Arrest Made in LeFlore County Cold Case

An arrest has been made in a 2009 murder case in LeFlore County, in which a local bar owner went missing and was later found dead with a gunshot wound.

Raymond Larry Nichols, 60, of Cameron, Okla., was arrested on a first degree murder charge in the death of 62-year-old Joe Neff on Aug. 8, according to Sheriff Rob Seale.

Nichols is Neff’s former brother-in-law, according to family members.

“They arrested my uncle for murdering my dad,” said Marie Pritchford, Neff’s daughter. “We suspected for a long time. We knew this. I knew in my heart.”

Nichols was arraigned on Aug. 8, and a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, according to a LeFlore County sheriff’s deputy. He is set to appear in court again on Aug. 12.

Nichols is being held at the LeFlore County Jail without bond.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, LeFlore County Sheriff’s Office, and District Attorney Jeff Smith held news conference on Aug. 8 at the county courthouse in Poteau to release more information.

Neff, 62, was reported missing on May 14, 2009, after a bar employee found what appeared to be a crime scene at the Long Branch Saloon south of Poteau, according to an affidavit. Neff owned the bar.

Three days later, a fisherman found Neff’s body with a gunshot wound to the neck in a strip pit near Pocola, about 30 miles away from the bar, according to the affidavit.

When investigators recovered the body, they found Neff’s hands and legs were bound with wire and zip ties, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Duct tape was wrapped around his head, and his body was attached by a chain to a cement block. An autopsy confirmed Neff had been shot with a 9mm pistol, the affidavit states.

The strip pit where Neff’s body was found is on property where Nichols lived, a family member said.

OSBI investigators interviewed Neff’s friends and family members, who told them Neff’s ex-wife, Shirley, was demanding money for a car, but he refused to give her any.

Neff told the witnesses that if anything were to happen to him, his ex-wife and her brother should be considered suspects.

Records at a local pawn shop showed Nichols’ common-law wife, Judith Swindell, bought a 9mm handgun in 2001 for him, according to the affidavit.

Last month, OSBI agents requested the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Dive Team search the strip pit where Neff’s body was found. Underwater metal detectors located a Ruger 9 mm handgun under layers of silt, according to the OSBI.

The serial number on the gun checked back to the same Ruger 9 mm sold to Nichols’ common-law wife eight years before the killing. An OSBI criminalist in the Firearms Unit identified the gun had fired the bullet removed from Neff’s neck during the autopsy.

Neff’s death left much of the community in mourning and a family searching for answers.

“I’ve tried and I’ve worked so hard to bring this day,” Pritchford said, “and we finally did it.”

“There’s some days that I just want to call him and just talk to him and ask him stuff, and then you realize he isn’t there,” Pritchford said. “And so, yeah, it’s hard. It’s really hard.”

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