With National Police Week coming to a close, I’d like to use this space as a reminder that gone is not forgotten, that the past and the present are never too far apart and that a case as cold as ice, and buried far beneath can still be brought to light with justice served.
It’s true. I’ve seen some of that this year.
In fact, I won a Kentucky Press Association award for my coverage following the redheaded murder cases.
Just last year, The Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office, along with the assistance from the FBI was able to confirm with a positive DNA match that Espy Regina Black-Pilgrim was the Knox County Jane Doe. That body was identified after 33 years.
That’s proof and hope enough for me to believe that we shouldn’t give up on the criminal justice system or on the goodwill of men. Because a large portion of that body being identified had to do with a high school sociology case and a podcaster who wouldn’t stop when doors were closed or when things got hard.
In 1999, I graduated from Bardstown High School and moved to Williamsburg to play soccer for Cumberland College. My soccer career was short lived but I stayed for college and found there were even a handful of people from my hometown that came to school there too.
I would eventually live nearby to one of those people — a girl a few years younger with red hair. She had gone to a different high school than me but now lived nearby with her all-star baseball player boyfriend, Jason Ellis. I passed them often around the apartments and on campus.
As fate would have it, the two married and settled back in my hometown.
Six years ago tragedy struck.
I’ve watched multiple news station clips on it, discussed with my mammaw, read a dozen newspaper articles, feel an unsettling sadness every time I pass by the Bluegrass Parkway and every May wonder what and where the truth is buried.
The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum's website has done a thorough job of describing the events, so in honor of a life gone too soon and in the hope of justice served I'll share theirs.
It’s heartbreaking but we can’t forget and we must demand justice.
On Thursday, I spoke with KSP Post 4 Public Affairs Officer Scotty Sharpe in Elizabethtown who said the investigation is still unsolved but active. Although he denied any new developments in the case, he said he frequently gets calls from people wanting updates and confirmed officers are dedicated to the investigation.
From the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum:
Jason joined the joined the Bardstown Police Department as a Police Officer in 2006. In less than three years, Officer Ellis received Governor’s Awards for Impaired Driving Enforcement in 2007 and 2008 and was awarded Officer of the Year in 2008. He also became the Department’s only canine officer in 2008 when he partnered up with a German Shepard, Figo. He further served his community as a youth baseball coach.
At 1:59 a.m. on May 25, 2013, after a late arrest and having put his prisoner in the Bardstown jail, Officer Ellis secured his tour of duty on second shift and headed home to Bloomfield. He did not have Figo with him at the time and was operating a pool car. As such, he did not have a camera mounted on the dash.
About 2:30 a.m., as he left the Blue Grass Highway on Exit 34, he found the ramp blocked with tree limbs. He turned on his overhead lights, turned the patrol car to block the ramp, and began clearing the limbs. With several cradled in his arms, shotgun blasts rang out from the embankment. Pellets tore into Officer Ellis’s arm, side, neck, head, and other areas not protected by his ballistic vest. He fell to the ground, among the limbs he was carrying.
Soon afterwards, a woman drove her Toyota off the highway and up to the patrol car. She stopped and waited. At 2:36 a.m., Chad Monroe, a distillery worker, came up behind the Corolla, got out, spoke to the woman, and then went to help the officer pick up limbs. When he saw Officer Ellis on the ground in a pool of blood, he ran back and told the driver of the Corolla to call the police and then went back to render whatever aid he could. At 2:40 a.m., the woman entered Officer Ellis’s cruiser and called for help on his radio, reporting that the officer had been involved in an accident and she though he was dead.
Kentucky State Trooper Mike Garyantes responded and determined that he had been shot. Nelson County Coroner Rayfield Houghlin later said Ellis was shot “multiple times” with a 12-gauge shotgun. His service weapon was still in its holster. About 11 a.m., fifty cars from multiple agencies escorted his body from the scene to the Kentucky Medical Examiner in the Jefferson County Government Building in Louisville, Kentucky and the Kentucky State.
Kentucky State Police conducted, and continue to conduct the investigation into his death. Initially, investigators believe Officer Ellis, while on his way home, stopped to assist a motorist and was murdered. By then end of May 25th, it was ascertained that the trajectory of the bullets placed the shooter on a hill above the exit. It was then believed that Ellis stopped to move debris from the roadway and was “ambushed,” the coroner’s office said.
By May 29, 2013, then Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubben went public with, “We believe that he was the target,” McCubbin said, because “this was methodical, precise, planned and executed in a perfect fashion, unfortunately.” The debris that Officer Ellis removed was tree limbs from a tree not indigenous to the area, so it was likely brought there for the purpose of setting up the ambush.
On June 2, 2013 Jeff Ruby, the owner of multiple high-end restaurants, posted a $33,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Officer Ellis’s murderer. That posting brought the total to $100,000. By November 2017, the total reward had elevated to $200,000.
By June 18, 2013, with still no solid evidence to go on, Kentucky State Police established an email hotline, EllisCaseEtips@ky.gov, set up at KSP Post 4 for any information regarding the incident, tree trimmings in Nelson County, etc.
As of January 2014, the reward for identifying Officer Ellis’s murderer has grown to a quarter of a million dollars.
May the answers to this investigation arise and justice ring loud.
Remembering this officer, his family and my hometown this week, this month and always.