The Maverick Club: are the murders of Monroe Brock and Betty Carnes connected?

It was cold, but not blustery when the plane touched down at the small airport in Madison County around 1:30 that morning. Hardly an hour passed before it was airborne again, slipping into the night without a trace.

The next day, the sniper killing of nightclub owner Monroe Brock would dominate the local news and locals’ conversation. Rumors were rampant the hit was related to organized crime, Las Vegas, and an unpaid debt. Investigators claimed they were unable to find a link.

To this day, the murder of the Maverick Club’s Monroe Brock remains unsolved. The question is, why? Did investigators refuse to investigate, that which they should have investigated? Has the murder of Monroe Brock been covered up by local, state and even federal authorities?

A Kentucky Secretary of State records search returned two interesting business records: two separate business entities had been formed in the state, both carrying the name ‘Maverick Club, Inc.’ The first, formed by Monroe Brock in 1979, was administratively dissolved by the Commonwealth for failure to file its annual report in October of 1987, which is understandable, considering the stress the wife must have been under that year. She would continue to operate the club until selling out a few years later, despite the revocation of authority to do business by the state.

What’s notable is the second business record that turned up for the Maverick Club, Inc. In May of 1988, three men, Donnie Baker, Ronnie Messer and Michael Warren are listed as directors of this second corporation, with their principal office and registered agent (also Michael Warren) listing an address in Barbourville, Kentucky. I had seen those names before. They had all turned up in my research of the wrongful conviction of Delmar Partin for the murder of Betty Carnes; also in Barbourville. I felt there had to be a connection to Brock’s death.

I don’t think anyone is going to get too upset with me talking about Donnie Baker (aka Donald Earl Baker) being a drug dealer. You had to have lived under a rock to have not known. What’s notable is his association to Vance Mills, the local Barbourville millionaire I mentioned earlier whose unexplained presence couldn’t be missed at Delmar Partin’s trial for the murder of Betty Carnes. Herman Levance Mills,  as he was formally known, would incidentally turn out to be under investigation for the international trafficking of narcotics:

Welcome to the rats’ nest.

It should be pretty apparent at this point we’re dealing with organized crime. You’ll hear more about Vance Mills’ and Donnie Baker’s relationship later. But for now, let’s focus on Baker, one of the members listed on ownership records of the second Maverick Club, Inc.

Donnie Baker had also been involved with another bar, this one in Henderson County, northern Kentucky, called The Black Horse Lounge. The property was owned by Elvie Cobb, a very good, yet controversial friend, of the former governor of Kentucky, John Y. Brown Jr.:

September 15, 1982 The Courier-Journal

June 6, 1989: The Black Horse Lounge burns. Arson completely destroys the structure. Donnie Baker is charged and found guilty of arson for hire, what should be a mandatory 15 year sentence. (I’ll talk more about that in a future post.)

Donald E. Baker is mistakenly spelled with a “B.” Court records notate this error and indicate the correct initial was “E.” -clipping from Evansville Press

The son of the Commonwealth Attorney that prosecuted Baker and his associates said it was a pretty scary time for his family. In high school at the time, he said the crime ring Baker had ties to was so dangerous, his dad had to wear a bullet proof vest to and from court every day. He said Baker’s associates were an Eastern Kentucky group who had moved into northern Kentucky to use the Black Horse Lounge as a front.

You can see why finding Donnie Baker’s name on these documents for a newly formed Maverick Club after Monroe Brock’s murder grabbed my attention.

Michael Warren, another member of the mysterious Maverick Club “No. 2,” is another questionable, albeit colorful figure:

The Courier-Journal, July 10 1993

And the third member of the latter-formed Maverick Club, Inc. is Ronnie Messer:

The Courier-Journal, August 10 1991

Most telling however, is that Vance Mills himself was an associate of John D. Sword, at one point forming a partnership to build a nursing home together. John Sword and Monroe Brock were directors of the Professional Billiards Association in Richmond, Kentucky together. Even more importantly, John Sword is listed as Brock’s spouse’s attorney in another business venture, Maverick Liquors.

Starting out at 54 seats, The Maverick Club would eventually have the ability to entertain 900 people under its roof, booking the likes of country greats like George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was also a raucous place, as this article from 1983 suggests:

The Courier Journal, March 12, 1983

If you were an organized crime ring, looking for fronts to do business out of, you might find the Maverick Club an attractive location for drug dealing, money laundering, and other unsavory activities.

Brock’s widow said at one point after her husband’s death, some “out-of-towners” wanted to buy the nightclub from her, but she refused. Were these out-of-towners none other than Baker, Warren and Messer?

Monroe Brock’s unsolved but hardly mysterious murder has the tracks of my southeastern Kentucky’s rats’ nest all over it. I am absolutely confused how authorities can claim to have no leads on the case.

If Baker, Warren and Messer are the out-of-towners who wanted to buy the bar from the widowed spouse of Monroe Brock, why were they so damned sure they were going to get their hands on that club? They went to the trouble to form legal paperwork and file it with the secretary of state, for Pete’s sake. In their minds, the transfer of that bar from the spouse of the murdered owner to their control was clearly a done deal. What made them so confident?

The one part of this story that always amazed me, was the willingness of the widowed spouse to take her children out into the black night, not knowing where the sniper was or if he might strike again, in order to get help for her fallen husband, who was said to have been shot execution-style.

She and the children would ultimately be safe.  It truly was a testament to the lengths a woman will go to, no matter how terrifying.

The Courier-Journal, January 19 1987

 

The good, the bad, the ugly: the Delmar Partin jury

I was mystified how any jury could convict a man with no physical evidence, no time to commit the murder, and clearly contradictory statements given by testifying witnesses.

I felt the jury had somehow been compromised.

Because I was not from the area, I knew I would have a hard time getting the people of Knox County to open up to me about any relationships these jurors might have had with people involved in this case. Under voir dire, prospective jury members are supposed to disclose any connections or ties to the defendant, the victims family, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, law enforcement, and witnesses:

People v. Cangiano, 131 Misc. 2d 930, 931 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1986) “One of the basic functions of voir dire is to determine whether any of the prospective jurors is related to or knows one of the parties or lawyers in the case or a prospective witness.”

So I went another direction.

First, the jury qualification form asks the potential jurors, ” Has a claim for $500 or more ever been made against you or a member of your family?” Mr. Ken Long had marked “no,” but court papers show he and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1991, with the case being closed in September of 1994, about a month after the end of the murder trial.

When prospective jurors gathered at the courthouse, the judge, Roderick Messer, under voir dire questioning, asked potential jury members if they, or a family member, have ever participated in a criminal case either as a witness, a defendant, or in any other capacity.

How many of them were truthful?

Take Joseph Kush. Married to C. Faye Kush, who was listed as a defendant on a federal tax evasion case filed in March of 1994, Kush would be chosen as a jury member for Delmar Partin’s trial in August of 1994.

Or Christine Branstutter Smith, also chosen as a jury member for the Partin trial. Her brother, Lewis Branstutter, was charged with attempted murder and robbery in 1984, then later was indicted in a fuel-tax fraud scheme in 1990. The December 11, 1990 Corbin Times Tribune newspaper states that the indictments in the scheme “resulted from a two-year investigation by the Kentucky State Police; the Internal Revenue Service; Tom Handy, commonwealth’s attorney for Knox and Laurel counties; and the U.S. attorney’s office.” Didn’t Tom Handy recognize the Branstutter name at any point during the jury selection process?

Neither Kush nor Branstutter Smith disclosed to the judge or attorneys during voir dire that they had relatives who indeed had been, or were, defendants in criminal cases. Why? In the end, these two jury members would be chosen as alternates and would not end up deciding Delmar Partin’s fate. However, it is still very troubling why they would not disclose these facts under voir dire when required to do so.

Juror Glenda Lickliter, however, was a seated jury member. Not only was she not truthful under voir dire questioning, ultimately leading to her seat on the jury, did she purposefully omit information on her jury qualification form in order to help secure that seat on the jury?

The jury qualification form asks potential jurors to “list all members of your immediate family by relationship.” Lickliter lists two daughters and a son.  But there is one son missing from her list: court records show he was charged with theft by unlawful taking in 1989. (At that time, he was living with his parents, according to the Kentucky State Police file.) Then, in December of 1993, he was charged again, this time with “theft by failure to make required disposition.” Why wasn’t his name included on the jury qualification form with his brother and sisters? Why didn’t Lickliter disclose this son had been involved in criminal cases when questioned under voir dire? 

Furthermore, Judge Roderick Messer asks potential jurors, “Have you or any of your family members been the victim of a crime?”

The same son that Lickliter failed to disclose to the judge and attorneys was involved in criminal cases, was also the victim in a “terroristic threatening” case filed in November of 1993. Lickliter never disclosed that information either.

It was clear Delmar Partin’s right to a fair jury trial was denied. Disclosing this information under voir dire would not have necessarily disqualified Lickliter from serving on the jury. What it did do, however, was prevent Delmar Partin’s defense attorneys from probing potential biases she may have had against someone in Partin’s position: biases formed by her own experiences she may have had in dealing with her son.

It would be three years after my initial research into Glenda Lickliter’s voir dire answers that I would unearth the most fascinating discovery of all about this juror: she and her husband are named in one Billy Don Giles’ obituary: they are called a “special brother and sister in Christ,” indicating a close friendship with Mr. Giles. Mr. Giles’ sister is Bonnie Sue Giles Anders, best friends with Karla Espinal, girlfriend-turned-federal-informant to well-known drug kingpin Jerry Allen Lequire, who spent 30 years in prison for a Columbian cocaine smuggling operation. You can learn more about Giles-Anders’ role in Jerry Allen Lequire’s formidable enterprise that amassed some $280,000,000 (never found), here.

Even though the connection between the Lickliter family and the Giles is stunning, it was not something that voir dire questioning would have predicated she disclose. Still, this connection is fascinating to me, because I had already started to discover other connections to both Lequire’s and Drew Thornton’s drug empires to the rats’ nest I had stumbled on in southeast Kentucky.

A good juror…

I had the pleasure of speaking with another juror by the name of Geraldine McNeil, who provided insight into the jury deliberation portion of the trial. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

“I felt it was wrong the whole time, and I was one lone person and I let them push me. I am so sorry. I worried about that forever after it was over, and I didn’t know what to do about it or anything. And I let the rest of them push me to get out of there because they wanted to leave and didn’t want to stay. I was young, I had no jury experience, and if I did wrong, I am so sorry. But I firmly believed that he was not guilty.

I asked her if anyone else in the jury room argued for his innocence, and she said she couldn’t remember, but stated, “I felt like everybody was against me. I felt I should have done something or said something, and I didn’t.”

Put yourself in Geraldine McNeil’s shoes. Was a lonely position to be in.

What if Geraldine McNeil had had an ally in her fight for Partin’s innocence? What if fellow juror Glenda Lickliter’s seat had been filled by someone who was honest under voir dire questioning, someone who didn’t want to send an innocent man to prison, someone who was interested in the truth and not getting home to their own bed? Partin’s fate would most likely have been very, very different than we find it today.

25 years of a man’s life has been taken from him, dishonestly and unjustly.

The problem with wrongful convictions in southeast Kentucky goes well beyond corrupt police officers. This corruption is at the very core of the justice system in southeast Kentucky. How many juries in Knox and Laurel counties over the last 44 years were comprised of people who were not truthful under voir dire questioning? I would wager it is more the norm, than the exception.

The son of Robert Cato made an interesting point in his father’s obituary. (Robert Cato was a defense attorney, at times to organized crime figures. He was also a very good friend of Tom Handy and Judge Roderick Messer.) Cato’s son said this about his father:

“He enjoyed the fact that when you picked a jury in Eastern Kentucky, last names mean something.”

 

 

Depraved Indifference: DNA testing and the pardon of Delmar Partin

I’ve read several comments in the press now stating DNA testing was not available in 1993 and that is why the former governor of Kentucky pardoned Delmar Partin.

That is not true.

Yes, the governor did pardon Delmar Partin, but here is why:

“given the inability or unwillingness of the state to use existing DNA evidence to either affirm or disprove this conviction.”

Understand this: Bevin is stating the Commonwealth of Kentucky is currently unable or refusing to test existing DNA that could bring closure to the case. It has nothing to do with the availability of DNA testing from the 1990s.

But know this: DNA testing was available at the time of the trial in 1994, and before.

Barbara Wheeler was assigned to the Trace Evidence section of the Kentucky State Police Central Forensic Lab during 1993 and 1994. Wheeler’s training consists of a bachelor’s of science degree, some FBI training and the completion of a course given by the Crime Institute (instructors formerly with the FBI.) Here are several excerpts from her testimony that discuss DNA testing for this murder case:

Barbara Wheeler: I located hair on Exhibit 11 which is two rubber gloves from the barrel of at scene, on Exhibit 14 which is a section of ceiling tile from the scene, on exhibit 18 which is paper towels from the kitchen trash, on exhibit 31 which is a steel pipe, on exhibit 49 which is the shirt form the victim, also on exhibit 26 which is an ice scoop from the scene, there was also head hair fragments on exhibit 6 which is a hair collected from the left hand of the victim (pauses) and there was also hair in exhibit 45 which is one plastic wrapper from the barrel of the scene, and exhibit 56 which is a pocket knife.

Tom Handy: And that’s all the ones where the hair was found, correct?

Wheeler: Yes sir.

Handy: Now look, lets talk about the exhibits of 45 and 56, those are, you said, ‘fragments of hair’?

Barbara Wheeler goes on to explain,

“When I’m referring to a fragment, this means that the hair itself does not contain the root portion, the part that is actually in your scalp. A lot of time if hairs are extremely small or if it is just a fragment they’re too limited for any comparison value. One of the first things that we will do is determine what part of the body that the hair come from and on both of these I was unable to determine a possible body part, and this is one of the things that we use for comparison value or not. Is it head hair, or if it might be a pubic hair, these were too small and too limited in characteristics.”

Handy: Does that same result of fragment being too limited to examine also apply to other fragments found in exhibit 11, 31 and 49 which were rubber gloves, a steel pipe and victim’s shirt?

Wheeler: Yes sir. Some of the hair in exhibit 11, 31 and 49 was also too limited.

Handy: Now were you able to find hair on exhibits that matched the hair standard of Betty Carnes?

Wheeler: Yes sir.

Handy: On what items where those found?

Wheeler: On exhibit 11 which is two rubber gloves form the barrel at the scene, on exhibit 14 which is a section of ceiling tile from the scene, exhibit 18 which is paper towels from kitchen trash, exhibit 31 which is a steel pipe, exhibit 49 which is the shirt from the victim and also head hair fragments in exhibit 26 which was the ice scoop from the scene. These were all similar to Betty Carnes in the barrel, standard: my exhibit 22.

Handy: Are you able to tell this jury how many characteristics of Betty Carnes’ hair you were able to determine in checking the standard? Her standard?

Wheeler: No sir. We don’t have a number value as far as the characteristic that we look for.

Now let’s stop right there. The expert, Barbara Wheeler, says some of the hairs in the kitchen trash matched the head hair standard of Betty Carnes. Sounds terribly damning, doesn’t it?

Not so fast. The use of hair standards as evidentiary proof has resulted in the wrongful convictions of hundreds or thousands of people nationwide. Consider the following:

“The (FBI) agency’s misuse of hair evidence to convict people is “a national tragedy” and a violation of human rights, said Frederic Whitehurst, the whistleblower who revealed scientific misconduct including flawed hair analysis at the FBI laboratory in the 1990s. ‘We go into court with unvalidated science,” Whitehurst said. “We know it’s unvalidated science. The world of science is saying this is not valid, and we actually use this pseudo science against citizens of this nation.'”- Flawed hair evidence leads to convictions, USA Today, April 2017

Or this from law professor Brandon Garrett of University of Virginia:

“When I looked at forensics in DNA exoneree trials, I found more often than not that the testimony was unscientific and flawed. We know that whenever we look at old criminal cases we see flawed forensics wherever we look. And yet hardly any crime labs have bothered to conduct audits. Nor is the problem limited to bad hair cases—much the same type of eyeballed comparison is done on bite marks, ballistics, fibers, and even fingerprints.”

Or this chilling headline from Wisconsin Watch, part of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism:

“FBI admits errors in 90 percent of hair and fiber cases, including 13 in Wisconsin. Such errors are now a factor in one-fifth of all DNA exonerations.”

So what about DNA testing in this case?

Tom Handy: Is there any further testing that could have been conducted on that hair fragments that you have?

Barbara Wheeler: No sir.

Handy: Such as DNA?

Wheeler: If you’re referring to hair fragments, DNA cannot be done on these. To perform DNA analysis on hair you need the root end of the hair with tissue attached, and head hair fragments would not have the root end.

Handy: Did you find hairs there that did not match that of Betty Carnes?

Wheeler: Yes sir.

Handy: And where were those found?

Wheeler: Exhibit 6 which is hair collected from the left hand of the victim, exhibit 14 which is the section of ceiling tile form the scene and exhibit 18 which are paper towels from the kitchen trash.

Handy: So some exhibits had some of different things, some that you could match and some that you could not?

Wheeler: Yes sir.

Under examination by defense attorney William “Big Bill” Johnson, Barbara Wheeler provides more information about the hair collected from the hand of the victim:

Bill Johnson: Item 6 was ‘hair collected from left hand of victim.’ How many hairs were there?

Wheeler: There was one hair.

Johnson: Now this was, could you tell where it was a head hair?

Wheeler: Yes sir.

Johnson: Did it have a root on it?

Wheeler: Yes sir.

Johnson: Now that could have been checked through DNA process?

Wheeler: Yes sir, if there were standards available to compare it to.

Johnson: Did anyone request a DNA test?

Wheeler (looks at notes): Yes, it was on the original 26, a request for examination.

Johnson: Was it examined?

Wheeler: No sir. Not specifically, this item was requested…

Johnson: I’m sorry?

Wheeler: This item in particular was not requested. There were several other blood exhibits that were requested for possible DNA.

Johnson: …and were they tested?

Wheeler: I don’t believe so.

Johnson: Why? If you know…why do you request them and they not be tested if you know?

Wheeler: You have to ask Eddie Taylor the conventional serologist, or, hair analysis would be done first and only then would DNA be done in addition to it and Eddie would know if there was any samples that should have been sent in for DNA.

Let’s talk about Edward Taylor Jr, who was employed by the Kentucky State Police Forensic Lab in Frankfort.

Eddie Taylor states at trial, in addition to his bachelor’s degree, he “also received specialized training. This specialized training was in bio-chemical methods and blood stain analysis and forensic serology, the identification of hairs and fibers. This training was conducted at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.”

Eddie Taylor’s specialized FBI training and Barbara Wheeler’s tutelage under the FBI and instructors formerly employed by the FBI presents a major problem for prosecutors within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Michael Tennant of The New American, states, “Even if things are cleaned up at the federal level, there is still the problem of the 500 to 1,000 state and local crime-lab analysts who were trained by the same FBI examiners who gave the flawed testimony. Efforts are under way in a number of states to review their hair-examiner cases.”

Those efforts are NOT being made in the state of Kentucky.

So what does forensics expert Eddie Taylor have to say about DNA testing the blood found in the Betty Carnes murder case?

Bill Johnson, defense attorney: Did you conduct or have conducted a DNA examination?

Eddie Taylor: No sir, I did not.

Johnson: Now the DNA examination is an examination or test that can be used to determine the genetic makeup of a substance including blood?

Taylor: Yes sir, that is correct.

Johnson: Was there any reason you did not do a DNA examination?

Taylor: There was first of all, not enough blood or tissue present on anything to conduct an analysis for DNA.

Johnson presses on later in the testimony:

Johnson: Did you ask anyone else to look at it to see if perhaps they could determine the origin?

Taylor: No sir, I did not.

Why didn’t the Commonwealth perform DNA testing in 1993 on the hair with the follicle found in the victim’s hand? More importantly, why won’t they test it now? 

You know what is most telling about those at the highest levels of state and federal government who are now shouting for an investigation into Bevin regarding his pardons? They want Bevin investigated- NOT the cases the pardons were given over. Those who protest too much: are they former defense attorneys? Are they trying the deflect investigators from looking too deeply into their own past?

How many on Death Row in Kentucky will someday have the same proclaimed about them as Claude Jones did?

“DNA Test Proves Critical Hair Evidence in a Capital Murder Case Didn’t Match Man Executed.” – The Innocence Project, Cardozo School of Law

Upon leaving office, former governor Bevin stressed that “the state should make every effort to bring final justice for the victim and her family.” The case should now finally be reopened and the true perpetrators sought. If it is not, investigate those who refuse to do so, and find out what they have to lose by this case, or others, being reexamined.

Depraved Indifference: discrepancies in the Betty Carnes’ autopsy

Below is the Kentucky Missing Persons Report submitted by Kim Carnes, daughter of victim Betty Carnes of Barbourville, KY. Note that the daughter indicated the victim wore dentures.

Now compare the missing persons report to the appropriate section of the autopsy:

My hope is these documents speak for themselves and cast further doubt on those responsible for this investigation and prosecution.

Writer and author Matt McGough said it best regarding an unrelated murder case and the corruption of law enforcement:

“‘Covering up’ makes it sound like…something active is required of those detectives to cover something up. A coverup doesn’t require anything active. A coverup requires refusing to investigate what is obvious you have a responsibility to investigate.” (protected under Fair Use doctrine)

*Please note: all records are available to the public via FOIA requests to the appropriate agencies

Depraved Indifference, Part 2: The autopsy of Betty Carnes…or was it?

“How can this possibly be another body?”

Someone once told me George Nichols, the former chief medical examiner of Kentucky, was a grade A asshole. So I can’t say his response to my question, “Could the body of Betty Carnes have been switched?” was out of the norm for his personality. But even though I told Dr. Nichols if by small chance this did happen, it would have been through no fault of his own or his office, he was still indignant at my question.

The first indication something seemed screwy with the Carnes autopsy was the examiner’s statement: “The body is that of a…white female appearing to be older than her offered age of 37 years.” Noteworthy because Betty was a beautiful, desirable woman; Delmar was not the first man to be romantically linked to the married mother of three. The autopsy went as far to call the pubic hair “focally gray.” Delmar emphatically tells me, “She did not have the body of an older woman, she was in excellent health and shape.” He says her hair color was the same color all over, and that he never understood the “focally gray” comment in the autopsy.

The height of the victim is also missing in the report. The body also lacked defensive injuries, which could be explained if she was knocked out from behind. But I couldn’t explain what I discovered next.

Do the dental records match?

George Nichols’ autopsy report states the body’s “natural anterior dentition is present and is in excellent repair.” In other words, the body’s front teeth were natural and in good shape. But Delmar says Betty wore a partial front plate, and that her front teeth couldn’t have been natural. Nichols goes on to describe the tip of the tongue (drying) and notes blood is within the mouth. When I question Dr. Nichols’ about the false teeth, he is caught off-guard and says maybe he just missed it. Maybe, I think. I’m starting to get curious, though, how a renowned forensic medical examiner can make a mistake that large, especially when he detailed the inside of her mouth so well.

Dr. Nichols’ statements only beget new questions.

During our first and only telephone call, he mentions Walter Hopper, the coroner, asked his office to come retrieve the body. But Walter Hopper was not the coroner of Knox County!

Walter Hopper and his family did operate funeral homes. But according to trial transcripts, Betty’s body was not being held at the Hopper family’s funeral homes. The body was at Hampton’s Funeral Home in Barbourville; at the time there was no mortuary for the coroner’s office in Knox County.  I can’t explain Walter Hopper’s role in contacting the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s office when he had no official capacity to do so.

The Hopper name had been brought up to me before, by a woman who had worked with Betty. She told me she had heard a rumor: Charles Hopper of Hopper Funeral Home, and Betty were seen together at a nightclub in Cincinnati. Charles was Walter Hopper’s nephew.

I can’t help but feel there is a connection. Especially considering Charles Hopper’s mysterious death three days before Delmar’s trial for Betty’s murder began.

The last time I had any contact from George Nichols was after I emailed him to point out that Hopper was not, in fact, the coroner of Knox County at that time. I received a voicemail from him not long later:

This is Dr. Nichols. I’m calling you as you asked me to. I can tell you that I remember nothing more than what our discussion was. My notes that are available through the M.E. office do not reflect anything…much more than that since it was such time was removed. (?) And the only other person who would know more than that was David Jones, who was my executive assistant, who went and fetched the body and brought it back from London to…uh, um, uh, greater London Kentucky to uh, the Louisville office. David has since died. I gave his eulogy and he’s been buried. So. There’s no other available information. So. You can pursue this as much as you want, but you’ll, there’s nothing I can inform you of that I haven’t already informed you. Sorry. Period. Bye.”

Dr. Nichols’ voicemail message presents another problem for me: the body wasn’t located in London, Kentucky! It was in Barbourville, a forty minute drive and another county away. Barbourville is not a part of the “greater London Kentucky area.”

When I first brought these irregularities with the autopsy to Nichols’ attention, he suggested there was a remedy for sorting it all out: they keep the DNA of every body autopsied on file at the medical examiner’s office. He requested I send him the information I had.

Below is a portion of the letter I sent him:

Dr. Nichols:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain why I think the wrong body may have been autopsied. I cannot stress enough this would have been through no fault of you or anyone in your office.

You asked me, “How can this possibly be a different body?”

You mention you knew about traffickers shipping drugs in dead bodies. The same people that can do that to a corpse would have no scruples about switching a body to get away with murder. When I show you the victim’s connection to an international organization that was using the ‘dead body scam’ to ship drugs, you’ll understand why the odd discrepancies in the autopsy are alarming to me.

I believed Nichols’ duty to truth and his profession would compel him to get to the bottom of the discrepancies.

I waited impatiently for a response. When none came, I emailed him to follow up. I called and left a message with his secretary. Still, no response. Only when I sent him the email about Hopper not being coroner did I finally receive the before-mentioned voicemail from him.

Discrepancies in the autopsy aside, my own interaction with Nichols leaves me unsettled. He wants me to believe the answers I seek are dead and buried with his executive assistant, David Jones. Unfortunately, David Jones passed away 10 days after I sent Nichols the follow-up email asking him to contact me concerning the information I sent him.

 

Depraved Indifference: the Murder of Betty Carnes and the Wrongful Conviction of Delmar Partin

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 (Max) 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?

Tom Handy, Commonwealth Attorney and Partin’s prosecutor, knew there were more likely suspects in the Betty Carnes’ murder case. Why were these suspects not investigated?

 

 

Cocaine, Weapons Smuggling and Whitley County’s Dennis Patrick

Newspaper accounts indicate several hit men operated around southeast Kentucky back in the eighties.

Specifically, these hit men were allegedly hired to murder Dennis Patrick, a (supposedly) lowly Whitley County, Kentucky court clerk with a mere net worth of $60,000.  Patrick claims he has no idea why anyone would want to murder him. (1)

A 1997 court document from the Kentucky Court of Appeals shows Ray Speicher brought suit against Dennis Patrick for unauthorized check transactions totaling over $300,000 between the years 1982 and 1985 while they were 50-50 business partners in Whitley County Oil.

Around the same time, Patrick discovered Speicher had transferred $4 million worth of oil leases to a James E. Josey of Fort Worth TX.  (Did anyone question how Patrick, a man with a supposed net worth of $60,000 had a fifty percent share of $4 million of oil assets?)

According to the March 1989 newspaper account:

Several months after the transfers, federal agents arrested Henry Patrick Talley…and charged him with conspiring to kill Patrick.

The newspaper does not indicate how this information about Talley came to light. It does say he pled guilty and confessed Josey hired him to kill Patrick and his wife.

Three months later, a man named Burson is arrested after two tear gas attempts on the Patrick home. He pleads guilty to firebombing the Patrick home, and again, Josey is named as the man who paid him to do the job.

Then yet again, Josey and another man, Anthony Tricomi, are recorded by federal agents, yep, you guessed it, discussing how to kill Patrick.(3)

There is no record of any Anthony Tricomi in the Federal Bureau of Prison website. Burson is listed as “not in FOB custody” with an unknown release date. A Henry Talley was released in 1991.

Where were Tricomi and Burson when the three women, Betty Carnes, Jennifer Bailey and Greta Henson were murdered?

Dennis Patrick’s incredible luck with Bill Clinton’s Buddy

It seemed 1985 was a bad year for Dennis Patrick. Except he happened to have an incredible stroke of financial luck that summer. A friend recommended he open a brokerage account at Lasater and Co. under the name of his business, Patrick and Associates. Patrick allegedly did not act on the recommendation, only to be informed a month later by that same friend that he opened an account in Patrick’s name anyways, putting the money up himself. Amazingly, the account had already netted a hefty $20,000 profit.(1)

To be a circuit clerk of courts, oilman and businessman, Patrick begins to appear (or play) very dumb at this point:

He says he believed Lasater and Co. when they reassured him there was no risk of loss.

He says he believed them when they assured him he would make up to $20,000 a week.

He was not concerned in the least that someone had opened up an account in his name without his knowledge or permission.

He says a few months later Lasater and Co. sent him trading records he did not understand.

The Dan Lasater Dennis Patrick claims he didn’t know

Bill Clinton established the Arkansas Development Finance Authority as governor of Arkansas, primarily to issue tax free bonds that funded low interest loans to “projects from housing to business development.”(5) The author of “The Octopus: Secret Government and the Death of Danny Casolaro” states

The ADFA primarily served two masters: the Stephens, Inc. investment bank that received seventy-eight percent of ADFA’s underwriting fees and sales of housing and industrial bonds…and Clinton crony Dan Lasater, whose Lasater and Company firm underwrote $664 million in municipal bond issues after the creation of the ADFA.(8)

Essentially, Dan Lasater, Dennis Patrick’s broker (that he claimed he didn’t know) poured enough money in Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial campaign that when Clinton was re-elected (after a term out of office) Lasater’s firm received fifteen percent of the state’s bond underwriting business, whereas before Clinton’s election, they received none.(4)

According to the Congressional Record Volume 140 Number 86,

While he was reportedly under investigation by the Arkansas State Police for drug dealing, President Clinton and the Government of Arkansas gave him [Lasater] $664 million in bonds to sell for the State, which garnered him $1.6 million in commissions.(7)

Suit was eventually filed against Dan Lasater for mail, wire and securities fraud. His unauthorized T-bonds, futures, trades, and high risk activities with several savings and loans were part of the disaster that ended in the billion dollar bankruptcy for hundreds of  savings and loans. Lasater was finally arrested for cocaine and cocaine trafficking; he was sent to prison in 1987.

In the meantime, Dennis Patrick had $50 million of trades ran through his brokerage account at Lasater and Co, he claims without his knowledge. (1)  At the same time, people are supposedly trying to kill him.

Weapons, Drugs and Murder…Oh my!

The first company to receive a “tax free low interest bond issue through Clinton’s ADFA was Park-On-Meter” (1):

Mr. Reed claims Park-On-Meter made weapons parts as a subcontractor for Iver Johnson’s Firearms, of Jacksonville, Arkansas. It was this company which, by Mr. Reed’s account, was the primary contractor for building the untraceable weapons components.

But Park-On-Meter’s interest was not only in untraceable weapons. In “Phoenix Rising: The Rise and Fall of the American Republic” author Donald Lett Jr. states:

It was later exposed that the company wasn’t even making parking meters, but rather was building retrofit nose cone parts that were being shipped to Mena [Arkansas] in order to smuggle cocaine in the country. (6)

So Dennis Patrick’s broker, whom he supposedly did not know, where he had an account opened without his knowledge, and $50 million worth of trades ran through said account, was involved with the ADFA that had ties to illegal weapons manufacture and drug smuggling. A lowly Whitley County Kentucky circuit court clerk. Doing business with a firm with ties to possible illegal weapons manufacture and documented drug trafficking.

Lett continues:

The $100 million a month cocaine operation at Mena continued for over 10 years without one major drug bust. So where was the cocaine coming from? Most, if not all, was tied to the Iran-Contra hostages, drugs and money laundering scandal created by the CIA and George Bush.

A March 1, 1989 newspaper article in the Toledo Blade states the airport in Mena was

…headquarters for a massive drug-dealing, arms-smuggling, and money-laundering operation.

The Blade article says the Mena airport is directly linked to the Medellin cartel. The article also goes on to state:

Sources familiar with the ongoing activities in Mena speculate that the area is one of several places used to ship private aid to the Nicaraguan contras. (10)

To recap, $100 million a month in cocaine was coming into the country from the Medellin cartel (remember Pablo Escobar?) and Patrick’s broker gets busted distributing some of this cocaine. When you consider the amount of trades moving through Patrick’s account at Lasater and Co., it suggests cocaine from the Mena airfield might have ended up in southeast Kentucky… in Whitley County and beyond. I’m starting to understand why the ATF investigated Dennis Patrick for drug trafficking. (1)

Sally Denton, author of The Bluegrass Conspiracy: An Inside Story of Power, Greed, Drugs and Murder asserts there were “some private landing strips in Lexington, Kentucky…” Roger Morris also contends in his book, Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America that “Mena was the US hub for the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and other contraband from ‘meticulously maintained’ rural airports in six other states: Alabama, Mississppi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida and Arizona.”

I have spoken with a former resident of Bell County, Kentucky who was convicted in the 1990s for drug trafficking. Under condition of anonymity, I was told the drugs they and their partner were running, came from Escobar.

Is Dennis Patrick actually in witness protection?

The Hit Men

I began researching this story when I realized the similarities in the Betty Carnes, Jennifer Bailey, and Greta Henson murders. I believe all the murders were hired hits. Then I found the accounts of the hit men like Burson, Tricomi and Talley operating in southeast Kentucky during the same time period. The hit men interested me, especially when I realized at least two of them could have been free and in southeast Kentucky when these women’s murders took place.

Is it inconceivable the murders of Jennifer Bailey, Greta Henson, and Betty Carnes could have been carried out by men like this?

For the record, there is no link between these women’s murder cases and Dennis Patrick that I can find.

What’s important is establishing the presence of hired hit men in southeast Kentucky during this time period helps determine suspects that could have committed these murders. It also provides more reasonable doubt that Delmar Partin is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Interestingly, the prosecutor in Partin’s case, Tom Handy, was acquainted with Dennis Patrick, maybe even friends. They both served as officers in the Fifth District Republican’s Club together. From the Corbin Times-Tribune, February 21, 1977:

tom-handy-dennis-patrick

Was James E. Josey framed for conspiracy to commit murder?

Another theory is Patrick Dennis could have been so angry with James E. Josey and the transfer of $4 million worth of oil assets that he framed him for conspiracy to commit murder. Where would he find the help to carry out such a plan, if that happened?

Lasater, Patrick’s broker that we are to believe he didn’t know, was obviously no stranger to crime and certainly knew plenty of people with checkered pasts. According to this Washington Post article dated May 2, 1996:

In one of the oddest bits of testimony elicited in months of Whitewater hearings, the senators produced a state police investigator’s decade-old report on a trip Lasater, Thomasson and some associates took to Honduras in which one of the group suggested killing a local official there who was blocking their purchase of a ranch.(8)

Could Lasater have provided the pawns to carry out such a devious plot against Josey? Attempts have been made to contact Josey and Burson for their input in this piece, but have been unsuccessful.

 

 

(1) The Economist. “Ghosts of Carelessness Past: The Lasater Affair”. May 1994

(2) Commonwealth of Kentucky, Court of Appeals. 1997-CA-002545-MR

(3) “Victim nets award in murder plot.” Kentucky New Era. March 9, 1989

(4) “The Ethical Snarl Of Hillary Clinton And A Troubled Ally.” Chicago Tribune. Feb. 3, 1994

(5) “Clinton’s Rein on Bonds Linked to Contributions : Politics: Finance authority he controls formed a pool of moneyed elite that’s often tapped for campaign funds.” Los Angeles Times. June 29, l992

(6) Phoenix Rising: The Rise and Fall of the American Republic. Donald Lett, Jr.

(7) Congressional Record Volume 140, Number 86. June 30, 1994

(8) Whitewater panel looks at Clinton ties to Arkansas bond dealer. Schmidt, Susan. Washington Post. May 2, 1996.

(9) The Octopus: Secret Government and the Death of Danny Casolaro. Thomas and Keith. 2004.

(10) “Smugglers use airport as home base.” Anderson, Jack. The Toledo Blade. March 1, 1989.

Delmar Partin: Murderer? Or Wrongfully Convicted?

delmar-partinMost people in Bell County Kentucky are familiar with the unsolved murders of Jennifer Bailey and Greta Henson. There are many other unsolved murders or missing persons cases in which the families have no closure, like the case of Robbie Hoskins or the case of Katherine Heck, both missing now for several years.

One murder case I came across that left me scratching my head was the conviction of Delmar Partin for the beating and beheading of Betty Carnes, a crime that occurred Sept. 26, 1993 at a manufacturing plant in Barbourville, Kentucky.

Tremco Inc. is a manufacturing/military-industrial contractor for Oak Ridge laboratories as well as a former contractor for the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion uranium enrichment plant. At the time, Tremco was located thirty miles away from Cumberland Gap, which explains how I initially stumbled onto this 20 year-old murder case: I was searching for local companies with ties to the nuclear industry.

Partin and Betty, coworkers at Tremco Inc., were previously involved in an affair.  A Daily News August 18, 1994 newspaper article states:

Handy [the prosecuting attorney] said Carnes and her husband were separated in January 1993, and that she and Partin had an affair from that time until around Easter that year.

It is unclear if the affair precipitated the separation. We do know the timing of the separation of Betty and her husband coincides with the timing of the affair with Partin. The prosecutor is quoted in the same news article, saying:

This defendant, Delmar Partin, was the person who had the motive, and the person who had the last opportunity, and the person who had the will to commit that murder of Betty Carnes.(4)

Except this is not entirely true. Other people could also have been very angry with Betty: her husband Phillip, as well as Partin’s wife. Had Betty been romantically involved with other coworkers?

Beating, decapitating, and cleaning house- all in under 25 minutes

The prosecutor brought up Partin’s opportunity to commit the crime. However, the evidence presented at trial immediately raises doubt that Partin could have committed this crime. The question remains: how could the jury convict so quickly when the case is littered with reasonable doubt? The circumstances concerning the crime which clearly raises questions about Partin’s guilt are as follows:

-September 26, 1993: Betty Carnes was murdered, supposedly at the Tremco plant in Barbourville

-September 26, 1993- Delmar Partin is seen at the Tremco plant. Although it is his day off, he is there to drop off a magazine and some ammo to a coworker. There was no report of a gun used in the commission of this crime. What were the circumstances under which Partin was bringing these items to his co-worker on his day off? Was Partin actually lured to the plant the day of the murder?

-September 27, 1993: Betty’s body is discovered at the Tremco plant, beaten and decapitated, stuffed in a hazardous waste barrel slated for incineration. Delmar Partin is later arrested for the crime. (*Note: what prompted the employee to open a barrel that was scheduled to be incinerated?)

-Despite the bloodiness of the crime, the area in the plant where the crime allegedly occurred was surprisingly clean, save for blood spatter on the ceiling above the 55-gallon drum where Betty’s body was found. Barbara Wheeler, the KSP crime analyst at the time, said hair found in this blood spatter was determined not to belong to Betty. However, Wheeler said no DNA testing of the hairs were performed because no follicles were present. No mention is made if the blood spatter on the ceiling was DNA tested to determine if it actually belonged to Betty or an assailant. (1)

-Conveniently, a bloody apron and gloves were easily located in a room adjacent to where the body was found, which led investigators to conclude the murder took place at the plant. (1)

– No blood was found on Partin’s clothes, car or home.(2)

-The most time Partin had to commit this crime was 25 minutes. 25 minutes to bludgeon, decapitate, scour the crime scene area of blood, launder or change his clothes, wash up, and “pull himself together” after such a dramatic act. If Partin did commit this crime, and completed such an effective cleanup job, why would he leave bloody gloves and an apron behind to be found? I believe this evidence was planted to frame Partin. Otherwise, Partin would have placed the gloves and apron in the drum with the body to be burned.

-A coworker testified “there was nothing unusual about [Partin’s] demeanor when he left the lab area.” (1) In my opinion, this is because Partin did not commit the crime, had no realization Betty had been murdered and was stuffed in the drum in the plant, and therefore had no reason to behave any differently.

-Betty was missing almost an entire day before her body was discovered.(4)  To assume this murder was committed and cleaned up in 25 minutes of those missing 24 hours, is incredibly irresponsible of investigators.(3)

Opportunities to acquire important evidence were ignored

-No DNA testing was performed on a hair follicle found in Betty’s hand.

-KSP Detective Grant Adams admitted under oath he did not take fingerprints at the scene, saying he assumed the assailant was wearing gloves. This immediately raises reasonable doubt that Partin was the murderer. Without fingerprints from the crime scene, we’ll never know how many other individuals were in that room with the drum containing the murdered body of Betty Carnes.(3)

-From what I can ascertain, no DNA testing was performed on the blood spatter on the ceiling above the crime scene that contained an unknown person’s hair. Clearly the presence of a third, unknown party whose hair is found in blood spatter at the crime scene, establishes reasonable doubt.

The truth is simple: there is no clear, convincing, let alone convicting evidence that Delmar Partin is Betty Carnes’ killer. Until this case is re-opened and evidence finally tested for DNA, Partin sits in a prison convicted of a crime I believe he did not commit. There is no honor, no justice in imposing a life sentence on a person, with not one speck of blood evidence or DNA to convict.

Assumptions make a mockery of justice

There were so many presumptions made in this case, and no physical evidence to support them. I’ve outlined several of these glaring assumptions that may have helped send an innocent man to prison:

1. Investigators assumed Betty never the left the plant in the almost 24-hour long time period she went missing.

2. Investigators assumed Betty was murdered at the plant.

3. A fiber found in the barrel containing Betty’s body was assumed to be from the same shirt Partin was wearing that day. However, the defense attorney revealed “many people at the plant wear such work shirts.”(4) There was also conflicting testimony on the color of the shirt Partin was wearing to and leaving the plant. If they cannot even decide what shirt he was wearing, how can they say definitively, this fiber was from his shirt?(1)

4. Delmar Partin was assumed to be the only person angry with Betty, because she supposedly ended their affair. Yet no mention is made if investigators assumed Betty’s husband was angry, who had to endure her affair with Partin. Or if Partin’s wife was angry. I would wager neither of these people were happy about Betty and Partin’s relationship. This establishes even more reasonable doubt, and certainly excludes Partin as the only suspect with motive.

5. Hair fragments found in a pocket knife and paper towels in Partin’s home were assumed to be Betty’s, even though there was no DNA proof of this. (1) Did the prosecutor expect the jury to believe that Betty’s decapitation in which “…head had been severed from her body…cut along the chin line to around to the shoulders…[and] it was an even cut,” (4) had been accomplished with a mere pocket knife?  I submit that would be impossible. Messy, and impossible. Not to mention, no one is cleaning up a decapitation done with a pocket knife in under 25 minutes. Not even if they had the whole crew of Merry Maids to help.

August 1990: Jennifer Bailey violently murdered

January 1992: Greta Henson violently murdered

September 1993: Betty Carnes bludgeoned and decapitated

All three of these murders were violent, bloody, and involved some kind of dismemberment or mutilation.(7) Were these murders, coincidentally occurring during the Cumberland Gap Tunnel construction, connected?

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported in 2005 that Parsons Brinckerhoff had hired at least 30 inspectors with criminal records to work in a subsidiary of the company that held a $150 million contract with FEMA.(5) Interestingly, Parsons Brinckerhoff was one of the main contractors at Cumberland Gap Tunnel. If Parsons Brinckerhoff will hire inspectors with embezzlement, drug and robbery charges to ensure the safety of citizens, do you think they are above hiring construction personnel with criminal records to work on a tunnel?

Did law enforcement investigate or interview any of the out-of-state workers who were in the area at the time working on the Cumberland Gap Tunnel construction?

There is one more coincidence between the Bailey, Henson and Carnes’ murders. Even though the Carnes murder allegedly took place one county over, in Knox County, it was a Bell County judge who was appointed special judge over Partin’s bond hearing. The judge even rejected a request from the prosecutor to reinstate a higher, original bond of half a million dollars for Partin. Thus, Partin was freed on bond after “six properties and an unspecified amount of cash were posted to allow for Partin’s release.”(6) To tie in to the Bailey and Henson murders, the two women were cousins from Bell County; and one of the judge’s family members were associated with one of the cousins.(7)

References:

Tremco Commercial Sealants and Waterproofing: a “frequent partner in military construction projects”

(1) “Decapitation case defense rests quickly.” Daily News, August 23, 1994

(2) “Decapitation case deliberated.” Kentucky New Era, August 24, 1994

(3) “Time now a key in decapitation case.” Daily News, August 21, 1994

(4) “Decapitation trial begins in Knox.” Daily News, August 18, 1994

(5) “Some FEMA inspectors had criminal records.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 25, 2005

(6) “Man who allegedly decapitated co-worker freed.” Kentucky New Era, January 17, 1994

(7) confidential source from Bell County with credible knowledge of the victims