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Oklahoma authorities have officially charged a man with the violent murders of four friends whose bodies were found in a river following a days-long search.
Joseph Lloyd Kennedy, 67, was charged Monday with four counts of first-degree murder for the October deaths of Alex Stevens, 29, Michael Sparks, 32, and brothers Mark Chastain, 32, and Billy Chastain, 30, Okmulgee County District Attorney Carol Iski announced. Prior to the charges, Kennedy had only been named a person of interest in the case.
The formal murder charges against Kennedy come after the affidavit was released Friday during a bond hearing pertaining to related auto theft charges, according to ABC Tulsa affiliate KTUL.
The four “close friends” disappeared on Oct. 9 after leaving Billy Chastain’s 6th Street residence in Okmulgee — about 40 miles south of Tulsa — on their bicycles. Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice would later announce that detectives worked under the theory that the victims went out to commit a crime, based on the claims of an unnamed witness who backed out last minute.
The men’s dismembered bodies were found five days later in the nearby Deep Fork River, with investigators stating they’d been shot multiple times.
A postmortem examination revealed the victims were “transected at the waist,” according to Iski. One of the victims, Sparks, also had both arms severed from his body.
After loved ones reported the men missing on Oct. 9, Iski stated investigators traced Mark Chastain’s phone, which was equipped with the Life 360 app. Cell phone data indicated the four traveled by bicycle to Kennedy’s West 20th Street scrapyard in Okmulgee, where the phone remained for “a period of time,” Iski said.
Hours later, the phone traveled to a nearby gas station, where surveillance video later showed Kennedy with his blue PT cruiser at one of the gas pumps, authorities allege. The phone traveled once again, this time to a second scrapyard owned by Kennedy on South 75 near Schulter, less than 10 miles south of Okmulgee, and did not move again.
A later search of Kennedy’s 20th Street scrapyard and its surrounding properties revealed “blood evidence on the ground,” as well as broken dentures and “other personal items” belonging to Mark Chastain, including a black-colored wagon, according to authorities.
“During a voluntary interview, the defendant told officers he’d been experiencing thefts at this scrapyard on 20th Street and that he personally surveilled the scrapyard on Sunday, Oct. 9, in an attempt to catch the perpetrators,” Iski stated.
Investigators said a sheriff’s deputy who lived four-tenths of a mile from Kennedy heard 10 to 12 “high-powered rifle shots” coming from the scrapyard on the evening of the men’s disappearances.
A bullet was also extracted from a tree on the property, as were 7.62 caliber shell casings.
Surveillance video from a Coca-Cola plant located across the road from Kennedy’s salvage yard showed the defendant coming and going several times around the time the men were believed to be killed. At one point, Kennedy even changed his clothes, according to Iski.
Investigators believe Kennedy used a gray Toyota Tundra pickup truck on the night of the murders, in which blood was later found on the B pillar between the front and rear driver’s side doors, authorities said.
According to the affidavit cited by KTUL, a Gore, Oklahoma, woman reported Kennedy confessed to the murders. Iski elaborated that the woman — described as being in a romantic relationship with Kennedy — said he visited her on the morning of Oct. 10, one day after the murders, and had been “acting very strangely.”
“She stated that [Kennedy] brought to her a bicycle that he had left for her son,” said Iski.
Detectives would later learn the bicycle belonged to Billy Chastain.
Kennedy then allegedly stole a friend’s vehicle, a second (black) Toyota Tundra, to take the men’s bodies to the Sharp Road bridge, where the gruesome discovery was made on Oct. 14.
Cell phone data extracted from Kennedy’s phone would also place him near the bridge, said Iski.
In the early morning of Oct. 15 — mere hours after the men’s bodies were found in the river — the Gore, Oklahoma, woman said Kennedy visited her a second time.
“She reported that he was very agitated and told her that he was leaving and she would never see him again,” Iski stated. “She reported that when she asked [Kennedy] what was wrong, he told her they were all against him, and he lost it, and he just started shooting. She said that he told her after he shot them, he cut them up.”
Kennedy allegedly fled Oklahoma before winding up in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, after the second Toyota Tundra was reported stolen.
On Oct. 17, Kennedy was arrested on charges of grand theft of a motor vehicle and awaited extradition back to Oklahoma.
A pair of Skechers tennis shoes found in the bed of the second Toyota Tundra also contained drops of blood. They were consistent with a partial profile from the first Toyota Tundra matching victim Mark Chastain, according to Iski.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has yet to conclude lab tests.
Jail records reviewed by Oxygen.com show Kennedy was booked into the Okmulgee County jail on Nov. 12, where he is being held without bond.
“This was a very lengthy investigation, and it continues as we speak,” said Iski. “Countless man hours had been invested and dedicated to this investigation, and I applaud the District 25 Violent Crime task force for their tireless efforts to bring this case to justice.”
Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice added the investigation was “far from over.”
At the time Kennedy left Oklahoma, he was serving a deferred sentence for a separate shooting from 2012, in which he allegedly shot a scrapyard thief who survived. Iski told reporters that though they filed a motion to accelerate his sentence in light of Kennedy’s leaving (which violated his probation), a clerical error over deadlines forced her to recently dismiss the charges.
Iski said they would decide whether to seek the death penalty after discussing the case further with the victims’ families.
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