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Press Release

Neosho Man Sentenced to 30 Years for Kidnapping Conspiracy, Illegal Firearm

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri
Conspirators Tortured, Fatally Shot Kidnapping Victim

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A Neosho, Mo., man was sentenced in federal court today for his role in a kidnapping conspiracy that resulted in the torture and death of the victim, and for illegally possessing a firearm.

James B. Gibson, also known as “Gibby,” 41, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool to 30 years in federal prison without parole.

On April 18, 2023, Gibson pleaded guilty to his role in a conspiracy to commit kidnapping and to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Co-defendant Lawrence William Vaughan, also known as “Scary Larry,” 52, of Neosho, was sentenced on Nov. 7, 2013, to 25 years in federal prison without parole.

Four co-defendants also have pleaded guilty and await sentencing in this case. Russell Eugene Hurtt, also known as “Uncle,” 52, of Greenwood, Mo., is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday, April 16. Amy Kay Thomas, 40, of Webb City, Mo., is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, April 18. Sentencing hearings have not yet been scheduled for Freddie Lewis Tilton, also known as “Ol’ Boy,” 51, and Carla Jo Ward, 49, both of Joplin, Mo.

Gibson admitted that he participated in a conspiracy to kidnap the victim, identified as “M.H.,” in July 2020. Tilton offered Ward and Vaughan $5,000 each to locate and secure M.H. for him. Ward picked up M.H., whom she knew was being sought by Tilton, and took him to Vaughan’s residence. Vaughan texted Tilton, stating “Call me quickly handing (M.H.) to you.” Vaughan and Tilton continued communicating throughout the early morning hours of July 15, 2020. Vaughan sent a text message to Tilton that read, “He’s got 2 guns.” A few hours later, Vaughan sent a text message to Tilton that read, “OK we’ve got both his guns put up,” and “Guns are secure I’m waiting for you.”

Tilton, Thomas, and Gibson arrived at Vaughan’s residence in the early morning hours of July 15, 2020. They bound M.H.’s hands with handcuffs, and duct tape was placed around his mouth and other parts of his body. Gibson, Thomas, and others assaulted M.H. for a period of time. M.H. was cut, beaten, and shot at. Gibson admitted he burned M.H. with a blowtorch. Tilton fatally shot M.H. in the head. Gibson and others cleaned up the blood and damage created during the assault and shooting of M.H. They wrapped M.H.’s body in plastic wrap and Gibson transported it to Hurtt’s property.

Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Hurtt’s property on July 28, 2020, based on information that a deceased body was located on the acreage. When officers attempted to contact the occupants of the residence, Tilton fired multiple shots from inside the residence at the officers. Tilton was apprehended.

Officers found M.H.’s body on the property. Officers searched the residence and found a Rigarmi .25-caliber pistol, an Ithaca .22-caliber rifle, a Remington .22-caliber rifle without a serial number, a Harrington and Richardson 12-gauge shotgun, a Ruger 9mm handgun, and a Taurus 9mm handgun without a serial number.

Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a felony to be in possession of any firearm or ammunition. Gibson has two prior felony convictions for resisting arrest, two prior felony convictions for possessing a controlled substance, and prior felony convictions for tampering, assault, and violence by an inmate against an employee of the Department of Corrections or to an inmate.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the FBI, the Newton County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Neosho, Mo., Police Department, the Joplin, Mo., Police Department, the Ozark Drug Enforcement Team, and the Cherokee County, Kan., Sheriff’s Department.

Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force

This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at

Updated April 15, 2024

Violent Crime