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Accused of double murder: The grandmother, her boyfriend and the couple who hosted anti-government religious meetings

By Rachel Clarke, CNN

(CNN) — Tifany Machel Adams did not want her grandchildren to see more of their mother. The children’s mother, Veronica Butler, however, wanted more access to her kids than the court-ordered supervised Saturday visits she was allowed.

It was the latest flash point in a custody fight that had already gone on for five years.

These are some of the details investigators laid out in probable cause affidavits submitted as part of requests for warrants for the arrest of Adams, her boyfriend Tad Cullum and married couple Cole and Cora Twombly. Each has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and a count of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the killings of Butler, who had children with Adams’ son, and another woman, Jilian Kelley. This story uses the statements from the affidavits and other official statements to unravel how investigators say the murders happened.

The four suspects were walked separately into the Texas County Courthouse on Wednesday, each shackled and wearing a striped jail jumpsuit and protective vest.

All four defendants were denied bond during their initial court appearance, according to the court docket. They were assigned court-appointed attorneys with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, according to Charles Laughlin, the agency’s executive director. The agency’s policy is not to speak to the media regarding pending cases, Laughlin told CNN in an email.

The two victims, Butler and Kelley, disappeared in the empty, open landscape of Oklahoma’s panhandle while traveling from Kansas to pick up Butler’s children from Adams late last month.

Investigators say they were deliberately killed by Adams, Cullum and the Twomblys. And it wasn’t the first time Butler had been in their sights.

Anvil as potential murder weapon

In February, Adams, her boyfriend and the couple traveled to Butler’s home near Hugoton, Kansas, intending to kill her, a witness told investigators.

They planned to throw an anvil through Butler’s windshield while she was driving, reasoning that it would look like an accident, as anvils regularly fall off work vehicles, the witness added.

But Butler did not leave her home.

At about that time, Adams did an online search for how to get someone out of their house. She also looked up taser pain level, gun shops and prepaid cell phones, investigators said.

She bought three prepaid, unregistered burner phones from her nearest Walmart in February. Days after Butler filed for more visits with her children in March, Adams bought five stun guns at a local gun shop.

Then, on Easter weekend, Adams gave time off to the woman who usually supervised Butler’s visits with her children. The young children went to spend the night with some acquaintances.

And the next day, Saturday, March 30, their mother was murdered, the charging documents say.

A bloody ambush

Adams, 54, often seems to have had physical custody of her grandchildren, though her son Wrangler Rickman is their father and legal guardian. At the time Butler and Kelley went missing, Rickman was confirmed to be in a rehabilitation facility in Oklahoma City, officials said.

Adams, the court papers said, at times refused to let her son have his children. On one occasion when that happened, law enforcement was called.

Investigators also believe Adams was the last person to be in touch with Butler.

Adams told officers she had called Butler to check if she was coming for the usual Saturday visit. She said Butler told her that something had come up and she could not make it.

Phone records confirmed the call had been made at 9 a.m. but also showed that at that time Butler was already in Hugoton to pick up Kelley, a pastor’s wife, who had agreed to supervise Butler with her children.

Kelley was a stand-in for the usual supervisor, Cheryl Brune, whom Adams preferred and said was unavailable that day. Brune, however, told investigators she had been available, but was told by Adams to take a couple of weeks off.

Butler told relatives she would collect her children from the Four Corners intersection of US-64 and State Route 95 over the state line in Oklahoma, and then go to a birthday party with family. When she did not arrive at the celebration, relatives Melissa and Joey Padilla went to look for her, and found her vehicle abandoned about five miles north of the planned rendezvous, at which point they called police.

The intersection of Oklahoma State Highway 95 and Road L is one of those desolate places where the land seems utterly flat and you can see for miles. There are no trees to soften the wind and the dust that whip across the Great Plains, and no homes or traffic cameras nearby to help an investigation.

But officers immediately knew something was wrong, Texas County Sheriff Matt Boley told reporters. “They found some things that just weren’t adding up,” he said. “We felt this wasn’t a random deal.”

Investigators believe Butler and Kelley were lured to the location, arriving there at about 9:40 a.m. They say the women were forced into another vehicle and confined there.

Officers found blood on the road and off to the side, and Butler’s glasses were on the ground, near a broken hammer. A magazine for a pistol was found in Kelley’s purse, but no gun.

Both their phones stopped sending signals at 9:42 a.m.

The ‘mission’

The 16-year-old daughter of Cora Twombly became a crucial witness to the investigators putting together the probable cause affidavit.

She said she was told that her mother, 44, and her mother’s husband Cole Twombly, 50, would be out when she woke that Saturday, as they were going to be on a “mission.”

She described her mother and stepfather, as well as Adams and her boyfriend Cullum, as being part of an anti-government group with a religious affiliation. The group, which the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) said was called God’s Misfits, met weekly at the Twombly house or the home of another couple.

All four accused lived in various tiny towns, dotted far apart around the Oklahoma panhandle, about as near to Texas as to Kansas and Colorado. The roads between them are straight and long, cutting through farmland and cattle ranches. Once you leave one town, it can be 15 minutes of highway-speed driving before you reach the next. Seemingly endless freight trains carrying cargo from El Paso to Kansas City clank by on the single track running along US-64.

The teenager said she had heard group conversations about Adams’ grandchildren being at risk if they were with Butler. She told investigators Adams had provided burner phones to the other accused, so they didn’t need to use their personal devices to communicate, and that she had seen two of the phones charging on her mother’s nightstand.

And she said her mother told her the two couples were involved in the killings.

When the teenager got up at about 10 a.m. that Saturday, the Twomblys were out as they had said they would be. They came back around noon, driving a blue and gray Chevrolet pickup they owned, and a blue flatbed pickup owned by a relative.

The daughter was told to clean the interior of the Chevrolet pickup. When she asked what had happened, she was told that things had not gone as planned but that they would not have to worry about Butler again.

She heard that her mother and stepfather blocked the road to stop Butler and Kelley in their vehicle and diverted them to where the others were waiting. She named another person who she said was involved, but authorities have said they are not looking for other suspects.

She said she asked about Kelley, the woman Butler had asked to accompany her to supervise the visit, and why she had to die. Her mother responded that Kelley wasn’t innocent, as she had supported Butler. Kelley was the wife of Hugoton First Christian Church pastor Heath Kelley, The Christian Post reported. They were set to move to Nebraska in June, it added.

Finally, the child asked Cora Twombly if they had put the bodies in a well. She was told: “Something like that.”

A hole amid the cattle

Adams went to the home of the other couple who hosted God’s Misfits meetings, where her grandchildren had spent the night, and picked them up at about the same time as the Twomblys had arrived home, the affidavit said.

The previous evening, Adams’ boyfriend Cullum, 43, had been working on a property where he rented a pasture for cattle grazing. The property owner said Cullum had asked if he could do some work there with his skid steer, a kind of bulldozer. He had wanted to cut down a tree, remove a stump and bury some concrete, he said, according to the landowner’s conversations with officials.

The owner agreed and told investigators that Cullum brought his equipment and did the work on Friday, March 29, possibly into the early hours.

He said the skid steer was left on his property that night and it was gone when he woke up at about noon on Saturday.

Investigators tracked all three of the burner phones to the area where Butler and Kelley disappeared – and at the time they disappeared – and two of them to the pasture used by Cullum, below a dam. A hole had been dug, filled back in and covered with hay.

The affidavit states the pasture was about 8.5 miles from where Butler’s car was found empty. The drive time between the two points was “well within” the 34 minutes between when the victims’ phones stopped transmitting and the burner phones arrived at the pasture, it added.

All the prepaid burners stopped transmitting on the morning of March 30, either near the Twomblys’ home or the rented pastureland.

Two sets of remains recovered from Texas County, Oklahoma, were confirmed to be those of Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, on Tuesday evening.

Butler’s relatives became emotional outside the Texas County Courthouse after attending Wednesday’s initial appearance by the suspects.

“How can you hate the mother of your grandchildren so much that you would end her life?” her aunt said between sobs to CNN affiliate KFDA.

Butler’s younger siblings held back tears as they described the “beautiful soul” that was taken from them too soon.

“She’s just like a sunflower, just like a beautiful sunflower looking in the sun. She’s amazing, an amazing mom,” Junia Butler, Veronica’s younger sister, told KFDA.

Wednesday was the day set previously for a hearing in the ongoing custody fight between Adams and Butler. Butler’s attorney told the OSBI Butler was likely to be granted unsupervised visitation with her children on that day. Instead, it became the first court hearing for those accused of her murder.

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CNN’s Rosa Flores and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.

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