Leonard Dirickson and his son, Jared, had just finished eating breakfast around 9:00 am on Saturday, March 14, 1998, when an unexpected visitor in a white pickup truck pulled up in their driveway. Jared watched through the window as his father went outside and approached the driver’s side of the truck and spoke to the man behind the wheel for a few seconds. He then returned to the house and told Jared that he was going with the man, who wanted to buy one of his horses. He promised his son he would be back that afternoon, then climbed into the truck with the unidentified driver. The 39-year-old never returned home and was never seen again.
Leonard and his son lived on an 800-acre ranch in Strong City, Oklahoma, where they raised pigs and cattle. Leonard also owned 15 horses; he kept most of them in Elk City, Oklahoma, but also had at least one at a stud ranch in Mobeetie, Texas. When he left the house that Saturday morning, he told his son that he and the unidentified man were going to both locations.
When Leonard didn’t come home that night, Jared started to get worried. He was just 16 years old at the time, and he and Leonard had an extremely close relationship. He was certain that his father would have called him if he was going to be away from home overnight. Worried that something might have happened to him, Jared called Leonard’s parents, who lived in Elk City. When Leonard hadn’t gotten in touch with anyone by the following morning, his parents called the Roger Mills County Sheriff’s Department and reported him missing.
Jared told the police that his father had left with a white man who was driving a white Ford 150 extended cab pickup truck from the mid-1990s. On the front bumper of the truck, Jared thought he saw a yellow New Mexico license plate. But at the time, New Mexico didn’t give out front plates, so it was probably from another state.
The man had never gotten out of his truck, so Jared couldn’t get a good look at him. He thought the man had a reddish-brown beard, though. While Leonard seemed at ease when he left, Jared didn’t get the sense that he thought he was in any danger. It wasn’t clear if Leonard knew the man. Jared wanted to go with his dad and the man, but Leonard told him he had to get pig food at a nearby feed store, which closed at noon on Saturdays, and Leonard knew Jared wouldn’t be back before then.
Leonard had never gone missing before, so the police took the case very seriously from the start. They checked all the roads and air routes from Leonard’s house to both Elk City and Mobeetie because they thought he and the unknown man might have been in a car accident. They didn’t find any signs that the truck had been in an accident or gone off the road.
When police searched Leonard’s property, they found the butt of a discarded Marlboro Light cigarette near the driveway. It was thought to belong to the unknown man who picked up Leonard on Saturday morning, but it didn’t help them figure out who he was.
Someone at the Kettle Diner in Elk City called the police to say that she saw Leonard and another man in the diner around 11 a.m. Saturday after hearing that Leonard was missing. She didn’t know Leonard personally, but she was sure it was him because he had a very unique handlebar mustache that made him easy to spot.
The waitress said Leonard’s friend was a white man who looked to be around 40 years old. The man was about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed about 210 pounds. He had brown hair and a beard that was more red than brown. He was dressed in blue jeans, a blue jacket, a striped shirt with Western style, and a black baseball cap that said “No Fear” in red. A sketch artist was able to make a composite sketch of the man who was last seen with Leonard based on the waitress’s description.
Since 1981, Leonard was the first person to go missing in Roger Mills County, and police were determined to find him. They put up posters looking for Leonard all over western Oklahoma and parts of Texas. The posters had a picture of Leonard and a drawing of the man who picked him up that Saturday morning. Investigators got a few leads from people who said they thought they saw Leonard, but none of the sightings could be proven.
Investigators didn’t understand what happened. When deputies from Roger Mills County asked him about the case, Joe Hay was straight-forward. “This is not like this guy at all.” Guys sometimes get angry and leave for a while, but this guy isn’t one of those guys. Neither does he drink nor do drugs. “He works really hard.”
Investigators in Strong City were told by neighbors that Leonard would never have left his son alone for a long time. Police thought Leonard must have known the man in the white pickup truck even though none of them had ever seen him before. “You didn’t drive by Leonard’s house; you drove to it…It might not even be possible to see from the road. It was clear to the sheriff that the man had come to see Leonard for a reason, but he wasn’t sure what it had to do with horses because Leonard had never put any of his horses up for sale.
Soon, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation joined the search for Leonard. Every tip that detectives got was looked into, but none of them helped them find the missing man. Sheriff Hay told the press that he thought he was chasing a ghost. When you look into something, you usually know where to begin. This is so hard that we don’t even know where to begin.
Detectives looked into Leonard’s past to try to find clues. At age 18, he married Kathy, the girl he loved in high school. There were soon two kids, Jared and Connie, and they ran a dairy business out of the Strong City ranch. But in the end, the marriage fell apart, and in 1996, they got a divorce. The breakup was nasty, and Leonard and Kathy quickly got into a nasty custody battle that split their family in half. Kathy got custody of Connie and moved to Hammond, Oklahoma. Jared, on the other hand, refused to live with his mother and stayed on the ranch with Leonard.
Leonard had to make the hard choice to sell the family dairy business in December 1997, but it wasn’t because they were getting divorced. The price of milk went down, but the price of feed for cattle went up a lot, making it impossible for Leonard to keep the business going.
Leonard got a job with a metal company in Elk City in January 1998. In the end, he loved his job so much that his dad, Don Dirickson, was thinking about buying the business from him. Leonard disappeared, though, before Don could finish making these plans.
Leonard had some money problems after losing his dairy business, but he seemed to be in a better position after starting to work at the metal company. His son didn’t know that he was planning to sell any of his horses. Detectives thought Leonard had never put up an ad for horses for sale.
Dixie Gilworth, Leonard’s aunt, said that her nephew was a very nice person who wasn’t afraid to work hard. “He’s a reliable and skilled person. It doesn’t make sense for him to leave with only his clothes on. She hoped that Leonard was still alive, but she was afraid that the strange man who showed up at Leonard’s ranch had a bad intention.
During the first few weeks of the investigation, detectives got a lot of tips, but they couldn’t find any solid evidence that Leonard was somewhere. There were more than 70 people they talked to, but none of them had anything bad to say about the missing man. “We’ve talked to anyone and everyone he dealt with, and everyone thought the world of him,” Sheriff Hay said. There must be some people out there who weren’t his friends; we just haven’t found them yet.
Leonard’s family said he never carried more than $100 cash on him, which made him a less likely target for theft. After his divorce, he used up all of his credit cards and had no money left in his checking account. In the weeks before he went missing, he hadn’t taken out any large amounts of money, and his last paycheck hadn’t been cashed.
No one who knew Leonard thought he would have faked his own de*ath because he was too close to his son to do that. His things weren’t missing from his house, and he didn’t have the money to just move somewhere else and start over. They were sure that someone had done something bad to him.
Detectives thought that the man who couldn’t be named could help them find Leonard, but no one could say for sure who he was. The man in the sketch didn’t look like anyone Leonard’s neighbors, friends, or family knew. They thought Leonard probably didn’t know the man either. There were doubts about Leonard’s willingness to ride in a truck with someone he didn’t know, but Sheriff Hay said, “Out here, where Leonard was born and raised, it comes naturally to trust people.” There was a chance that Leonard’s trust had led to trouble.
A man who said he knew Leonard called the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation from a bar in Amarillo, Texas, in September 1998 and said Leonard was there. This was the first real clue in the case. When Texas police went to the bar, they couldn’t find Leonard or the man who made the phone call. Several nights, they watched the bar to see if Leonard showed up, but they never saw him.
The case was no longer in the news by the end of the year. Jared moved in with his grandparents in Elk City because he still didn’t talk to his mother. In their home, there were many pictures of Leonard, which made him feel better. He kept hoping that his father would be found alive.
Don and Norma Leonard, Leonard’s parents, wanted to believe that he was still alive but knew it wasn’t likely. They were sure he would have called Jared if he could, and the fact that he hadn’t said anything meant he was probably de*ad. She told the reporter, “I know something bad has happened in my heart.” He wasn’t going to leave Jared. It was just too close.
Over time, Sheriff Hay told everyone that he had no idea what had happened to Leonard. Even though Leonard’s family was sure he wouldn’t have faked his own disappearance, investigators hadn’t been able to find any solid proof of foul play. “No one knows for sure if he’s still alive, but I’m sure he’s somewhere outside.” There was still a chance he was alive since his body had never been found.
Leonard’s parents clung to this hope. In 2000, Don told a reporter, “If he’s alive, I just want him to come back home. Jared needs him worse than we do.” As more time went by, it got harder for Don and Norma to stay positive.
Detectives continued to circulate the composite sketch of the man last seen with Leonard but no one was able to identify him. Although Leonard’s family expressed some doubt about the validity of the sighting that led to the sketch — they questioned whether Leonard would have gone to a diner to eat so soon after eating breakfast with his son — detectives still think that finding the man in the sketch is the key to solving this case.
Leonard Neal Dirickson was 39 years old when he went missing in 1998. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance have led authorities to suspect that he was a victim of foul play, but they admit that it’s possible he vanished voluntarily. His family doesn’t believe that he would have abandoned his teenage son, who still hopes to reunite with his father. Leonard has gray eyes and brown hair, and at the time of his disappearance, he was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed approximately 200 pounds. When he was last seen, Leonard was wearing green jeans, a faded black hooded Carhartt jacket, and a brown baseball cap with a green bill with “ACCO FEEDS” written on it. If you have any information about Leonard, please contact the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation at 800–522–8017.