Investigators are following leads every day to find out how dismembered bodies of four men ended up in an Oklahoma river, but whenever water is involved, it makes it much more difficult to identify evidence, the police chief said.
The men – Mark Chastain, 32; Billy Chastain, 30; Mike Sparks, 32; and Alex Stevens, 29 – were reported missing by relatives after leaving Billy Chastain’s Okmulgee, Oklahoma, home on bicycles the evening of October 9, police have said.
Days later, their bodies were found – all of them having been shot and dismembered – in a river outside Okmulgee, a city of about 11,000 people roughly a 35-mile drive south of Tulsa.
Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice described there being a “very violent event,” as he announced Monday the missing persons case had turned into a murder investigation.
A man who was named as a person of interest in the gruesome killings, 67-year-old Joe Kennedy, was taken into custody Tuesday in Florida on an unrelated charge of grand theft of a motor vehicle and is being held with no bond, authorities said. He is also being held on a warrant issued for his arrest in Okmulgee County District Court in relation to a shooting in 2012.
Kennedy has not been named a suspect in the killings. Police have said they want to speak him to again but have not specified why.
It’s unclear whether Kennedy has an attorney. He’s set to appear before a Volusia County, Florida, judge Wednesday afternoon, according to the clerk of the courts.
While it remains unclear exactly what led up to the men’s deaths, it appears they were planning to commit a crime when they left Billy Chastain’s home, Prentice said.
That belief is based on “information supplied by a witness who reports they were invited to go with the men to quote, unquote, ‘Hit a lick big enough for all of them,’” the chief said Monday in a news conference. “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,” he added.
As the investigation continues, the discovery of the dismembered bodies has raised more questions. Detectives, who have not recovered the firearm used in the killings, are contending with the difficult task of combing through the river.
All four bodies found in the river “were submerged in water for what appears to be an extended period of time,” Prentice previously told CNN.
That meant that the coroner faced greater difficulty identifying the bodies and police face a complicated investigation at the river, which “appears to be a dump site,” the chief said.
“Water always affects decomposition, and depending on temperature, depending on the current flow, there’s a lot of different factors that do that,” Prentice said during a news conference Monday. “Whenever water is involved, it makes it much more difficult to identify evidence.”
Prentice said investigators have to be more methodical as they sift through the water “because it’s so easy to miss evidence.”
The chief said he’s never worked on a case with so many dismembered bodies, and it took several days to recover all the remains.
“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.”
As the investigation continues, the chief said the department requested additional video surveillance from businesses in the area and continues to follow up on tips about different sightings.
As of Monday, police had not recovered any bicycles the men were riding when they left the home, the chief said.
After the men were reported missing, police said they believed at least two of them were carrying cell phones.
Investigators traced the phones’ path, finding the devices 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.
He cautioned that the phones’ paths didn’t necessarily have to be the path that the men traveled.
Police later found “evidence of a violent event” on a property adjoining one of those locations, the chief said without elaborating.
Kennedy, the person of interest in the case, is the owner of the salvage yards, the chief said.
Police have said Kennedy denied knowing the men and he appeared cooperative with investigators during an interview Friday afternoon.
But the chief later announced Kennedy had gone missing.
Two days later, Kennedy was arrested in Daytona Beach Shores in a vehicle reported stolen Monday, Okmulgee Police said.
According to the arrest warrant in Florida, he was reported as a missing person, but Kennedy told officers he was not a missing person and was not in any danger.
Jon Chastain, the uncle of Mark and Billy Chastain, told CNN their family was “shocked,” “outraged,” and filled with “heartbreak” when police announced the brothers, along with their two friends, were found murdered and dismembered.
Chastain said he could not envision his nephews doing anything to warrant so much violence.
Mark was the father of two children, and Billy had four children. Chastain described them as hard workers and good fathers who loved their families.
“Whatever was going on, I don’t know. But what I do know is we need some justice for this,” Chastain said.
Mark Chastain’s wife, Jessica Chastain, told CNN affiliate KOKI she reported her husband missing the day he disappeared. Now, she says though her husband’s death still doesn’t feel real, she is focused on getting justice for him.
“Eventually the truth will come out. Eventually,” she said.