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True crime. Casually done.

The Disappearance of the Jamison Family

According to a 2020 report from the FBI, there are currently somewhere around 87,500 active missing person cases in the United States. Add in the rest of the world, and the number will be in the multiple millions. That is a hell of a lot of people, and statistically there’s a semi-decent chance that one or two of them might be listening right now (please call home, everyone’s worried about you).

The vast majority (around 80%) of these cases wrap up within 24 hours, when the person stumbles up to the front step with a raging hangover, or the teenage runaway is brought back home by the police. However, a small percentage of them disappear forever, never to be seen again. 

This is not one of those cases. Today’s story does revolve around a mysterious disappearance, but one which only gets more confusing after the missing people were eventually found. Things begin simply enough, when a family of three go missing on a trip into the Oklahoman mountains. But from there, the case spirals out into one of the most bizarre networks of speculation you’re ever likely to find: witchcraft, Satanism, meth gangs, neo-Nazis, you name it.

Let’s see if we can’t extract a bit of sense from all the madness, as we take a deep dive into the mystery of the Jamison Family Disappearance…

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Meet the Jamisons

The Jamison family was made up of 44-year-old father Bobby, 40-year-old mum Sherilynn, and little Madyson, who was just six years old back in ’09. Oh and, Maisie the dog, of course — Madyson’s beloved pet. To any stranger on the street, this lot appeared to be a perfectly normal Oklahoman family: they went to church, enjoyed spending time in nature, and generally kept to themselves.

The family made a home for themselves in the small lakeside town of Eufaula, a couple of hours east from Oklahoma City. It’s your typical rural American town, with just short of 3,000 people, not much going on. But even that was too noisy for the Jamisons. 

Bobby and Sherilynn dreamed of living in total peace and quiet on a 40-acre plot of land off in the mountains. The only problem was, they would only have enough money to buy the land itself, not to build a house on top of it; Bobby suffered from chronic back pain after a car wreck in 2003, and the couple were barely scraping by on disability benefits. To add to their financial worries, they were currently involved in a lawsuit against his own father, for their fair share of a property sale.

Their temporary solution was a long, rust-red shipping container which sat outside on their Eufaula Lake property: they planned on moving that up to the mountains, and just living inside it in the meantime (because apparently they stopped watching Into the Wild after the first 30 minutes). As you’ve probably guessed, the Jamisons were… eccentric, to say the least.

Not many people knew about these plans, but that was just the way it was with this couple — they were so private that even their nearest and dearest rarely knew what was going on in their lives. So when they pulled Madison out of school completely in October 2009, nobody thought anything of it. 

On October 8th, they loaded up their car with gear and their beloved dog Maisie, and set out on an expedition into the Sans Bois Mountains to scout out their new home. The family often disappeared for days at a time without explanation, looking to disconnect from the world completely. But then the weekend came and went, with no news… then a full week. 

It seemed as if they had just up and vanished without a trace…

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The Car

When the missing person report came in, there wasn’t yet any reason for Sheriff Israel Beauchamp to think anything was wrong; people run away from their old lives all the time, and those left behind always say there’s ‘no way they would do that’. 

Perhaps the Jamisons just found that perfect patch of nowhere and decided to start their new life early. Then came another call which changed everything. 

On October 16th, just a little over a week after the disappearance, a group of hunters on dirt bikes found a little dog, starving to death inside a white truck, parked up by an old oil well site. They had passed by the car earlier that week and thought nothing of it, but after seeing it abandoned for days on the mountainside, they decided to investigate.

The little dog was, of course, Maisie. The poor pup was at death’s door, having been left to starve for an entire week. Sheriff Beauchamp and his men came to smash the window and save her, later saying:

“The dog was eating its own feces to stay alive. Why would anyone leave their family pet like that? Doesn’t make sense. Then again, nothing seems to make sense about this case.”

Why indeed, would they leave their pet like that, unless something had happened to them? It was a massive red flag. As for Maisie, she went off to live with Bobby Jamison’s mother. And trust me, you’re going to want to savour that happy ending — it’s the last one you’re getting today. 

Now onto the more important question: where the hell were the human members of the Jamison clan? Judging by the state of the car, it appeared as if they hadn’t planned on being gone for long: inside were their phones, wallets, clothes, jackets, a GPS, and… $32,000 in cash.

That’s a pretty hefty amount for a couple known to be struggling financially. The loot was stashed in a bag underneath the passenger’s seat. Presumably, it was brought along as a down payment on their 40-acres, assuming they could find the perfect place that weekend. However, nobody could quite explain how they came about that much in the first place.

Moreover, there wasn’t any sign of a struggle in the car — no specks of blood, cracked glass, or anything of the sort. The only sign of a conflict was between the husband and wife themselves: a thick letter, addressed from Sherilynn to her husband Bobby, outlining everything she hated about him. 

Perhaps things weren’t quite as rosy in the Jamison household as I first made out…

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Happy House

This hateful letter to her hubbie was just the latest in a long line of outbursts by Sherilynn, who was prone to bouts of extreme, vicious, depressive anger. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a young age, but refused to keep up with her medication. As a result, she was known to lash out at her loved ones whenever her mood tanked. 

Hence the letter: 11 pages of unfiltered abuse, claiming that Bobby never cared about their daughter, that he was a “hermit”, and that she wanted a divorce. Judging by that, you might expect a tidy ‘husband did it’ conclusion, but hold your judgement for a few. minutes, at least. 

Sherilynn’s condition had been worsening throughout the spring and summer of 2009, with longer periods of deep depression, and increasingly violent outbursts. Her own mother, Connie Kokotan, told a local news show that when she lived with them for a while that year: 

“Sherilyn was a very strong-willed person, but I saw her change dramatically. She became very illogical. One day she drove me to Oklahoma City and dropped me off on the street. She told me to, ‘Get out of my car.’ So I did.”

The Central Business District of downtown Oklahoma City.
The Central Business District of downtown Oklahoma City. By Urbanative, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

Dumping your own mum 2 hours away from home is pretty low. And if not anything else, it at least proves that there was a lot of tension in the Jamison household in the lead-up to the disappearance. Bobby himself also had problems with depression, especially after the car accident back in ’03 hampered his mobility. 

All in all, it doesn’t sound like their home was a very happy place to live at the time. That’s perhaps why 12-year-old Colton — Sherilynn’s son from a prior marriage — chose to go live with his father that summer. The Jamisons lost custody, and at the hearing for the case, Colton explained that his mother “acted strangely” and was “very depressed”.

To Sheriff Beauchamp, this all sounded quite worrying — what if the couple had done something drastic… To add to those worries, he got a first-hand glimpse of this ‘strange behavior’ when his men searched the family’s house, and retrieved the footage from their security camera…

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The Video 

On the morning of the disappearance, October 8th, the security camera facing out onto the Jamisons’ driveway captured them loading up the car for their mountain excursion. Despite the horrifically low frame rate, we can see that they take around two-dozen trips back and forth, bringing clothes and equipment from the house. Curiously, one of the bags is Sherilynn’s brown leather briefcase, which wasn’t with the vehicle. 

Nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Expect that, throughout the entire thing, neither Bobby nor Sherilynn appear to say a single word to each other. Sometimes they walk back and forth without even bringing anything to the car. And then they also stop frequently and just stare into space; it’s as if the both of them have been hypnotised. Or rather, it’s as if both of them are high as fuck. Let me explain. 

As is becoming abundantly clear the more I research this show, rural America absolutely loves meth. And eastern Oklahoma is no different. In fact, the area around Eufaula is apparently notorious for drug gang activity. Sure, Bobby and Sherilynn look a bit too mellow in the video to be full-on buzzing, but the long term exhaustion that meth addiction brings could certainly induce periods of that zombie-like haze they appear to be in. 

Friends and family say there’s no way the couple were users. But at the same time, they admit that the both of them grew increasingly paranoid in the weeks leading up to the disappearance, and they looked “emaciated”. Regardless, no drugs nor paraphernalia were found in the house. If they really were smoking meth, they were damn good at hiding it. 

So if they weren’t high, what the hell were Bobby and Sherilynn up to that morning? Are we witnessing two people on the brink of a breakdown, or just a regular marital spat? Were they perhaps just exhausted from worry? Or was there — as some people believe — something more sinister going on?

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The Search

Before we go any further, let’s review the timeline that the Sheriff’s Office had come up with so far:

  • The family leaves their house on the morning of the 8th, after packing up the car like zombies.
  • They drive out about 30 miles from Eufaula, and meet with a representative to discuss a piece of land for sale.
  • They then leave, and drive up to a secluded spot in the mountains; an unnamed witness who lived 1/4 mile from where the car was found saw them driving up — notably, theirs was the only car he noticed going up that day.
  • Then, sometimes in the afternoon, for some reason, they abandon their car and disappear.

Quite a crude timeline, but there are a few more puzzle pieces left. A closer inspection of Bobby’s phone yielded some useful GPS information, which showed that, after parking up at the oil well, the family went for a hike up to a nearby hilltop. Following this route up through the trees, the cops found small footprints which they assumed belonged to Madyson.

According to the data, the family spent about 15 minutes up on the hilltop before descending again. Somewhere along the way, a picture of Madyson was snapped on Bobby’s phone — in it, she’s either laughing or crying, no one really knows, and the media would go on to make a big deal out of guessing. After descending, it appears as if they must have hopped back into the car, taking their phones out of their pockets, and then… something. Something odd.

Judging by the way the car was parked, it appeared as if they attempted to drive off at that point, but then stopped the car for some reason. Had they got the sudden urge to go for another little walk? Not likely, given Bobby’s bad back. Which is why the family suspected that someone on the road prevented them from leaving.

Sure, there was every chance that they did just go for a walk and get lost, but then the dog and GPS would’ve been with them. Plus, Bobby was an accomplished outdoorsman, and his back pain meant their range would be quite limited. And if this was the story of how some guy threw his back out while hiking and was rescued by the police the week after, we probably wouldn’t be covering it on the show…

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A massive search operation got underway on the 17th, roping in hundreds of volunteers, two helicopters, horses, mules, quad bikes, 16 canine teams, and a drone. Had you been one of the volunteers that day, you’d have heard the entire forest abuzz with activity: dogs running around, the family’s names echoing all around, drowned out as the choppers swoop overhead. 

The name of this patch of mountains, Sans Bois, means “without wood” in French, which is a little ironic considering how much the thick tree canopies slowed down the search. The aerial vehicles were basically useless. The undergrowth made it even tougher on the ground, as volunteers and cops braved steep ravines and narrow hunting trails to access the most treacherous parts of the landscape.

And then the rain came. As the torrents started bucketing down a few days into the search, you’d have spent more of the day trying to push the rescue vehicles out of the mud than actually searching for the family. These oil and gas roads are barely maintained, making it nigh-on impossible to effectively search in weather like this. 

Aside from the risk of flash floods, the sheriff also had to reckon with the fact that deer hunting season was kicking off on that Friday. Any volunteer mistaken for a buck could end up with a bullet to the brain, meaning the operation was more likely to cause a bunch more missing person cases rather than solve one.

About a week in, the search was called off…

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So What Happened?

Without the happy ending we’d all been hoping for, the Jamisons’ loved ones were forced to face up to the fact that they were probably not coming home. The weeks turned into months, with the trail growing colder and colder, despite assistance from the FBI and countless other agencies. Sheriff Beauchamp explained it like this: “A lot of investigators would love to have as many leads as we do. The problem is they point in so many different directions.”

Basically, when you start digging deeper into the family’s history, so many possibilities arise that it’s tough to make sense of them all. And as you can imagine with a case like that, the internet was soon abuzz with speculation: the more blank spaces that can be filled with nonsense, the more the online sleuths start foaming at the mouth. 

And so, in the spirit of that great internet tradition, we’re going to kick off with the most bizarre theory of all…

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Some Ghosts Did It

Yes, one of the most strange theories around the Jamison Family Disappearance reads more like a first draft of The Conjuring, than something that belongs in a police report. See, Bobby and Sherilynn were heavily religious folks. Good, churchgoing Christians… who dabbled in a light bit of Satanism. 

Actually, they were fascinated with all kinds of magic and ‘spirituality’, taking their faith to some pretty extreme ends. Case in point: their ongoing battle against a gang of demons that had taken up residence on the roof. No, I am not joking. 

Bobby and Sherilynn truly believed their lakeside house in Eufaula was haunted. It all started when little Madyson met an imaginary friend named Emily. Innocent enough, if a little creepy. But for some reason, her parents got it in their heads that this imaginary friend wasn’t the coping mechanism of a lonely little girl, but an evil entity who had come to steal their souls.

Apparently Emily the friendly ghost and a few other demons lived on the roof of the house, and would regularly harass the family. Sherilynn’s best friend Niki Shenold told the press: 

“But in all seriousness, that house was haunted. I don’t want to sound crazy, but whenever I went there I felt a horrible presence, I would leave feeling so down and depressed. […] Bobby – who was the such a gentle man – would suddenly come at her and his eyes would be completely dead and black, like he was possessed.”

(Note to Simon: now would be a perfect time to plug an advert for carbon monoxide detectors.)

Even when faced with demons possessing the love of her life, Sherilynn wasn’t worried. She believed she had the power to cast out these demons from her home with the power of witchcraft. She would leave notes around the place saying things like “Get out Satan” — not quite the ancient Latin spell I. Was expecting, but apparently it did the job.

The police found these quirky little notes alongside a copy of something called the Witch’s Bible when they searched the house. Best mate Niki Shenold confirmed that she and Sherilynn bought them as a joke several years before, but our missing woman soon started taking the whole thing a lot more seriously.

That’s not really all that wild — nowadays there are loads of these ‘Wiccan’ communities online, where people who watched a bit too much Harry Potter as a kid convince each other they can cast spells. If any Wiccan listeners are offended by my skepticism, then go on, curse me, I dare you. 

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Bobby’s approach to fighting evil was a little more concerning. The family’s pastor, Gary Brandon, told the cops how the man of the house had approached him earlier in 2009, saying he was locked in “spiritual warfare”. He asked if there was anywhere he could get ahold of “special bullets” to shoot the damn ghosts with. The idea of exorcising your home with a hail of holy gunfire is potentially the most Oklahoma thing I’ve ever heard. 

But of course, the pastor didn’t have any sacred bullets, or holy hand grenades, so the Jamisons had to find another way to purge their abode. Towards that end, Bobby purchased a copy of The Satanic Bible, by Anton LaVey (founder of the Church of Satan). I’m no expert, but if you’re looking to fight demons wouldn’t you be better off with the regular, vanilla Bible?

And as you might expect, our wannabe demon hunters didn’t exactly make the best neighbours. At best, their behaviour was reclusive and offbeat, and at worst it was outright antisocial. For example, Sherilynn go it in her head ha the neighbours were poisoning her cats, so she sprayed a bunch of graffiti on the side of he aforementioned shipping container:

“3 black cats killed to date buy people in this area”

“Witches don’t like there black cat killed”

Are you starting to see a bit of a pattern emerging here? Paranoid — besieged on all sides by both demons and humans — looking to fight their way out with bullets and black magic rituals. Something was clearly very wrong at the Jamison household, and I’m not just talking about their marital issues.

And as if satanic hordes weren’t enough to deal with, the couple then found themselves fighting a new danger… 

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The Nazis Did It

I’m willing to outright reject the idea that Beelzebub and his demonic hordes were responsible for the sudden disappearance of the Jamison family. So who can we blame instead? Try Hitler — or rather, a group white supremacists inspired by neo-Nazi ideology, who had it out for the family. 

If you’ve seen pictures of the couple, this idea would seem quite strange, because both Bobby and Sherilynn, and by extension their daughter, look white as hell. But actually, Sherilynn was part Native American, and had a close call with a neo-Nazi scumbag not long before she and her family disappeared.

In the summer of 2009, Bobby decided he needed a little bit of extra help around the house, on account of his back. So he invited his friend, handyman Kenneth Bellows, to come stay with them. As is always the case with new roommates, it took a few weeks for Bellows’ true colours to show: the man was a big-time bigot — a full-blown white-power, Aryan-pride ballbag. 

It never became an issue until he one day discovered that his new landlady had native blood. After that, Bellows’ whole attitude changed. He would make indirect comments about her ancestry whenever the husband wasn’t around, and it all came to a head in August. While Bobby was out in town, Bellows sat down next to Sherilynn, got up in her face, and started racially abusing her.

Sherilynn felt threatened, but she never backed down — she ran to the bedroom and retrieved her trusty 22 caliber pistol, and pointed it at the lodger’s head. Bellows backed up and went outside, but refused to get off the property. So Sherilynn emptied a few rounds into the ground at his feet, sending him running off with his tail between his legs. Don’t worry, you’re allowed to cheer gun violence if the person being shot at is a massive Nazi.

When Sheriff Beauchamp heard this, he thought the case would soon be wrapped up nice and neatly: “He had the barrel stuck in his ear by Sherilynn. At first you think, ‘Great, here’s someone with a motive.’ But the FBI cleared him.”

yeah, unfortunately Bellows had a solid alibi for where he was on October 8th. There’s no way he could’ve been involved in the disappearance. Unless of course, he wasn’t directly to blame. Who’s to say whether or not some of his white supremacist associates decided to act for him, and kidnap the Jamisons that day?

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The Grandpa Did It

That’s certainly something to keep in mind, but perhaps we don’t need to look so far at all to find suspects. As it turned out, one of the family’s closest relatives was a leading suspect early in the case: Bobby’s father, Bob Sr. 

Remember how I told you that Bobby had an outstanding lawsuit against his father? Well, that wasn’t all— the two had an incredibly volatile relationship, and endless disagreements over money, which allegedly spilled over into violence at least once. 

It all started years ago, when Bob Dean Jamison bought a gas station in Oklahoma City. He reportedly had his son work there for free, in the understanding that he would get a cut of the cash when he eventually sold the place. But according to court documents, when that day came Bob Jr never got a penny. As his mother Starlet explains, things soured between father and son real fast:

“Bobby fought for his money and it all turned a bit ugly.’I don’t want to turn Bob [Sr.] into some kind of monster, but he did threaten the family. We had split up by that stage […]. There were a few confrontations and we were worried, so I installed security cameras at the house”

Yes, Big Bob was actually the reason the security cameras were installed in the first place. Bobby and Sherilynn were apparently so afraid of him that they attempted to get a restraining order earlier in 2009. Those court documents allege that ol’ grandpa Jamison was, “a very dangerous man who thinks he is above the law,” and was linked to “prostitutes, gangs, and meth.” 

Bobby told the judge that his pimpin’ pensioner father threatened to kill him and his family on multiple occasions: once in November 2008 and again in April ‘09. During the first incident, Big Bob allegedly ran over his own son with his car! Is it too much of a stretch to think that this elderly meth-lord might have finally followed through on his threats?

Sure, he was 67 years old and unwell at this point — hardly fit to go executing family members. And the police were able to clear his alibi: Bob Sr was in a rest home at the time of the disappearance. However, his associates wouldn’t have had any such obstacles; some claim that the old boy had links to the Mexican cartels out of Texas.

Or perhaps this was all just a family feud getting blown out of proportion. People with violent tempers say all kinds of things, but it takes a special kind of psychopath to order the execution of your own granddaughter. As Bob Sr’s brother Jack put it: 

“He was either in a hospital or in a rest home. I just don’t think he was involved. He was disturbed at the time, but I’m pretty sure he was not capable of being involved in that.”

I sincerely hope so. Whatever the case, Bob Dean Jamison passed away two months after the disappearance of his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. The police never pursued him or any of his associates, meaning there’s only a very slim chance any of them were involved.

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The Family Skipped Town

So maybe it’s a bit grim heaping so much suspicion on an old man at the end of his life (even if he was a drug-pushing pimp/thug/gangster). But we can take something from that story to work with: meth, glorious meth. 

As I mentioned before, this region of Oklahoma is well known for drug production — it’s a big part of the local culture. Think wine country, but for amphetamines: tourists can even enjoy a guided meth lab tour with a tasting at the end. (citation needed)

So when someone who lives adjacent to that world suddenly shows up with $32 grand in cash, there’s a 90% chance it’s meth-related. As we discovered, the Jamisons grew increasingly skinny and agitated around the time of their disappearance, and some friends said that it seemed like they thought someone was out to get them.

Maybe they were making a break for it after crossing the wrong person, but were tracked down to the mountainside that day. However, if they were involved in the drug trade themselves, you’d expect a little bit of evidence to that effect somewhere in the house or car. 

It still leaves the possibility though, that they were involved not as dealers or users, but as witnesses. Consider the fact one friend of the family reported that earlier in 2009, Bobby lodged a complaint against someone in the neighbourhood for operating a meth lab in their home. If that kind of news got out, you’d definitely be looking over your shoulder whenever you left the house. You might even want to disappear entirely.

Based on the way that their car was left abandoned, some believe that the Jamisons were attempting to fake their own death, to avoid retribution from whatever drug gang they had wronged. That could explain the speedy disappearance; even Sherilynn’s 12-year-old son Colton had no idea his mother planned on moving. 

It was even argued that federal marshals could have been involved. Meaning, after reporting the drug gang, Bobby might have been set to testify. in a big case, which meant the family was put into witness protection. If that were the case, local cops would’ve been left in the dark, in case of corruption.

But then… why not take the money with them? A pile of $32 grand can really help out when starting a new life — believe me, I’d know (this is like my 17th identity). Like every damn theory attached to this case, it doesn’t quite add up.

Sure, it’s comforting to imagine Bobby, Sherilynn, and little Madyson off enjoying a new life on the beaches of California, but in the end, that would prove to be nothing but a hopeful fantasy…

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Meet the Jamisons 

Four autumns came and went before the next break in the case. During that time, Sheriff Beauchamp worked himself to the bone chasing every little tip that came down the line, no matter how ludicrous:

“I’m at my wit’s end. I have asked for all the help I could get — 12 FBI agents, three OSBI agents, Troop Z [of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol], private investigators who have contacted me. I even belittled myself to the point where I listened to psychics.”

Now we’re in November 2013, and a topographical map of the area hangs on the lawman’s office wall, a constant reminder of the most difficult case of his career. On the map are lines drawn in marker pen, showing the search routes that spread across the mountains that week back in 2009. Many miles of mountain searched, with no results.

But what the sheriff didn’t know at the time, was that there was no need to cast such a wide net over that vast expanse of wilderness; as it turned out, the Jamison family never made it very far at all…

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On November 16th 2013, a man out “scouting for deer” in the Sans Bois mountains came across a grisly sight: poking up through a thick layer of autumn leaves, was the unmistakable off-white colour of a human skull. A closer look revealed two more by its side — one of them the same size, the other far smaller.

The man called the police, who brought a team up to the spot, just 2.7 miles away from where the Jamison family’s car was recovered. They shifted away the layers of soil and detritus on the remains, and found what they described as “bits of clothing and other bones and bone fragments.” 

Among them was a child’s pink show — Madyson’s favourite colour — and a dried flower, on what was assumed to be her body. As you can imagine, the state of decay was extremely advanced; these were just the remains of skeletons, which — if they really did belong to the Jamison family — had been exposed to the elements and wildlife for 4 years

It would be a further 8 months before forensic scientists could verify — using dental records and DNA — that these were indeed, Sherilynn, Bobby, and Madyson. Even though they weren’t very far from the car at all, it’s understandable why the initial search never found their bodies; this remote part of the mountain, known as Smokestack Hollow, was rarely travelled, and the bodies lay on a steep incline. 

The poor weather back in 2009 could have obscured the bodies and prevented volunteers from reaching them. Given the winding route necessary to make it up to that point, the actual distance travelled is closer to 7 miles. So why was the family going up that way? 

What, they just randomly decided to bail on the car, leave the dog, and take their 6-year-old on an incredibly arduous hike to absolutely nowhere? Well, investigators took a look at the position of the bodies, and theorised that perhaps they didn’t do it willingly: the remains were all face-down, and arranged in a row. Almost in the style of an execution…

This also appeared to rule out the possibility that they were caught unawares by a flash flood (heavy rains were washing over the area at the time) — there’s no way that would’ve left them perched on an incline, in such an orderly formation. And even if exposure got them, would they really all justly down and die like that? The chances of this being a natural death were looking very slim.

And again, the remains were far too decayed to get any conclusive evidence from — by this point all kinds of animals had picked away at the pieces. However, analysis of Bobby’s skull revealed what may have been a small bullet hole in the back — about where a round might enter if the victim icon his knees, and the killer standing. The hunter who found the bodies thought the same.

Now, this could very well be a coincidence — I thankfully haven’t seen pictures, but I’ve read reports saying that there was all kinds of wear and tear on the skulls, mostly attributed to rodents. Hence, police eventually dropped this line of reasoning from their inquiries, but more for lack of verifiability than anything else.

Finding the bodies ended up raising more questions than it answered. In the end, the cause of death in all three cases was listed as unknown. And just like that, we’re right back into the speculation zone…

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Who Killed the Jamisons?

The news of the bodies was devastating for the families, but at least it offered up one consolation: the possibility of closure. The case had slipped out of the news cycle years ago, and was little more than a minor fixture on true crime websites. But now, a fresh wave of interest came along, and several new theories about what exactly happened that day…

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A Drug Deal Gone Wrong 

We’ll start with the obvious. After all that speculation about the Jamison’s being somehow involved in drugs, it sure does look suspicious to find them dead in a way that bears the hallmarks of a gangland execution. Perhaps the Jamisons were on their way to deliver that cash to someone involved in the drug trade, but something went wrong during the deal.

However, if that were the case, surely the mystery gang member would have nabbed the $32k before making a break for it. Say what you like about murderous methhead biker gangs, but they’re not stupid

Well, this is where that missing bag from before comes into play. Remember I told you that the security footage shows Sherilynn loading up the car with her brown leather briefcase? Well, this missing bag wasn’t with the bodies either. Sheriff Beauchamp was keen to locate it from the get-go, saying: “I think it might have held a lot of cash.”

Could it be then, that Bobby and Sherilynn had arranged to meet someone up on that mountain, who swindled them out of the cash — or so they thought. In reality, the killer just got whatever unknown amount was packed into the briefcase, leaving the rest of the loot safely tucked underneath the car seat.

It’s certainly possible. After the bodies were found, Sherilynn’s mother Connie recalled a strange comment that Bobby made in the summer before they disappeared: “Bobby told Sherilyn, ‘I know where I can get the money, but I won’t involve you.’” 

That sure sounds suspicious. And from what I gather, the fastest way to get some quick cash in Oklahoma is by dabbling in meth. However… if Bobby was adamant that he didn’t want to bring his wife, why the hell would they bring the kid? I don’t think ‘bring your daughter to work day’ applies to drug dealers, but I could be wrong…

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An Offering to a Cult

‘So what now?’ I hear you ask. ‘If the meth gangs are off the hook, who can we possibly blame?’. Well friends, the number 1 rule of internet sleuthing is that when you run out of sensible leads, you should start screaming about cults. And that’s just what happened here.

Although the idea was never really entertained by the authorities, Sherilynn’s mother Connie Kokotan made waves by telling the papers she thought a religious cult may have been to blame for the murders. Perhaps they stumbled across some freaky pagan ritual out there, and became the unlucky sacrifice.

A little disclaimer before we go further: for this theory, Kokotan cites “stories on the internet”. Which essentially means that you lot have been putting wild ideas in her head — please stop. 

Her explanation goes like this:“That part of Oklahoma is known for that […] cults and stuff like that. [F]rom what I’ve been told and from what I’ve read. I was told […] that she was on a cult’s hit list.”

Why would a cult bother targeting the family, you ask? There are a couple of theories. The first is that they were themselves involved with some sort of esoteric organisation, and that the money they took to the mountain might have been some kind of offering. 

They wouldn’t be the first people to renounce their worldly possessions and go live with some nut jobs in the forest. And we already know the couple were into some wild stuff; who knows what kind of people they could’ve seeked out once the pastor refused to cough up some blessed bullets.

If you want something a bit more concrete, then consider the fact that there was an abandoned pickup truck dumped not far from where their own car was found. This old wreck was used as target practice by local hunters, and was tagged with what the papers call “satanic messages”.

Niki Shenold claims that Sherilynn’s own messages were tagged on top of these ones, saying things like “Peace” and “God Love You”. “Maybe someone saw her and got really angry because she was writing over their messages? It wouldn’t surprise me up there.”

Really Niki? It wouldn’t surprise you if a Satanic cult killed your mate’s whole family because she tagged over their “Satan #1” graffiti? What the hell would it take to surprise you?

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White Power Part 2: Revenge of the Neo Nazis

So we’re all willing to chalk up the “cult hit list” angle as total nonsense, yes? Okay, good. I promise, the next one has a bit more sense to it. Remember our old friends, the white supremacists? Well, even after massive racist Kenneth Bellows was cleared by the FBI, a tip came through which gave extra credibility to the idea of a racially-motivated revenge killing. 

For years after the disappearance, Niki Shenold took time out of her own life to dedicate herself to the search. In 2010 appeared on the Discovery Network show Disappeared. Not long after, she received a phone call from a woman who said she used to be part of a white supremacist group called the United White Knights. 

The mystery caller claimed that this organisation kept a book, in which they noted down the names of their enemies: an actual hit list. The woman said that she made a point of memorising the names from the book at UWK meetings, then Googling them when she got home. Sure enough, she found missing person’s case after missing person’s case. 

And among them, was the name Sherilynn Jamison. It still takes a lot of assumptions to knit this one together, but at least we have a motive (Kenneth Bellows’ untimely eviction) and the name of an organisation. I had a quick Google, so you at home don’t have to end up on an FBI watchlist, and discovered there are more than a few of these groups active in the American south: she might have meant the United Dixie White Knights, Loyal White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, or any number of similarly-named affiliates. 

Yep, if this woman was for real, the KKK might have been involved. I know this might come as quite a shock, but the KKK isn’t just about fun bonfires and community spirit: some of them are actually less-than-admirable people. In fact, you might go as far as to say that the KKK are actually not that nice at all. So it’s relatively plausible when Niki says of the mystery tipster: 

“She had overheard some conversations with these guys where clearly they were talking about Sherilyn, Bobby and Madyson; that they took care of them.”

However, bear in mind that this came after the first big wave of media hype. The white power connection was already well known, and at times like that all kinds of frauds come crawling out of the woodwork, for the sake of fame, attention, or plain boredom. Niki no doubt dealt with her fair share of that in those days. But this one, she says, was different: the caller allegedly gave a description of the unique insignia on Bobby Jamison’s wedding ring.

If true, then that would be the smoking gun we need. However, none of this was ever confirmed by law enforcement, but I’ll admit it’s far more compelling than the vague suggestion of cults in the hills. 

But then we have to ask: were Bellows’ associates not looked into at all? That’s thought to believe, seeing as the FBI was following that lead. How did the killers get up the hill without the witness who lived nearby knowing? 

Well, perhaps they were already in the car, pointing a gun at the family… which would have made for a very awkward meeting with the landowner’s representative earlier in the day, and a very uncomfortable hike up the hill before coming back down, dumping their gear, and being murdered.

Whatever way you spin in, it’s highly unlikely that anyone followed the family up there that day. Which makes me wonder, what if the killer was already up there all along?

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An Unfortunate Meeting

We’ve already tossed ‘drug deal gone bad’ to the bottom of the pile, but there remains an alternative. What if the Jamisons accidentally got wrapped up in the drug trade? What I mean is, the Sans Bois Mountains are apparently a hotspot for secluded cooking shacks (as in, for cooking crystal meth, not brunch). 

Just like in the old days of prohibition, when moonshiners would hide their stills out in the forests, nowadays meth manufacturers sometimes choose to set up temporary facilities far away from prying eyes. 

What if the Jamisons stumbled across such a place? Or saw some sort of deal go down? Or caught some gangsters burying a body? Any of those would be reason enough for a ruthless enough criminal to massacre them. Or hell, who’s to say some opportunistic murderer didn’t spot a family wandering around this secluded woodland and decided to take their chance?

The idea is that the family saw something they shouldn’t have, or met someone they should have avoided, on their mountain walk. They then rush back down to the car with their killers in pursuit. Jumping inside, they start to pull out onto the dirt road, and just then, someone bursts out from between the trees, pointing a gun at the windshield. 

The attacker (or attackers) then tells the family to step out of the car with their hands up. Seeing the briefcase inside, they force the couple to hand it over. They have no choice but to comply. They’re searched for weapons, and the killers confiscate Sherilynn’s 22 caliber pistol before she can start blasting their toes off like before. That’d explain why it was never found at the house, car, or site of death

After that, they lock the car and are led on a death march up the mountainside, snaking back and forth over tangled undergrowth and slippery rock faces. The kidnappers likely keep the parents in check by threatening their daughter. After walking for over an hour, maybe more, they’re told to kneel down on a slope. Perhaps they were told they’d be allowed to live if they played along, but in reality the killers just knew it was easier to walk a man into the woods than drag his body.

A gun is placed to the back of Bobby’s head. He’s shot dead, falling face-first into the ground. Then it’s the turn of Sherilynn and Madison. Perhaps the lack of a bullet hole suggests they died by some other means (maybe that’s the case for Bobby too, seeing as they never found a bullet or exit hole). 

I’m getting a bit depressed considering the possibilities, so I’ll leave the rest of the speculation to you at home. You might want to have a few shots of something strong to hand if you plan on mulling it over for long. 

It’s a chilling prospect, and perhaps the most coherent theory yet. But prepare yourself, because things are about to get even sadder…

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The Most Tragic Theory of All

There’s one last theory that needs to be addressed before I let you pass your verdict on the Jamison Family Disappearance. It revolves around the dismal atmosphere that hung over the family home throughout the entirety of 2009. 

As we’ve already seen, something was taking its toll on the psychology of Sherilynn and Bobby. By the time they disappeared, they were shadows of their former selves: skinny, paranoid, and exhausted. Something very dark was brewing under their roof, but it wasn’t supernatural.

I found one news article which reported on Sherilynn’s mental state that year. Apparently her sister had passed unexpectedly two years before, from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. This caused her to lock herself away from the world, and lose herself in fantasies of witchcraft and demonic possession. In the house, Sheriff Beauchamp found a letter she had written, writing about ending her life. “They were certainly a family obsessed with death,” he said. Bobby likewise seems to have slipped into a depressive slump.

It really feels to me as if something was coming to a head here. And it did, in September 2009. Less than one month before the disappearance, Sherilynn was hospitalised after attempting suicide. I think within all this talk of meth gangs and white supremacists, it’s easy to lose sight of the dark clouds which were gathering in the family’s lives.

After finding the letter which Sherilynn wrote to Bobby, talking about how much she hated him, the police entertained the idea that she might have been responsible for the deaths. Niki Shenold thinks differently, saying: “It was her form of therapy. She would write things down when they came into her mind, but then she would move on. She loved Bobby.”

But honestly, given how reclusive the couple were in those final weeks and months; how clearly troubled their mental states were; and how bizarre their behaviour was as they loaded up the car, I struggle to shake the feeling that they knew they were going to die that day. 

Whether it was something to do with their occult beliefs, or a result of severe depression, I think that Sherilynn (or her and Bobby both) might have gone up the hill that second time with the full intention of ending their lives. It could have been Sherilynn that made the decision, or maybe Bobby after he saw the letter. Or maybe both of them agreed on it together. 

Friends and family outright deny the possibility, but when someone’s mind is in such a low place, (and filled with bizarre beliefs) they might come to see this sort of thing as a kindness. But then I think… the dog. 

That little black and white ball of fur brings the whole idea into question. Because, let’s just imagine for a second, that the parents (or at least one of them) were in the grasp of some dark ideas, and planned on ending the life of their daughter. I don’t believe for a second they’d leave the beloved family dog to starve to death in the car — little Maisie would’ve come along on that last trip with them too.

By all accounts the dog went everywhere with Madyson. As heartbreaking as it is to even consider, surely even the most desperate, suicidal parent would want the dog by her side at the end. And we still don’t have an explanation for the missing gun. Unless there’s some squirrel running around the forest strapped with a 22. caliber, the gun should have been found with the bodies. 

So make of this one what you will — just like all the rest, we’re left chasing our tails, trying to mash those last jigsaw pieces into places that they just don’t quite fit…

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Wrap-up

So now we’ve explored basically every nook and cranny of this case, covering the possibility of vengeful fathers, murderous KKK affiliates, and chance encounters with meth-manufacturing gangsters. If you were hoping for closure, I’m sorry but I’ve got none to offer today. 

None of the theories fit the evidence completely, which is exactly what Sheriff Beauchamp meant when he said he had all the leads he could ever hope for, but no hope of solving the case. To quickly recap some of the issues with our network of speculation: 

If you think it was a drug deal: why was the kid there, and why wasn’t the money gone?

If you think Bobby’s father or the KKK did it: why was nobody seen following them?

If you think it was a murder suicide: where was Sherilynn’s gun, and why was Maisie the dog left out?

And if you think they were possessed by rooftop-dwelling demons:… you’re an idiot.

Beyond that, I’m afraid I can help you no further. This case, which began as the kind which happens every single day in America, spiraled out into one of the most perplexing mysteries you’re ever likely to find in true crime. In the end, I — like Bobby’s mother — think they most likely just stumbled across the wrong person out there, and paid with their lives. The odds look overwhelmingly like we’ll never know who that person was. 

But on the off chance that you — yes you — sitting there at home, genuinely have the answer to the whole mystery, then you’re encouraged to contact the Latimer County Sheriff’s Office over in Oklahoma. If not for the family, do it for the thousands of listeners currently grinding their teeth in frustration.

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Dismembered Appendices

1. If you want an explanation for the huge wad of cash which doesn’t include drugs, consider the fact that Sheriff Beauchamp discovered early on that the Jamison couple may well have been serial scammers. They launched two lawsuits after a car accident in 2005, planned on suing the Eufaula School District, and may have been playing up their financial woes for government help. I’m not mentioning this to shame them, only to explain why they apparently kept $32k under a mattress and not in the bank.

2.  We briefly touched on a picture taken of Madyson on that first walk up the hillside, and in other accounts it actually plays a big part in the case. News channels plastered the image on people’s TVs, debating whether the little girl looked happy or scared, and speculating on whether the image was taken by her kidnapper. You can join them in tha if you like, but all in all I think it was just overblown sensationalism, and we at CasCrim hold ourselves to a higher standard.

3. If you fancy following the kidnapper angle further, then consider the fact that Niki Shenold thinks she can actually see the culprit in that surveillance footage (available on Youtube). Most people say Bobby changes his shirt partway through, but Niki is adamant that he gets inside the car wearing white, and a third individual in brown then approaches the car. Go take a look for yourself and decide.

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