Missing people, buried bones at center of Oklahoma mystery

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
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The caller had news but warned LaVonne Harris not to get her hopes up.
Harris’s son, 33-year-old Nathan Smith, had vanished along a dirt road in Oklahoma one freezing night more than two years earlier. Detectives had long stopped checking in with her, and Harris could feel her search growing lonelier with each passing month.
The call in April, from an advocate for families of the missing, wasn’t encouraging, but it was a lead: Authorities in rural Logan County, just north of here, had discovered human remains belonging to more than one person. Also, the caller added delicately, the remains weren’t intact.
Harris, 58, sat down to steady herself. She listened, then hung up to tell her daughter.
“I said, ‘Lou, they found these bodies,’ ” Harris recalled. “ ‘They’ve been burned and cut.’ ”
Smith is among a dozen or more people who have disappeared in recent years from the wooded, unincorporated terrain outside the Oklahoma City metro area, a rural haven for drug traffickers. Some families said they’re scared to call police or even to put up “missing person” signs because they suspect the involvement of violent white-supremacist prison gangs.
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Compound detail
Entrance lined with metal walls
35
Guthrie
Compound
Edmond
44
35
Oklahoma City
40
100 FEET
5 MILES
Sources: Google Maps (satellite image), OpenStreetMap
DYLAN MORIARTY/THE WASHINGTON POST
In April, authorities acting on a tip said they found charred piles of wood and bone on a five-acre patch of Logan County, opening one of the grisliest and most sensitive criminal investigations in Oklahoma’s recent history.
Behind the 10-foot metal walls of a compound with links to the Universal Aryan Brotherhood, a white-supremacist prison gang, officers found what they believe to be a body dumping ground where multiple people ended up dismembered and burned, according to four Oklahoma officials with knowledge of the investigation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the extraordinary security precautions around the case.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, or OSBI, which is leading the multiagency state and federal probe, confirms that remains have been found but will not say how many. An April 29 report in the Oklahoman newspaper — the first news of the discovery — quoted the state medical examiner and other sources as saying agents were investigating “whether a white supremacist prison gang is behind nine or more disappearances” after the discovery of “the comingled remains of possibly three people.” The report said remains also were found at a second site, near an oil well about 18 miles away in the tiny town of Luther.
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Four months later, the scope of the case remains murky. A law enforcement official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said they were informed the count was up to “12 different DNA profiles.” One family of a missing person said they were told of eight; another heard about three.
The OSBI has taken significant steps to keep the investigation opaque, including advising families of the missing to stay quiet.
“We’re just trying to keep some people alive at this point,” a second official said, describing the struggle to protect potential witnesses.
That level of danger is a jarring reminder of the unseen threat of white-supremacist prison gangs, whose leaders run crime syndicates from behind bars through a network of “enforcers” on the outside, according to extremism monitors and Justice Department court filings.
The gangs have carried out hate-fueled attacks both in and out of prison, with the bulk of their free-world violence targeting rivals and informants, authorities say. Because the gangs typically keep their business within the criminal underground, the attacks go largely undiscussed in the broader national conversation about rising violence by far-right groups.
Oklahoma is a “problem state,” with at least five significant white-supremacist prison gangs, said Mark Pitcavage, an Anti-Defamation League researcher who has monitored the groups for decades. He co-authored a 2016 study that called prison gangs the fastest-growing and deadliest sector of the U.S. white-supremacist movement, noting that they “combine the criminal intent and know-how of organized crime with the racism and hate of white supremacy, making them twice as dangerous.”
Trailers sit in the yard of the Logan County compound where, officials say, authorities found what they believe are human remains in April. (Nick Oxford for The Washington Post)
The Logan County investigation, authorities say, involves one of the most ruthless of the gangs: the Universal Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the UAB.
One of the main UAB “shot-callers,” authorities say, is 57-year-old Mikell “Bulldog” Smith, an inmate so violent that an Oklahoma prison report once called him “the most dangerous man in the penitentiary” and corrections officials built a special cell for him in 1989. Smith is serving life without parole for the 1985 killing of a math teacher in a robbery. Soon after arriving in prison in 1987, he stabbed a fellow inmate. Two years later, he nearly killed a prison guard by stabbing him in the heart with a blade attached to a broom handle. In 2014, Smith was convicted of choking a cellmate to death with a sheet.
Members of Smith’s extended family own various parts of the five-acre area where remains were found in Logan County. Smith’s wife, Robin, was listed as owner of the fortified compound; his brother Charles owns an adjacent property, according to sale records. Another brother, Phillip, disappeared from the county in 2020, one of the long list of cases authorities say are under review.
On Aug. 19, according to state investigators, another Smith relative, David, was arrested at the compound on charges related to a stolen vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon.
In the OSBI’s few public statements about the remains, there is no mention of the alleged ties to one of Oklahoma’s bloodiest prison gangs or reference to the site in Luther. The statement said only that “law enforcement from multiple agencies recovered bone fragments” in Logan County and were working to identify them and determine the cause of death.
The medical examiner’s office and law enforcement agencies involved either declined to comment on the record or never responded to queries. The OSBI declined to comment beyond its news releases.
“The investigation is very fluid and very active,” said an OSBI release dated Aug. 8. “Because of that, the volume of rumors and speculation is high. The OSBI will not comment on rumors as that can jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”
The statement said state investigators and sheriff’s offices in three counties “have been working closely with the families of the missing persons,” including collecting DNA samples to help with identification. That work will take time, the release said, because of “the physical condition of the remains recovered.”