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'I just want the pieces of this puzzle to come together': Families, police searching for answers in cold cases
[February 04, 2007]

'I just want the pieces of this puzzle to come together': Families, police searching for answers in cold cases

(Paducah Sun, The (KY) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 4-- -- Beverly Miller of Eddyville never dreamed that her daughter would end up on a cold case list. But she hopes it will help solve the 2002 disappearance and presumed murder of Sonya Bradley.

Miller is convinced her daughter was killed, and Kentucky State Police believe foul play was involved in Bradley's disappearance. For more than four years, Miller said her life has been turned upside down and she will continue to carry a burden until she can give her daughter an appropriate funeral.

"I don't know what it's going to take to bring my child home, but I can't find peace until she is home," Miller said. "I just want the pieces of this puzzle to come together. It's so sad that this is where my daughter ended up."

Information from the public is often crucial in solving old cases because all existing leads have been exhausted, said Trooper Barry Meadows, Post 1 public affairs officer. To renew public interest in unsolved crimes across Kentucky, state police have listed summaries of several unsolved cases on their Web site. Bradley's disappearance is among eight cases, dating as far back as 1984, listed for Post 1 near Hickory.

Miller does not want her daughter to be forgotten and felt the Web site will keep Bradley's name in the public.

"Every time I mention her name, every year when the newspaper here prints a story, it jogs some memories," Miller said. "Hopefully it will help to keep putting her name out there. The detectives promised me they will not give up until this case is solved."

Each of the 16 state police posts lists cold cases, and other unsolved crimes will be added on the month anniversaries of the crimes, Meadows said.

"To the families, there has never been any closure. Just because a murder is 20 years old, it never goes away," Meadows said.

Those words rang true with Miller.

"You bring a child into this world and some else takes her out," Miller said. "It's been a terrible burden. Life has not been close to sanity and won't be until you can have her funeral. Your child is there one day, and next day she does not exist."

In the early 1980s when Livingston County Sheriff Tommy Williams was a state police trooper, he could always rely on Deputy Sheriff Carnie Hopkins for backup.

"He was familiar with just about everyone here. Whenever I had to go into an area where I didn't know the people very well, he would come and help in any way he could. I don't know what else to say other than he was a great guy," Williams said.

While the 1984 murder of a friend and fellow law enforcement officer was shocking, it is equally troubling that after 22-plus years his killer has not been brought to justice, Williams said.

"Any case like this that has not been solved is unsettling," Williams said.

Hopkins' murder also is another cold case on the list.

Many challenges face detectives after reopening cases that are several years old. There may be a lack of evidence, and witnesses may have died, moved away or forgotten facts about the crime, Detective Lt. Jeff Surrat said.

However, time also works in favor of the investigators, in the form of scientific advances that were unavailable a few years ago. Crime evidence can be resubmitted for DNA testing, a method to identify suspects. Hair analysis and trace analysis, such as evidence gathered from under a victim's fingernails, also can help investigators identify criminals, Surrat said.

Other crime-solving resources lie right inside the state police office: fresh eyes and fresh perspective.

After an unsolved murder is reopened, detectives often have to go back to square one of the investigation, Surrat said. Witnesses and possible suspects are re-interviewed, while evidence and crime scene photos are re-examined. Detectives pore over the notes taken by the original investigator, who most likely has retired by the time unsolved crimes are reopened.

The facts of the crime are discussed in a forum setting with all the detectives.

"We put a case out and have a lot of detectives read over it. After listening to several opinions, then we determine the best plan for attack," Surrat said. "New people can look at the evidence in different ways. We involve our new people, our college graduates to use their brain power."

Investigators also rely on the media to report some facts about the unsolved crime to renew public interest and possibly get new tips, Surrat said. Also, some witnesses are more likely to talk with investigators several years after a murder.

"At a murder scene, many people are frightened because the murderer has not been caught and the violent nature of the crime. They just don't feel comfortable talking," Surrat said. "Now that time has passed, they are more apt to talk with us. Or they may have heard somebody else say they know something about the case."

In some instances, the conscience of a witness often catches up him, Meadows said.

"Some people who know something about a crime but didn't tell detectives may be feeling guilty after living with it so long," Meadows said.

Miller also felt that time might prompt someone to come forward.

"The people involved in murdering Sonya or knowing who did are getting older and mortality might be catching up to them. Maybe a relative is sick or died and they might be growing a conscience about what happened," Miller said. "Hopefully, someone might get on a computer and send a tip to state police that will solve this."

The Web site is People with information about the following cases can e-mail the lead investigator, address is provided on the Web site, or contact state police at 1-800-222-5555.

Duane Caldwell

Caldwell, 60, a well-known Clinton grocer, was shot and killed on Jan. 7, 1985, during an apparent robbery attempt while he and his wife were walking to their truck after work.

Caldwell and his wife, Betty, operated Caldwell Food Market on the court square. They locked their store at 6 p.m. and walked across the street to their pickup truck at the First Federal Savings and Loan parking lot. A gunman wearing a ski mask approached them from a nearby alley and demanded their money. Without hesitation, Caldwell gave him the bag containing the day's receipts and his wife gave him her purse.

As they walked to their truck, Betty Caldwell held onto her husband's right arm. She then heard a pop, and felt her husband flinch. "I've been shot," he said as he fell to the ground. An hour later, he was pronounced dead at a Fulton hospital.

State police investigated and had at least one suspect, but never had enough evidence to file charges.

Carnie Hopkins

Hopkins, 57, was shot and killed on Sept. 10, 1984, while on duty as a Livingston County deputy sheriff.

Hopkins notified dispatcher Marvin Warren on his radio at 11:20 p.m. that he was getting out of his cruiser to check on a hitchhiker at the intersection of U.S. 60 and Ky. 137, an area known as "The Monument." Hopkins did not give a description of the hitchhiker.

When Hopkins did not return to his cruiser in a few minutes, Warren sent Deputy Orville Gilland to the scene who found Hopkins lying on a pile of gravel beside his cruiser. Hopkins was still alive, but unable to talk. He died on the way to the hospital.

Hopkins was shot once in the upper chest with his own service revolver, a .357 magnum, which was found near him. Investigators said there were no physical evidence clues at the scene, other than obvious signs that Hopkins struggled with someone. They feared that if Hopkins was killed by a transient the slaying may never be solved.

A subsequent search focused on abandoned buildings and remote areas throughout Livingston County found nothing.

Chantell Humphries

Humphries, 33, was found shot to death on June 23, 2002, by a farmer in a pasture adjacent to Barefield Road in northeast Trigg County.

She was described as a local girl who didn't have "a bad past." She was a wife and mother of two boys and one girl and was a former assembly-line worker for GBF Co. in Cadiz. But she had been shot multiple times, and an autopsy showed that one gunshot nicked an arm and entered her chest.

The murder stunned the rural community, and left her family in shock. Her mother, Mary Jones, said at the time that "whoever did this was cold-blooded."

Claude Russell of Cadiz, an acquaintance of Humphries, was indicted for her murder, but that charge was dropped later at the request of Commonwealth Attorney G.L. Ovey. The prosecutor said he didn't think the evidence showed Russell either had anything to do with the murder or knew who might have done it.

L.J. Johnson

Johnson, 68, was found dead in his Hickman Manor apartment on Sept. 8, 1991.

Investigators said Johnson was savagely beaten -- he suffered at least 25 blows to the head with a blunt instrument and was stabbed five times in the back. Johnson died of internal bleeding from a stab wound, according to the autopsy. He had been dead 12 to 14 hours before a friend found his body and notified police.

Robbery was believed to be the motive. Johnson was known for lending money to people in need, and he reportedly kept a large sum of money in his apartment. Police speculated that Johnson may have turned down a loan request from the killer. A bag that held Johnson's "big money" was missing but another bag with $480 was still in the apartment, investigators said. It was estimated that between $500 and $1,000 was missing, and his apartment had been ransacked. Chairs were knocked over, drawers were pulled out and couch cushions were on the floor. Despite the struggle, there was no sign of forced entry.

There were two possible suspects, but no one has been charged with Johnson's death.

Curtis Harper

Harper, 80, was one of Kentucky's leading ham producers when he was robbed and beaten to death on Sept. 14, 1995, in his Clinton business' office complex.

Harper had a daily routine -- he rose before sunrise and walked from his home on U.S. 51 next door to his office, where he built a thriving ham business. Harper toured the plant behind the building after he arrived in the office, and then he worked until he walked home at 4:30 p.m.

But on that September Thursday in 1995, his routine was shattered. Two employees at Harper's Country Hams Inc. walked into the front part of the office shortly after 6 a.m. and found Harper lying motionless on the floor. Harper, who was violently beaten, died on massive head injuries, and $2,700 was reported missing from his office.

Family and friends, as well as investigators, felt it was someone who either knew Harper's routine and watched him on his morning walk.

Harper's death was one of six western Kentucky murders that occurred in less than four months. None were related and all were under different circumstances.

Rewards totaling $30,000 -- $25,000 from Harper's Country Hams and $5,000 more from the National Country Ham Producers -- were offered for information that would lead to an arrest or conviction, but investigators were surprised and stymied when few tips were called in.

Bobbi Holman Williams

Williams, 35, a Paducah restaurateur, was strangled and suffered blunt trauma to the head on July 16, 1996, in her Sharpe home in Marshall County.

Her death captured widespread interest because she was well-known as the co-owner and manager of Paducah's highly successful Holman House Restaurant. She also was active in civic affairs. Williams was president of the Paducah Hospitality Association in 1991-92 and was on the Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors and the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. She was a graduate of the Leadership Paducah program.

Williams was found in a second-floor bathroom shortly after 10:30 p.m. by her estranged husband, Neil Williams, as he returned to the house with the couple's 4-year-old son. An autopsy reported that she suffered blunt trauma to the head and was strangled. Another child was asleep in the house but not harmed.

After discovering the body, Neil Williams ran next door to relatives and called the police, investigators said.

There are many theories about who had a motive to kill Williams, said investigators, who were criticized for not talking publicly about the case and for not solving it. They said it was a complex investigation that has sent them in many directions, often leading to dead ends.

Her murder, and the city of Paducah, also gained national attention after being profiled on the Jan. 16, 2002, episode of "City Confidential" on A&E.

No one has ever been charged with killing her. However, Neil Williams served seven years of a 12-year sentence on a conviction for conspiring to have her murdered. Police have said there is no evidence the conspiracy led to her death. Neil Williams has consistently denied involvement in a conspiracy. He said he was framed by a former acquaintance who tried unsuccessfully to extort money from him.

In April 1999, Valva Buford was sentenced to 10 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy for her role in an alleged plot to kill Williams. As part of a plea agreement, she agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Neil Williams. Buford testified that Neil Williams gave her $50,000 to have his wife killed, but she gave the money to someone else who kept it and didn't carry out the crime.

Randall Yost of Forest Park, Ill., pleaded guilty to a federal charge of attempting to extort $100,000 from Neil Williams. Yost admitted he had sought money in exchange for remaining silent on evidence he claimed to have that would link Neil Williams to the murder.

Sonya Bradley

Bradley, 35, was last seen in her Eddyville apartment on Oct. 10, 2002. Investigators believe foul play may be involved in her disappearance.

Bradley suffered from lupus and multiple sclerosis, and suffered a severe flare-up of the MS on the day she disappeared. Her mother, Beverly Miller, said that Bradley dragged her right leg.

Miller said she knows who killed her daughter -- the suspect is in prison for killing another person. Investigators have not identified a suspect publicly.

Miller learned of her daughter's disappearance on the evening of Oct. 10 when she was called to Caldwell County Hospital because one of Bradley's daughters had been injured in a car accident. Miller said that her grandchildren told her they hadn't seen their mother that day and didn't know where she was.

There was no sign of a struggle in her apartment, but left behind were Bradley's multiple sclerosis medicine, which she took daily doses, and her cigarettes. Miller insisted to investigators that her daughter never left the house without her cigarettes, and would have taken her medication if she knew she'd be gone more than one day.

Bradley desired an opportunity to start over because she was involved in a bad relationship, and had talked about taking her children and leaving western Kentucky. She mentioned wanting to move to Gulf Shores, Ala., but had been waiting for a Social Security benefits check.

Investigators pursued several leads, but nothing developed. Family members organized searches, and state police scoured farms and wells throughout western Kentucky, but all efforts failed to reveal any evidence.

Attention to her case has resurfaced several times after human remains have been discovered. Skeletal remains were found in Princeton in 2004, but the bones turned out to be those of a man. A female torso was discovered 55 miles west of St. Louis, also in 2004, but Bradley's DNA did not match. Her DNA is in a national database. A woman's bones were found in a shallow grave near Houston in 2005, but were ruled out through Bradley's dental records. Some of Bradley's acquaintances had connections in the Houston area.

Bradley is 5-7, 110 pounds and has long brown hair and green eyes.

J.C. Bachuss

Bachuss, 66, was found brutally beaten and stabbed on July 6, 2005, in his Farley community home in McCracken County. He was transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he died July 10 of blunt force trauma to the head.

Family and friends called the attack senseless and unexplainable. Investigators said Bacchus was beaten with multiple blunt objects and stabbed multiple times during an apparent home invasion. His home was ransacked and Bachuss wasn't found until a neighbor and a nephew's fiance came to the house around 5:30 p.m. and forced their way in because the door was blocked by thrown objects. Bachuss' head and face were swollen and his only response was to say he was cold.

Among his Sunset Drive neighbors, Bachuss was known as a quiet man who kept to himself, but always loved helping people. He was considered a reliable handyman who had a knack for fixing lawnmowers, and spent most of the day working in his garage.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Paducah Sun, Ky.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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