More than nine years after Northeastern State University student Stephan Adams and his truck vanished from Cherokee County, new information led investigators to search for Adams’ body in the Horseshoe Bend area of Keys on Thursday.
District 27 District Attorney Brian Kuester said a nonprofit group in Colorado loaned investigators a ground-penetrating radar to help them take a look beneath the surface. Authorities traveled to the rocky land about a mile from Horseshoe Bend Road and began pacing back and forth with the radar.
“The information [we received] did specify this particular location,” Kuester said.
Investigators were once told Adams had been killed on property neighboring Thursday’s search area. When that information surfaced, cadaver canines searched the nearby area, but produced no results. Now, authorities say they’ve corroborated more information that Adams’ body might have been buried somewhere inside the tract of land where the radar was used Thursday.
“The original property owner is deceased,” said District 27 Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force Director Mike Moore. “I don’t know how long he lived here. It looks like he did a lot of excavation-type work, so [what the radar shows] could be anything. We try not to get too excited, because a lot of times – probably more times than not – it’s disappointing.”
But Moore and Kuester both said the ground-penetrating radar pinpointed two small areas where some sort of “anomaly” exists.
“It’s not a precise piece of equipment, so we can’t say exactly what might be in that narrowed-down area, ... but it’s certainly enough to cause us to draw back, mark off the area and determine what steps we’re going to take now,” Kuester said Thursday afternoon.
Investigators received permission from the current property owner to search the area and dig if necessary, but authorities decided to gather search warrants as a matter of procedure.
Agents called the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the state’s office of the medical examiner, and both agencies will be on the scene Friday morning when crews begin slowly digging up the areas, inch by inch, and sifting through the findings that appear to be anywhere from 2 to 6 feet below the ground.
Kuester said the property is being treated as an “active crime scene,” and will be guarded by authorities around the clock until their tip is either proved or disproved.
“We believe that we owe it to justice, we owe it to the family and to our investigation to ... take the appropriate steps to maintain the crime scene and see what’s beneath the surface,” said Kuester. “I want to be clear: This is still a possibility. I can’t tell you how happy I would be for the family if we were able to [find Adams’ remains] after all this time, but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions at this point.”
Kuester said Thursday’s activity is the “next step” in the investigation.
“I suppose you could say that the fact that we’ve got a piece of equipment telling us there may be something beneath the surface there, that maybe the optimism is a little higher,” said Kuester.
Moore knows the answers exist as to Adams’ disappearance, and hopes anyone with information will share it with investigators.
“Somebody knows something,” said Moore. “We’re going to keep trying. [Thursday’s search] may not solve the case, and it might. Every time we’re dealing with a drug search warrant or are taking somebody to jail, we ask them, ‘Do you know anything about Stephan Adams?’ Someday, somebody’s going to know.”
Adams was 26 when he disappeared on Dec. 13, 2004.
After leaving NSU’s campus, Adams called his girlfriend to say he was giving an unidentified man a ride to the Keys area.
A grand jury was convened in 2011 but was unable to produce any indictments, though a report suggests those responsible testified during the process. Details gathered by the grand jury revealed Adams’ truck was, at some point, found by unidentified people who stole and sold some of Adams’ property. But authorities have yet to find the vehicle.
Adams’ truck is described as a white, 1995-model Chevrolet with a license plate number of SCQ-714. It had chrome bed rails and a red pinstripe down the sides.
Authorities also announced last December they had identified “persons of interest,” but need more corroborating evidence to conclude the case.
The OSBI is offering up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Adams’ disappearance.
YOU CAN HELP
If you know anything about the disappearance of Stephan Adams in 2004, contact the OSBI at (800) 522-8017; the Tahlequah Police Department at (918) 456-8801; or the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office at (918) 456-2583.