Missing and Murdered: What happened to Britney Tiger?
Written by: Brittany Harlow
(PONTOTOC COUNTY, Okla.) Britney Tiger was a beloved mother, daughter, sister and friend. Above all else, advocates for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women say, she was someone.
The details surrounding her disappearance point down one morbid trail after another.
And despite twists, turns, leaps ahead and steps back over the last three years, Tiger’s missing turned homicide case remains unsolved.
Tiger’s mom Bernadine Bear-Heels told us justice is slow, and she is tired.
“I'm tired of waiting for the person responsible to be arrested,” Bear-Heels said. “To be put behind bars. I want to move forward.”
In February 2018, Tiger told Bear-Heels she was leaving her husband, William Gomez. Then she vanished. Her body was found in a field a mile south of the Kullihoma Stomp grounds in Pontotoc County a month later.
The Pontotoc County Sheriff’s Office was the first law enforcement agency on the scene. They told us it appeared she had died somewhere else, but someone had dragged her body out there. She was found by a cattle rancher a while later.
Mariah Greenwood Adair is the president of the MMIW’s Southeast Oklahoma chapter. She said she befriended Tiger before her death, while advocating for justice for her cousin’s unsolved murder.
“She was bubbly,” Adair said. “She was funny and just charismatic, she was energy. My daughter, she doesn’t open up to a lot of people. But she opened up to Britney.”
It was these two deaths that led Adair to start up this local chapter. She told us she believes stereotypes about tribal members are big factors in why some local authorities don’t seem to care very much about their cases.
“Native Americans are portrayed as drunks and drug users and homeless people,” Adair said. “So, they don't really want to look for someone when they go missing, or when they have a mental illness.”
We read Tiger’s autopsy report. It listed her cause and manner of death as “unknown”. Drugs were found in her system.
“I'm the sister that... I didn't tolerate that,” her sister Jessica Tyson said. “And she knew that.”
But, given the numbers, the possibility of an overdose is unlikely.
A toxicology report shows meth was found in her liver, where drugs are concentrated the highest. But the amount was listed in micrograms. 4.3, to be exact. Why did this report list meth in micrograms when meth amounts in toxicology reports are typically listed it in milligrams? For clarification, a microgram is one thousandth the size of a milligram, and typically used to describe extremely potent drugs, like fentanyl.
Maybe .0043 mg appeared too insignificant.
Not to mention meth amounts have been known to double in the blood after death.
We reached out to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner but have not heard back.
Her family said they were aware Tiger occasionally used drugs, but they played a small role in her big life.
“People are putting it out there, well, she did drugs, she's this person, she's... No, that's not her,” Tyson said. “She played with kids, she came over, she helped cook, she did other things. She went to the park, she helped with church members, you know. Everybody has rough patches. That wasn’t my sister. She wasn’t this druggie.”
The report also said dark hairs were found on both of her hands, as well as a red hemorrhage on the right side of her chest. And nothing explains how her body ended up in a field.
In September 2019, the OSBI offered a $10,000 reward for information.
A break in the case came the following February. Then an arrest. Local resident Bodhi Chance Starns of Ada was charged with unlawful disposal of a deceased corpse.
VNN obtained a copy of his probable cause affidavit. It is filled with disturbing accounts of what may have happened to Tiger.
That Gomez injected her with drugs.
That Starns and Gomez carried Tiger’s body out of their apartment in a suitcase.
That another man had strangled Tiger.
“How do we allow this?” Adair said. “We can't allow people like that in our community.”
In July of last year, the Supreme Court ruled in McGirt v. Oklahoma the state has no legal jurisdiction over crimes involving American Indians on tribal lands because their reservations had never been disestablished by Congress. Cases have been transitioning from Oklahoma hands to federal hands ever since.
“I don't want to say it's caught them off guard, but it has,” Adair said. “And they knew this was coming, but there wasn't anything done to start taking steps to do an easier transition than what it's been. So, I think it's going to be a longer walk towards justice, but I think we'll eventually get there.
Starns’ case was dismissed in November 2020, citing the landmark ruling.
We’re told Tiger’s case file is currently sitting on an FBI agent’s desk, waiting to be reviewed.
“I'm hoping that with the evidence that they have, that they'll pick it up and be like, hey, I think we need to look into this further,” Adair said.
“I don't mind working with the Feds or whoever it is I have to work with because I want answers,” Bear-Heels said. “I'll talk to whoever.”
Bear-Heels said she believes there are still a lot of people out there who have not contacted the authorities to share what they know.
“They need to get the courage to speak up, to do the right thing.”
“We see her kids, we see them growing up,” Tyson said. “We had to continue our lives without her. That's pretty hard. She had so many people that loved her.”
“I really want justice for her and move forward with my life,” Bear-Heels said. “Because it feels like my life is on hold.”
Anyone with information about Tiger’s case can submit a tip online at https://tips.fbi.gov/
A four-part docu-series titled “Who Killed Britney Tiger?” detailing an independent inquiry into Tiger’s death is also expected to be released later this year.
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