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Bodies of 2 women killed amid Oklahoma custody battle were found in buried freezer, police say

By Andy Rose, CNN

(CNN) — Two women who disappeared during a drive between Kansas and Oklahoma amid a contentious custody battle were found dead inside a freezer buried in a cattle pasture leased by one of the five suspects in their killings, according to newly released search warrants.

Affidavits in the case say the remains of Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, were discovered while authorities were investigating a fresh pile of dirt on property leased by Tad Cullum, one of the five people charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

“On April 14, 2024, a chest freezer was excavated and opened. Within the chest freezer, the bodies of Butler and Kelley were located,” the search warrant states.

The court documents do not reveal how Butler and Kelley were killed.

Along with Cullum, police have charged Tifany Adams, the 54-year-old grandmother of Butler’s children who shared custody with Butler; married couple Cole Twombly, 50, and Cora Twombly, 44; and Paul Grice, 31.

Court documents allege Adams and her significant other, Cullum, engaged in a killing plot with the Twomblys motivated by a custody battle between Butler and Adams, who is the grandmother of Butler’s two children.

Special Agent Jason Ott with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation testified all the suspects knew each other through “an anti-government group that had a religious affiliation.”  The five suspects have not yet entered pleas in the case.

CNN has reached out to the suspects’ attorneys for comment.

Women went missing on drive to visit children

The two women were driving from Hugoton, Kansas, to Four Corners, Oklahoma, for Butler’s supervised visit with her children when they went missing on March 30, according to the affidavit.

Their vehicle was found abandoned near a highway in Texas County, where investigators found a bloody scene scattered with “evidence of a severe injury,” probable cause documents state.

Investigators determined Adams purchased three burner phones, all of which had pinged near where Butler’s car was found and at the last known location of the women before their disappearance, according to the affidavit.

Cell phone data from two of the burner phones led authorities to a pasture property rented by Cullum, where a hole had been dug and filled back in, the affidavit states.

The disturbed dirt was excavated and two bodies, later identified as Butler and Kelley, were discovered, the affidavit said. The site was about 8.5 miles from where the abandoned car was found, it noted.

“The state of the bodies indicated they died as a result of foul play,” the affidavits stated. No further details about the condition of the bodies were provided.

A stun gun was also found near the site, according to the affidavit.

In their arguments to deny the suspects bail, prosecutors said the killings were “complex and involved extensive preparation,” according to the court motion. Prosecutors also noted that some of the suspects had “resources to flee if given the opportunity” and “pose grave danger to witnesses (and) community members.”

More than two weeks after Butler and Kelley disappeared, a search warrant says, Grice told an acquaintance he wanted to know “how long DNA would last in dirt” and on clothing, a search warrant says. An arrest affidavit released earlier said Grice admitted to taking part in the killing and burial of the victims.

The court documents do not reveal how Butler and Kelley were killed.

The defendants are scheduled to be back in court in June for a status hearing. They were ordered held in jail without bond.

CNN’s Rosa Flores, Sara Weisfeldt, Eric Levenson and Elizabeth Wolfe contributed to this report.

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