Anyone with information can call the Yukon Police Department at 405-354-2553 or the Yukon Progress newspaper at 405-577-6208.
By Mindy Ragan Wood
Cold cases more than 40 years old are being solved thanks to DNA and breakthrough investigative technology, but hope fades with every passing year for the family of Kenny Dietrich.
Kenneth Lawrence Dietrich vanished from the Lamp Lighter Club in Oklahoma City on July 11, 1981. The 30-year-old husband and father of three left his home in Yukon for the bar where he told his family he would meet co-workers from the Western Electric telephone company to take a river float trip that weekend. Dietrich did not come home from the trip nor do family members know if he actually made the trip with his colleagues. His vehicle and personal belongings were found several years later at the Will Rogers Airport.
Part of the mystery revolves around the location of the vehicle from the time he left for the bar and when it finally appeared at the airport.
His actions and disappearance before and after the float trip remain a mystery. April 13 is Oklahoma Missing Persons Day.
Daughter Elizabeth Sneddon said she has no memories of her father because she was three-years-old at the time, but she thinks of him almost daily.
“I’m tired of not knowing, of not having answers,” Sneddon said.
Retired Assistant Chief of Police and former Yukon detective James McDaniel remembers the case from his time on the force.
“If I recall correctly, Oklahoma City (police) took over that investigation because of everything that led to their jurisdiction,” McDaniel said. “We talked to everyone we could and there was just nothing.”
The Lamp Lighter Club, now Margarita Island on NW 10th Street, was a favorite hangout for Dietrich, McDaniel recalled.
“It was kind of a rough place,” he said. “There were some pretty rough associates but that’s probably because everybody that knew him liked him. He was a nice guy. Always outgoing, happy. He coached my son in little league basketball.”
One fact from the case has always bothered McDaniel.
“It’s really strange to me that his car was at the airport. It’s almost like someone planted it (there),” he said.
His car, a dark brown or black 1978 Ford LTD, 2-door held his wallet, camping gear, wedding ring and a pinkie ring he had at the time. His banking information was also in the car, leading police to speculate he may have disappeared intentionally.
McDaniel does not believe it.
“He wasn’t the kind of guy to run off,” he said. “Something happened to him, in my opinion.”
Sneddon agreed. The theory may have been based on false information from an unreliable source.
“My aunt, who we don’t even talk to anymore, told them that he left for Mexico,” Sneddon said. “Of all the last people on the planet my aunt was not someone he would confide in. With his ID (in the car) how would he do that?”
An early theory also surfaced that at the bar, Dietrich may have witnessed a drug deal and been murdered to keep him quiet.
Sneddon said no evidence of that theory surfaced. Little is known about the police investigation and the evidence detectives uncovered.
“We have no way of knowing what the police found out because they have no record of the investigation,” she said.
CASE FILES MISSING
Growing up, Sneddon said her father’s disappearance was a quiet subject around family members because of the pain it caused her grandmother. Sneddon believed the case was an active one until in 2014 after Dietrich’s mother died, she contacted the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.
“They (medical examiner) sent forensic pathologists out and wanted to get DNA from me. Both his parents and siblings are dead. Then they ME (medical examiner) said they couldn’t run it because Yukon Police Department had no record of him being a missing person,” Sneddon said. “They had a flood in the basement, is what we were told, and all the files got ruined.”
Yukon Police Chief John Corn said the basement of the old police station flooded at least twice from 1996 to 2008.
By a stroke of luck Sneddon said her mother found the original police report from 1981.
“I contacted the ME in 2016 and they had the Yukon Police Department contact me and we emailed them a copy of it. They gave it a new case number and made it active,” Sneddon said.
YPD Detective Jeff Avers was assigned the case but has since returned to the night shift on patrol. He did not return requests for comment on the case. Captain Terry Prigmore said the case is closed.
“A case is closed when it’s been worked to the point that you have no new information,” Prigmore said, “because it’s from ‘81 and there’s been nothing. It doesn’t mean it can’t ever be re-opened. But there’s not an active detective working the case.”
The information Prigmore does have comes from information OSBI sent in a letter. The DNA profile has been entered into two national crime databases and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. Dietrich graduated from high school in El Paso, Texas.
Although the case was worked at one time by Oklahoma City police, spokesman Gary Knight said the department has no record of the investigation in their cold case unit.
Questions remain about the co-workers Dietrich was going to meet, if there was any activity on his Social Security number or bank account or when the car was left at the airport because the case files are long gone.
“We were told that they (airport) re-striped the parking lot and there was some of that paint on his tires,” Sneddon said.
Dietrich’s daughter hopes someone who remembers will come forward with information.
“I try to not think about it,” she said, “because I start wondering, ‘was it this or what if it’s that?’ I try not to think of him lying in a box somewhere and we can’t find him.”
Anyone with information can call the Yukon Police Department at 354-2553 or the Yukon Progress newspaper at 577-6208.