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The still-unsolved 2016 shooting death of 54-year-old Tommy Ballard is the most recent of four killings and a disappearance that have haunted the picturesque small town of Bardstown, Kentucky. They include the ambush murder of police officer Jason Ellis in 2013, the brutal double homicide of Kathy Netherland and her teenage daughter Samantha a year later and the 2015 disappearance of Ballard’s daughter, 35-year-old Crystal Rogers.
Long before his death and the loss of his daughter, Tommy Ballard was no stranger to murder and mystery.
In January 1979, his sister, Freda Sharene “Sherry” Ballard, went missing after taking her car in for a repair. She was 19 years old and over seven months pregnant at the time. A week later, her car was found submerged in the Ohio River.
In August 1983, her remains and that of her fetus were found buried in the woods. Edsel “Eddie” Barnes, her estranged husband, and another man, George Weir, were later convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her murder. The case was a factor to Kentucky passing a state law making fetal homicide a crime.
Tragedy next struck the Ballard family in July 2015, when Tommy’s daughter Crystal Rogers went missing. According to Brooks Houck, her boyfriend at the time, she was last seen at home on the night of July 3, where they lived with their 2-year-old son Eli and other children.
Following Crystal’s disappearance, Tommy Ballard tirelessly led search efforts to find her. He tracked her whereabouts, recruited friends and family members to scour a 20-mile radius around Bardstown and acted as an intermediary between the investigation and the press.
As the investigation into Crystal Rogers’ disappearance came upon its first anniversary, Tommy Ballard and his wife Sherry fought for custody of their grandson Eli, who continued to live with his father, Brooks Houck. They had assumed custody of Crystal’s other four children the previous summer.
On November 19, 2016, in the early morning, Tommy Ballard was hunting on family property with his young grandson when he was fatally shot by an unknown person. Nelson County Coroner Rayfield Houghlin later said Ballard died from a single gunshot wound to the chest, which exited through his back.
Almost immediately, Tommy’s widow Sherry Ballard went on record voicing her suspicions about his death.
Two days after his death, she texted Louisville’s WAVE 3 News, "I do not feel like this was an accident."
She would later tell WDRB that in the weeks before his death, Tommy believed he was being followed.
“I think someone wanted my husband out of the way because we were getting close to Crystal, and they knew he was the driving force behind her,” Sherry said.
His father, Till Ballard, told the same station that Tommy was planning a large-scale, out-of-town search for his daughter the week after he was killed.
"Tommy always said 'I'll spend my last dime trying to find Crystal,” the elder Ballard told WDRB. “I guess he's found her now."
Police have been tight-lipped about Ballard’s death, which has not been classified as a homicide.
Speaking a month after Ballard’s death, Trooper Jeff Gregory told WDRB News, “It doesn't mean we can't change that title later. It's still getting investigated like if it were a murder investigation or homicide investigation.”
In the absence of any arrests or new information, conspiracy theories have spread in an attempt to connect the “Bardstown Murders."
A WDRB news story in March 2017 examined the various crimes, with Trooper Gregory saying, "I have no reason at this time to believe they're connected, but it's not something that we're discarding either."
Sherry Ballard, meanwhile, was more explicit, stating that she believed her daughter may have disappeared because she “overheard something maybe she shouldn't have” about the murder of Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis, and that her husband’s death was because he was getting close to discovering what happened. None of these claims, however, have ever been substantiated.
In August 2017, Tommy’s brothers, Mike and Roger Ballard, posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for his death. Like Sherry Ballard, they expressed their belief that his death was related to Crystal Rogers' disappearance.
“Maybe he was close to finding something, or maybe they just felt like he wasn’t going to quit or let up,” Mike told The Kentucky Standard newspaper.
To this day, Crystal Rogers whereabouts remain unknown, and Tommy Ballard’s case has not been solved. To learn more about the "Bardstown Murders," watch “The Disappearance of: Crystal Rogers” on Oxygen.
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