More than 16 years after portions of a skull were found in a Durwood Road yard, the remains have been identified as an 11-year-old child reported missing from Madill.

More than 16 years after portions of a skull were found in a Durwood Road yard, the remains have been identified as an 11-year-old child reported missing from Madill.


Cherokee Ballard, public information officer for the state Medical Examiner’s Office, said Tuesday DNA confirmed the remains to be Thomas Billy Lee Tillery.


The child was reported missing by his mother, Reba, on Sept. 19, 1994, when he failed to return home from a trip to a local grocery store. At the time, Madill police entered the missing child into the National Center For Missing and Endangered Children. Fliers were distributed and police said several possible sightings were reported. None of them led to finding the child.


Three months later, portions of a skull were discovered at the rural Dickson residence, but efforts to identify the remains at the time were unsuccessful. A year later, an anthropologist determined the skull belong to a young Caucasian, possibly 13 to 14 years old with short brown hair. However, Ballard said at the time it was impossible to determine if the remains were those of a boy or a girl.


The case remained unsolved until April 2010, when Carter County Deputy Rick Batt said he was contacted by Medical Examiner Investigator Leroy Johnson and asked to reopen the case. Batt, who is assigned to work cold cases by Sheriff Ken Grace, agreed. His first priority was researching the original case.


“I found out that then-Deputy Bryan Burton worked the case and there was an extensive search over one square mile by deputies and Ardmore police, but nothing else, no other remains, were found. Several leads were followed at the time, but none of them panned out. Then in 1995, based on the anthropologist’s report, a reconstruction was done. But that reconstruction looked nothing like any missing person we had information on and the case, basically died,” Batt said.


With no new information or leads to follow, Batt turned his attention to other methods he believed could lead to identifying the remains.


“I was at a board meeting of the Oklahoma Division of the International Association For Identification and asked Detective Sgt. Traci Schinner, Norman Police Department, who is a forensic artist, if she would be willing to do a composite drawing. She agreed., Batt said. “What she produced was a likeness that was very similar to Thomas’. I then sent her an actual  photo and she did a skeletal overlay. It matched. I really give her a lot of the credit for this identification.”


The last piece of the puzzle that led to positive identification was at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, where DNA testing confirmed the child missing for more than 16 years had been found. Tillery’s mother, now Reba Williams, who resides in California, was notified Friday by the National Center For Missing and Endangered Children.


The positive identification, Ballard said, is part of an ongoing project called Oklahoma Project Search for the Missing.


But for Batt the case isn’t over. Questions remain. What happened to Tillery on that short walk from his Taliaferro Street residence to the grocery store where he was supposed to buy milk and return home?


And, how and why were portions of the child’s skull discarded in rural Dickson?


“We have no cause or manner of death ruling and there are no suspects in the case because it was never classified as anything other than a missing child,” he said. “Hopefully, now someone will come forward and say what happened.”


On Tuesday Grace praised Batt for his work on the case.


“If it were not for Deputy Batt, this case would never have gotten as far as it has. When he gets into something, he has a tenacity and he sticks with it until he gets answers. The sheriff’s department is very, very fortunate to have a man of Rick’s ability and character and we’re very proud of him,” Grace said.
“It was extremely unfortunate that this missing child fell by the wayside. We are hopeful that now that he has been identified it will draw new attention to this case, and we are urging anyone with information to come forward. In many instances it is information, however, unimportant someone might think it is, that gets these cases solved.”


In a press release issued late Tuesday, Madill police pledged to continue to work with Batt in solving the case.


Anyone with information concerning Tillery’s disappearance or what led to his death should contact the Carter County Sheriff’s Department at (580) 223-6014 or Madill Police Department at (580) 795-2387.