Speculation grows as search for pastor’s wife Jilian Kelley and Veronica Butler continues

Jilian Kelley, 39 (R), and Veronica Butler, 27 (L), were both reported missing on March 30, 2024. Kelley is the wife of wife of Heath Kelley, the outgoing pastor of Hugoton First Christian Church in Kansas. Heath Kelley recently accepted a new job at Willow Christian Church in Nebraska.
Jilian Kelley, 39 (R), and Veronica Butler, 27 (L), were both reported missing on March 30, 2024. Kelley is the wife of wife of Heath Kelley, the outgoing pastor of Hugoton First Christian Church in Kansas. Heath Kelley recently accepted a new job at Willow Christian Church in Nebraska. | Screenshot/Facebook/Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation

Speculation about what happened to 39-year-old pastor's wife, Jilian Kelley, who disappeared in Oklahoma Saturday with 27-year-old Veronica Butler as they headed to pick up Butler's children, continued to grow Wednesday as authorities still search for the missing woman.

Kelley is the wife of Pastor Heath Kelley, who leads Hugoton First Christian Church in Kansas. Heath Kelley recently agreed to serve as the new pastor of Willow Christian Church in Nebraska starting in June. Both churches have been praying for the safe return of the pastor's wife and Butler.

Officials at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation told KAKE News that multiple law enforcement agencies are now trying to find the women after classifying their case as a "suspicious disappearance." The disappearance comes amid a custody battle between Butler and the family of her children's father, Wrangler Cole Rickman.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

According to OSBI, the vehicle the women were traveling in was found abandoned near Highway 95 and Road L, south of Elkhart, Kansas, in rural Texas County.

"We're calling this a suspicious disappearance because as soon as you find a vehicle really in the middle of nowhere you know was occupied by two women, and those two women have vanished; it's concerning for us as well, so we are really trying to figure out what may have happened and doing everything we can to find them.," Hunter McKee, a representative of the OSBI, said.

A source close to Butler told ABC 7 that the missing mom was supposed to pick up her 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son in Eva, Oklahoma, to celebrate her daughter's birthday. Jilian Kelley traveled with her from Elkhart on what was supposed to be a 16-mile trip, but the trip appeared to end three miles short of their destination.

In a motion filed in the Cimarron County Court in Oklahoma last November, Tifany Adams, the children's paternal grandmother, opposed any adjustment in a supervised visitation arrangement Butler had with the children, noting that the children had been exposed to sexual abuse while under her care.

The motion alleged the children's father was a drug addict who had no interest in caring for his children. It noted, however, that Rickman trusted his mother more than he trusted Butler to protect the children.

"Petitioner appears to be capitalizing on the indifference Mr. Rickman has shown for his children. Mr. Rickman has removed himself from the children's lives. Instead of being a father, he now seeks out the pleasures of drinking alcohol, using drugs, and other degenerate behavior," the complaint explains.

"When he left the children, he left the children in his mother's care, not in the Petitioner's care. The reason for this is twofold. First, it would have been a violation of the court's order granting Mr. Rickman temporary emergency custody for him to leave the minor children with Petitioner. This is because, and the point cannot be stressed enough, Petitioner's brother has been found to have sexually abused the minor children by this court, and Petitioner has been found to have violated the no-contact order prohibiting the minor children from being around Petitioner's abusive sibling," it adds.

More recent court documents show Rickman was recently released from jail for possession of a firearm after a felony conviction. As part of his sentencing, he was required to do in-patient rehabilitation starting on March 22.

The Christian Post reached out to the Salvation Army facility in Oklahoma where Rickman was supposed to report for treatment. A representative declined comment, citing HIPAA laws.

Independent reporter Lauren Conlin shared on X that she spoke with Rickman's grandmother, who confirmed that he has been in rehab since March 22 and will remain in the facility for six months.

"He [Rickman] was checked into rehab on the 22nd- 30 days no contact and cannot leave any outings from the facility for 30 days and has to be there for six months. OSBI confirmed he was there," the grandmother said, according to Conlin.

She also confirmed that Butler's children were safe, and that the family would not be doing any interviews that could hinder the ongoing investigation.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Kersten Rickman, described on social media as Wrangler Cole Rickman's most recent ex, asked the public to pray for both Kelley and Butler.

"Please keep praying for the safe return of Veronica and Jilian. They are still out there somewhere," she wrote. "Keep praying for both families they need them also."

When asked if she had a "gut" feeling about what may have happened to the women, Kersten Rickman said she did and had already shared her thoughts with OSBI.

"Of course I have a gut feeling due to what I have experienced myself and I have let OSBI know everything I know of or can think of, but social media is not the place to put my speculation out to the public. I am helping with the investigation as much as I can while keeping my family, especially my children, safe," she wrote.

"There was a reason I left Oklahoma, but that isn't for anyone's concern on the internet," she continued. "Please remember the families are reading everything."

According to court records, Warren and Kersten Rickman were issued a marriage license last July. Kersten Rickman suggested on Facebook that she and Butler faced similar trials in their relationships with Rickman. 

"It's a scary thing that is going on and to know Veronica very well and to know from her what she has gone through since 2015, then to experience it myself I had to leave but I am doing everything in my power to help and get them home because they didn't deserve any of this!" she noted in a follow-up reply on the post.

"Help bring them home Lord we need you to wrap your arms around these families and let them know you are with them through this struggle," she added. "Lord keep these 2 women in your light and let the law enforcement get them home! Shower them with your grace and let it be known you are our savior!"

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles