Detective says there's a 'very good possibility of indictment' in 1989 Gallatin County cold case

'The person who did this is alive and well'

In our I-Team Unsolved series, WCPO examines homicide cold cases in Greater Cincinnati.

WARSAW, Ky. -- It's been 28 years, but Norma Bladen said she remembers every detail of the night she found her younger brother dead in the mobile home they shared.

"What I saw was unimaginable," Bladen said. "It was just horrible."

Bladen's "baby brother" was Bernard "Cowboy" Hopkins, a man whose 1989 Gallatin County homicide is still unsolved.

Now, a new detective is on the case. He shared new details with the I-Team on a possible suspect and other parties involved. Det. Endre Samu said "one man pulled the trigger" and killed Hopkins and "about three" others have direct knowledge of the crime.

"There's a very good possibility of indictment in the near future," Samu said.

The Kentucky State Police's website only offers a one-sentence description of the case: Hopkins was found dead of a gunshot wound in a trailer on Walnut Valley Road on the night of March 13, 1989.

The details Bladen remembers are much more graphic.

Norma Bladen, Hopkins' older sister.

She said she returned home from work shortly after 11 p.m. -- an hour earlier than normal -- and found her brother dead on their couch.

"He was shot between the eyes," she said. "There was a pool of blood on the floor."

Bladen said imminent danger and suspicion loomed in the hours leading up to her brother's death.

Hopkins called her at about 8:45 that night, she said.

"He said someone called him," Bladen said. "He asked, 'Are you all right?' I said 'yes.' He asked, 'Is our mom all right?' I said 'yes.' He asked me all the questions.

"He said he didn't know who (called him)," she said. "But they said something bad was going to happen, like a death in the family."

When Bladen returned home from work -- with a friend, John Parker, who was going to watch a movie with her -- her porch light was off and the front door was locked.

"We always left the light on for one another, and we left the door unlocked," she said.

She was worried, she said. When she peered into the house, she saw the shattered glass on the floor. Her brother was lying dead on the couch nearby.

The image is burned in her memory, Bladen said.

"But 28 years is a long time to have to deal with this and know there's no justice," she said.

A photo of Bernard "Cowboy" Hopkins.

Bladen said she has renewed hope that the case of her brother's death could be solved in her lifetime with the addition of a new detective on the case.

"There was a time when I thought 'It's no use, nothing's going to happen,'" Bladen said. "But with faith, family, friends and this new detective, I do think this will be solved."

Det. Endre Samu with the Kentucky State Police began working on the case in 2015. He said as Hopkins' family ages -- his mother and ex-wife have already died -- coming to a resolution is even more urgent.

"I've taken a strong interest in this case," Samu said. "The family needs to have a resolution, and it's time."

Samu said he knows who killed Hopkins -- although no one has been charged in his death.

"The person who did this ... is alive and well," the detective said. "He needs to come forward, and he needs to step up and own up to his mistakes. He needs to reach out to me personally to get this resolved and to help him out as well."

Samu's understanding of the case mirrors the information Bladen remembers.

Hopkins was sleeping on the couch in his mobile home when he was shot and killed, Samu said. The suspect fired one round through the window and struck Hopkins in the forehead, killing him with a single shot.

The suspect is considered to be an expert marksman and an avid hunter, Samu said. The suspect doesn't have a military background, but he does have "excellent hunting skills."

He also said "certain mitigating circumstances" in the past may have prevented the suspect from coming forward and "may offer some reasoning as to why he did it."

Samu listed hypothetical motives for the homicide -- money, drugs and infidelity, among "a vast number of reasons."

He said "we know why (Hopkins was killed), but I can't release that information."

Samu said other people are involved in the homicide "in circumstantial situations."

"Only one man pulled the trigger, but about three other people have direct knowledge of the incident and can come forward with specifics ... on some of those things we do have information on," Samu said. "But (KSP) knows who they are and can identify them."

Det. Endre Samu

Samu said -- without divulging specifics or naming individuals -- that "there was a lot of fear, amongst some people, to come forward ... but this is a new time, a new era. There are some people who are no longer with us, so they don't need to be afraid as to what transpired back then."

So, why hasn't a suspect been charged? Samu said the evidence is there, but it just needs some witness confirmation and corroboration.

"There are a number of details that could resolve this case today," Samu said. "We just need (those involved) to come forward and say 'Yes, I can confirm this.'"

Samu said he has talked to some people involved and/or suspected in the case, but not the suspected killer himself. He said the suspected killer has retained an attorney, but "if he wants to come forward with his attorney, that's even better."

"I can give a very strong assurance that we're on the right path to getting those people involved indicted," Samu said. "I can tell you that we're pursuing at least two avenues right now that are very detail-oriented and there are some people who have assisted in the investigation, and I am very encouraged by that.

"There are some people who don't realize that the information they have provided for us are now key elements in the investigation," Samu said. "They don't know who they are, but they have provided very noteworthy information."

Samu said the "main perpetrator" should bear in mind that current laws and statutes "have something to be considered about a person's history," which could favor and assist the suspect himself.

Bladen is in contact with Samu monthly. The detective said he provides her with general updates in the investigation "but nothing specific."

If you have any information on Hopkins' death, call the Kentucky State Police tip line at 877-735-2648 or 502-532-6363 or fax 502-532-6434.

WCPO reporter/anchor Julie O'Neill and chief photographer Ramsay Fulbright contributed to this report.

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