Kentucky State Police arrested a former Oak Grove police officer Thursday in connection to an unsolved 1994 double-murder at a brothel fronting as a massage parlor.
Leslie A. Duncan, 49, Central City, is charged with tampering with physical evidence. He remained at Christian County Jail Friday evening on a $50,000 bond.
On Sept. 20, 1994, between 3 and 4 a.m., Gloria Ross, 18, and Candida Belt, 22, were both shot in the top of the head and stabbed in a back room of the New Life Fitness and Massage Parlor in Oak Grove. The parlor was open 20 hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. No one but Ross, Belt and their murderer is believed to have been at the massage parlor when the killings occurred.
One of the victims was found by co-workers in a “lounger” and the other on the floor.
Ross was pronounced dead at the scene, and Belt was found barely breathing. She died three and a half hours later at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Duncan, one of the first police officers at the parlor after the murders, was assigned to the case. He said that when he arrived, Belt was unable to speak.
Detectives quickly ruled out robbery as a motive because no money was taken from the business or the women. Furthermore, a new employee at the parlor told the New Era the day after the murders that the doors were always locked at night. The employee said the doors remained locked until the customer was identified and let in. The customer would then have to sign a sheet before heading to the back of the building with a woman.
The investigation was later handed off to the Christian County Sheriff’s Department. In 2006, state police took over the case. Sgt. Jason Newby is heading the current investigation into the murders. After nearly 18 years, police made their first arrest in the case.
“This is the first step, which is a big step, toward solving this case,” Stu Recke, a KSP spokesman, told the Associate Press.
Right now, it is unclear if Duncan will face additional charges, Recke added while declining to say if there are any other suspects.
Johnny Belt, uncle to one of the victims, told the Associated Press that he was happy someone had finally been arrested in the case.
“Hell, it’s been going on 18 years,” he said. “That’s been a long time.”
The parlor was closed in 1995 after the owners, Tammy Papler and her husband, Ronnie, pleaded guilty to third-degree promoting prostitution at the business.
Almost three years after the murders, Papler stood up during an Oak Grove City Council meeting and said that Oak Grove police had been accepting bribes, and in return, she was allowed to operate the brothel without police interference.
“The town is crooked, and I’ve got the papers to prove it,” she said during the 1997 meeting. “I did some of those sexual favors. I know what’s going on.”
Papler also claimed police officers, doctors, attorneys and other high-level officials had been regulars at the parlor.
She accused the city of wide-spread corruption and said Duncan and Edward T. Carter, another former Oak Grove officer, were involved in covering up the homicides. Financial records show Duncan and Carter were paid by the parlor for janitorial work at night. Papler produced photocopies of canceled checks made out to Carter for $4,800.
Papler said she waited to come forward with the information because she had been on probation for the prostitution charge. Papler also threatened to sue the city over a $5,000 tax the city placed on “adult” businesses. At the time, she was running a video store that rented pornographic movies. After making several lewd comments to the city council, Papler was asked to leave the meeting.
In 1997, Papler told the New Era that the investigation into the homicides was shoddy and incompetent.
“The crime scene was botched, “ she said. “Everyone knows when there’s a crime scene, you don’t go in and touch the body. You don’t move anything. You don’t let 20 people run in and outside a double-homicide. That’s exactly what happened.”
Soon after Papler’s statements, Patty Belew, who was at the time a member of the Oak Grove City Council, said she previously worked as a prostitute at the parlor. She also accused the police department of corruption and murder. Milton Perry, the chief of police at the time, acknowledged taking $1,500 in cash from Papler. The money was tucked inside an envelope labeled as a “Christmas Donation,” he said. Even so, former city attorney John Chewning claimed the money was used to buy police equipment and not given to individual officers.
Over the years, many people have said that Papler was simply trying to find footing for a lawsuit. Former Oak Grove Mayor Bobby Mace denied Papler’s claims and maintained that “my city is not corrupt.” Additionally, Maj. Billy Gloyd, a detective with the Christian County Sheriff’s Office in 1997, previously said that Papler and her husband, Ronnie, were among several suspects in the case. Papler reportedly sold the rights to the story to a Los Angeles television movie producer in 1997.
“Everybody is a suspect,” Gloyd said. “Nobody will be cleared until the case is solved.”
Shortly after Papler’s statement to the council, a detective with the sheriff’s department in Montgomery County, Tenn., said that while Duncan and Carter were not suspects, he wanted to question them about the 1992 murder of Manuela Scarlett. She was found strangled and naked in a creek. Duncan was the lead investigator on that case as well.
“The way he handled it jeopardized the investigation,” a detective told the AP in 1997. “I don’t know if that’s the way they to their job, of if they were trying to hide something.”
Six days after the murders, Carter’s wife filed a domestic-violence complaint against him. He resigned from the force a month after the murders. In the years following, Duncan worked as a security guard at a discount store in Tennessee.
REACH BENJAMIN JOUBERT at 270-887-3240 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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