Molly Miller was only 17 when she vanished in a police chase down a rural Oklahoma road. She was riding in a car driven by a local meth-head, James Conn Nipp, and he gunned it at 120 mph to leave cops in the dust.
Nipp was allegedly the last person to see Miller alive that summer night in 2013. Her family never heard from her again. And they say the sheriff of Love County, where Miller went missing, never fully investigated the girl’s disappearance—perhaps because he is Nipp’s own cousin.
But Miller’s family may be one step closer to justice. This month, a grand jury filed charges to remove the Love County lawman from office, as the FBI investigates allegations that he assisted his 38-year-old son’s meth dealing.
Sheriff Marion “Joe” Russell was cuffed on corruption charges last week stemming from a flurry of bizarre allegations, including that he allowed a fugitive to stay at his home and “booty bump” methamphetamine with his son.
The 62-year-old constable, with his cowboy hat and white Kenny Rogers beard, was released from jail shortly after his arrest and is back on the job. Since then, he’s evaded reporters seeking comment on the case.
A multi-county grand jury filed removal proceedings against Russell on July 14, court records show. He’s charged with two counts of corruption in office and two counts of habitual or willful neglect of duty.
Another charge, willful maladministration, relates to the Nipp car chase. Russell allegedly allowed Nipp to meet with his family members, unsupervised, in a deputy’s office where evidence was stored, court papers show. (The accusation for removal does not specify whether evidence in Nipp’s own case was stored there.)
Nipp was never charged in Miller’s disappearance, and cops haven’t made any arrests in her case. A fellow passenger that night, a 21-year-old father named Colt Haynes, also vanished and was never found.
According to Miller’s family, Nipp knew her for years. Yet the 25-year-old—and his sheriff cousin—have done little to help find her, relatives claim.
Messages left with relatives of Nipp, who is in prison, were not returned. One family member hung up on a Daily Beast reporter.
“From the beginning, I’ve known in my heart… we’re not dealing with just a missing-persons case,” said Paula Fielder, a cousin to Miller who’s spearheaded search efforts. “Something’s not right about this.”
“I’m hoping with [Sheriff Russell’s] arrest, it will finally bring us some more answers into what has happened to Molly and Colt,” Fielder told The Daily Beast.
It’s unclear why Miller and Haynes were Nipp’s passengers on July 7, 2013. Relatives of the missing Oklahomans, as well as investigators, have speculated the mysterious rendezvous may have been drug-related.
Police say Nipp was driving his girlfriend’s 2012 Honda Accord around 10:46 p.m., and recklessly spun toward two parked patrol cars in Wilson, Oklahoma—a town in Carter County with a population of 1,700 people.
According to the Daily Ardmoreite, Nipp raced through a downtown area before turning on State Highway 76 and turning off his car’s headlights. Then Nipp entered a Love County road, his vehicle spewing gravel at cops, who eventually lost him.
The wrecked Honda was discovered in Love County two weeks later. In September 2013, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol launched an investigation to determine who was driving the vehicle when it crashed, according to the Ardmoreite.
OHP investigators soon learned that Nipp’s car was parked at an associate’s home around 9 p.m., just before the wild spree. The man told cops he saw Haynes in the front passenger seat and Miller in the back seat before they left with Nipp, the Ardmoreite reported.
Meanwhile, the OHP analyzed cellphone records showing that Nipp, Haynes, and Miller were traveling together when the police chase started. Their phones pinged the same cell towers, according to the Ardmoreite.
Miller’s relatives say she dialed 911 at 12:57 a.m., in what was a five-second call. The dispatcher did not try calling her back, they say.
An arrest warrant for Nipp was issued in January 2014. He surrendered to police, with Sheriff Russell taking him into custody. At the time, Nipp allegedly told Russell he had “no idea” where Miller and Haynes were, KFOR reported.
Nipp’s girlfriend, Sabrina “Shelby” Graham, was also arrested and charged with making a false insurance claim and filing a false police report. One day after the chase, Graham tried to shield Nipp by reporting her Honda stolen, prosecutors say. She pleaded guilty, and received a three-year deferred sentence, records show.
Nipp pleaded guilty to eluding, assault with a dangerous weapon and unauthorized use of a vehicle and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, KXII reported.
Both Haynes’s and Miller’s kin believe Nipp knows what happened to their missing loved ones, and accuse the sheriff of helping him cover it up.
Monique Stewart, Haynes’s sister, said Sheriff Russell was chummy with her cousin and attended family reunions when she was growing up. But when her family tried meeting him over her missing brother, he “avoided us at all costs,” she said.
“We’re hoping that with [the sheriff] being arrested, the people that were scared to talk will come forward now,” Stewart told The Daily Beast.
“What’s most important is to find my brother,” the sister added. “I don’t want any family to have to go through this again. What’s done in the dark always comes into the light. And we won’t stand for corruption.”
Fielder says Sheriff Russell, elected in 2001, refused to allow her family to file a missing-person report within days of Miller’s disappearance. The Love County dispatcher told relatives they needed to file a report with the Wilson Police Department because it was not Russell’s “problem,” Fielder said.
So Fielder did her own detective work, and hired a private eye, before the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation took over.
“I questioned Conn [Nipp] back in 2013,” Fielder recalled. “My sister, my cousin and myself went to his house. At that point, no one [in law enforcement] questioned Conn and they still haven’t to this day. I said to him, ‘Conn, we know she’s dead.’ I was just lying. ‘I know how it happened. The thing we don’t know is where she is now. Please tell us where she is.’”
Fielder claims Nipp teared up and said, “I don’t want to go to jail,” before his family ushered him away. “He was showing some sort of remorse at that moment for something,” Fielder said of the Labor Day weekend encounter in 2013. “They shut him down.”
Since Miller’s disappearance, Fielder has remained a thorn in Sheriff Russell’s side. In May, she ran into him at a convenience store and questioned him about his claims that he forwarded tips he received on Miller and Haynes to state investigators.
“He said, ‘Paula, I’ve tried looking for those kids,” Fielder told The Daily Beast. “I said, ‘Where have you tried looking for them at?’ I said, ‘To my knowledge, you have not given [OSBI] one tip, not one that involves something happening to Molly and Colt.’
“You know full well Molly and Colt did not leave Long Hollow Road alive,” Fielder recalled telling the sheriff. “You need to stop protecting your family, because we’ve had enough.”
Even then, in the midst of an FBI investigation relating to his son’s drug-dealing, Russell allegedly vowed to stay in office. The sheriff allegedly told Fielder, “Y’all can say all you want. The FBI has been investigating me and they ain’t gonna find nothing.”
Fielder replied, “You just hide and watch, buddy. They’re coming for you.”
Messages left at Russell’s office were not returned. “Thank you. I ain’t got nothing to say,” the sheriff told a reporter for the Oklahoman last week.
In 2014, Russell denied allegations that he knew of possible evidence—a machete and a pistol—in the Miller case but did nothing about it.
“It’s like they don’t care that Molly and Colt are missing. It’s like it’s ‘Oh, well, it’s somebody else’s problem,’” Philip Klein, the Miller family’s private investigator, told local TV station KXII.
Russell defended himself at the time, telling KXII, “Every time I try to do something on the investigation, I was accused of trying to cover something up, so I just took myself out of action. If I get a tip of any kind, I call OSBI.”
He added, “You know, not just their family needs closure, my kinfolks, they need closure too, ’cause they don’t know what happened to them either.”
Still, the Russell clan might know more than they let on.
The feds claim the sheriff’s son, George “Willie” Russell, 38, was connected to the rural county’s criminal elements—selling meth and using his father’s police truck to transport it back to his home, court papers allege.
Willie Russell pleaded guilty in federal court to methamphetamine distribution and awaits sentencing, records show. His crank-peddling is also mentioned in a probable cause affidavit for Sheriff Russell’s corruption charges.
From March 2015 and May 2015, Sheriff Russell allegedly harbored a fugitive named Sara Bamburg—who was dating his son—and “willfully maintained a dwelling where drugs are kept,” the affidavit states.
At the time, Bamburg was wanted in Carter County for violation of probation and false personation of another. She also had a warrant in Love County for knowingly concealing stolen property, the document says.
But her drug-dealing boyfriend, Willie, allegedly vowed that she was safe as long as she stayed at the family home. Willie told Bamburg “she would not be arrested as long as she was dating him,” the affidavit states.
Bamburg told authorities Willie Russell stored meth for sale at the sheriff’s house. She and her beau also allegedly chatted up the sheriff while they were high on the drug. Sheriff Russell gave his son the keys to his Love County patrol truck—which Willie would allegedly use to sell meth, the affidavit says.
The gal pal claims she snorted a “line” of methamphetamine on the center console of the sheriff’s patrol truck’s, court records show.
Indeed, Willie Russell was a known meth dealer in Love County, prosecutors say. Since 2011, drug users would come to the sheriff’s house and use meth while the sheriff was home, the affidavit states.
Sheriff Russell allegedly sent Bamburg and his son to different locations to pick up methamphetamine for distribution and bring it back to their residence, one informant told investigators.
But in April 2015, Bamburg left Russell and moved in with another man. Two days later, Love County deputies knocked at her new residence to arrest her. She eluded them on April 8 but was arrested by Sheriff Russell the next day, the affidavit states.
Russell arrested Bamburg on all four felony arrest warrants, then presented charges to the district attorney against her new roommate for harboring a fugitive, court records show.
Court transcripts from Willie Russell’s drug case provide even seedier details on the small-town corruption.
In November 2015, an FBI agent testified the new roommate was arrested after he questioned the sheriff for coming after Bamburg.
The roomie asked, “Why is it OK for her to live at your house with Willie and get high and have warrants and not be arrested, but then when she comes here, everybody is after her and she gets arrested?” the agent recalled.
The FBI agent testified that Willie Russell would administer meth to Bamburg through “booty bumping,” which involves mixing up the drug, placing it in a syringe, and shooting it into the rectum so that it’s absorbed through the intestines.
Bamburg was allegedly coerced into sex with Willie Russell, the agent said.
“Anytime she said that she would try to stop his advances or not want to have sex with him, he would remind her that… ‘You’ve got warrants and as long as you are here dating me, you are not going to get arrested,’” the G-Man testified.
Willie Russell’s takedown came in May 2015, after he sold 2.8 grams of crystal meth, or an eight ball, to a confidential informant at a Carter County corner store for $200, court records show.
According to the FBI agent, the deal “took quite a while” to arrange because Russell was insistent on staying in Love County, where his sheriff dad could apparently protect his illegal activity, transcripts reveal.
Drug-dealing isn’t the only criminal activity that allegedly occurred on Russell’s watch.
The FBI agent testified that on two occasions, the sheriff arrested bikini-clad women who were drunk or high and partying on the Red River. Instead of taking them to jail, he transported them to his home, the agent said.
Then he made them dance.
Russell would “basically arrest them for public intoxication and then… take them to his house where Willie was and either have—it has been reported to have them dance, strip,” the agent testified.
“Either Willie would strip them, sometimes Joe would. And these were apparently the kind of girls that once they realized that they weren’t going to go to jail, that they were just at another party, they would then go ahead and partake of the meth that Willie would offer them and stay and party,” the fed added.
At one point during the testimony, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Horn asked the agent about the county’s missing-persons cases.
The agent said Miller and Haynes were involved with drugs before they disappeared, court transcripts show.
“Were they involved with people associated with Joe Russell when they disappeared?” the U.S. attorney asked, to which the FBI agent responded in the affirmative.
Then the federal prosecutor asked about the investigation being faced with “the real fear” of confidential informants or anyone with information disappearing too.
In response, the FBI agent mentioned Jordan Buckaloo, a Love County man who vanished in July 2011. His remains were found seven months later but his suspicious death was never solved, according to news reports.
The C.I. who busted Willie Russell was “worried” because Russell and his father’s associates tried luring her into Love County, the agent testified.
“That has been an overlying theme of all of the interviews we have done,” the agent said. “Everybody is very hesitant to talk. They don’t want Joe Russell knowing that they are talking. So, yes, I would say they are all scared.”