Episode 18: A Father's Love Bardstown Part 4

The Mountain Mysteries

Episode 18

A Father's Love

The Mountain Mystery of Tommy Ballard

She’s been missing since July of 2015 and her father, Tommy Ballard, was shot and killed 16 months later. Last August, five years later, a search goes on, and broken hearts, are still broken.

For six years, everyone in Bardstown has driven past the signs, keeping the thoughts of Crystal Rogers disappearance in the front of the minds. Crystal's mom, Sherry Ballard, says she hopes she’ll get the answers soon, those answers that she so desperately needs. The pain and heartache of a loving mother continues to grow more with the passage of time, not less. As a matter of fact, it’s only gotten worse. I sincerely hope that you can’t imagine what that is like, has to be a living hell on earth no one would ever want to endure.

These are what nightmares are made of, not only did she lose her child and has no certainty as to exactly how or what happened, or even why it happened, but just 503 days later, just 16 months… on November 19th, 2016, Sherry then lost her husband Tommy, and apparently once again to someone else’s hands by gunfire … while he was on his own property and left little doubt that this was related to her daughter’s disappearance. Could it also be it was related to the other Bardstown murders? In 2013 Jason Ellis, a police officer gunned down on exit ramp 34 just off the BG parkway, then in 2014 Mother and daughter Kathy and Samantha Netherland found shot, cut and bludgeoned to death in their own home, 2015 saw Crystal Rogers go missing and then in 2016, Crystal’s dad, Tommy Ballard.

Is there anything we would not do for out children? That answer is a no for most people, they do anything it took to ensure their safety, but when the unspeakable happens, and it sometimes does, at that point Tommy did what most any of us would do. He went looking for answers.

These are the mountain mysteries, and this is Bardstown part 4, A father’s love. The Mountain Mystery of Tommy Ballard.

Maybe he was trying to clear a troubled mind, trying to get it off of the consuming thoughts of his daughter, Crystal Rogers, about what had happened and by who’s hands and as to why and how, even where.

Where was this mother of five? Oh he felt he knew exactly who was responsible for this, for the nightmares his family were being put through, that living hell and torment and wanted to see them pay more than anything. Knew it in his very soul. That, states Sherry Ballard, is why he was killed.

It was 2016, Ballard had got there in the early morning hours of Nov. 19, with his grandson in tow at a field owned by his own family, when he was hit in the chest with a round shot from a rifle. The Kentucky State Police are still looking into the shooting and haven’t released much in the way of details, but news reports following Ballard’s death indicate the shooter was likely hidden in a tree line near the Bluegrass Parkway, which runs along the property line. Tommy’s killing was a targeted assassination, from the way it looks, but police have come short of calling it that specifically.

Sherry said she thinks the objective of the killer was to stop the family’s hunt for justice by removing the head of the family. And to a certain degree, it did. Sherry said she can’t devote the same sort of time and effort Tommy could to physically searching. She doesn’t have the personal connections her husband had developed over years of businesses and personal dealings. Making this thing ever more so difficult to solve.

Of course the chin wag for some time now has been that all of these five cases are somehow interconnected. Woven together with threads of lies, deceit and murder. Wouldn’t be surprising to find that out now. But if the murderers thought eliminating Tommy would overturn the family’s resolve completely, they were wrong.

Sherry said she’ll never let this go. She said she can’t physically get out there and do what Tommy did, because she has other obligations where he had maybe a little more free time than her with the kids, but she’s adamant that she’ll never drop this. She stated she wants justice for her husband and daughter.

She doesn’t have a lot of insight into any advancement made on her husband’s case. She said the Kentucky State Police detectives working the case have not been very proactive in keeping her informed. She asks every so often.

They just tell her they are working very hard. They are waiting on tips to come in.”

Well then at the time of that interview The Nelson County Sheriff’s Office was investigating Crystal’s disappearance, and then, the FBI stepped in. Sherry said she is more hopeful now than ever of a resolution in that case.

She said “As far as Tommy’s case goes, if I was depending solely on that, I wouldn’t be real hopeful. But I do believe that once my daughter’s case gets broken, I think that’s going to lead to justice for my husband, too,” Sherry said. “And I know that’s going to happen. I know I say this all the time, but I have to be very patient. That’s not easy for me to do.”

As they say, patience is a virtue, a quality that may best be built during the most testing and troublesome times of our lives. But there has been some new information come to light very recently, it seems in August 2020, human remains likely belonging to a woman were found in Nelson County — not far from where Rogers was last seen alive.

Since then, the FBI announced it was taking over the investigation into Rogers disappearance. Ballard said she believes this could be the moment her family gets the answers they need.

She stated that she feels like she has a chance now at getting justice for her family," and that she doesn’t focus as much on Tommy's case because she believes 100 percent if they settle my daughter's case they will have her husband's case solved."

The FBI's Crystal Rogers Task Force added Tommy Ballard's case to its website as well as the murders of Bardstown officer Jason Ellis and mother and daughter Kathy and Samantha Netherland. Ballard said she believes her husband and daughter are looking down at what's going on, happy with the new developments.

"I think he'd be very proud. The fact that he's not sitting here with me devastates me," Ballard said. "I do this for him and her. I watched that man make it his life’s mission to bring our daughter home. How can I not follow up with that? How can I not do that? I have to do it for my husband and daughter."

As if the pain of losing your daughter and husband weren’t enough, it was in February of 2021 a judge denied Sherry the right to visit her grandson.

According to court documents Judge Stephen Hayden said, “there is clear and convincing evidence significant hostility exists between the Ballard family and Houck.”

Brooks Houck is the father of the child and primary guardian – he is also the main suspect in Rogers’ disappearance though no charges have been filed against him.

The custody case arose in December 2015, five months after Rogers disappeared. The Ballard’s were granted limited temporary visits with the then 2-year-old but was later granted visitation in September 2017.

However, the order was reversed by the Kentucky Court of Appeals a year later and remanded for further proceedings. During that time, a new subsection of the state’s grandparent visitation statute became law relating to grandparents seeking visitation with a grandchild when the parent who is that grandparent’s child is deceased.

A new evidentiary hearing was delayed so Houck could challenge the constitutionality of the new statute provisions. After a decision from the Court of Appeals, the court found the new provisions constitutional. After the court made that decision the Kentucky Supreme Court found the new provisions unconstitutional.

The court held a hearing in Sept. of last year regarding Ballard’s’ motions for temporary and permanent visits but later denied the motion in October.

There has been tension with the Ballard family and Houck since Rogers’ vanishing. Four other children of Rogers, who aren’t related to Houck, did not have any contact with their younger sibling.

Judge Hayden said it was clear that Houck and his son have a “strong relationship” and that he is a “loving father and greatly involved” in his son’s life. The judge also said the child’s living arrangements are stable and is cared for by Houck family members or his girlfriend, Crystal Maupin.

Court documents also stated that Houck doesn’t want his son to have contact with the Ballard family because he feels it would be “detrimental” to him.

After various hearings, the court believed that both Houck and Ballard came in with wanting to protect the child’s best interest but said they have “differing opinions as to what is in his best interest.”

Judge Hayden said the court finds that hostility between Houck and Ballard family poses a significant risk of emotional harm to the child. He believes it is reasonable for Houck to deny visits to protect the child.

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.

Disaster next hit the Ballard family in July 2015, when 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 inform 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.In the absence of any arrests or new information, conspiracy theories have spread in an attempt to connect the “Bardstown Murders."

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.

Funeral services were held Friday November 25th 2016 for Thomas “Tommy” Marvin Ballard and he was laid to rest at Saint Thomas cemetery.

To this day, Crystal Rogers whereabouts remain unknown, and Tommy Ballard’s case has not been solved.

If you have any information, please call the FBI field office in Louisville Kentucky at 502- 263 -6000, the number is also listed in this episode’s show notes.

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