Fraught custody battle revealed after murders of two mothers ‘lured to their deaths’ by ‘God’s Misfits’ gang

Veronica Butler and friend Jilian Kelley were allegedly ambushed at a rural crossroads

Dan Gooding
Tuesday 16 April 2024 22:54 BST
Two bodies recovered amid missing Kansas moms investigation as search turns to murder probe

A grandmother charged with kidnapping and murdering her son’s former partner had been embroiled in a years-long custody battle with the victim and her son, court documents have revealed.

Tifany Machel Adams, 54, was one of four suspects arrested over the kidnapping and murder of Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, who vanished in rural Texas County, Oklahoma, on 30 March. The friends had been “lured” to an intersection over ten miles from the nearest town, before being kidnapped and killed, according to court documents obtained by The Independent.

Two bodies were discovered in Texas County on Sunday 14 April, with investigators from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, the Texas County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of the Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner all involved.

While they have not been confirmed to be those of the two women, OSBI Public Information Manager Hunter McKee said Monday that they did not believe the pair were still alive.

Alongside Ms Adams, Tad Bert Cullum, 43; Cora Twombly, 44; and Cole Earl Twombly, 50 were also arrested over the weekend on suspicion of murder and kidnap.

According to an arrest affidavit, the group allegedly called themselves “God’s Misfits”, with the OSBI describing it as an anti-government, religious group.

The filings also revealed that a “problematic” custody battle had raged since 2019 between Ms Butler, Ms Adams, and her 26-year-old son, Wrangler Rickman, over two children aged six and eight.

“At times Adams refused to let Rickman have his children, even though Rickman had legal custody of them,” according to Ms Adams’s arrest affidavit. “Law enforcement previously responded to a call for service where Adams refused to give Rickman his children.”

The officer who responded to that call reportedly told Mr Rickman that he believed the children were better off in their grandmother’s care.

At the time of Ms Butler’s disappearance, records appear to show she did not have custody of her children, with Ms Adams looking after the children while her son is in a rehabilitation facility.

Ms Butler and Mr Rickman also appeared to have had a difficult relationship. Court records, from a custody hearing in 2022, showed that their romantic relationship ended eight months after their daughter was born in April 2018.

Grandmother Tifany Machel Adams, left, is accused of kidnapping and murdering mother of her grandchildren, Veronica Butler, with three co-conspirators (AP/Facebook)

Arrest affidavits this week explained that, during the custody hearings, Mr Rickman discussed “death threats” from Ms Adams and Mr Cullum, although it was unclear who these threats were aimed at.

Ms Butler often moved around Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado, without telling Mr Rickman, according to court papers, but settled near her former partner and their children in early 2021.

At a 2021 custody hearing, the court decided that the pair have joint custody, describing them as “attentive, loving and fit parents”.

However by this year, Ms Butler’s access to her children appears to have become limited to supervised visits on Saturdays, per arrest documents, and Ms Adams was fighting her for custody.

While this custody dispute was ongoing, and Mr Rickman was in rehab, the OSBI record suggested that Ms Adams was caring for the children and they remained in her custody ahead of her arrest.

His grandmother, Debi Knox-Davis, told the OSBI that Mr Rickman had said in February “that they didn’t have to worry about the custody battle much longer, because Adams had it under control” and would “take out” Ms Butler during a drop-off of the children. He denied having this conversation when questioned later, documents showed.

Veronica Butler, left, and her friend Jilian Kelley, right, vanished in rural Texas County on 30 March 2024 (AP)

The supervisor for Ms Butler’s visits was Cheryl Brune, who was being paid by Ms Adams.

However, on 29 March, the grandmother told Ms Butler that Ms Brune was unavailable for the following day. Ms Adams told the mother that she needed to bring one of her three chosen supervisors instead.

At a later interview with the OSBI, Ms Brune said she had been available, but Ms Adams told her to take a few weeks off.

Ms Butler chose her friend Ms Kelley, a preacher’s wife from Hugoton, Kansas, to come with her to pick up her children and take her daughter to a birthday party.

The pick-up was due to happen at Four Corners, at the intersection of Highway 95 and US 64 West at 10am, but the children were not with their grandmother that morning.

Instead, they were with members of the group Ms Adams and Mr Cullum are part of, known as “God’s Misfits” - an anti-government, religious group, according to court documents.

Two other members - Cora Twombly and Cole Earl Twombly - were allegedly waiting in their vehicle parked across Highway 95 five miles from the meeting point and diverted the women off toward Road L, where Ms Adams and Mr Cullum were waiting, the OSBI alleges.

Clockwise from top left: Tad Bert Cullum, 43, Cora Twombly, 44, Cole Earl Twombly, 50, and Tifany Machel Adams, 54, were arrested and charged with murder this weekend. They are due in court this week (AP)

When the two victims didn’t show up to the party, law enforcement was called by family members, who had found their abandoned car.

Officers who attended the scene found evidence of a “severe injury”, with blood on the road, along with Ms Butler’s glasses and a broken hammer. Ms Kelley’s purse was found with a pistol magazine in it but no firearm, police said.

The medical examiner’s office is yet to confirm that the two bodies found on Sunday 14 April are those of the two women.

The four suspects were arrested on Saturday without incident and face two charges of murder in the first degree, two of kidnapping and one of conspiracy to murder.

Their first court appearance is on Wednesday 17 April at 9.30am.

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