A scrapyard owner who had been considered a person of interest for weeks in the killing and dismembering of four men in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, has been charged with their murders.
Joseph Kennedy, 67, is now facing four counts of premeditated murder for allegedly killing Mark Chastain, 32, Billy Chastain, 30, Mikel Sparks, 32, and Alexray Stevens, 29, on Oct. 9, the district attorney for Okmulgee and McIntosh counties announced during a news conference Monday. Kennedy is being held without bond, she said.
According to court documents, Kennedy told a woman he was seeing that he had caught the four men stealing from him and shot them before cutting them up. District Attorney Carol Iski told reporters that the woman said Kennedy appeared agitated when he showed up at her house early in the morning the day after the four men's dismembered bodies were discovered in an Oklahoma river. When she asked what was wrong, he told her, "they were all against him and he lost it and he just started shooting," Iski said.
Kennedy disappeared for several days after being named a person of interest as the men's remains were recovered. He was arrested by police in Florida on Oct. 18 in a black Toyota Tundra that had been reported stolen, and he was booked on suspicion of grand theft and two counts of being a fugitive from justice.
While no charges were filed at the time of his arrest, Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice said Kennedy was being held on a warrant related to a 2012 shooting case. According to court documents filed this week, Kennedy was charged that year with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after shooting a man he thought was stealing from him. The man, who survived, told investigators he was walking on the railroad tracks that run through Kennedy's scrapyard when Kennedy confronted him with a firearm and shot him.
When asked during Monday's news conference whether Kennedy could say he acted in self-defense in the killings of the four men, Iski said she couldn't speculate on what his defense may be in court.
"The last time I checked, regardless of what happened, we don't have a death penalty in Oklahoma for stealing," she said.
A representative for the Okmulgee County Court Clerk's office told BuzzFeed News Kennedy has been appointed a public defender to represent him in the case. His attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The four men, whom police described as “close friends,” were reported missing to the Okmulgee Police Department on Oct. 10 after leaving Billy Chastain’s house the evening prior on bicycles pulling trailers. Police believed the victims planned to commit “some type of criminal act” when they left the house, Prentice previously said.
Using location data from an app on Mark Chastain’s wife’s phone, investigators were able to trace their movements to a salvage yard owned by Kennedy between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Oct. 9. Iski said the data showed that sometime later, Chastain's phone left the yard and traveled to a local gas station, but based on the travel time investigators believe the phone was inside a vehicle. None of the four men were seen in the gas station's surveillance footage, but Kennedy was observed standing next to his blue PT Cruiser at a fuel pump, Iski said. Chastain's phone was then tracked to a second salvage yard that is also owned by Kennedy before apparently turning off.
While the men's bodies were being recovered from the Deep Fork River several days later on Oct. 14, officers served a warrant at the first scrapyard and searched neighboring properties. During their search, officers found blood on the ground, a tree that had been struck by a bullet, and a black wagon and personal items later identified as belonging to Mark Chastain, according to court documents. In a voluntary interview, Kennedy told officers that he had been experiencing thefts at his yard and was there on Oct. 9 to attempt to catch the perpetrators. But Iski said he denied seeing the four men or having any contact with them.
Surveillance footage from a Coca-Cola plant next to Kennedy's scrapyard showed the scrapyard owner leaving the area in his PT Cruiser and then returning in a dark-colored Toyota pickup truck the night of Oct. 9, Iski said. Kennedy's cellphone records show his device also accessed cell towers west of Okmulgee near the area in the river where the men's bodies were discovered, according to court documents.
During the investigation, state laboratory technicians also identified two separate male DNA profiles from the blood swabs collected from Kennedy's pickup truck. They also identified two male DNA profiles from blood swabs collected from the stolen vehicle Kennedy was driving when he was arrested in Florida. Preliminary testing turned up a partial match between Billy Chastain and one of the DNA profiles collected, according to court documents.
"This has been a complicated and fast-evolving investigation," Prentice, the police chief, told reporters Monday, noting that investigators have logged more than 1,000 hours on the case so far. "The investigation is far from over, and we will carry on in the background as the criminal case proceeds."