Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Independence from Uncertainty

by Diane Fanning

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the murder of fourteen-year-old Bobbie Lynn Wofford from Kingfisher, Oklahoma. She was last seen at Love's Country Store at 4 a.m., July 5, 1999. Tommy Lynn Sells confessed that he was there, too. He stopped to put air in a tire with a troublesome leak.

Spotting the young blond woman on the pay phone, he offered her a ride.

In a secluded area, he forced her to perform oral sex and raped her with a ratchet. In an attempt to escape, she jerked open the door and Sells grabbed his gun. He pulled the trigger and Bobbie Lynn Wofford fell dead in the dirt on the side of the road.

Bobbie Lynn's mother, Susan, had no idea of what happened to her daughter for four long months. On November 4, men hunting quail stumbled across Bobbie Lynn's purse. Sheriff Danny Graham sent out a team to that location. They found her body decomposing in the woods, apparently killed by a gunshot to her head.

Sells (right) was arrested two months later for the murder of thirteen-year-old Katie Harris in Del Rio, Texas. Once in custody, he confessed to other homicides. During their extensive investigation, Texas Rangers John Allen and Coy Smith located a pair of earrings Sells had given to a woman in town. They matched a necklace found on the body of Bobbie Lynn Wofford.

Local law enforcement, state investigators and the FBI wanted the case to go to trial. One thing stood in their way: prosecutor Ard Gates. Gates had been burned once before by a false confession by another man arrested in Texas, Henry Lee Lucas (left). He was cautious and skeptical to a fault. He refused to move the case forward.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was convinced of Sells' guilt. In recognizing Agent Steve Tanio with the 2001 Agent of the Year Award, they cited the detective for identifying the suspect and obtaining his confession in Bobbie Lynn's murder.

Still, in February 2002, Gates was continued to drag his feet. He spoke at a Rotary Club luncheon explaining his reluctance. Even though Susan Wofford identified the earrings as the ones matching her daughter's necklace, the prosecutor insisted that they were not a match. He dismissed Sells' story even though the serial killer was able to pick Bobbie Lynn out of a photo line-up, describe the isolated area where her body was found, and identify the correct type of weapon used to fire the fatal shot. He described it all as lies, despite knowing that law enforcement located the truck he drove that night and corroborated the leaking tire, and that witnesses had identified both Sells and his pick-up truck. Gates insisted there was no solid forensic evidence.

The case remains open. Current Kingfisher County Sheriff Dennis Banther told a reporter at The Oklahoman: "Periodically, we still receive phone calls. Whether we think it's a good lead or not, we still track it down. We investigate every lead. A day doesn't go by that we don't think about that case. We even have a Wofford room here where we can spread out all our information. Trust me, that file is not store in a basement somewhere."

Eleven years later, the same questions remain: Is the case already solved? Or was Ard Gates right and everyone else wrong? Will Bobbie Lynn Wofford ever find justice?

Bobbie Lynn is not alone in this cold pursuit. She is just one of a number of unsolved murders in small towns in Oklahoma.

In Cheyenne, 89-year-old Luella "Granny" Wright was killed in her bed on July 28, 2001. Authorities have a suspect, but he is sitting in a Mexican prison. However, even if they had him in custody, they are not certain they have sufficient evidence to convict.
Melissa Flores (left) was last seen on January 27, 2007. Her car and purse were found at an estranged boyfriend's home in Cordell. Her body has never been found. Last month, the OSBI renewed their $10,000 reward for information in her case.

Thirteen-year-old Taylor Placker and 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker were shot thirteen times with two different weapons. Their bodies were found on a dirt road, 300 yards from the Placker home. The reward fund for information in that case now stands at $160,000. A grand jury empanelled in September 2008 returned no indictments.

The body of Carol Daniels (right), pastor of Christ Holy Sanctified Church in Andarko, was found behind the altar of the sanctuary on August 23, 2009. Her knife-slashed body was arranged in the position of a crucifix.

It is likely in every case that someone has remained silent--that somebody has the knowledge to unlock these mysteries. On this long Independence Day weekend, we can only hope that one of those people will step forward and give the loved ones of these victims independence from uncertainty, and freedom from the questions that have haunted them day after day.

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