The owner of an Oklahoma salvage yard has been charged with fatally shooting four friends whose dismembered remains were found in a river in October after they set out to commit a crime together, the authorities said.
The man, Joseph L. Kennedy, 67, was charged with four counts of premeditated murder and was being held without bond in the killing of Mark Chastain, 32; his brother, Billy Chastain, 30; Mike Sparks, 32; and Alex Stevens, 29, according to Carol Iski, the district attorney for McIntosh and Okmulgee Counties in Oklahoma.
Mr. Kennedy and the victims, whose remains were found in the Deep Fork River on Oct. 14, were all from Okmulgee, Okla., a city of about 11,000 people about 40 miles south of Tulsa.
Court documents indicate that the daughter of a woman who was in a romantic relationship with Mr. Kennedy told investigators that he came to her mother’s house on Oct. 10 and told her mother that he “had caught men stealing from him and had shot them.” The daughter said that her mother had told her that “after killing them, he had cut them up,” the records state.
Ms. Iski said that even if the men had been trying to rob Mr. Kennedy, that was not a justification for shooting them.
“I would never be so bold as to predict what the defense might bring up,” Ms. Iski said at a news conference on Monday. “But the last time I checked, regardless of what happened, we don’t have a death penalty in Oklahoma for stealing.”
The district attorney’s office said on Tuesday that Mr. Kennedy did not yet have a lawyer.
The four friends were reported missing on Oct. 10 after they met up the previous night, the police said. Mark Chastain’s wife told the police that the men had been riding bicycles, possibly pulling trailers, court records show.
Cellphone data indicates that Mark Chastain went to Mr. Kennedy’s salvage yard, where investigators later found shell casings, blood and personal items belonging to Mr. Chastain, court records show.
Mr. Chastain’s phone was at the salvage yard for an “extended period of time,” and later pinged at a gas station, where Mr. Kennedy was seen on surveillance video standing next to his car by the gas pumps, the records state. Mr. Chastain and the three other victims did not appear in the video, according to the records.
On Oct. 14, a passerby noticed something suspicious in the Deep Fork River, leading investigators to what appeared to be human remains protruding from the water.
Three days later, the police announced that the remains had been identified as those of the missing men.
Joe Prentice, the Okmulgee police chief, said on Oct. 17 that the men had planned to “commit some type of criminal act.” That plan was revealed by a witness who told investigators that he had been invited to join the men to “hit a lick big enough for all of them,” Chief Prentice said, quoting the witness.
Chief Prentice described the phrase as slang for “engaging in some type of criminal behavior,” but said at the time that the police did not know what the men were planning or where they planned to do it.
Mr. Kennedy’s salvage yard held scrap metal and cars in various states of disassembly, the chief said, but nothing that he would “classify as valuable.”
Chief Prentice had initially described Mr. Kennedy as a “person of interest” in the investigation.
During a voluntary interview, Mr. Kennedy told investigators that people had been stealing from his salvage yard and that he had gone there on Oct. 9 to “catch the perpetrators,” court documents state. He denied having any contact with the victims, the documents state.
Investigators were hoping to question Mr. Kennedy again when he was reported missing on Oct. 15, Chief Prentice said. Two days later, Mr. Kennedy’s car was found behind a business in Morris, Okla., about six miles east of Okmulgee, the police said.
Mr. Kennedy was arrested on Oct. 18 in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., driving a stolen pickup truck with an Oklahoma license plate, the police said. He was charged with grand theft and with violating the terms of his probation in a 2012 shooting case in Okmulgee, court records show.
In that case, Mr. Kennedy was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after he saw people on his property that he believed were stealing from him and shot one of them, court records state. Mr. Kennedy pleaded no contest and was ordered to remain out of legal trouble for 10 years, until 2023, records show.
More recently, investigators interviewed a man who reported that he had been walking on railroad tracks that run through Mr. Kennedy’s scrapyard when Mr. Kennedy confronted him with a firearm and shot him, court records show.
Ms. Iski, the Okmulgee County district attorney, said the investigation into the quadruple murders would continue. Ms. Chastain told FOX23 News on Oct. 18 that she was grieving for her husband, who was the father of their two children: a toddler and a 4-year-old.
“Eventually the truth will come out. Eventually,” she said. “We need justice for, not only Mark, but all of them.”