Most 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)
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