Oklahoma’s mystery revolves around bones and people who have gone missing.
White supremacist prison gangs are often not seen as a threat, but a high-stakes criminal investigation shows how dangerous they can be.
The person who called LaVonne Harris with news told her not to get her hopes up.
Nathan Smith, Harris’s 33-year-old son, was last seen on a dirt road in Oklahoma on a cold night more than two years ago. Detectives had stopped checking up on her for a long time, and Harris could feel that her search was getting more and more lonely as the months went by.
In April, a person who helped families of missing people got a call that wasn’t good news, but it was a lead: authorities in rural Logan County, just north of here, had found the bodies of more than one person. Also, the caller said softly, the body parts weren’t in one piece.
Harris, who was 58, sat down to get her balance. She listened and then put the phone down to tell her daughter.
“I told Lou, ‘These bodies were found,'” Harris remembered. “They’ve been burned and cut,” he said.
Smith is one of at least a dozen people who have gone missing from the wooded, unincorporated land outside the metro area of Oklahoma City in the past few years. This area is a rural haven for drug traffickers. Some families said they are afraid to call the police or even put up “missing person” signs because they think violent white supremacist prison gangs might be involved.
After getting a tip in April, authorities said they found burned piles of wood and bones on a five-acre piece of land in Logan County. This started one of the most grisly and sensitive criminal investigations in recent Oklahoma history.
Four Oklahoma officials with knowledge of the investigation say that behind the 10-foot metal walls of a compound with ties to the white supremacist prison gang Universal Aryan Brotherhood, officers found what they think is a place where bodies were dumped after being cut up and burned. They didn’t want to be identified because there were so many extra security measures around the case.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, or OSBI, which is in charge of the multiagency state and federal investigation, confirms that human remains have been found but won’t say how many. The Oklahoman newspaper first reported on the discovery on April 29. The state medical examiner and other sources were quoted as saying that agents were looking into “whether a white supremacist prison gang is behind nine or more disappearances” after “the mixed remains of maybe three people” were found. The report said that more remains were found in a small town called Luther, about 18 miles away, near an oil well.
Even after four months, it’s still not clear how big the case is. A law enforcement official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about an ongoing investigation, said they were told there were up to “12 different DNA profiles.” One family of a missing person was told there were eight, while another family was told there were only three.
The OSBI has done a lot to keep the investigation secret, like telling the families of the missing people to keep quiet.
“Right now, we’re just trying to keep some people alive,” said a second official, talking about how hard it was to protect possible witnesses.