God’s Peace: Remembering Marie “Frieda” Dighton

“Sweet and beautiful Marie,

would you please come back to me?

You can tell me about heaven

while we sit and drink iced tea.”

June 4th, 2008 began as a regular morning for Mrs. Marie “Frieda” Dighton. The sun was roasting the small Oklahoma town of Buffalo Valley to ninety degrees as she backed her car out of her driveway and drove to the Veterans Affairs center in Talihina, only fifteen miles away. There, she would spend time with her husband, C.R. Dighton, who had been living there for several months.

After their visit, Frieda left to get her hair done while C.R. had a doctor’s appointment. She filled her tank with gas and drove back home, fixing herself some lunch before retreating to the bedroom, possibly to change clothes. It was in this room that Frieda’s life would viciously end, and the lives of her family would change forever. 

______________________

“Years have passed since you went away,

taken on a hot June day.

If only we had one more phone call —

I have so much I want to say.”

Frieda was born into WWII on July 8th, 1939 in Babenhausen, Germany to Joseph and Theresa Leistner. She married the love of her life when she was twenty years old on February 23rd, 1960, when C.R. was serving in the Army in Germany. The newlyweds settled down in Buffalo Valley together, raising five children: Maria, Eloise, Leroy, Evelyn, and Clarence II.

Photo: Maria Wilson

“She had five babies in seven years in three different countries,” Maria says. “As with most families, our home life was complex and a little dysfunctional. Both my parents had their own set of baggage. They were very strict and demanded a lot from us. But, there were times of fun, usually going to the lake or a creek to swim.”

Raised in the Depression era, Frieda and C.R. were adamant about being frugal, refusing to waste even the smallest item. 

“She canned, sewed, and recycled anything and everything,” Maria remembers. “Old TV cabinets became linen cabinets.”

Frieda loved to garden and grew her own vegetables. She canned over five hundred jars of food each summer, taught the girls to sew and crochet, and competed in the county fair every year. She had a beautiful passion for making quilts — something tangible left behind for her family to remember her by.

In 2004, the family was first tested with the loss of Clarence Dighton II, who passed away at the tender age of thirty-six the day after his mother’s birthday. He was buried in the Dighton Family Cemetery on a hot Wednesday morning, leaving an irreplaceable void in his family’s hearts.

___________________

“Your grandbabies are growing, growing

and you should be here cooking, sewing.

Your death remains a mystery;

we trudge through life not knowing.”

In the days leading up to June 4th, 2008, Frieda was sick with a flare-up of emphysema. She lost three days of memory due to a lack of oxygen, so her daughters arranged for an oxygen company to bring a tank to her house. 

“My middle sister came in so all three of us girls spent time with her, talking and playing cards,” Maria recalls. “Ten days later she would be dead.”

That week, Maria made sure to call her mother every day to check on her. There was no answer the evening of the 4th, and when Frieda didn’t answer her daughter’s calls on the 5th either, Maria contacted the Latimer County Sheriff’s Department. An officer conducted a welfare check, and found the house locked and her car parked on the property.

Frieda was not in the garden or tending to the chickens, so dispatch called Maria and asked if they had permission to enter the property. When permission was given, the police stumbled upon Frieda’s body lying on her bedroom floor.

She had nine slashes to her throat and defensive wounds in the palms of her hands.

Maria was told over the phone that her mother had died, but she wasn’t aware of the circumstances until she and her son pulled into her parents’ driveway and saw the crime scene tape blowing in the breeze. She jumped out of the car before it came to a stop.

“You cannot imagine the range of emotions that go through you in a matter of seconds until you experience something like that,” Maria says. “Fury, pure fury went through me.”

Other family members began arriving, but no one was allowed in the house until two in the morning the next day. They all sat at the kitchen table and discussed what needed to be done. What steps needed to be taken? When should the funeral be? How long would it take her to come back from the coroner’s office?

Who could do such a horrific thing to such a precious, loving grandmother?

Photo: Maria Wilson

Friday morning, Maria called to inquire about someone cleaning up the crime scene. The house was in perfect condition, but the bedroom was a nightmare that sent chills up Maria’s spine when she saw it.

The agent she spoke with coldly instructed Maria to clean it up herself, so she and her brother-in-law spent the time scrubbing the blood from the floor, removing the carpet, and burning the mattress and bedding.

 “I would find out the next day after the fact that the state would have paid for that after I called a friend to ask for advice,” Maria recalls.

Frieda’s memorial service was tense, she describes, as family members had not yet been cleared by the police. Everyone was suspicious of each other; the family as a whole was destroyed. They did not have the funds to have their mother embalmed and viewed, so she was cremated without anyone getting the chance to tell her goodbye.

“I made it through the service and then went up to touch her urn,” Maria remembers. “When I picked it up, I absolutely lost it.”

____________________

“But you’re still with us, all around –

in the sunlight, in the sound

of cicadas and their evening song,

in wildflowers blooming from the ground.”

Pictures of Frieda show a woman radiating love to those around her. She’s seen kissing her grandchildren, holding baby chicks, and cutting slices of birthday cake for her family. These photos and the memories that follow them like the tail of a shooting star are all that remain for Frieda’s family to hold onto, along with the soft quilts carefully sewn with their mother’s fingertips.

Gone were the days of card games and sweet tea, of family get-togethers and summers of canning vegetables. Instead came the cruel reality of heartbreak and an endless pursuit of justice. Years later, Frieda’s case has gone cold, but detectives are still working tirelessly on the horrific murder of the fiesty and vivacious woman who left a legacy behind her. 

The case was featured in the innovative Cold Case Playing Cards in 2017, sold to Oklahoma inmates in hopes of sparking a conversation and bringing fresh leads to investigators. Frieda is the three of spades, her picture and brief synopsis of her death on a playing card next to fifty-one other cold cases. 

Frieda was also featured in Oklahoma’s Unsolved History art exhibit, which paired artists with families of cold case victims to create a work of art that honors their loved ones. A beautiful portrait of Frieda was painted by Linda Kane, displaying the smiling grandmother with pink roses decorating the border.

Photo: Maria Wilson/Artist: Linda Kane

“My mother’s name, Marie ‘Gottfriede’ means ‘God’s peace,’” Maria explains. “I think my Oma named her that because she was born into a war and it was her way of trying to bless her. Unfortunately, her life never had that. She was a survivor though, and tried to laugh when she could. I’m glad she knew I loved her. She is now at peace.”

“While you rest in eternity,

I’ll do my very best to be

your voice of justice, your voice of love,

so save a glass of tea for me.”

~ Lindsay Schraad

Photo: Maria Wilson
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