A missing persons case turned into a murder investigation after dismembered bodies found in an Oklahoma river were identified as four men who vanished last week, police said.
“I’ve worked over 80 murders in my career. I have worked murders involving multiple victims. I have worked dismemberments, but this case involves the highest number of victims, and it’s a very violent event,” Okmulgee, Oklahoma, Police Chief Joe Prentice said Monday.
The four men – Mark Chastain, 32; Billy Chastain, 30; Mike Sparks, 32; and Alex Stevens, 29 – were reported missing by relatives last Monday night or early Tuesday, after leaving Billy Chastain’s Okmulgee home on bicycles around 9 p.m. October 9, police have said.
The discovery of their dismembered bodies in the river days later expanded the investigation and raised new questions, the chief said. Here’s what we know about the case:
On October 14, a passerby called police after seeing something suspicious in a river outside Okmulgee, a city of about 11,000 people roughly a 35-mile drive south of Tulsa, Prentice previously said.
Police arrived and saw remains protruding from the river, and ended up finding multiple bodies.
Monday, the chief announced the bodies were identified as the four missing men, all of them having been shot and dismembered.
“Although the official cause and manner of death is still pending, each victim suffered gunshot wounds,” Prentice said. “All four bodies were dismembered before being placed in the river and that is what caused difficulty in determining identities.”
The remains were recovered over several days and it’s unclear what kind of evidence investigators will be able to recover, given the bodies were in water.
“Whenever water is involved, it makes it much more difficult to identify evidence,” the chief said.
Police have not recovered any bicycles, nor the gun used in the killings.
While it remains unclear exactly what led up to the four men’s deaths, Prentice said preliminary investigation appears to show the men were planning to commit a crime when they set out from Chastain’s home.
The chief said in a news conference Monday that the belief is based on “information supplied by a witness who reports they were invited to go with the men to quote on quote ‘hit a lick big enough for all of them.’”
“That is common terminology for engaging in some type of criminal behavior, but we do not know what they were planning or where they planned to do it,” Prentice added.
After the men were reported missing, police traced two of their cell phones, finding they went to two salvage yards – one about 5 miles from the river, and the other about 10 to 12 miles from the river, Prentice told CNN Saturday.
Police later found “evidence of a violent event” on property adjoining one of those locations, the chief said, without elaborating on the findings.
Police have a person of interest in the case, but no charges have been filed, the chief said Monday.
Prentice said the person is not a suspect, but “a person of interest that we’d like to talk to.” That person has denied knowing the four men, the chief added.
The person has since gone missing as of Saturday night, and could be suicidal, Prentice said.
Now that the investigation is a murder investigation, Prentice said, the department will be a little more tight-lipped about further proceedings “to protect the integrity of the investigation.”