When I began studying the case of the tragic 1993 murder of Betty Carnes in Barbourville, Kentucky, an interesting piece of information popped up early in my research. A local millionaire, seemingly without any close ties to the victim, displayed an unusual interest in the murder trial. The family of the accused, Delmar Partin, could not understand this businessman’s interest in the trial. I was intrigued. What was the connection between Vance Mills, owner of a local hotel, gas stations, coal companies and even a bank, and beautiful 37 year old factory worker, Betty Carnes?
What I would discover over the next several years would be adequately described by one interviewee as “a rats’ nest” that had been infesting southeast Kentucky for decades.
The first question I usually get asked when I try to talk to people about Partin’s wrongful conviction, is why and how did I get involved? The answer is, purely by chance. I was doing research for this blog when I read a newspaper article about the murder and trial, and it shocked me Partin had got convicted with no physical evidence, clearly not enough time to commit the crime, a tenuous motive and arrested after a mere two hour investigation.
Unfortunately, I have no formal experience in lawyering or investigating, and that hurts my credibility. Maybe that’s why I can’t find any help for Partin. I’ve asked attorneys, private investigators, journalists, even law enforcement. But I don’t discount the fact more than one person in this cast of characters has ties to U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, occupying the Commonwealth’s seat in the House of Representatives since 1980. Is it a coincidence the crime syndicate I would eventually learn about has been operating in southeast Kentucky for about as long?
The depravity of the individuals involved in this story doesn’t help my credibility. It’s hard to fathom people could be so vicious, so inhumane to other human beings… even harder to believe upstanding members of the community could be involved. When you hear stories like this, you hope the messenger is crazy, that people couldn’t possibly be so evil.
So, in the spirit of meeting crazy head-on, I’ll share one of my more eye-opening conversations with a man who knew some of these Kentucky organized crime characters intimately; in fact he was, at one time, under investigation with them by the FBI. A well-respected upstanding businessman who has given back generously to his community, I trust what he tells me. He was never charged in that investigation. He was horrified when he found out the extent of his associates’ crimes. He despised these men and the evil they did.
He was also a former CIA contractor.
He had mentioned a hit man that ran a Middlesboro mortuary during one of our conversations, and I decided to bring the subject up again. He responded,
“I’ll never forget that guy, I’ll never forget him. He was probably Renfro’s age at that time. I’ll never forget, Johnny Asher said to me one day, ‘We got it figured out back here. You kill a hog, we could never figure out how to get paid when he squeals. But we learned how to use every part of that hog when we’d kill him. But we could never figure out how to get paid for the squeal.’ I couldn’t figure that out for a long time. What in the heck does he mean by that?
“Then they had offered me, ‘If you ever die, we’ll give you a free funeral. If any of your friends ever die, we’ll give them free funerals.’ Well that’s almost unheard of. That’s real southern hospitality they showed me at the start. I didn’t know they was gonna take these people and stuff them full of guns and drugs and network them through the whole country. That’s what they got caught for. And they didn’t get jail for it! What you are dealing with, it’s pretty serious stuff.”
This is the crime syndicate I believe is responsible for Betty’s Carnes’ murder and the subsequent wrongful conviction of Delmar Partin.
This group also has ties to the unsolved murder of Richmond, Kentucky’s Monroe Brock, former owner of the well-known nightclub, “The Maverick.”
It’s hard to believe so many connections in this story are all coincidences. At what point do we begin to question if there is, indeed a conspiracy?
Did Tom Handy, Commonwealth Attorney and Partin’s prosecutor, know there were much more likely suspects in the Betty Carnes’ murder case? If so, why were these suspects not investigated?