OKLAHOMA CITY -- The lifeless body was slumped on a living room couch. E.C. Mullendore III looked like a dirty rag doll, only it wasn't red earth from the millionaire rancher's spread that camouflaged his face.
It was his blood, and lots of it, retired Osage County Sheriff George Wayman said.
"He suffered a bad beating and was shot," Wayman said. "His whole skull was caved in."
It was a sight the 85-year-old Wayman said he never forgot.
On Sept. 26, 1970, Mullendore, 32, was killed while at home on his family ranch near Pawhuska. His death has remained a mystery with only one man knowing the truth of what occurred that night.
That man, Damon "Chub" Anderson, died Nov. 24. No charges have ever been filed in the case.
Wayman said Anderson swore to him he'd take the secret to his grave.
"Didn't anybody want it solved more than I did," Wayman said. "I've lost many nights sleep over it."
Mullendore grew up on his family's Cross Bell Ranch, a massive cattle operation near Hulah in northeast Oklahoma. He married his college sweetheart, Linda, who had a pageant-queen figure even after giving him four children. The young couple lived in a spacious modern home with a horseshoe-shaped swimming pool not far from his parents' mansion.
Mullendore enjoyed all the extravagances wealth allowed him, but he also was a hands-on, hardworking rancher. He managed 130,000 acres of ranch land in Oklahoma and Kansas established by his grandfather, E.C. Mullendore, and expanded by his father, E.C. "Gene" Mullendore.
Even the wealthiest are not immune to tragedy, and Mullendore III's seemingly attractive life wasn't as charmed as it appeared. Upon his death, investigators found the Cross Bell Ranch was $11 million in debt, his marriage was spiraling apart and he was drinking heavily.
Perpetuating the mystery, the rancher had taken out a $15 million life insurance policy a few weeks before he was killed. It was reported to be the largest policy written at that time on an individual in the United States.
"Chub" Anderson claimed to be the only person with Mullendore the night he was killed. He told authorities he was drawing a bath when he heard gunshots coming from the basement den downstairs. He ran down to investigate and found Mullendore's battered body seated on the couch.
Anderson said he felt the sting of a bullet enter his shoulder and fell to the ground. He got up, drew his pistol and fired at two men as they fled from the house through glass patio doors. The men and the murder weapon have never been found.
Anderson was a trusted ranch hand for the Mullendore family, depicted by newspapers at the time to be a cross between a bodyguard and manservant for Mullendore. The cowboy's hard good looks were matched, however, by a boiling temper and bare-knuckle fighting skills.
Sheriff Wayman said Anderson's uncontrollable temper made him a prime suspect for the murder. Wayman said he never believed Anderson's story.
For weeks, the sheriff's department had been trying to serve Mullendore with legal papers from his estranged wife's lawyers. Mullendore continued to dodge Wayman's deputies, so Anderson was enlisted to set his boss up to get him served the night he was killed.
A deputy was stationed on the highway near the Cross Bell Ranch to stop Anderson and Mullendore on their way back home from the car races.
Instead of stopping, they eluded the officer and made their way back to Mullendore's home.
Wayman said he thinks emotions were high between Anderson and Mullendore, and that they argued and Mullendore got the bad end of it.
"Chub was a mean guy -- the kind you didn't mess with," Wayman said. "I think he started whaling on E.C. and couldn't stop and then had to shoot him to make it look like it was something it wasn't."
Wayman said for years he's suspected it was Anderson who killed his employer, but he never had the evidence to prove it.
He said the investigation was botched from the beginning.
Mullendore's body was picked up by a funeral home and embalmed before any physical evidence could be found. A bone fragment, thought to be Mullendore's, was found on Anderson's hat, but somehow lost before it reached the sheriff's department, he said.
Wayman said Anderson hired an attorney shortly after the killing, and he was never able to interrogate him.
"I take full responsibility for everything that happened that day," Wayman said. "Everything that could have gone wrong did."
Wayman said the first five days of the investigation were spent trying to rule out that two other men had killed Mullendore. People speculated it was everything from a suicide to a mafia hit, but Wayman thinks it wasn't motivated by anything more than Anderson's losing his temper.
In January, Lewis was called to testify in front of a grand jury about the case, but Osage County District Attorney Larry Stuart said there was little evidence.
"E.C. Mullendore's murder has been a cold case for 40 years and will probably stay that way," Stuart said. "Everything points to Mr. Anderson, but we don't really know why he killed him. What happened that night went to the grave with Chub."
(E-mail Oklahoman reporter Ann Kelley at akelley(at)opubco.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)