Fear grips residents of tiny US town as spate of unsolved murders continues

Mother-of-five Crystal Rogers (centre) was last seen at her boyfriend Brooks Houck's family farm in the tiny settlement of Bardstown, Kentucky on July 3, 2015. Photo / Supplied
Mother-of-five Crystal Rogers (centre) was last seen at her boyfriend Brooks Houck's family farm in the tiny settlement of Bardstown, Kentucky on July 3, 2015. Photo / Supplied

After his daughter disappeared in suspicious circumstances last year, Tommy Ballard spent every spare moment and every last dollar searching for her.

Until last weekend, that is, when he was shot dead.

Mother-of-five Crystal Rogers was last seen at her boyfriend Brooks Houck's family farm in the tiny settlement of Bardstown, Kentucky on July 3, 2015 along with the couple's toddler son, Eli.

Ballard's death is the latest tragedy to befall this town of less than 12,000 people where a spate of unsolved homicides has locals asking: "who's going to be killed next?"

Authorities believe the 35-year-old Rogers was murdered by Houck, 34, with the help of his brother Nick while the latter was employed as a patrol officer with the Bardstown Police.

Crystal Rogers with her boyfriend Brooks Houk and their son Eli. Photo / Supplied
Crystal Rogers with her boyfriend Brooks Houk and their son Eli. Photo / Supplied

Nick Houck was fired last October for interfering with the investigation and later failed an FBI lie detector test which focused on the fate of Rogers and the whereabouts of her body.

Neither brother has been charged but Ballard and his wife Sherry have led an aggressive campaign for justice involving giant billboards and road signs. One posted near the Houck family farm reads: "Brooks Houck where is Crystal Rogers?"

On Saturday morning, a shocking development stopped that campaign in its tracks; Ballard was shot and killed while hunting with his 12-year-old grandson not far from where his missing daughter's car was found dumped.

Kentucky State Police detectives told the Kentucky Standard Ballard's death was being treated as a possible homicide after confirming his weapon had not been fired and clearing the boy of any involvement.

"I was very lucky to have such a loving husband with a heart of gold," Sherry Ballard told WAVE 3 News on Monday.

"I do not feel like this was an accident."

While she didn't state her belief that her husband's death was linked to their daughter's disappearance, the implication was clear.

This morning, a three bedroom home owned by Brooks Houck was destroyed in a fire. Investigators say it's too soon to determine if the blaze was deliberately started or has any connection to the Rogers/Ballard cases.

The fatal shooting of a father so soon after the disappearance and suspected murder of his daughter would be enough to rattle any small town but to the residents of Bardstown, the deaths are further evidence the place is "cursed".


A TOWN STALKED BY MURDER

Crystal Rogers from Bardstown Kentucky USA is missing. Photo / Supplied
Crystal Rogers from Bardstown Kentucky USA is missing. Photo / Supplied

Bardstown's claim to fame used to be whiskey; some of the biggest names in bourbon have their distilleries here and it's the birthplace of Jim Beam.

These days, however, the town's name has become synonymous with murder.

Over the past three years, there have been four high-profile murders in Bardstown, all of them unsolved. If confirmed as a homicide, Ballard's death would make five.

"Older residents here wondering, 'who's going to be killed next?'," Bardstown resident Buddy Gulden told LEX news.

Before the murders began, Bardstown was known as the home of bourbon. Photo / 123rf
Before the murders began, Bardstown was known as the home of bourbon. Photo / 123rf

In May 2013, Bardstown Police officer Jason Ellis was shot dead while removing tree limbs from a road while driving home. Police suspect the branches were deliberately placed there so that the 33-year-old father-of-two would stop.

In April 2014, schoolteacher Kathy Netherland and her 16-year-old daughter, Samantha, were found slaughtered inside their home on Bardstown's outskirts. The mother had been shot and the teen was found badly beaten with her throat slashed.

In July 2015, mother-of five Crystal Rogers vanished. Her car was later found abandoned in grassland between her parent's property and her boyfriend Brooks Houck's family farm.

Three months later, Nelson County Sheriff Ed Mattingly announced she was likely dead and named Brooks the prime suspect.

"Crystal Rogers was extremely close with her family," Sheriff Mattingly said at the time.

"She has had no contact with her family ... she has vanished from earth."

"I DON'T GIVE A GODDAMN WHAT YOUR F***ING COMPUTER SAID"

According to investigators, traces of blood were found on a blanket and trunk of a Bardstown Police cruiser that was registered to Nick Houck, the brother of Crystal Roger's boyfriend Brooks.

Detectives say that Brooks Houck confronted Rogers about an alleged affair she was having and ended up killing her. He then called his brother to help him get rid of the evidence.

Last October, both men failed a polygraph test while being questioned about the whereabouts of Rogers and Nick was fired for interfering with the investigation.

Despite mounting evidence, including the detection of traces of bodily fluids found in the trunk of Nick's police cruiser, neither has been charged, leading to accusations of police corruption.

In a videotaped interview released by police, Nick Houck responds angrily when confronted with the results of his polygraph by the FBI agent who administered it.

"You did not pass the test," the agent states in the video.

"It's pretty clear that you haven't told me the complete truth and the questions you are having problems with are questions about Crystal and, in particular, whether or not you know where she is right now."

Nick Houck denied any involvement and questioned the validity of the test.

"I don't give a goddamn what your f - king computer said," he tells the examiner,.

"You're calling me a f - king liar [and] I don't like it when people call me a liar."

The results of a post mortem on the body of Ballard are expected to be released tomorrow.

Meanwhile, investigations into the town's unsolved murders continue.

- news.com.au

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