of a bloody confrontation, setting off a multi-agency effort to secure the children’s safety while searching for the women and avoiding more violence.

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 on the morning of March 30 and pick up the 6- and 8-year-old.

“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 four people arrested Saturday on charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder are the grandmother, Tifany Adams, 54; her boyfriend Tad Cullum, 43; Cora Twombly, 44; and her husband Cole Twombly, 50. All meet regularly with several others in a group they call “God’s Misfits,” their arrest affidavits said. Relatives of Tad Cullum and the Twomblys did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. Tifany Adams’ stepmother, Elise Adams, said she had no information on the case.

Butler’s family found the vehicle just a few miles from the meet-up spot after the women missed the party in Kansas. It was a gruesome scene.

“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,” the affidavits said.

This combination of booking photo provided by the Oklahoma State...

This combination of booking photo provided by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation shows Tad Bert Cullum, top left, Cora Twombly, top right, Tifany Machel Adams, bottom left, and Cole Earl Twombly, bottom right. On Saturday, April 13, 2024, Oklahoma authorities said they arrested and charged these four people with murder and kidnapping over the weekend in connection with the disappearances of Veronica Butler and Jilian Kelley. Credit: AP

Investigators gathered evidence that the killings were planned, with Adams buying pre-paid “burner” cellphones to communicate and five stun guns at a nearby store. Her internet searches included asking about pain levels using the weapons, the affidavits said.

A teenage witness told authorities that Cora Twombly said that at one point, “the plan was to throw an anvil through Butler’s windshield while driving, making it look like an accident because anvils regularly fall off of work vehicles.”

The affidavits said Butler and Adams were in a “problematic custody battle.” Adams’ son was in a rehabilitation facility hours away in Oklahoma City, 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.

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals had directed a trial judge in 2022 to give the children’s parents shared custody. The ruling described them as “very young and immature parents” who accused each other of “inappropriate behavior and choices,” but said “the children are nurtured and comforted by Mother” and ”happy and excited to be with Father.”

This booking photo provided by the Oklahoma State Bureau of...

This booking photo provided by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation shows Tifany Machel Adams. On Saturday, April 13, 2024, Oklahoma authorities said they arrested and charged four people, including Adams, with murder and kidnapping over the weekend in connection with the disappearances of Veronica Butler and Jilian Kelley. Credit: AP

Butler's request for more time with her children and unsupervised visitation was likely to be granted at a hearing in April, Butler’s attorney told investigators.

On March 23, with a court date looming, Adams bought the stun guns. On March 29, Cullum used heavy equipment to dig a hole in a pasture he rented, not far from the meet-up site, the affidavits said.

Authorities wouldn’t say at Monday’s news conference where the bodies were found, but the affidavits said some of the “burner phones” stopped transmitting that morning in the vicinity of the pasture, where “a hole had been dug and filled back in and then covered with hay.”

It wasn’t entirely clear where the children were during the search. Adams told investigators that she had left them in the care of another couple on March 29 and 30; the affidavits said that couple regularly hosted the “God’s Misfits” meetings.

Authorities said the affidavits weren’t unsealed until after the children’s safety was assured. “We were successful. No shots were fired and the children were kept out of harm’s way," said District Attorney George Leach III.

The four people charged are being held without bond in the Texas County Jail pending court appearances Wednesday, said Texas County Court Clerk Renee Ellis. Court records don’t indicate whether any have an attorney speak on their behalf.

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

OSBI spokesman Hunter McKee said the bodies' identities and causes of death are pending a medical examiner’s report.

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

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