Mullendore Cold Case Growing Warm?

The News on 6 reports that one of Oklahoma's most famous cold cases -- the murder of Osage County rancher E.C. Mullendore III -- could be growing warm. Apparently Chub Anderson, a former ranch-hand at the 42,000-acre Cross Bell Ranch, has agreed to tell his life story to Bartlesville columnist Dale Lewis (who, as it happens, was my YMCA basketball coach when I was a kid).

I gotta say, as a Bartlesville native, this is pretty exciting. I still have a dog-eared copy of The Mullendore Murder Case, a fascinating nonfiction mystery written 34 years ago by Jonathan Kwitny, a longtime feature writer for the Wall Street Journal. In a nutshell: “E.C. Mullendore III needed 12 million dollars. He had spent a fortune on race horses. His wife had run up a few bills – $10,000, for example, in nine days shopping at Neiman-Marcus. His ranch was 10 or 12 million dollars in debt. So E.C. Mullendore III did what any right-thinking, hard-drinking millionaire in financial trouble would do. He hired an accountant and a ranch manager. He took out 15 million dollars worth of insurance. He contacted the Mafia.”

The book features a little bit of everything. Even Gene Stipe. (Why does that not surprise you?) Reviewers called the book “a classic whodunit,” “a murder comedy in the deftest style,” and “one of the strangest true stories ever spun out of the West.”

Many of my friends and acquaintances appear in the book. Indeed, one scene is actually connected to one of my earliest memories as a child. Kwitny writes that at the time of his death E.C. was having some renovations (new skylight, plumbing, tile, etc.) done at his house in Bartlesville (not the ranch house). As it happens, this Bartlesville house had been built by my grandmother, and she bought it back a month after E.C.'s untimely demise. I was four years old at the time, and I distinctly remember walking through her living room amid torn-up flooring, stepping over boxes of new tile. My grandmother (we called her “Lolly”) finished the renovation, and the years that followed produced some of the happiest memories of my life – memories associated with her and with that house.

Lots of Bartlesville folks have their own Mullendore stories, and doubtless will be watching this with great interest. All the best to Dale Lewis as he puts together Chub's story.

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