Missing Kansas women were found dead. Did anti-government extremism contribute to their murders?

After two women went missing, Two weeks after the women went missing, law enforcement made four arrests in Oklahoma’s Cimarron and Texas counties (clockwise, from top left): Cole Twombly, Tifany Adams, Tad Cullum and Cora Twombly.
After two women went missing, Two weeks after the women went missing, law enforcement made four arrests in Oklahoma’s Cimarron and Texas counties (clockwise, from top left): Cole Twombly, Tifany Adams, Tad Cullum and Cora Twombly.
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After two women went missing, law enforcement made four arrests in Oklahoma’s Cimarron and Texas counties (clockwise, from top left): Cole Twombly, Tifany Adams, Tad Cullum and Cora Twombly. (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation)

What should we make of “God’s Misfits?”

That’s the name Oklahoma authorities say a small antigovernment group who held worship services in their homes called themselves. Four of these “misfits” have been charged with the kidnapping and murder of a pair of southwest Kansas women missing since March 30.

To recap a sad story, the women — Veronica Butler and Jilian Kelley, both of Hugoton — were on their way to pick up Butler’s kids at a place called Four Corners in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The spot is little more than an intersection of two highways, about 50 miles southwest of Hugoton. The Saturday morning trip was part of a complicated, and what investigators would later call “problematic,” custody dispute Butler was having with the children’s paternal grandmother, Tifany Adams.

Butler’s Saturday visitations with her children were court-ordered to be supervised, according to court documents, and on that day Jilian Kelley was the approved supervisor. Butler was 27 and Kelley, 39. The women knew each other, but it’s unclear from the official accounts if they were friends. The plan was to meet Adams at 10 a.m. at Four Corners, pick up the kids, and then go on to a birthday party.

The women never made it to Four Corners.

When the women didn’t show up at the birthday party, Butler’s family began a search, and shortly after noon they found the women’s car down a dirt path just off Oklahoma Highway 95 and Road L, south of Elkhart, Kansas — but still in Texas County, Oklahoma. It was a spot Butler would likely have known well. Just down the road is the Yarbrough School, where in 2015 according to school officials Butler was the only graduating senior.

What was found at the scene was alarming.

“An examination of the vehicle and area surrounding the vehicle found evidence of a severe injury,” according to an affidavit sworn by a special agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. “Blood was found on the roadway and 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.”

Adams, according to the investigator, told investigators she had called Butler at 9 that morning to confirm plans, but that Butler said something had come up, so the pickup was off. The children had spent the night before with a couple named Barrett and Lacy Cook. Believing that Butler had canceled the visitation, Adams said, she allowed the children to remain that morning with the Cooks.

The Cooks are identified in court documents as belonging to “God’s Misfits” and as having had religious services in their home. They are not described as suspects. Another individual identified as a “misfit” in court documents is Paul Grice. It is unclear whether authorities considered Grice a suspect.

Hunter McKee, an OSBI public information officer, referred my questions about the case and what authorities had learned about “God’s Misfits” to court records in Texas County District Court at Guymon.

Two weeks after the women went missing, a heavily armed contingent of law enforcement made four arrests in Oklahoma’s Cimarron and Texas counties. Those taken into custody were Tifany Adams, 54, the paternal grandmother of the children in the custody dispute; her boyfriend, Tad Bert Cullum, 43; Cole Earl Twombly, 50; and Cora Gayle Twombly, 44. The Twomblys own a cattle company at Boise City, Oklahoma. All were members of “God’s Misfits,” according to probable cause affidavits filed in Texas County District Court at Guymon.

On April 3, according to court record, agents with the OSBI interviewed the 16-year-old daughter of Cora Twombly.

“CW stated she had overhead group conversations related to Butler not protecting her children from (alleged sexual abuse),” the affidavit said. “CW advised that she was told by Cora that Adams, Cullum, Cora, Cole, and Paul Grice were involved in the deaths” of the women. “She described (them) as being part of an anti-government group that had a religious affiliation. Through OSBI investigation it was learned that they call their group God’s Misfits. Regular meetings are held weekly at Twombly’s and the home of Barrett and Lacy Cook.”

CW said she asked Cora what happened and was told “things did not go as planned,” according to the affidavit, “but that they would not have to worry about (Butler) again. CW was told that Cora and Cole blocked the road to stop Butler and Kelley and divert them to where Adams, Cullum and Grice were. CW asked about Kelley and why she had to die and was told by Cora that she wasn’t innocent either, as she had supported Butler.”

A previous attempt had been made to kill Butler, the girl said, in February, but the five misfits — Adams, Cullum, Cole, Cora and Grice — could not get Butler to leave her home. One plan, CW said, was to drop an anvil through her windshield while she was driving, making it look like an accident “because anvils regularly fall off work vehicles.”

The children’s father, Wrangler Rickman, was in a rehabilitation facility at the end of March, according to court documents. A court hearing on the custody case was scheduled for April 17, and Butler was expected to receive unsupervised visitation.

While an OSBI agent interviewed CW and her brother at Kerrick, Texas, the Twomblys arrived and attempted to intervene, according to the affidavits.

“Cora was verbally aggressive and was very upset with your affiant” and said she had not granted access to her children. “Cole exited the vehicle armed with a handgun in a holster on his belt.”

The OSBI investigation revealed that Adams had bought five stun guns at a store in Guymon on March 23. In addition, the affidavits said, she had previously bought “burner” phones for the group to use.

Investigators tracked signals from the phones on the morning after the disappearance to a property owned by Jamie Beasley, 8.5 miles away. There they discovered a hole that had been freshly dug and then filled with dirt and hay. Beasley, according to the affidavit, told investigators that Cullum had cleared some concrete and done other dirt work March 29 with a skid steer, a “Bobcat” type of small front loader. Cullum also rented the pasture for grazing cattle and had around-the-clock access.

Two bodies were recovered in rural Texas County on April 14, according to the OSBI, but the location was not released. Two days later, the Office of the Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner said the remains had been positively identified as Butler and Kelley.

On Wednesday, an Oklahoma judge denied bail for the four defendants, entered not guilty pleas on their behalf, and ordered them to be represented by public defenders. Prosecutors also alleged in a motion to deny bond that Adams had confessed to the killings.

All face two counts of murder in the first degree; two counts of kidnapping; and conspiracy to commit murder. The murder counts are punishable by death or life in prison without parole, according to the criminal complaints.

It is, of course, important to remember the defendants are innocent until proven guilty. But looking over the court filings, there is a prodigious amount of evidence against these individuals, who seem bound together by their hatred of the government and their twisted interpretation of faith.

Cole Twombly seemed to be the most outspoken, at least on social media, and his posts went right up to April 12, when he described celebrating his 50th birthday. In addition to ranch life, he posted or reposted on Facebook about Cliven Bundy and his bloody standoff with federal agents over grazing rights; passed along an Ayn Rand quote about it being impossible for innocent men to live without breaking government’s laws; and an odd and chilling post about a toy made to resemble the armored “Killdozer” that Marvin Heemeyer used to level city hall and other structures in 2004 at Granby, Colorado. There’s also a lot of hateful stuff that is anti-vax, anti-LGBTQ+, and anti-liberal.

“Everyone seems to be talking about the weaponization of the FBI from the raid at Mar A Lago to the pro life activist being swatted in Pennsylvania in front of his screaming children,” Cole Twombly says in one post. “The FBI doesn’t even possess a congressional charter to exist. So why do governors have to allow them in their states.”

On Oct. 5, he thanked “the Keyes community and the Misfits” for a prayer meeting that night at a park. “Keyes is claimed for the almighty God through Jesus name !!!,” he posted. “NOTHING CAN STOP WHAT IS COMING !!!”

It appears “God’s Misfits” have beliefs similar to the sovereign citizen movement, mixed with QAnon conspiracies, although I couldn’t find a coherent ideology on Cole Twombly’s page. So-called sovereign citizens believe a number of wacko things, including that they can ignore laws and court orders because they have freed themselves from an illegitimate and oppressive government.

But that didn’t stop the “Misfits” from accepting government farm subsidies. The EWG Farm Subsidy Database indicates Tifany Adams took at least $134,000 in subsidies since 2013. She took $2,828 in crop rotation payments in October 2023, according to the USDA. Last year, she even was elected chair of the Cimarron County GOP, according to state officials.

So, what to make of “God’s Misfits?”

They have been engaged in the kind of political hate-mongering and misinformation that has driven our country to the edge of political catastrophe, if Cole Twombly’s Facebook page is any indication. This does not mean that everyone who subscribes to right-wing conspiracy theory or is QAnon curious is prone to violence, but violence — especially armed resistance to authority — is fundamental to this kind of political extremism.

Whether the Misfits are guilty of murder or not, they seem to have embraced some of the Seven Deadly Sins, including Pride and Wrath, and broken more than a few commandments. This, while publicly extolling the virtues of American rural life and proclaiming their faith in God.

We should not be afraid of what the Misfits believe, but we should be concerned about their delusions and their fascination with guns and resistance. People are free to think whatever they want, but one can’t help but ponder to what extent the Misfit’s radical beliefs may have fostered violence. Did the unfounded QAnon claims about a vast pedophile ring of Satanists short-circuit their ability to reason?

I am revolted by what the Misfits are accused of having done. More than revolted, actually. The broken hammer, the abandoned car, the pools of blood. There’s not a word for what I’m feeling. It’s not hate, but it’s not far from it. All that “love your enemies” fails me here.

But not everyone.

Kelley was the wife of Heath Kelley, pastor of the Hugoton First Christian Church. On the morning the women’s bodies were found, a service was held at the Hugoton church in which the congregation was asked to pray for the Kelley and Butler families and their children.

The service was streamed on YouTube.

“This is pretty wide reaching,” said Dave Mason, who delivered a sermon on Ecclesiastes. “Obviously our community is hurting and our church is hurting.”

He said Heath Kelley had told him the day before that “one of his great concerns is that the people who have done this crime and taken his wife from him, he’s asking us to remember them in prayer. … So pray for those people. It may be hard. That’s the desire of your pastor.”

The world is watching, he said, to see how the church will react. Father, he said, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.

It will now be up to a court to decide if the Misfits did or not.

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