SONYA COLBERG Oklahoman Staff Writer BOKCHITO
Cheyenne Wolf’s body began its journey in a large plastic tub stashed in a shed at her southern Oklahoma home. The trip ended 15 months and 1,900 miles later, when two containers of skeletal remains and soft tufts of hair were pulled from a storage unit about 4 a.m. July 4 near Milton-Freewater, Ore. The remains are consistent with Cheyenne’s bone size and medical history, according to a medical examiner’s preliminary report. But what really happened to the 12-year-old girl with blue eyes framed by curly red hair? Investigators are trying to piece together how the little girl who used Leg braces and crutches really died and why she took a journey that ended in two plastic tubs marked with Xs. “To treat the body of a loved one like it’s no more than a piece of luggage, it’s just wrong,” said Detective John Bates of the Bryan County S h e r i f f ’ s D e p a r t m e n t . “Everybody’s questioning the actions of her parents.” Abel Travis Wolf, 35, and Denise Ann Wolf, 40, have been charged with unlawful removal of a body. According to law enforcement affidavits, the Wolfs didn’t tell investigators the cause of Cheyenne’s death but did detail how they transported the girl’s body as they moved from Bokchito to Havre, Mont., and then to Milton-Freewater, Ore. According to the affidavits, from the time she died in April 2008, Cheyenne’s body was moved five times, and her father, stepmother and sisters traveled across six states with her body. Body found in Oregon With a search warrant and cooperation from Denise Wolf’s brother, Umatilla County sheriff’s investigators stepped in a storage unit in Milton-Freewater, Ore., at 4 a.m. on July 4 and saw two plastic containers with snap-on lids. They popped them open. “The weight of the containers and the odor that was emitted from them led us to believe there was some type of decaying flesh in them,” Sheriff John Trumbo said. Investigators resealed the containers and took them to a refrigerated evidence box. On Wednesday, they drove the containers 210 miles to the medical examiner’s office. “We found the remains of Cheyenne,” Trumbo said. “My detective sergeant ... said he has absolutely no doubt it was her because everything fits.” But Trumbo said a cause of death may never be determined because of the condition of the body. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jessica Brown said final identification can be determined once Oklahoma receives medical and dental records that will be turned over to Oregon’s medical examiner. What happened? According to the affidavits: One evening in April 2008, the Wolf family sat down for dinner in their rented double-wide mobile home on Philadelphia Road in rural Bokchito. The parent s became upset when Cheyenne wouldn’t eat, Abel Wolf told OSBI investigator David Houston. Abel went outside to smoke, and one of Cheyenne’s siblings followed. Abel said he heard a “thump” from inside the mobile home. The next morning, without checking on Cheyenne, he headed for a casino where he worked on slot machines, Bates said. When Abel went home, he found Cheyenne dead. “Right now, we don’t know how she died,” Brown said. The couple agreed not to report the death, and Abel told investigators he put the child’s body in a sleeping bag inside a large plastic tub he stored in a shed behind the family home. He moved it when it started to smell, investigator Houston wrote. Abel then buried Cheyenne’s body under the front deck of the home. The area is secluded, with no close neighbors, a pond in the back and the Blue River a quarter-mile away. People began to wonder why Cheyenne didn’t join the family at softball games and other events, Bates said. “This strikes a chord in your heart. Why not call the police and medical examiner if she died?” Bates asked. The journey begins According to affidavits: Cheyenne’s body remained under the deck from April 2008 until August 2008, when the Wolf family prepared to move more than 1,600 miles north to Havre, Mont. Abel Wolf dug up Cheyenne and put her body into three large zipper bags. He put two bags in one plastic tub and the other in a second plastic tub. Cheyenne’s remains rested in their Montana garage until January 2009. Then Denise Wolf and one of Cheyenne’s siblings moved to Milton-Freewater, Ore. And took Cheyenne. They put Cheyenne’s body in an old chicken house,” investigator Houston wrote. She stayed there until Denise Wolf moved the remains in February to the storage building where Oregon deputies found the containers on July 4. Police get a tip Ardmore police got a call May 9 from a woman who said she had information on a possible crime. “Whenever a little girl goes missing, everyone starts asking questions,” said Ardmore police spokesman Robin Beal. Homicide Detective Ruben Garcia began calling and visiting five states in search of answers. The Ardmore detective contacted the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department on June 15, and Bates gathered photos and determined details about the family’s life in Bokchito. OSBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bryan County and law enforcement in Montana and Oregon soon worked together on the overall investigation. “We’re hoping some justice will occur for this little girl,” Beal said. “The parts we’ve uncovered thus far are disturbing to say the least.” Where they are now The Wolfs were arrested in Havre, Mont., where they are jailed on Oklahoma complaints of unlawful removal of a body. They face charges in Oklahoma. Bryan County Sheriff Bill Sturch said it likely will be several days before someone can retrieve the couple. “Most law enforcement officers are pretty hard to get to,” Bates said. “We’re trained to be like robots and not show emotion. “But this right here will eat at your heart,” he added.