Book Examines Cases That Continue to Haunt the State
Machine Gun Kelly. Timothy McVeigh. Names like these are indelibly printed on the American psyche. Others, like Roger Dale Stafford or Gene Leroy Hart, are less familiar. All played crucial roles in some of Oklahoma’s worst examples of criminal infamy, recently documented by Kent Frates in his book, Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases.
In his introduction, Frates acknowledges that while there were plenty of other contenders for his “most notorious” list (for example, the mysterious murder of Osage County rancher E.C. Mullendore), he excluded them from his final list for lack of reliable documentation. The selected six cases covered by the book include a variety of crimes spanning nearly three-quarters of a century in Oklahoma:
- Machine Gun Kelly’s kidnapping of Charles Urschel: On a summer night in 1933, Kelly and an accomplice burst into the oil tycoon’s Oklahoma City mansion in the neighborhood known today as Heritage Hills. The first case prosecuted under the Lindberg Kidnapping Law, this stranger-than-fiction caper marked the end of the infamous gangster’s criminal career.
- The bribery trial of Oklahoma Gov. David Hall: Shortly after losing a re-election bid to David L. Boren and leaving office in 1975, Oklahoma’s 20th governor was convicted and served time for bribery and extortion while in office.
- The Girl Scout Murders: In 1977, the bodies of three young Girl Scouts were discovered near their tents at Camp Scott in Mayes County. The suspected murderer was captured and tried, but acquitted of the crime, leaving the homicides unsolved and the camp abandoned until this day.
- The mystery of Karen Silkwood: A labor union crusader who took on the powerful Kerr-McGee company regarding the health and safety of workers at the company’s nuclear facility in Crescent, Silkwood died in a car crash in 1974. Her family then took up her cause and engaged in a highly publicized legal battle against the influential corporation. Today, many questions remain about death, and the case is far from closed for some people.
- The Sirloin Stockade murders: On one hot Oklahoma day in 1978, Roger Dale Stafford, along with his wife and brother, were responsible for the deaths of nine people. Six of them would go down in history as the victims of Oklahoma City’s Sirloin Stockade murders—at the time, the largest mass murder in Oklahoma history.
- The Oklahoma City bombing: On April 19, 1995, 168 people lost their lives in the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. A monument to their memories shines on in the downtown streets of Oklahoma’s state capitol.
Some of these tales are well-known and have been nationally or even internationally covered; the world over knows the story of McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, while Karen Silkwood’s campaign against Kerr-McGee and her mysterious death were immortalized in an Oscar-nominated film starring Meryl Streep. For those who are familiar with these cases, there is little new information to be gleaned from Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases. Others like the Sirloin Stockade murders, while deeply shocking, are in danger of fading from local memory.
Frates, a longtime Oklahoma City attorney and author of several other works of non-fiction and poetry, breathes new life into these cases with a meticulous eye to detail that pays purchase to his legal background and expertise in Oklahoma legal history.
Indeed, Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases is perhaps better suited to the history section of the Dewey decimal system than with other works of the true crime. The volume avoids the common pitfalls of the genre by steering clear of the exploitative or gratuitously gruesome. More informative than sordid, Frates instead serves up a no-frills exploration of these historical cases, both solved and unsolved, that continue to haunt the state.
Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases (2014) is available for purchase from The Road Runner Press, Amazon or bookstores in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.