After nearly 20 years, authorities believe they have finally solved the murders of two workers at a Kentucky massage parlor with the arrest of two former police officers — including the lead investigator in the case.
Edward Carter and Leslie Duncan are among three men indicted in the late-night slayings of two young women at the New Life Massage Parlor in Oak Grove in western Kentucky. Carter and an Alabama man face murder charges while Duncan has been charged with complicity to murder.
Investigators are being tight-lipped about how the ex-cops were allegedly involved the deaths of Candace Belt, 22, and Gloria Ross, 18. Their battered, blood-soaked bodies were found in a back room of the parlor on Sept. 20, 1994, after co-workers left the building to get something to eat.
Locals long suspected police involvement, but authorities just couldn’t come up with the evidence.
“At the time and for years to follow, everybody thought that it was a couple of police officers that were involved, but there was never any proof given,” said Oak Grove Mayor Dan Potter.
“There were always potential suspects,” said prosecutor Lynn Pryor. “No one felt comfortable bringing charges on them before now.”
One person, at least, didn’t hesitate to voice her suspicions early on: Tammy Papler, the madam who ran the brothel.
At a public meeting in 1997, Papler — angered for being forced to shut down the parlor — stood up and unleashed a slew of allegations, including the claim that she had been bribing police to keep her business open. She said after she stopped making the payments, the killings occurred.
Carter was paid to work as a janitor at the parlor, but the payments were in reality bribes to allow the brothel to remain open, Papler claimed. Duncan, meanwhile, sometimes demanded cash from her, she said.
Law enforcement officers were such a common sight at the parlor that soldiers from nearby Fort Campbell didn’t think twice to come in when the police were around, she said at the time.
Papler couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. But Pryor, the prosecutor, said the former madam would likely be called as a witness if the cases come to trial.
Relatives also said they had long believed that police were involved.
“There’s a few of us that suspected the cops had something to do with it there,” said Johnny Belt, Candace’s uncle.
Duncan even came to the home of the victim’s grandmother to express condolences.
“He came and sat at my mom’s table and drank coffee, telling her how bad he felt,” Belt said.
Bobby Combs, an ex-Oak Grove police officer, recalls taking orders from Duncan — the case’s lead detective — at the murder scene.
“Oak Grove, as you can tell, messed it up,” Combs said.
Eventually, the case was turned over to the local Christian County sheriff’s office. But it languished, becoming the subject of an “Unsolved Mysteries” segment on TV. Kentucky State Police took over the investigation in 2006.
The arrests have brought a fresh round of notoriety to the town of about 9,000 bordering the Fort Campbell post along the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
“It’s kind of like knocking a scab off a wound,” said the Rev. Dave Noffsinger, pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Oak Grove.
Carter, 43, and Frank Black Jr., 39, of Gadsden, Ala., were indicted late last week by a Christian County grand jury on two murder counts.
Carter was arrested in Warren County, Ohio. Black was taken into custody in Etowah County in Alabama. There were no records either man had yet hired an attorney, court officials in both states said. They are being held on $1 million bond and will be arraigned after being extradited to Kentucky, state police said.
Duncan, 50, is serving a three-year sentence for evidence tampering in the case. It was his arrest that broke open the case. Authorities wouldn’t give further details. His attorney, Stephanie Ritchie, declined to comment on the case.
Investigators don’t anticipate other arrests, said Kentucky State Police Trooper Stu Recke.
Carter and Duncan left the Oak Grove police force soon after the slayings. After leaving town, Duncan spent time working as a security guard at a discount store in Hermitage, Tenn., while Carter worked as a private security guard and police officer in a Louisville suburb.
State police offered few details about Black’s alleged involvement, other than to say he was not a police officer. He was convicted of attempted rape in December 1995, and registered as a sex offender when he moved to Alabama.
Combs, the ex-Oak Grove police officer, said Papler has been vindicated with the arrests.
But city council member Barbara Jean Leavell disagreed.
“If you run a business like that, you’re just as guilty,” she said. “You might not have pulled a trigger or a knife … but she was guilty of running that business.”