The Mountain Mysteries
A Shadow Across the Land
The Mountain Mystery of Kathy and Samantha Netherland
Hard to say what evil lurks around each corning in any given town, anywhere in the world. No patter how picturesque something may look to be, it can be hiding something entirely different under its façade of well-manicured lawns, perfectly trimmed trees and smiles with accusatory intentions that could blow away any truly meaningful friendships.
Though just an hour south of the major metropolitan hub of Louisville, Bardstown, Kentucky, is a world away. With a population of just over 14,000, it was voted “The Most Beautiful Small Town In America” and also boasts of being the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” due to the presence of six major whiskey distilleries in town. But, there’s also a dark side to the region.
Alternately known as “The Bardstown Murders” or the “The Nelson County Murders,” the area is at the center of five unsolved deaths and disappearances, which continue to inspire speculation, gossip and intrigue far beyond the county line.
Prior to the rash of unsolved high-profile murders, the counties around Bardstown were home to “The Cornbread Mafia,” rural farmers turned drug traffickers, who at their peak ran the largest marijuana production operation in the United States.
Kentucky, like other parts of the country, is now grappling with different and more pervasive types of drug epidemics like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, which has some wondering if the drug trade has played a part in any of the Bardstown mysteries.
The first killing to send shock waves through the community was the 2013 murder of 33-year-old Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis on May 25 of that year. A seven-year veteran of the department and member of the K-9 unit, Ellis had just gotten off work and was driving home when he found a stack of freshly cut tree limbs blocking the road at his exit off the Bluegrass Parkway. After exiting his police cruiser to investigate, he was ambushed. According to WCPO in Cincinnati, Ellis was fatally shot multiple times with a 12-gauge shotgun.
In the five years since Ellis’ murder, police have interviewed countless people of interest connected with the case and pursued myriad leads. None, however, have led to any arrests. In August of 2013, Brant Sheckles, a member of the Bardstown Money Gang, claimed the street gang was responsible for Ellis’ murder. Brant is a nephew of Bill Sheckles, Bardstown’s mayor at the time according to WAVE 3. Bardstown PD, however, dismissed the group’s claims, with then-police chief Rick McCubbin calling them “a bunch of punks,” and telling WAVE 3, “They're trying to empower themselves by making that claim, intimidating people and using the fear factor that 'I'm so bad I killed a cop.’”
In April 2014, nearly a year after Ellis’ murder, Bardstown was again rocked by the brutal double-homicide of 48-year-old Kathy Netherland and her 16-year-old daughter, Samantha. Their dead bodies were discovered by Kathy’s father after she failed to show up for work at Bardstown Elementary School, where she worked as a special education teacher, according to WDRB. Following their autopsies, WAVE 3 reported that Kathy had been shot multiple times, while Samantha had been bludgeoned about the head, with both women showing knife wounds to their necks.
Kentucky State Police had no suspects or motive for the Netherlands' murders. Their only possible clue was a black Chevrolet Impala, which had been filmed near the crime scene on April 21, 2014, the night of the murder. Within months of the murders, police had searched more than 90 cars in the area that matched the vehicle description, according to WDRB,. On the first anniversary of the murders, the Netherland family increased the reward for information about the killings from $2,500 to $50,000. Despite such an incentive, the murders remain unsolved.
Then…the oddest thing happened…seems an inmate offered up what might have been a feasible clue as to the why if not the who, which may be tied together? More on that one in a moment.
The next whodunit to befall Bardstown was the 2015 disappearance of 35-year-old Crystal Rogers. Rogers was last seen on July 3, at the home she shared with her boyfriend, Brooks Houck, their 2-year-old son and other children. Two days later, her mother reported her missing, that same day her car was found abandoned along the Bluegrass Parkway with a flat tire and her possessions were still in it.
Rogers parents were immediately outspoken in their misgivings of boyfriend Brooks Houck. Complicating the investigation was that fact that Houck’s brother Nick was an officer with the Bardstown Police. That October, Nick Houck was fired from the police force or allegedly “interfering with the investigation” of Crystal Rogers’ disappearance, according to NBC affiliate WLEX. Nick was blamed of warning his brother that detectives planned to interview him and advised him not to speak with them. Nick later told the Kentucky State Police that he only contacted his brother to tell him that "they might be trying to trip him up" and "he should protect himself."
Former Sheriff Ed Mattingly identified Brooks Houck a suspect in his girlfriend’s disappearance, which he believes to be a homicide. Despite these accusations, neither one of the Houck brothers has ever been charged with any crimes related to the disappearance of Crystal Rogers, which they both adamantly deny any involvement in.
In a peculiar twist, on November 19, 2016, Crystal’s father, Tommy Ballard, was critically shot in the chest by an unknown gunmen while out hunting. He was with his 11-year-old grandson and on family property at the time of his death, but police have ruled out the child as the shooter. Police have yet to categorize Ballard’s death as a homicide. But that doesn't mean they can't change that later. It's still getting investigated like if it were a murder investigation or homicide investigation,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Jeff Gregory. Small towns are a place where everybody knows each other’s business are infamous hotbeds of chatter and gossip. And without any arrests, oh…Bardstown’s bars and backstreets have pulsed with conspiracy theories trying to connect the dots between Bardstown’s mysterious unsolved crimes.
It was in a March 2017, Crystal Rogers’ mother, Sherry Ballard, surmised that her daughter disappeared because she “overheard something maybe she shouldn't have,” quite possibly related to the murder of Jason Ellis. Could it have been? Yes, oh yes. It very well could have been. Sherry went on to say that her husband Tommy "was never going to give up finding out what happed to Sherry’s daughter, Crystal, and he was going to push, and she thinks people knew that. She definitely thinks it was all connected."
We need to mention here that none of her claims, however, have ever been substantiated. In the same beat however, Trooper Gregory said, He has no reason at this time to believe they're connected, but it's not something that They’re discarding either."
In May 2017, the Kentucky State Police hired two retired troopers, specifically to aid in the investigations of the Bardstown killings. Spokesperson Lt. Michael Webb said police haven't ruled out the possibility that the cases might be connected but offered no further details at this time.
These, are the Mountain Mysteries, and this is a continuing look into Bardstown Kentucky episode 16, A Shadow Across the Land The Mountain Mystery of Kathy and Samantha Netherland.
In 2014, the vicious double-killing of 48-year-old Kathy Netherland and her 16-year-old daughter, Samantha, shook the small community of Bardstown, Kentucky. Their bodies were discovered by Kathy’s father… on April 22 after she failed to show up for work at Bardstown Elementary School, where she worked as a special education teacher. According to death certificates obtained by WAVE 3, Kathy had been shot multiple times, and Samantha had been bludgeoned in the head. Both had suffered knife wounds to their necks.
In the four years following the Netherland murders, Kentucky State Police have not identified any suspects or possible motive, but during the season finale of Oxygen's documentary "The Disappearance of Crystal Rogers," reporter Stephanie Bauer spoke with an anonymous prison inmate who claimed Kathy and Samantha were killed during a gang initiation.
When Bauer pressed him for details about how he knew it was a gang initiation, he said, "Well, I know they was tortured. I know that they were tied to their chairs. I know that one of 'em had her throat slit. They were stabbed, and one was shot. I know that trinkets were taken as trophies."
The inmate also said a cellphone jammer was placed at the Netherlands' front door to "kill all the signal in the house."
To further investigate the inmate's claims, Bauer and retired homicide detective Dwayne Stanton met with Kathy's daughter and Samantha's sister, Holly Netherland Williams. While Holly was unable to confirm the inmate's claims, she said his theories about the gang initiation and trophies being taken from the crime scene were possible.
When asked about the cellphone jammer, Holly said, "This is news to me. I mean, that would explain why they didn't get a call off because I know my mom always had a phone in her hand.
Another detail that struck Holly was the alleged torture that her mother and sister endured during the attack.
"I have been asked by the police about the relative location of chairs," said Holly. "This is one of those things that I'm not comfortable talking about. How they died is not one of the main things I want to think about."
This new information has not been confirmed by law enforcement, but the Kentucky State Police say they are investigating the inmate’s claims.
By the Spring of 2014, nearly one year had passed since the murder of Bardstown police officer Jason Ellis.
Throughout the region, everyone is suspicious... not only of strangers, but the people they know. The region itself has a population just above 11,000, and the residents of Bardstown would remain skeptical of their neighbors, colleagues, and other associates.
That uncertainty would continue to mount throughout 2014, when another shocking crime brought Bardstown to the forefront of Kentucky headlines. This time, the crime was a savage double-murder that would be every bit as tragic - and even more barbaric - than the ambush of Officer Ellis.
Samantha Netherland was born on December 20th, 1997.
In the spring of 2014, Samantha was just 16 years old, and was a sophomore at Bardstown High School. She was highly regarded as being one of the best students in her class, and was a member of multiple clubs and organizations, including: the Academic Team, Women in Science, the Adventure Club, the Young Leaders Program, and she even sang in the school's Honor Choir.
Samantha had recently been accepted into the Gatton Academy Program - an affiliate of Western Kentucky University. It was an early college entrance program, which required good grades and plenty of extracurriculars. In the spring of 2014, 48-year-old Kathy Netherland had actually spoken to a reporter with the Kentucky Standard about Samantha's acceptance into the program:
"I'm very excited for her. This was her goal and her dream and despite everything that has happened over the past year with the loss of her father, she did this on her own. I couldn't be prouder of her."
It wasn't exactly a well-kept secret that Samantha had a very bright future ahead of her, and she personally dreamed of being a marine biologist. In particular, she hoped to work at a place like the Newport Aquarium, which she had visited the year prior and fell in love with.
But, in addition to being known as a great student, Samantha was also known for being a pretty regular teenager, who loved hanging out with friends, playing video games, and headbanging to 80's hair metal. Her older sister, Holly, recalls that Samantha could identify each Def Leppard song from its opening guitar riffs.
Up until April 21st, 2014, all seemed to be normal with the Netherland family. Holly was away at school, preparing to wrap up her sophomore year of college, and Samantha was preparing for her high school prom later that month. Her mother and her had just gone shopping for her dress and jewelry the weekend prior, and Kathy had posted pictures of it all to her personal Facebook account.
Unbeknownst to the Netherland and their loved ones, however, something dark was going on.
On the morning of April 22nd, 2014 - a Tuesday - both Kathy and Samantha failed to show up to school. Their absence was noted, but it wasn't until their two schools - Bardstown Elementary and Bardstown High School - began to communicate with one another that they pointed out how strange this was.
Samantha was a very punctual student, but Kathy - in particular - was never even late without a phone call. For her to be absent entirely... something had to be terribly wrong.
School officials began reaching out to the Netherlands' loved ones, eventually making contact with Kathy's father - Samantha's grandfather - Norris Hardin. He was asked to check in on them from his end, and make sure that everything was all right.
Norris Hardin stopped by the Netherland home, at 5120 Springfield Road (just outside of Bardstown, in a small suburb named Botland). When he pulled up, he noticed that Kathy's car was still in the driveway, indicating that both she and Samantha were inside.
Norris made the decision to enter the home, and inside he found the bodies of both Kathy and Samantha, who had been brutally murdered for an undetermined reason. Stepping outside, he phoned police, and soon, word began to spread throughout this small town.
Stacey Hibbard, Kathy's sister, arrived at the scene a short time later. When she got to the Netherland's home, she found cop cars lining the streets, and police tape wrapped around the crime scene, which now encompassed the entire house. At the scene, she saw her father was in apparent distress, and later noted during a press conference:
"They're gone and somebody did something terrible to them."
In the stir of the region's second high-profile murder case in a single year, the area surrounding Bardstown was shocked. Those especially close to Kathy and Samantha Netherland were shocked, including colleagues, students, and other loved ones.
Ashley Smith, the co-owner of 150 Quick Stop - a convenience store about half-a-mile up the road from the Netherland home - told a local reporter:
"It's very unsettling, especially in this community. You've got a lot of good, honest, hard-working people around here. You just don't hear of this kind of thing happening. You just don't."
Counselors were dispatched to Bardstown's school to provide counseling - not only for the students that knew and loved both of the Netherlands, but colleagues that struggled to make sense of this terrible crime.
Paul Bowling, the Principal of Bardstown Elementary School, stated:
"We're trying to help the kids process (the news) and process ourselves. Many kids have had ideas for events. We're going to talk about that in the coming days. [Kathy] did bring so much to our school. She was not only a good teacher, but she was also a great person."
Chris Pickett, the Principal of Bardstown High School, remembered Samantha along with the staff and the student body. He recalled that Samantha had entered the school as a shy and quiet girl, but had begun to blossom into a smart, confident, witty, and fun-loving young woman - who wasn't afraid to belt out vocals during choir concerts.
The person hit hardest by the news of Kathy and Samantha's passing was none other than Holly Netherland - the only remaining member of the Netherland's four-person family. In less than a year, Holly - who was only 19 years old, and had been away at college - had lost her father to cancer, and now her mother and sister to a senseless murder.
Speaking to the press, Holly stated:
"On April 22nd, I received a phone call that shattered my life. My mother and my sister were dead. The first thought that ran through my head was, 'God, you can't take them. You took my daddy. You can't have them, too.'"
The funeral for Kathy and Samantha Netherland was held on April 28th, 2014 - the following Monday - at Parkway Baptist Church. Kathy and her family had been attending that church for years.
Two days later - on April 30th, 2014 - Kathy and Samantha were buried in the local Bardstown City Cemetery; right next to Robert Netherland, who had been waiting for them for about a year.
Barbara Donahue - Kathy's aunt and Samantha's great-aunt - revealed that Samantha would be buried in the prom dress she had picked out the weekend prior to her death. Her family wanted her to be able to wear it at least once. Barbara stated:
"She was going to go to the prom this weekend. Had her dress, shoes, earrings, everything laid out to go, and now this has all come to an end."
A memorial for the Netherlands was held on May 2nd, 2014, in which fellow staff members and students - as well as other colleagues and loved ones - assembled to release purple and baby blue balloons into the sky. Purple was Kathy's favorite color, and baby blue was Samantha's. As they did so, Samantha's favorite Def Leppard song provided the soundtrack to this act of finality. The investigation into the murders of Kathy and Samantha Netherland was overseen by the Kentucky State Police - the same organization that had been heading the investigation into Officer Jason Ellis' death for the past eleven months.
From the get-go, police believed that the crime had unfolded at around sunset on the day in-question: April 21st, 2014. This estimate put the murder at around 8:00 PM that Monday evening, which was right around the time that night was falling.
The death certificates for both Kathy and Samantha were released approximately two months after the murders - in June of 2014 - and revealed that the two had been the victims of a horrific attack.
48-year-old Kathy had been shot multiple times - although police would never release the extent of these gunshots. The type of gun and ammunition remains confidential. However, the death certificate also revealed that Kathy had a deep cut on her neck, indicating that an assault had taken place.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Samantha seemed to have been the primary target of the unknown subject's aggression. Prior to her death, she had been beaten severely, and had suffered serious wounds to her head. Her cause-of-death seemed to be a significant slash to her neck.
It was believed that the mother and daughter had been in separate rooms when they were attacked and/or murdered, indicating that there might have been multiple attackers. Because each crime was so violent, it seemed impossible for one culprit to have been behind both.
As for a motive... investigators were stumped. Nothing of value seemed to be missing from the home - at least, nothing of importance: no prescription drugs, jewelry, or electronics were noted as being missing.
This led investigators to believe that the two murders - which were exceptionally violent - were personal in nature.
Detectives also theorized that the crimes had unfolded over a very short period of time: just ten or so minutes. The killer - or killers - had likely planned it out ahead of time, arriving to the scene, doing the deed, and then leaving.
One of the only leads the investigators would float to the public was a vehicle seen leaving the area at around the time they believe the murders took place.
This vehicle was one of three caught by witnesses and security cameras heading north towards Bardstown from Botland - the small suburb that Kathy and Samantha Netherland lived in. However, out of those three vehicles, only one would remain unidentified in the following months.
This vehicle was a newer 2006 to 2013 model black Chevy Impala. This vehicle had been caught by security cameras leaving the area shortly after 8:00 PM, when police believe the unknown killer(s) had struck. This vehicle had also been spotted by witnesses that lived in the neighborhood of the crime scene.
A couple of images of this car would be circulated to the press; shots taken from a nearby convenience store's security camera.
Jeff Gregory, a Kentucky State Police Trooper, revealed that the police were not able to make out the vehicle's license plate - due to the angle it was driving and the extent of the security cameras. However, he was able to reveal some information about the black Chevy Impala - and what it could mean for the investigation:
"The vehicle does not appear to have a chrome strip or a rear spoiler and may have a small antenna mounted above the center of the rear windshield. At the time, the windows did not appear to be tinted.
"We still believe that if we can find that car, we can solve the case."
Despite there being very little information publicly released about this case, many online have continued to theorize about who would have targeted Kathy and Samantha Netherland... and why.
One lead in particular was brought forth on a Web sleuth forum, by a user named Muy Curioso. This user had been combing through the social media pages of both Kathy and Samantha, and discovered an incident that Kathy Netherland detailed in a New Year's Eve Facebook post - just four or so months before her eventual murder. It details a bizarre event she had while hanging out at home with both of her daughters: not only Samantha, but Holly (who was likely home for winter break)
Her post read as follows:
"Earlier this afternoon we heard a noise. I thought one [of] our two cats had knocked over something. We didn't find anything disturbed so we thought it was nothing. Boy, were we wrong. A little while ago Holly opens our front door to go outside to pick up the mail and finds both glass panes in our screen door shattered. We have taken pics and I have carefully removed loose pieces of glass and the glass frames. All the shattered glass pieces have been swept up off the front porch. Guess I'll be heading to Lowes’s tomorrow to find replacements. Crazy how unexpected events happen."
This post appeared to describe how both glass panes on the Netherlands' front door had at once shattered, for an unknown reason. Immediately, Facebook friends of Kathy began to suspect that there might have been some funny business involved, but she seemed to brush off those concerns:
"I don't think it was foul play. There was no rock or anything like that on the porch. There wasn't any damage to the wood door panes either. There were window clings that said Merry Christmas but I don't think anyone in this area would be bothered by that. I think it was a fluke wind that caught the door and broke the window."
So, Kathy seemed to suspect that a rogue gust of wind was the culprit behind the shattered glass door. She seemed to double down on that in another response, when asked about a potential cause:
"We're not sure. I think it wasn't latched and the wind must have caught it. The door frame is fine but the glass in both the top and bottom panes were shattered. Glass was all over the porch."
The Web sleuth that discovered this Facebook post - nicknamed Muy Curioso - thought that it was an interesting lead and decided to follow up on it. They actually examined the weather patterns for the region and discovered that there were no reported gusts of wind on the day this incident was reported - December 31st, 2013. In fact, in the Bardstown area, the recorded wind patterns were actually well below the monthly average, making it a less windy day than normal.
Even if it were a rogue gust of wind, it remains highly unlikely that it would have been powerful enough to have slammed the door hard enough to break both panes of glass. If you've ever tried to break glass, you'll know that those panes don't break so easily. Freak accidents do happen, of course, but those glass panes are usually designed to withstand a decent amount of force.
In this Web sleuth forum, users also pointed out that Kathy had taken a picture of her front door on Christmas Day, to highlight her Christmas decorations. In this photo, there was no visible damage to the front door - the glass panes were intact, and the wooden panes surrounding the door were in tip-top shape.
Fast-forward a few months, however, and you'll notice that crime scene photos show some significant damage to the wood paneling just outside of the Netherlands' front door. This indicating that there might have been damage done to the front entrance of the home - perhaps by the culprit(s) trying to gain entrance, either before or during the murder.
Investigators have refused to release many details about the investigation into this violent double-murder, because it - understandably - an open case. However, I think it remains a real possibility that whoever was responsible for the crime had scoped out the scene ahead of time. Police have publicly theorized that the killer knew what they were doing, and quickly conducted the crime in a timely manner.
Perhaps they had tried to damage the front of the home to gain entrance or attract attention and wanted to judge the reaction time of the Netherland women. It's just a theory, I admit, but a valid one - after all, we know that criminals like the Golden State Killer committed similar crimes when he was scoping out his victims.
Hopefully, time will tell whether or not this theory is just a red herring.
Over the past year or so, the murders of Kathy and Samantha Netherland have received a healthy splash of publicity. Their case was given attention in an Oxygen documentary series centered around another cold case from Bardstown: the disappearance of Crystal Rogers. Along with the ambush of Officer Jason Ellis, reporters tried to connect dots between the various unsolved crimes.
In that documentary, reporter Stephanie Bauer spoke with an anonymous prison inmate (that didn't want his identity to be revealed). He claimed that Kathy and Samantha were killed as part of a gang initiation, stating:
"Well, I know they was tortured. I know that they were tied to their chairs. I know that one of 'em had her throat slit. They were stabbed, and one was shot. I know that trinkets were taken as trophies."
This anonymous inmate also claimed that a cellphone-jammer had been used to:
"... kill all the signal in the house."
Investigators actively involved with the case have been unable to confirm or deny any of these allegations; in particular, because some of those details are hard to verify without physical proof. It is unknown whether or not a cellphone-jammer could have been used - and whether or not a gang would have access to that kind of technology - but police also stated that there seemed to be nothing of importance missing from the home.
The rest of the inmate's information seemed to be details that were already publicly-known... with one exception: the location of chairs inside the home. That seems to be a tantalizing detail, which police have refused to comment on.
Holly, the only surviving family member of the Netherland family, stated about this lead:
"I have been asked by the police about the relative location of chairs. This is one of those things that I'm not comfortable talking about. How they died is not one of the main things I want to think about."
Holly Netherland, the only surviving family member of the small family, was left in a very poor spot at the time of the murders.
She was attending college at the time, living roughly two hours away from home. She was informed via telephone that her mother and sister had been killed and had to endure the stress of the end of her sophomore year - finals exams and all that - with the added grief of her family being murdered inside their home.
To make matters worse, residents of the region began to surmise that Holly herself was responsible for the heinous crime.
Because Bardstown is such a small and relatively isolated community, it was only a matter of time before local gossip began to overtake the actual investigation. We saw this following the murder of Officer Jason Ellis - when residents began to spread horrible rumors about his widow and her alleged love life - and we saw it with 19-year-old Holly Netherland, as well.
The motive, alleged by local gossip, was that Holly was trying to obtain insurance money following her father's death - which had been paid out less than a year prior.
I don't think I need to say it, but... this rumor is based on no factual information. Out of everyone in the Netherlands' orbit around the time of the murder, Holly was undoubtedly the person most heavily inspected by investigators, who look for a personal or financial motive to any crime. Virtually all investigations start with spouses and immediate family members, and then spread outwards.
Holly was undoubtedly investigated by the Kentucky State Police, who looked for any kind of incentive. They found none and have stated that there is no evidence that Holly - or anyone she knew - had anything to do with this horrendous crime. In fact, the rumors were actually harmful to Holly Netherland... a 19-year-old that had lost her entire immediate family over the span of a year.
To try and put the rumors to bed, Holly donated roughly her entire inheritance - around $50,000 - to the reward fund for information leading to an arrest. The reward fund, which started at around $2,500, skyrocketed to $50,000 in the following months - fueled primarily by Holly and her family, who began referring to the reward fund as "Holly's inheritance."
In the roughly half-decade since the crime unfolded, Holly has married and tried to move on with her life... but remains hopeful that answers can be found for her mother and her sister.
If the area around Bardstown wasn't already shocked following the murder of Officer Jason Ellis, then they definitely were now.
Within a calendar year, two heinous crimes had plagued residents of the closely-knit region, and answers had eluded investigators looking into both crimes. Now - in addition to police officers being gunned down in the streets - special education teachers and high school students were being savagely murdered inside their own homes.
Soon, it became apparent that - just like the investigation into the ambush of Officer Jason Ellis - state investigators looking into the murders of Kathy and Samantha Netherland were stumped. Their only real clue seemed to be the black Chevy Impala caught leaving the scene. Screenshots of that vehicle had produced dozens - if not hundreds - of tips... but none of those led to any viable leads. There were roughly 20,000 vehicles that matched the vehicle's description in the state of Kentucky alone, and with the states of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois so close by... the possibilities were endless.
To this day, it remains unknown who targeted Kathy and Samantha Netherland - or why. It is believed that at least two culprits were involved, but their potential motive remains unknown.
A group of retired detectives were brought in to oversee a relaunched investigation in 2017, which included reviewing other local cases: such as the death of Officer Jason Ellis. These retired Kentucky State Police investigators began poring over the cold cases plaguing the region of Bardstown, which included not only the three murders I've covered so far... but a strange disappearance that brought Bardstown to national headlines.
That story, like the murders of Kathy and Samantha Netherland, remains unresolved.