More than 20 years ago the small military town of Lawton, Oklahoma faced an evil that preyed upon some of their most vulnerable citizens. Beginning in the summer of 1999, six women, alleged sex workers who were suffering from substance abuse problems, disappeared from Lawton. Their nude bodies would later be found near creek beds in surrounding rural areas. No one has ever been held accountable for their murders.
This is a story that literally hits close to home for me. It happened about 3o miles from where I grew up. I would have been a teenager at the time, but I don’t remember hearing a single thing about what was happening to these women, even though Jane’s body was found in my county.
Ok, before we get into the gritty details, I want to talk a little bit about who the victims were as people using details I was able to find in newspapers and in court records. I just want to paint a little picture of the lives these women lived because I don’t want their whole existence to be reduced down to “substance abusing sex worker slain by unknown serial killer.” They were people and I believe their memories shouldn’t be defined by their final moments and hardest times.
Jane Marie Chafton
Jane Chafton was born on December 20, 1971 in Maricopa County, Arizona. She was one of nine children with her childhood being spent between Texas and Mississippi. According to an interview given by her younger sister to The Lawton Constitution, Jane and her siblings grew up with parents who were suffering from alcoholism. She credits Jane with taking care of her as a child. Despite the turmoil of alcoholic parents, Jane seemed pretty determined to take her life in a more stable direction. She earned an accounting degree from the job corps while in Marcus, Texas and worked as an accountant. She started her own family as well.
Heartbreakingly, she was tempted by a so-called “friend” and fell into drug addiction and may have worked as a sex worker. She lost two years of her life to cocaine. Her sister shared one of her journal entries from 1996 with The Lawton Constitution. It’s incredibly painful to read how much addiction hurt her and her family, but the end is hopeful. She hit rock bottom, she got treatment, and she was a woman trying her damndest to put her life back together.. She had held a job at a salon called Susie’s for three years, she had a fiance, and she was taking care of her child. Jane was only 28 years old at the time of her death.
Cassandra Lee Ramsey
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much about Cassandra’s life. She was born in Arkansas on April 7, 1974. I’m not sure how she came to live in Oklahoma, but it was reported by the police that while here she had fallen into drug addiction and worked in sex work. From court records I found that she had a few other charges and was the witness to a marriage of a friend. At the time of her death she had been staying with friends around the Cache Road area. She was 25 years old.
Mandy Ann Raite
Mandy came from a military family with both her grandparents serving in the navy. The family was eventually stationed in Lawton, Oklahoma where Mandy was born on September 17th, 1978. She was a mother to one child and had given another up for adoption. Mandy dreamed of becoming an artist and drew characters for her child while undergoing drug rehabilitation treatment. She had fallen in with a rough crowd and suffered from drug addiction.
Despite struggling, She tried to get clean multiple times by checking herself into rehab facilities. Unfortunately, because the circumstances of her life and her friends never changed, she resumed the old pattern of her life after each stint in treatment. This was clearly a woman who wanted to get clean and get her life back together. She was staying at the Sheridan Inn and was planning on moving to Texas with her boyfriend, who was a marine at the time. She was 21 years old when she died.
Janice Marie Buono
Janice was born on december 21st, 1972. She was originally from Anadarko, Oklahoma and was a member of the Comanche tribe. She had been married to a man with whom she had two children. Tragically, both children passed away as infants. After the deaths of her children, Janice moved to Lawton where she allegedly began working as a sex worker and using drugs. During this time, she gave birth to two more children, both of whom lived to adulthood. She was the only girl of five children making her her mother’s only daughter.
Like Jane’s sister, Janice’s mother was very vocal in wanting her daughter’s murder to be properly investigated. Mrs. Buono tried until her last day to make sure no one forgot about her daughter’s murder, unfortunately she passed away without knowing what happened. Janice was 29 years old at the time of her death.
Pamela Dawn Woodring
Pamela was a Valentine’s Day baby being born on February 14th, 1969 in Boise City, Oklahoma. She was married a few different times and had three children. She seemed to be a wild child who lived a rough lifestyle and had a fairly long list of court appearances under her belt before she made it to cache road. In one incident, she allegedly helped two men rob a third at knife point. Pamela was also the only woman for who I actually found a charge for engaging in prostitution on her record. She moved down to Lawton after being released from jail in Guymon, Oklahoma. She was 34 years old.
Tanja Marie Hook
Tanja’s case is a little different from the rest of the women. Born in Germany in 1986, Tanja came to Lawton after her mother married an American soldier who ended up being stationed there at Ft. Sill. She made the principal’s honor roll her sophomore and junior years at Lawton High School and by accounts from her neighbors she was a bright, sweet girl who was kind to those she interacted with. Despite this, Tanja’s life wasn’t entirely smooth. There are also neighbors who say she was troubled and ran away multiple times.
At some point during her senior year of high school, Tanja moved out of her parent’s house and in with her boyfriend near cache road. There’s no evidence of Tanja having been addicted to drugs or working as a prostitute, although the boyfriend she lived with told police that the last time he saw her she was getting into a black truck driven by an older white man. Her parents moved to Georgia after she went missing and unfortunately because it took five years for her body to be identified, her mother died without knowing that she had been killed. Tanja was 17 years old.
Aug. 10, 1999- Jane, who did not have a driver’s license or a car, calls a cab company to schedule a ride to Duncan, Oklahoma. She later calls the company back to cancel the cab telling them she had found another ride.
Aug. 13, 1999- Jane’s body is found by a work crew in Sandy Bear Creek six miles northeast of Velma, Oklahoma. No cause of death was determined because her body was in too advanced a stage of decomposition.
Aug. 22, 1999- Jane is reported missing. Her body wasn’t immediately identified because of the decomposition. She was later identified through her tattoos.
Oct. 10, 1999- Cassandra is last seen with a white but tanned male, 30-40 years old with light hair, roughly 5’10” and 160 lbs. He picks her up from a friend’s house in a white Chevy or GMC van with gray stripes. Cassandra tells the friend that they are going to Texarkana. This is the last time she is seen alive.
March 20, 2000- Cassandra is reported missing.
March 22, 2000- Cassandra’s body is found by a rancher one mile east of the Jefferson-Cotton county line off Highway 70 under a bridge. I’ve looked at this area and I believe it to be a bridge over Saline Creek, but that’s just my opinion. Her remains were skeletal and no cause of death was determined. She was found with a pair of clear stone earrings.
April 2000- Cassandra’s body is identified.
June 9, 2000- This is last time Mandy sees her mother.
June 11, 2000- Mandy speaks to her grandfather over the phone.
June 11-21, 2000- Mandy’s boyfriend was in jail for being absent from the Marine Corps without leave. Note: Is jail the right term for that?
June 14, 2000- A female friend claims to have seen Mandy alive.
June 17, 2000- Mandy is reported missing
June 17, 2000- Mandy’s body is found at 3:45 am by a Comanche County Sheriff’s Deputy eight feet from the road in a creek bed of Beaver Creek near east Cache Road between Bethel Road and Highway 65. East Cache Road is a gravel road. Her body was not in a terrible state of decomposition so an autopsy was able to be performed. Her death was listed as “probable cocaine intoxication” and is ruled an accidental death.
1999-2000- During this time, Jane’s sister had been doing her own investigation into Jane’s death. She discovers that Jane knew Cassandra and Mandy, but both have already been murdered by the time she tries to track them down to talk to them.
Jan. 1, 2002- This is the last time police know that Janice was seen alive. It was said that she bounced from house to house. She was not reported missing.
Feb. 23, 2002- Janice’s body is found one mile east of Highway 65 on Townley Road, which is a gravel road, in the water of a pond outlet. She was determined to have been dead for three to four weeks and her cause of death was listed as “cocaine and meth toxicity.” She was found three miles north of Mandy’s body. The was also near the home of an Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation inspector.
2002- Sometime after Janice’s death is when police connect all the deaths together and start suspecting they are victims of the same killer.
June 5, 2003- Pamela’s body is found by farm workers in a creek bed two miles north of the intersection of highways 54 and 59 near Cooperton in Kiowa County. I’ve looked at this area as well and I believe she may have been left down a gravel road as well. This is, once again, just my suspicion, though. Cooperton is officially a ghost town, having only 20 residents at the 2000 census. Pamela was considered homeless at the time of her death.
July 30, 2003- Tanja is reported missing by her mother. Her friend and boyfriend report last seeing her getting into a black truck driven by an older white male.
Aug. 29, 2003- Tanja’s body is found by a jogger in a ditch in McClain County near Cole, Oklahoma. She was found about half a mile north of Highway 74B along May Ave and about 150 ft from a bridge crossing Walnut Creek. Her remains were skeletal and her cause of death was undetermined. She was not identified for another five years.
Jan. 2008- Tanja’s parents submit DNA for testing against DNA profiles of Jane Does. The police do have Tanja’s dental records before this, though. They used those records to rule out a Jane Doe from Texas as being Tanja, but never compared them to the McClain County Jane Doe.
July 2008- Tanja is identified. Unfortunately, Tanja’s mother passes away before her identification and never knows her daughter was found.
While Lawton investigators have never identified a sole person of interest, there have been a few possible leads on suspects. These have all been ruled out at this point, however.
Cory Deonn Morris
Cory Deonn Morris was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to death in 2005 for the murders of five women in Phoenix, Arizona. Morris had moved to Arizona a couple of years prior and lived in a camper in his uncle’s backyard while working as a DJ at a nearby bar. He was well loved by coworkers with the only complaint being that he always smelled terrible. Like death, maybe? “Huggybear,” as his friends called him, was caught when his uncle noticed a foul smell coming from his camper and called the police. They found the decomposing body of one of his victims in a sleeping bag in the camper.
He was looked at in conjunction with the Lawton victims because of a few similarities in the cases. For example, the women Morris murdered were all supposedly sex workers and four of the women had lethal doses of cocaine in their systems when they died. They had been dumped in the surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, Morris did live in Oklahoma City with his mother at the time that Jane, Cassandra, Mandy, and Janice were murdered. He was ultimately ruled out as a suspect after Pamela and Tanja were murdered.
I’d like to take a moment to point out that Morris was charmingly dubbed as “The Crackhead Killer.” …..I mean, for fuck’s sake….. The names of Morris’ victims are:
- Janice Irvin, 43
- Barbara Codman, 46
- Shanteria Davis, 32
- Jade Velasquez, 34
- Sherry Noah, 37
Hopefully they will be able to find the peace in the afterlife that their manner of death didn’t provide them.
James Smith was a New Mexico dentist who was convicted for the December 2005 murder of Laura McNaughten, 30. Laura was a single mother who was waitressing while attending college. She was sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled. Her body was then dumped in a ditch in Curry County.
Lawton investigators looked into Smith just to cover their bases. At this point, they were looking under every stone and following every lead. The fact that Laura was left in a ditch and that Smith had attended Oklahoma University for a time was the basis for checking him out as a suspect, he was ruled out.
So, Lawton wasn’t the only place struggling with predators during this time. Dovetailing with the disappearance and murder of Tanja Hook, a string of women started going missing from truck stops and being dumped off of the portion of I-40 that runs through Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. Seven women were victims of this set of murders:
- Margret Gardner 47-found near West Memphis, Arkansas on July 11, 2003
- Jennifer Hyman 24-found near Oxford, Mississippi on August 20, 2003
- Sandra Beard 43-found in McIntosh County, Oklahoma on Sept. 18, 2003
- Vickie Anderson 44-found in Texas on Oct. 16, 2003
- Sandra Richardson 39-found in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma on Nov. 22, 2003
- Pasty Leonard 23-found in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma on Jan. 1, 2004
- Casey Jo Pipestem 19-found in Grapevine, Texas on Jan. 31, 2004
There were enough similarities that Lawton Investigators met with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to compare cases, but ultimately the OSBI didn’t believe there was a strong enough connection.
This is just a super basic overview of that case because this post is already getting kind of lengthy, but I do plan on going more in depth on the I-40 killings in a future post.
I had a couple of questions as I was piecing together the information on this one and I’d like to share with you all some of my thoughts on what may have gone on here. As you can probably gather from the title of this section, everything that comes after this sentence is my own opinion, speculation, or theory and is in no way to be taken seriously as fact. What we’re about to do here is what my grandfather used to call a S.W.A.G. (Scientific Wild Ass Guess).
I find it interesting that the bodies were left off of state highways and in three cases, possibly left off of gravel roads. This, to me, is evidence that the killer is local to Lawton or one of the surrounding areas. I’ve spent quite a lot of my life in this part of Oklahoma and the state highways in this area don’t really see a lot of traffic that isn’t farm-related or local people moving from one town to another. Did you notice that quite a few of the women were discovered by farm workers or ranchers? There are semi-trucks that use the state highways, but mostly to get from one small town to another before hopping back on the interstate.
The gravel roads are extremely interesting to me as well. These roads are fairly rural and don’t really lead anywhere, but they’re still right off of the state highways. It’s almost as if he was trying to hide the bodies, but not really trying to hide them, you know what I mean? Like, he went to the trouble of finding an out-of-the-way place to hide them, but couldn’t be bothered to drive too far down the road or get too far out of his car, dumping them right off at the bridges. To be fair, this was before the mass use of GPS by regular people, which is another good point. The women were all found within an hour of Lawton on highways that get mostly local traffic and, in three cases, were found on gravel roads that don’t particularly lead anywhere in a time period where GPS really wasn’t a thing yet. In my opinion, to have found those areas you would have had to have known they were there.
Where’d All That Time Go?
Another thing that struck me as odd was that there were two gaping time lapses between victims. Most of the victims happened within months of each other, however; between Mandy going missing and Janice going missing there is a year and a half time gap. And again between Janice going missing and Pamela being found (Pamela was never reported missing. I believe no one really realized she was gone until her body was found) there was another year and a half gap. What was he doing during those years?
Well, I got to thinking that maybe there were some victims that were never connected to the original six. So, out of curiosity I took a look at missing persons reports and Jane Does found in this time period and I came up with two possibilities. One is Rebecca Jean Boyd.
Rebecca Jean Boyd
Rebecca was last seen as she was leaving a gas station in Lawton on foot on July 26, 2002. She was 29 (47 now), had reddish-blonde shoulder length hair at the time, green eyes, was 5’2”-5’6” and between 120-150lbs. She has a series of tattoos – a peacock on her left arm, a rose with the name “Mike” on her left ankle, a bracelet made of flowers on her left wrist, and a skull on her left shoulder. Those are just about all the details I was able to find so obviously I can’t say whether she was making her money as a sex worker or had a substance abuse problem which would have lead her down the same path as the others, but I did find her date of disapperance, age, and location to be interesting.
Another possible victim is a Jane Doe known as “Kiowa Jane.” This one might be a long shot, but I think it’s worth considering anyways. On July 13, 2005, a partial skull was found by a farmer near Roosevelt, Oklahoma. Now, Roosevelt is in Kiowa County. Are you sensing a repeating theme here? Found by farmers in Kiowa County? Yes, exactly, this is what happened to Pamela, another one of the victims, you are correct. In fact, The skull was found about six miles south and then a half mile east of highway 54, roughly a quarter mile away from where Pamela’s body was found in June 2003. Kiowa Jane’s age was estimated to be anywhere from 17-30. Here’s where things get a little iffy, see her estimated date of death is somewhere between 1985 and 2002. That’s a big discrepancy and leaves a lot of room for doubt. Once again, I can’t say whether Kiowa Jane’s life was anything like the lives of the six Lawton women or how she met her end, but I thought it was intriguing enough to include here.
So, that’s all that I have for this case. This one really breaks my heart. So many lives cut tragically short by violence. Not just the six women from Lawton, but the seven found along I-40, The five from Arizona, Laura from New Mexico and our two possible victims. If you guys have your own theories or see something I missed, please feel free to leave a comment below, let’s talk about it! Be safe out there, you guys. Don’t let each other go missing.
If you have any information about Jane, Cassandra, Mandy, Janice, Pamela, or Tanja please, please contact the OSBI at 1-800-522-8017 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know where Rebecca Jean Boyd is please contact the Comanche County Sheriff’s office at 580-353-4280. And finally, if you know anything at all that might help identify Kiowa Jane please contact the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Eastern Division.