The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office on Friday filed first-degree murder charges against two people in a 1983 Tulsa cold case after a multicounty grand jury heard this week about DNA evidence linking the pair to the beating death.
Willie Moore, 61, and Erlene Lee, 58, are accused of acting together to cause the death of 39-year-old Anthony Baltes at the Sandman Motel — located where the Best Budget Inn is now — near Sheridan Road and Interstate 244 on Sept. 18, 1983. Tulsa County District Judge William Musseman signed arrest warrants Friday morning so Lee and Moore, who live out of state, can be brought back to Tulsa County to face the charges.
Authorities in Wyoming took Moore into custody Friday afternoon. Lee was taken into custody in Texas.
“I never wanted to get my hopes up,” Becky Baltes Bates, Anthony Baltes’ daughter, told the Tulsa World. “For so many years we just thought it would be solved and we’d never know. When (Tulsa Police Detective Eddie Majors) called me and told me they’ve arrested the man in Wyoming — it’s just unreal.”
The multicounty grand jury returned indictments against Lee and Moore on Thursday afternoon in Oklahoma County.
Tulsa Tribune archives indicate Anthony Baltes had last been seen leaving PC’s Club Tahiti, 21 S. Sheridan Road, with a woman in her 20s around 1 a.m. Sept. 18, 1983.
Witnesses said they saw the same woman traveling with a different man who was in his 30s the evening before a housekeeper found Baltes bound and beaten to death inside a motel room. Officers said he was attacked with a blunt instrument and robbed.
“The 36th anniversary of the death was Wednesday, and so we’re very excited to proceed forward on this,” Senior Deputy Attorney General Joy Thorp said. “These types of cold cases are really great in front of a grand jury because you can bring people in front of them that haven’t ever talked to law enforcement before, and they are under oath and this gives an opportunity for them to finally tell the truth.
“And so in this particular case, it’s a case that involves some DNA. DNA has been uncovered after many years, which, that wasn’t existent back in 1983. It is now.”
Becky Baltes Bates said she was 12 when her father was killed, and her brother Thomas was only 3. She said she believed her father’s killers “probably moved forward and have lives and families” of their own in the 36 years since the crime.
“I’m thankful for DNA and I’m thankful there’s no statute of limitations on murder,” Becky Baltes Bates said. “They thought they got away with it, and now they have to answer for it. And how could that not be eating them up for all these years?”
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he opted to present evidence to a grand jury because its structure provides “security” for collecting witness testimony, which he said was especially important in cold cases. He said Majors, who specializes in cold case investigations, “doggedly” pursued leads that led to DNA evidence tying Lee and Moore to the crime.
“Using a multicounty grand jury allows witnesses to be sworn under oath,” Kunzweiler said of the process. “Having them sworn under oath enables us to impart on them the importance of the process.”
Attorney General Mike Hunter issued a statement applauding the work of law enforcement who have used technological advancements to clear cold cases such as Baltes’ death.
“Anthony Baltes died a horrible death 36 years ago, but that passage of time doesn’t mean those responsible aren’t going to be held accountable,” Hunter said. “Securing convictions on cold cases is difficult. That is why we appreciate our law enforcement partners, like Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler and the Tulsa Police Department and their commitment to sharing resources and solving cold cases with my office.”
Becky Baltes Bates said she was sad and angry about how her father died but that “I forgave them a long time ago because I had to be able to move forward with my life.” However, she said she was grateful to have the opportunity now to learn about who killed him and why.
“I was just happy that my father wasn’t forgotten,” she said of the investigation. “I don’t want people to just remember what happened to him. I would like him to be remembered as someone who was good.”