City Of Tulsa Releases Update On Mass Graves Investigation

Tuesday, June 21st 2022, 9:40 pm

TULSA, Oklahoma -

The search for answers in the 1921 Graves Investigation continues.

We're learning new details about the effort to identify the bodies found in a mass grave at Oaklawn Cemetery after tonight’s Public Oversight Committee meeting.

The lab responsible for doing the work said unfortunately, most of the DNA samples it received aren’t usable, but it’s hopeful for a couple of leads.  

On Tuesday, we heard the first update on the DNA analysis for the remains found in a mass grave at Oaklawn Cemetery last summer.

Intermountain Forensics talked about the 28 samples it received including one bone and one tooth per body.

“We’re talking about very very very difficult, very degraded and exposed samples,” said Daniel Hellwig, Laboratory Development Director for Intermountain Forensics.

Lab Development Director Daniel Hellwig said a major setback is they discovered no usable DNA from the bones; however, experts said two of the teeth provided enough DNA to move forward.

Hellwig said they aren’t ruling out all the other 12 remaining bodies that did not have enough DNA to move forward and will reevaluate more samples.

The committee said it needs anyone who thinks they might be a descendant of a Tulsa Race Massacre victim to consider giving DNA samples.

“We need the right people in these databases to match up to the correct families," said Hellwig.

The committee hopes to hire a private consulting firm to research the sites before going back to Newblock Park and The Canes, which is a homeless encampment along the Arkansas River.

As for Oaklawn, archeologists are working on a time to go look for more remains, south and west of where they found the last bodies.

“We call it the original 18. We may have recovered one individual that’s from the race massacre maybe. You know we have our one male with gunshot wounds, but that’s one out of 13 documented, documented individuals buried in Oaklawn,” said Phoebe Stubblefield, anthropologist from the University of Florida.

The Tulsa City Council approved $1 million of its budget to go toward this investigation. Plus, nearly $200,000 remaining from the last excavation can carry over into the next fiscal year.

The oversight committee also applied for additional grant money.

The Public Oversight Committee will have another meeting in September. We will provide any updates on plan for when they might go back to Oaklawn.