Friday, February 19, 2016

08 - Bardstown (Part Two: "America's Most Beautiful Small Town")




Hello, and welcome once again to the Unresolved Podcast, a podcast all about looking at stories that have no ending. I'm your host Micheal Whelan, and this episode is part two of my look at Bardstown, Kentucky. 

This is an incredibly tragic story, following the murder of police officer Jason Ellis just off of Exit 34 on May 25th, 2013. If you recall, on the last episode we left off immediately following Jason's murder, and the investigation had just begun. Headed by the Kentucky State Police force, the investigation soon hit a brick wall, but that didn't stop weird events from occurring over the next couple of years, events which have left people questioning everything they once knew about Bardstown. 

So now, without saying any more, here we go, into the odd tale of Bardstown, Kentucky... 



The investigation into finding Jason's killer - or killers - was looking at any, and every, possible avenue for a lead. With no eyewitnesses or murder weapon to go off of, the investigation had to lean on a juicy two-hundred-thousand dollar reward for information leading to an arrest, most of which was raised in a fundraising format by citizens of Bardstown. It is, by most standards, the largest reward in Kentucky history. 

Despite having no leads to go off of, the investigators were certain that at least two people had been at the crime scene, based off of information not yet released to the public.

"There are some indicators to us that would lead us to believe that there was more than one person," said state police Master Trooper Norman Chaffins.

But the real question began to be asked: who would kill Jason Ellis, who was - by all accounts - a great guy? Investigators looked into his personal life, searching for any straw they could grasp... but they found nothing. No gambling debts, no personal vendettas, nothing. His private life was as squeaky clean as his public persona. 

The real fear, among Bardstown citizens, was that the gunman was walking among them. 
"What scares us, if they will kill a police officer, what's to stop them from killing anybody else?" said Arlene Durbin, the owner of Arlene's Barber Shop in Bardstown. "To think there's someone walking the streets that cold blooded and ruthless."

So what would inspire someone to commit such a cold-blooded murder - an execution, some call - against this well-adored man?

"I believe it was a hit," said Bardstown City Council member Tommy Read. "Ellis was putting a dent into somebody's drug trade, and they finally got tired of it and put a hit out on him. I think he was under surveillance so they would know his routine." 

Normally, this would begin to circulate questions about anyone involved in the Bardstown drug trade, and potential ties to Jason Ellis. This leads us to... the Bardstown Money Gang. 



The Bardstown Money Gang is what it calls itself... a gang. Like most gangs, the self-pronounced "BMG" pride themselves on their illicit activities and nefarious ties to criminal activities. 
Jason Ellis, while also being a canine officer, was one of the Bardstown police force's most prolific narcotics officers. But while he mostly dealt with small-time drug dealers, Ellis also had some run-ins with the Bardstown Money Gang.

Deandre Douglas, the leader of the Bardstown Money Gang, was nearly arrested by Ellis, who made the lucky traffic stop and arrested one of the assault suspects, Darrian Ellery. Deandre Douglas and the other suspect would be arrested within weeks, by Jason and other Bardstown police officers, but these encounters would just be the tip of the iceberg when it came to the Bardstown police force dealing with the BMG.


In August of 2013, just months after the execution of Jason Ellis, an unrelated party was being held in Nelson County. This party, full of young adults and teenagers, was interrupted by a contingency of young males chanting "BMG" and "Big Money Bardstown Gang." These men began to attack the party-goers, including the young women present, punching and kicking. 

The Nelson County police responded to the incident, ultimately arresting two suspects but believing that there were many more of the BMG involved. During the arrest, one of the suspects began to taunt the police officers with claims that the BMG was responsible for the murder of Jason Ellis.


According to one of the teenage victims, a participant of the party, she was attacked by one suspect in particular, a young-23 year old man by the name of Brant Sheckles. She claims that Sheckles was just one of the multiple attackers, and that she was personally kicked in the stomach and head by him. 
Also, according to her, during this attack, these members of the BMG were chanting that they were cop-killers during their assault upon the innocent party-goers. They came to the party, unprovoked and uninvited, solely to cause ruckus and to harm others.

Brant Sheckles

It would be revealed, just a short time later, that 23-year old Brant Sheckles was the nephew of then-Bardstown mayor Bill Sheckles. 

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After the assault on the party in August, Sheckles, along with four other members of the Bardstown Money Gang were arrested. This was Sheckles second arrest in two months, and the second time he had claimed credit, on behalf of the BMG, for the death of Jason Ellis. 

Mayor Bill Sheckles, a the first black mayor of Bardstown, was already dealing with enough criticism before his familial ties to the BMG became public knowledge. But his nephew's criminal endeavors surely emboldened that, and it took Mayor Sheckles a few days to come out and make a public statement.

Mayor Bill Sheckles

In his statement, Bill Sheckles was unapologetic for his nephew's actions, and seemed rather disinterested in protecting him. 

"You can pick your friends but unfortunately you can't always pick your relatives," Mayor Sheckles said. "Anything that he does or anybody else named Sheckles does, they don't get any special treatment. If they're guilty, they're guilty. If they break the law, they break the law. They suffer the punishment just like anyone else."

The Bardstown Money Gang, in addition to this assault on a group of partying teenagers, had also been tied to a series of assaults on elderly Bardstown citizens in the months prior. Bardstown public officials pleaded to the state government to increase the punishment for this type of violent attacks, but they had no such luck. 

Eventually, Sheckles and the other members of the Bardstown Money Gang that were arrested, in connection to the August attack, plead guilty and took a plea deal given to them by the Nelson Country Circuit Court District Attorneys. Sheckles plead guilty to fourth degree assault, which is only a misdemeanor in the state of Kentucky, and riot in the first degree, which is only a class-D felony. 

These charges were a lot lighter than many had anticipated, especially since they were multiple eyewitnesses and statements of guilt given by the perpetrators of the attack. Sheckles was eventually sentenced to four years in prison, which was surprisingly light. He was sentenced to four years in prison for trying to incite a riot, and then sentenced separately to 365 days in prison for the assault on the teenage party-goers. Both sentences would run concurrently, meaning that Sheckles would only need to spend four years in prison for assaulting several people at a party and claiming to have killed a local hero. 

This brings into light just how harshly the Nelson county prosecutors decided to go after Sheckles and his BMG comrades. They surely could have thrown the book at the Bardstown Money Gang, but instead sentenced all of the members to relatively light prison sentences with meager probationary terms to follow, which included not being involved in the Bardstown Money Gang, or affiliating in any manner. 

So, essentially, all of the BMG members got away with harassing and assaulting dozens of people in their hometown, in the months before and after the brutal murder of a hometown hero, and then taking credit for his death. 

One would think that something fishy was afoot, but the story doesn't end there. Not by a long shot.

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April 21st, 2014 - It's nearly been a year since the mysterious death of Officer Jason Ellis. While the tragedy lingers in the back of everyone's mind, where the mystery of the killer still resides, things have been returned to relative normality.

Kathy Netherland

Kathy Netherland was every bit of the American ideal as Jason Ellis was. Approaching fifty, Kathy had been working at Bardstown Elementary as a special education teacher for some time now, and lived with her 16-year old daughter, Samantha. She had an older daughter, 19-year old Holly, who had just recently moved out and was away at college.

Samantha Netherland

Less than a year beforehand, Kathy's husband, Bob, had died of colon cancer, so it must have been a tough year for her. To lose your loved one to a debilitating sickness, and then have to raise your teenage daughters on your own... I, personally, can't imagine how strong you must be to do that. And then to work as a special needs teacher during the day? It honestly sounds like an impossible task, but one that Kathy Netherland was able to manage. 

Her daughter, Samantha, was a sophomore at the nearby Bardstown High School. According to her sister, Holly, she was the kind of kid that loved to play video games for hours, and could identify each and every Def Leppard song from the opening guitar riff. She loved to sing, and was by all accounts, a very lively, personable teenage girl.



But on the evening of Monday, April 21st, something dark was afoot. The same type of mystery that took the life of Officer Jason Ellis was unfolding in the Netherland family home located in Botland, just minutes away from Bardstown itself. However, this story would be every bit as tragic, but perhaps more brutal and terrifying. 

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On April 22nd, 2014, both Kathy and Samantha were noted as being absent from their respective schools. For Samantha, this was odd, but for Kathy to be absent without so much as a phone call, was shocking. 

School officials soon got in touch with her family, and Kathy's father was sent to check in on them, to make sure everything was all right. 

Unfortunately, everything was NOT all right. In fact, things were far from it.



Kathy's sister, Stacey Hibbard, recalls arriving at the scene to find cop cars all around the Netherland family house, police tape wrapping around the apparent crime scene. Her father, who had been the person sent to check on the Netherland pair, was in apparent distress. 

"They're gone and somebody did something terrible to them," he told Stacey on that fateful Tuesday. 
19-year old Holly Netherland would receive a phone call from her extended family later that day, a phone call she recalls later on. 

"On April 22nd, I received a phone call that shattered my life. My mother and my sister were dead," Holly Netherland told reporters. "The first thought that ran through my head was, 'God, you can't take them. You took my daddy. You can't have them, too."

Holly Netherland, speaking at her family's memorial service

Both Kathy and Samantha Netherland had been murdered, brutally so. Kathy had been shot multiple times, and had a cut on her neck, but the worse fate had been saved for 16-year old Samantha. She was found to have been beaten severely, with serious wounds to her head and her neck slashed. 

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Kentucky State Police took the lead on this investigation, just as they had on the Jason Ellis case.
The detectives released very few details of the murder to the public, with the death certificates of the victims being released two months later, in June. The investigators soon released a clue that they were looking into, a newer-model black Chevy Impala that was seen by security cameras leaving the area of the murder, and had been spotted by neighbors in the Botland area.


"We still believe if we can find that car, we can solve the case," said Kentucky State Police Trooper Jeff Gregory. 

Just like the murder of Jason Ellis, the area was in a panic. While the death of Jason Ellis was an absolute tragedy, it could have had a rationale behind it: criminals attacking a cop, drug dealers striking back at the source of their problems, etc. But to attack a middle-aged special ed teacher and her teenage daughter, who were already recovering from the death of another? It was absolutely unfathomable. And to happen in their own home, with painful methods, was incredibly terrifying. 

The family of Kathy and Samantha Netherland quickly put together a $2500 reward, which in the following months skyrocketed upwards of $50,000. 

In a further similarity with the investigation to find Officer Jason Ellis' killer, the investigation soon hit another brick wall. Months passed, and now nearly two years have passed without so much as a solid lead or a viable suspect. Detectives still believe that the as-yet-unidentified Chevy Impala holds the key to finding the Netherland's killer, but are no closer to finding it now than they were in 2014.

You may be thinking to yourself: how could a story get even weirder? Sadly, it continues to get weirder and weirder, marring the small town of Bardstown with further tragedy, heartache, and claims of corruption.

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Before I continue forward, let me back up just a little bit. 

In the months following Jason Ellis' murder, one of his senior officers had retired. This isn't unusual, on its own, but just months later, in March of 2014, one of their fellow Bardstown officers, Tony Satterly, resigned during an investigation. Led in part by both the Kentucky State Police and the Bardstown Police Department, the investigation had been looking into Satterly for drug charges since February of that year.

Tony Satterly

Satterly would be indicted in March on 10 counts of prescription drug fraud, which alleged that in-between the months of January 2013 and January 2014, he had obtained over 1,825 hydrocodone tablets and 265 tablets of oxycodone. His attorney would claim that he began to take painkillers after a back injury, and this led to the slippery slope of both legal, and illegal, prescription drug abuse.

According to his admission, he had been helped in this endeavor by a woman named Christy Morris, who worked at his doctor's office. Morris had been writing fraudulent prescriptions for him throughout the entire ordeal, and this story is made even weirder with the knowledge that Christy Morris was dating one of Satterly's colleagues, a Bardstown Police Officer. 

So now, less than a year after the murder of Jason Ellis' murder, an officer had retired, one was facing prison charges for prescription drug fraud, and another was possibly involved in the knowledge of the drug fraud, his girlfriend being the one to write bogus prescriptions. Add on top of that the Kathy and Samantha Netherland murder, which was just as tragic and terrifying as anything to happen in Bardstown's uneventful history, and you have an environment built upon distrust and mystery. 

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That environment would continue to fester in the months and years following the murders of Jason Ellis and the Netherland women. For most, things were returning to normality, but there was an undercurrent of fear and mystery that permeated the air. The question of who had murdered both, or either, was nowhere close to being answered, and investigators had made that quite clear.

On July 3rd, 2015, the tragedy plaguing Bardstown would continue, compounding misery upon itself.

Crystal Rogers

Crystal Rogers was a 35-year old mother of five who was in, what seemed to be, a healthy relationship with her boyfriend Brooks Houck. The two had a child together, an infant son named Eli.

Crystal Rogers with her boyfriend, Brooks Houck, and their son, Eli

Crystal would last be seen on July 3rd, after texting a friend that her and Brooks had gotten a babysitter, and were excited to have a kid-free night. The two went to the Houck family farm, likely in an attempt to have a night away from it all, and Crystal would never be seen by another soul again.

Two days after she had last been seen by anyone, Crystal's car, a maroon Chevy Impala, is found abandoned along the Bluegrass Parkway. Inside, the keys remain in the ignition, and her belongings are scattered throughout, such as her cell phone, purse, makeup, and other personal objects. The car had one flat tire, but otherwise looked to be in good condition and had no sign of Crystal herself.

Crystal's Chevy Impala

On the same day that her car is found, she is officially declared missing, and the investigation to find her begins. Like most investigations, it starts by checking in on those close to her and those that saw her last. In this case, it starts with her boyfriend, Brooks Houck. 

Houck claims that he and Crystal went to the family farm that night, stopping by to feed the livestock with their infant son, Eli, and then went home. He alleged that when he woke up in the morning, on the fourth of July, Crystal was gone. Brooks claimed that she would do this from time to time, going to "fantasy" parties or other social outings with her friends. In the middle of the night. By herself. 

What's even more disconcerting is that, during an police interview on July 8th, Brooks  was interrupted by a phone call from his brother, Nick Houck. The content of this phone call can only be guessed at, but this information will become very relevant in just a moment. It is also worth noting that Nick Houck, this brother of the missing woman's boyfriend, was a Bardstown Police Officer.

Nick Houck

The very next day, on July 9th, Brooks appeared on Nancy Grace, in an effort to defend himself. For as many faults as I have with Nancy Grace, and I have several, she did a great job in the interview ridiculing Brooks logic.



Police began to focus their investigation in on Brooks, believing him to be the main suspect. They would eventually find out that the family farm he visited with Crystal on the night of her disappearance had a security camera, and they were able to access that footage. That footage showed both Crystal and Brooks arriving at the farm, but only Brooks leaving that night, shortly before midnight, which is later than he claimed he stayed there with Crystal and their son.

The day that Brooks had the interview with police, in which his brother called to possibly warn him that he was a suspect, the two brothers would make a trip out to the family farm. They would be there for nearly two hours, doing something that neither brother can remember. 

That's not a joke on my part. When Nick Houck would be interviewed by police, just days after the brotherly meetup, he claimed ignorance. He couldn't remember why he or his brother had been out at the family farm, and what they had been up to that had taken nearly two hours out of their day. 

I don't know about you, but if my brother had a girlfriend go missing and was being investigated for her disappearance, who then called me and wanted to meet up at our family farm, the last place she was possibly seen alive, I think I MIGHT remember what had happened there. Or why we were there in the first place. But apparently this was too much to ask out of Nick Houck, a Bardstown Police Officer that had spent years upholding peace and justice in this area of rural Kentucky. 

This wasn't the end of the story, though. Nick would be suspended in September by Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin, as the investigation began to focus on him and his ties to Crystal Rogers' disappearance. He would fail a polygraph administered by the investigators, just like his brother Brooks, and would later be fired by the Bardstown Police Department on October 16th, 2015, on the grounds of interfering with a police investigation. This was the same day that Brooks Houck was officially named a suspect in the disappearance of Crystal Rogers, and a Nelson County sheriff tells the media that Crystal Rogers is "presumed dead." 



There is an hour-and-a-half long interview with Nick Houck, administered by the Kentucky State Police Force, available to watch on Youtube. This is the July 15th interview, in which the KSP allege that Nick Houck was helping his brother Brooks out in more than just one way. They reveal that blood spatter was found in the trunk of Nick Houck's police cruiser, and that a blanket found in the trunk "lit up like Chernobyl" to their black lights. 

The investigators have a good idea of what happened: that Brooks killed Crystal Rogers, did a decent job of trying to cover up the crime, and had his brother, a police officer at the very department investigating her disappearance, help him out. The blanket in his trunk, which he had no explanation for, was covered in human DNA that also matched up with other DNA found in spots within his trunk. 

Furthermore, neighbors of Nick Houck allege that they spotted him moving something from the trunk of his police cruiser to inside his mother's car, but we all know how reliable eyewitness testimony may be. 

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Regardless of how the investigation into finding Crystal Rogers, or who was responsible for her disappearance, one is easily able to see that something is flawed within Bardstown, Kentucky. A place that embodies the beauty of small-town living, in rural America, has become rife with so many claims of corruption or police involvement that the town itself has started to become agitated. 

In December of 2015, just a few years years after the multiple crimes and scandals began to rock the town, an arrest was finally made. Danny Singleton, a longtime employee of Brooks Houck, was arrested on 38 counts of perjury, for lying under oath to investigators. This was the first arrest made in connection to the Crystal Rogers disappearance, as Brooks Houck had been named a suspect but still has yet to be arrested on any charges.

Danny Singleton

The day after Danny Singleton's arrest, a rally was held outside the Nelson County Justice Center. Organized and held in part by friends and family of Crystal Rogers, the rally was aimed at keeping the name Crystal Rogers relevant in the news media, to raise awareness for her disappearance and the other unsolved crimes in Bardstown. 

While most members of the rally promoted a positive message, a few were quick to blame the police force and local officials for not doing enough. The rumors of corruption and police involvement, mixed with the scandals rocking the police department itself, were reaching a boiling point. 
Police Chief Rick McCubbin was quick to come out with a statement on his Facebook page, penning an open letter that declared the accustations baseless. He urged the community of Bardstown to come together to help solve these crimes, a mentality that SHOULD be shared to help these unresolved stories find some kind of solution. 

While an answer to the disappearance of Crystal Rogers seems to be on the horizon, there is no end in sight for the families of Officer Jason Ellis or Kathy and Samantha Netherland. There have still be no arrests made in connection to either crime, and as far as we know, the public don't even have any leads when it comes to identifying a suspect. Relatives of both families, as well as those of Crystal Rogers, maintain an open line of communication that they hope one day leads to any of their stories getting resolved. 

Whether or not the three crimes are related in any way, and regardless of if the claims of police corruption have any merit or not, it's evident that there is something mysterious happening in Bardstown, Kentucky.

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Well, there you have it. Another episode of the Unresolved Podcast, and this one took a bit longer than I had hoped for. I do apologize for that. I hope to have the next one out a bit quicker, although hopefully I'll be able to establish a firm schedule moving forward. As I've said at the end of the last two episodes, life has just been rather chaotic as of late. 

Just like last episode, I owe a huge debt of graditude to Tyson Nordgren, who has REALLY helped me when it comes to the production of this episode and the last. He has helped out a ton in that regard, and has even created most of the music you've heard throughout. I can't thank him enough, and hope he'll be around to help for many episodes to come. 

If you'd like to keep in touch with me or the podcast, you can do so in a variety of methods. You can find the podcast on Facebook, at facebook.com/theunresolvedpodcast. The podcast is also on Twitter, and can be found @UnresolvedP. Fair warning: I don't use Twitter that often, so updates there are scarce but I do my best. I'm a bit of a wordy fella so 140 characters just isn't enough for me. 

If you want to utilize email, you can fire one of those off at theunresolvedpodcast@gmail.com, or you can even call or text at 831-200-3550. Also known famously around these parts as 831-200-ELK0. 

The podcast website is still a work-in-progress, but it contains a transcript of each episode, along to links from music utilized, sources used, and videos or audio clips placed throughout. It's a good place to start if you want to dig deeper into each story, as I try to do a decent job of covering all of the bases, but I occasionally miss something or misspeak some details. 

I apologize to anyone that thinks the end segment is rather wordy... I can't help myself. 

For the next episode, I plan on hitting up Australia as a setting once again, in a story that just morbidly celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. I'm sure many of you are aware of what story I'm speaking of, as it's a rather famous one, but an interesting one nonetheless. 

Until then, stay safe, and I'll be speaking with you all soon. 

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Music From 08 - "Bardstown (Part Two)" - Created By Tyson Nordgren (incoming)



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