Durant (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Thursday, June 8, 1978

Missing Rancher Is Feared Victim Of Dennis, Lancaster

GERTY, Okla. (UPI) - Hughes County authorities suspect a rancher missing since April 24 was the ninth person slain by prison escapees Claude Eugene Dennis and Michael Lancaster, who died in a shootout with officers last month.

The disappearance of Kenneth Sumner, 49, was linked to the fugitives when the first vehicle the inmates had ditched was found near the Sumner ranch.

"We didn't connect Sumner's disappearance to the escapees until we found that car," Sheriff Orville Rose said Wednesday. "On April 24, a woman reported to us she had passed a small white car just east of Gerty."

The woman told officers two men were inside and "she thought they were Lancaster and Dennis from pictures in the newspapers."

"But we were at a dead end until we found the abandoned car."

The late model Japanese car was stolen from the home of prison guard Sam Key the day of the April 23 escape from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Sumner made a telephone call at about 8:30 a.m. on April 24 to a tractor firm in Holdenville, Rose said.

"And no trace of Sumner, his '75 Ford Ranger pickup, or two guns in the vehicle have been found," the sheriff said.

Dennis and Lancaster previously had been accused of eight killings in Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma - including three Oklahoma Highway Patrolmen killed in the shootout in Bryan County, Okla., May 26.

Rose said officers had no information about the escapees' route from the day of the escape until April 29, "when they showed up in Texas and David Bobo was killed while on a fishing trip near Farmersville."

"It stands to reason they didn't walk to Texas," he said. "And we're convinced they must have overpowered Sumner and taken his pickup."

A spokesman for Collins County, Texas, authorities said Wednesday a search party was being organized there for Saturday to search for the Sumner and Bobo vehicles.

The Sumners had homes in Oklahoma City and near Gerty, where they kept horses and cattle.

"It's been a nightmare - going on nearly six weeks," Mrs. Sumner said."

She said she filed a missing persons report "and really got worried by the next weekend." But she said she did not suspect foul play until the escapees' first stolen vehicle was found.