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Wagoner County Sheriff Chris Elliott (left), District Attorney Jack Thorp (center) and OSBI Director Ricky Adams announce a murder charge filed in the 1995 cold-case killing of Donald Hawley at a news conference on Tuesday. STETSON PAYNE/Tulsa World

WAGONER — Prosecutors in Wagoner County filed charges Tuesday in the 1995 killing of a man near the Verdigris River.

Kenneth Brown, 58, was charged with first-degree murder in connection to the death of Donald Hawley, 62. Brown, who is serving a life sentence without parole in connection to another 1995 murder, was connected to Hawley’s death using DNA evidence, according to an affidavit.

District 27 District Attorney Jack Thorp, along with Wagoner County Sheriff Chris Elliott and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations Director Ricky Adams, spoke at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon announcing the charges.

Thorp said charges against Brown may not be the last in the case. He said it’s likely there was at least one other accomplice in the killing based on previous information.

“Our tip lines are still open, the OSBI tipline as well as the District 27 tipline, where we’re still going to seek information,” Thorp said. “There’s a possibility in the murder of Donald Hawley that another individual, another actor, was working with Kenneth Brown when they murdered Donald Hawley.”

Hawley was found bound and beaten to death at the Lock and Dam No. 17 on April 7, 1995, and the OSBI was initially called to assist with the investigation. Detectives located Hawley’s truck about five miles away.

Thorp said it’s believed Hawley was robbed, and it’s what he said contributes to the suspicion of one or more accomplices involved. Although Hawley’s wallet was recovered on the side of the road west of Muskogee, money had been taken from it, according to the affidavit.

Based on observations at the crime scenes and witness interviews, it’s believed Hawley was assaulted near his truck on Tullahassee Loop Road and then taken to Lock & Dam No. 17 where he was again beaten and later killed, according to the affidavit.

In August 1995, Wagoner County deputies reportedly received information initially that Brown had bragged about killing a man at Tullahassee. Brown, who was on supervised probation with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections at the time of Hawley’s death, was interviewed at the Muskogee County Jail about the case. However, Brown reportedly said he wasn’t aware of a killing in Wagoner County.

Investigators reportedly found a pair of socks near Hawley’s pickup, and the OSBI Laboratory recovered blood stains and human hair from the socks. Tests matched the blood to Hawley and the hairs to Brown, according to the affidavit.

Adams said he believes charges were only made possible thanks to the collaborative efforts of prosecutors, local law enforcement and state investigators.

“When I talk about the team, it’s all the local law enforcement agencies that work with us that we work alongside as partners,” Adams said. “It’s the team, a host of casts in the background, that makes these cases possible to be solved.

“There are missing puzzle pieces that go missing after 25 years of a case out there. To try to resurrect them back to life after that kind of time frame is no small task. I appreciate the hard work and the diligent efforts of each and every one of you out there.”

In February 1998, Brown was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1995 death of Elizabeth Alloway. Alloway, 41, was found dead in the roadway near 10th and Lincoln Street in Muskogee on May 10, 1995.

During the course of that investigation, Brown’s sperm was recovered from Alloway’s body, key evidence used to connect him to the killing.

As part of a review of the then cold case, an OSBI agent interviewed Brown at the James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena about Hawley’s killing. Brown again denied any involvement.

However, further laboratory testing would show the socks from Hawley’s crime scene also had semen on them. DNA analysis matched the semen on the socks to Brown, according to the affidavit.

Thorp said the case is the latest example of relentless effort to solve crimes, particularly homicide cases, in the district.

“Our message to families still awaiting justice is that your loved ones’ cases will not go cold here in District 27,” Thorp said. “And to the perpetrators who think they’ve gotten away with their crimes in the past, if it’s a first-degree murder, we’re coming after you.

“We’re going to use every tool in our arsenal to solve every case.”

Stetson Payne 918-732-8135


Twitter: @stetson__payne

Staff Writer

Stetson covers breaking news, general assignment and other stories. He previously worked at the Enterprise-Journal in Mississippi. He is from Broken Arrow and graduated with a journalism degree from Oklahoma State University. Phone: 918-581-8466