Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Boone, Campbell, Kenton
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:37PM EST in effect for: Adams, Scioto
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Clermont
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Clermont, Hamilton
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Carroll, Gallatin
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Adams, Brown
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Switzerland
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Bracken, Campbell, Pendleton
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Dearborn, Ohio
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:37PM EST expiring February 23 at 8:36PM EST in effect for: Bracken, Lewis, Mason
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:13PM EST expiring February 28 at 8:36AM EST in effect for: Hamilton
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 12:00PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:17PM EST in effect for: Adams
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 11:09AM EST expiring February 27 at 8:30AM EST in effect for: Carroll, Henry, Owen
Flood Warning issued February 23 at 9:56AM EST expiring February 26 at 6:22PM EST in effect for: Nicholas, Robertson
Areal Flood Watch issued February 23 at 9:26AM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Dearborn, Fayette, Franklin, Ohio, Ripley, Switzerland, Union, Wayne
Areal Flood Watch issued February 23 at 9:26AM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Adams, Brown, Butler, Clark, Clermont, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Highland, Hocking, Licking, Madison, Montgomery, Pickaway, Pike, Preble, Ross, Scioto, Warren
Areal Flood Watch issued February 23 at 9:26AM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Lewis, Mason, Owen, Pendleton, Robertson
Areal Flood Watch issued February 22 at 3:21PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Dearborn, Franklin, Ohio, Ripley, Switzerland
Areal Flood Watch issued February 22 at 3:21PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Fayette, Union, Wayne
Areal Flood Watch issued February 22 at 3:21PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Hamilton, Highland, Hocking, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Warren
Areal Flood Watch issued February 21 at 3:22PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Highland, Hocking, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Scioto
Areal Flood Watch issued February 21 at 3:22PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Lewis, Mason
Areal Flood Watch issued February 21 at 3:22PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Owen, Pendleton, Robertson
Areal Flood Watch issued February 21 at 3:22PM EST expiring February 25 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, Warren
Flood Warning issued February 21 at 11:54AM EST expiring February 26 at 4:00AM EST in effect for: Carroll, Gallatin
BARDSTOWN, Ky. – The fallen hero posters have faded, the tape wearing thin. Flags that line the street in this idyllic town, in the middle of Bourbon country, somberly wave in the gentle, southern breeze. Seasons have come and gone.
But the aching questions remain:
Who would ambush Bardstown Police Officer —and Batavia, Ohio native —Jason Ellis on that cool, clear morning a year ago as he finished his shift and headed home to his wife and two young sons?
Who wanted Ellis dead?
It's the questions and the not knowing, despite the thousands of tips and hundreds of leads, that still haunt Police Chief Rick McCubbin.
It's the not knowing, the speculation and the mystery that leave many in the town skittish.
It's a year that has been filled with frustration and fear.
There’s a crisp, spring breeze in the early morning air.
It’s late, dark and desolate.
Bright headlights wind around Exit 34 from the Bluegrass Parkway to Bloomfield Road, just 10 minutes from Bardstown, which is about two hours south of Cincinnati between Lexington and Louisville.
The lights shine on a Bardstown police cruiser and an officer lying in the middle of the road. A passenger in that car, a drunk woman, staggers as she rolls out of her car and climbs into Ellis’ unoccupied cruiser, grabbing at the dispatch radio.
“Officer down! Officer down! Bloomfield Road!” she calls out in a thick southern drawl.
Dispatch clicks over.
A tired Cory Thompson, a telecommunications specialist, who has been with Nelson County since 2011 and on duty since 5 p.m., is nearing the end of his 12-hour shift.
When the call rings through, Thompson and two other dispatch operators look at each other in disbelief, thinking that they might be the butt of some childish Friday night prank.
But they quickly realize that this is no joke.
Thompson perks up, readjusting his headset atop his gel-filled blonde hair, to attend to the frantic mystery woman on the other end of the airwaves. Staring keenly at his three colorfully lit monitors, he listens intently.
Nothing about this call is easy.
She’s clearly drunk and trying to get her to tell him the location of the incident is nearly impossible. Still, it is his No. 1 priority. His training has taught him to stay calm.
Over his handful of years as a dispatcher, he knows to use the caller’s tone and any background noise to try to determine what is happening.
The caller’s hysteria gives Thompson the tools to conclude that he’s dealing with some sort of trauma. Since there’s no background noise, he concludes that she’s calling from a secluded location.
“Location?” he pleads.
“Officer down!” she hollers back into the radio she’s clutching close to her mouth.
“You need to give us a location,” Thompson reiterates.
“Ol, Ol Bloo, Old Bloomfield Road by the Y,” she stammers.
“There’s been a tree limb or something …
“Officer down! Officer down!
And that’s enough. He switches over to dispatch police units.
“Dispatch 126, 137, are you up that way?” Thompson asks two officers on patrol.
“I’m, I’m on Bloomfield Road, headed towards Old Bloomfield Road,” one responds.
The dispatcher clarifies.
“It’s going to be Highway 55, at the 34 mile marker. Exit 34, mile marker, exit to 55 to Bloomfield Road there.”
The confusion continues as the dispatcher works to clarify the situation. “Ma'am, can you advise the status of the officer? Is he conscious?”
“Uh, I believe he’s dead.”
“Do you know what department this officer’s with?”
A long, silent pause.
“Ma'am what’s the department name on the side of the police car?”
”Ma'am can you advise if this is going to be a car accident or if this is just a vehicle versus tree, or what is this?”
Unbeknownst to dispatchers, a second motorist has arrived at the chaotic scene and has rushed to the officer.
Chad Monroe, crouching at Ellis’ side, glances over at the cruiser, where the woman is still on the two-way radio. He reaches down and picks up the officer’s uniform radio from his lifeless chest.
Gripping the small, black apparatus, he presses the side bar to speak.
“Yes sir, hey, this is Chad Monroe… We’re on the BG parkway,” he confirms.
With a shaky voice, he continues with a slight stutter: “…There was, the police car is sitting in the middle of the road with the lights on. And I… we didn’t know what it was… it’s a tree across the road and I, I didn’t know what it was, … I believe someone’s hit him!”
“OK, can you tell us if he’s breathing?”
“No sir, he is not breathing ... Body temperature is cold.”
Thompson first thinks he is dispatching officers to save a wounded officer. But then it becomes clear it is already too late.
And he is stuck in the office.
“They’re our family…” Thompson says of police officers. “We want to know who it is. What happened? Why it happened? Who are we really dealing with here?”
He begins all the necessary calls.
He, along with veteran dispatch operators Sherry Collins and Melissa Lanham, begin the tedious and nerve-wracking task of contacting all available units to the scene, as well as all Bardstown officers.
Thompson calls on surrounding departments to help in patrolling and protecting the streets in Bardstown. He calls: Bullett County, Marion County, Bloomfield Police and New Haven police.
A flurry of officers head to the scene nearly simultaneously.
“We were best friends from the get-go,” Officer Andrew Riley says of Ellis.
“He was a great guy who would do anything to help his friends out and was a hell of an officer—nothing stumped him. Everything he did in life, he did the best he could.”
“Station two, station two, respond to Highway 55 for a possible ‘officer down’…”
“It’s going to be a 0-240. Your notified time is 0244…” the operator relays over the radio.
Officer Andrew Riley, sitting in the Nelson County High School parking lot writing up tags on cars that were sitting behind the school, hears Monroe take over the radio and gets the information he’s waiting to hear: “Exit 34, off of Bloomfield Road.”
He throws his cruiser into drive and squeals out of the parking lot, unsure of what he will find, but in his heart, he already knows. Ellis takes Exit 34 home after every shift. It’s the same exit Riley takes home.
Monroe begins to hear sirens in the distance, until they are blaring, as they inch closer, until he finally sees Riley pulling down the exit ramp. He recognizes Riley because he coaches his son’s football team.
Riley darts down Bloomfield Road toward the exit ramp. Flying across the overpass, overlooking the Bluegrass Parkway, Riley veers left and carefully drives the wrong way down the exit.
As he slowly rounds the corner on the moonlit exit ramp, he sees bright blue cruiser bar lights dancing off of the treetops. He pulls his Crown Victoria as close as he can, his headlights illuminate the unimaginable.
Branches are strewn across the road and there’s a body lying still, adjacent from another Bardstown Police cruiser.
He hops out of his cruiser and sprints toward them.
Immediately, he knows. The body and the blood —it’s his buddy.
His vision is suddenly clouded by a gush of tears.
“Part of me was glad that I was the first one there. Part of me wishes I was never there at all,” Riley says.
Officer Michael Medley, a five-year Bardstown veteran, hears the call while he is on Route 245, heading toward Route 150.
Medley cuts the wheel and redirects his cruiser toward the scene.
“122 dispatch,” fellow Bardstown Officer Jeremy Cauley chimes in.
“Go ahead,” Thompson responds.
“Be advised, I’m in the city. 126, 137 are headed out that way.”
“Copy. 0246,” Thompson confirms that officers Riley and Medley are already en route.
The 12-mile trek takes the speeding cop just five minutes.
Taking the same path as Riley, he travels down the exit ramp the wrong way, rolling closer and closer toward the flood of blue lights.
He pulls up to the side of the ramp where Ellis’ body lay along the edge of the pavement on the right side; just moments after Riley had pulled over to the left.
At first, Medley is unsure of who is on the ground, only that it’s a uniformed officer.
He leans down grabbing a stick still gripped in Ellis’ left hand and chucks it to the side.
Simultaneously, Monroe heaves tree limbs off of Ellis’ torso and tosses them across the road toward Ellis’ feet.
Medley watches as Monroe helps Riley rip open Ellis’ uniform shirt. Riley removes Ellis’ saturated bulletproof vest and cuts the t-shirt away from his body.
Riley extends his arm, placing his middle and index fingers together. He checks for a heartbeat, even if faint, to indicate a pulse on Ellis’ cold neck.
Amid his tears, panic and adrenaline, Riley begins performing CPR in hopes of reviving his best friend until the Nelson County EMS—Squad 35—takes over.
Monroe yanks the remaining branches from the road, making way for the ambulance, as it backs down the ramp. Flashing red and white reverse lights on the ambulance are a hazy blur as Riley stops pumping Ellis’ bare chest.
A glaring line of headlights light up the ramp, waiting to exit the Bluegrass Parkway, as officials come one after another, after another, after another onto the congested scene.
Collins makes the call to the coroner at the Houghlin-Greenwell Funeral Home in Bardstown.
The phone rings.
Brian Papenfuss, the funeral director, picks up on the other line.
“We have a squad call for a coroner. I would believe we have an, one of our officers down,” Collins says.
“Uh-oh,” he replies, in a deep, foggy voice.
“They are on… we think they are on the off ramp of the Bluegrass… at the Bloomfield exit. We had passersby calling in on the officer’s radio and that’s where we think they are—at the off ramp at the Bloomfield exit.”
“At the Bloomfield exit,” he repeats in sync with her words.
“All right. On our way,” he assures her.
“OK, thank you,” Collins says hanging up the call.
And the call from a state trooper starts the official investigation:
“State Police E-town, dispatch Bowen…”
“Hey, it’s Cory. Hey, did you get somebody to start our way?”
“Uh, yes, this is Nelson?” the Kentucky State Police dispatch confirms.
“Can you tell me anything?”
“All we know is that it was a Bardstown city police officer. That’s all we know,” Thompson says, voice calm. “And, they did call for a coroner for him. We don’t know what happened or how it happened or anything like that…”
“Was he on duty?” Bowen interrupts.
“He wasn’t any of our on-duty units, no.”
“OK… Bardstown P.D. OK,” he says, jotting down a note. “OK… How many vehicles, do you know?” Bowen again presses the Nelson County dispatch.
“Honestly, I don’t even know that. They haven’t even told us anything. The EMS is the only one that’s really contacted us. The only thing we’ve heard from those officers on scene was, um, that they needed the state police to start that way.”
Lt. Jeremy Thompson, the operations supervisor for the Kentucky State Police in Elizabethtown, is at home, asleep when he receives the phone call from the Elizabethtown Post 4’s dispatch to head out to a crime scene.
“[Jason was] tasked to defend the public—if they are willing to attack the protectors, what wouldn’t they do?” Lt. Thompson asks.
It’s still dark out when Thompson approaches the exit. And then the lights. All the police lights.
A group of investigators are waiting on him for direction.
Witness interviews are already in progress in an unmarked KSP cruiser, including the unknown drunk woman and everyone who was in the car with her; Monroe, and third carload of people who came upon the scene after Monroe.
As Thompson surveys the scene, he gazes at investigators walking along the cliff overhead, searching for evidence —anything they can stuff into clear, plastic evidence bags. They hope something gathered there will provide a clue to point them to the officer’s killer.
But they don't collect much.
Thompson seeks out Nelson County Sheriff Stephen Campbell to talk about the scene.
Typically, the county has jurisdiction in homicide cases. But not this one. It is determined that the Kentucky State Police will investigate Ellis' homicide.
In order to protect the crime scene and any potential evidence, Thompson makes one of the toughest decisions of his career: He moves grieving Bardstown officers away from Ellis and into a secondary taped-off area.
As they grieve, KSP investigators search the passersby’s vehicles, photographing every inch of motorists’ belongings and they continue to conduct numerous one-on-one interviews. Thompson will interview Bardstown officers back at the station.
“A policeman’s never off duty—he was in the line of duty,” Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin says of Ellis.
The chief is at home when his scanner crackles with the chaos on the other end.
He jumps up, reaching for his radio. Once the groggy chief has a handle on it, he grips it tightly and presses the side button.
“100,” dispatch Thompson responds, answering the chief.
“Who do you have on scene?” he asks as he’s getting into his car.
“OK, uh… could you please call 101 and 102 for me please?
“And 190 as well…”
That number -- 190 -- is the number of the police chaplain.
McCubbin knows it’s bad.
But he can’t realize just how bad until he pulls into the scene. Yellow crime scene tape, ambulances. And crying cops.
It’s then he realizes it’s a homicide.
He steps away momentarily. He has to.
The moon illuminates the pain that has detonated in front of him. He walks over to his officer; to Jason Ellis. He kneels down beside the dead officer and begins to weep.
He sees that Ellis’ holster is still fastened. The chief knows his officer didn’t have time to defend himself.
This was an ambush—an unprovoked execution.
“The Thin Blue Line: To some it is just a picture of a line, to others it is a family crest,” a sign inside the policed station reads, quoting McCubbin
Unable to reach dispatch through the radio, the chief calls the communications center. Still audibly upset, he clears his throat and asks if the sheriff and his command staff have been notified; if they are on their way.
“Uh, yeah, Cauley went out and got Ray up. Ray is en route. Tom just called en route,” Thompson says reassuring the chief. “Sheriff came on duty. Keith Greene came on duty. And Mike Clark came on duty.”
And then, he asks: “Crime-scene Katie?”
“You want me to get ahold of her?”
“Yeah. Have her respond here to the scene.”
The ringing of the phone wakes Katie Hartman.
“Yes,” Hartman responds.
“This is Sherry, down at Nelson County dispatch.”
“Rick has asked us to call you. One of the city officers has been in some type of accident and he’s been killed.”
“Yeah, they’ve called for a coroner.”
“Is it a car accident?” the crime scene technician asks the dispatcher.
“We don’t know”
“Who is it?”
“We think it’s Jason Ellis.”
She knows the name. She’s worked with Ellis in the past.
“If you could let them know that I’m coming from home…”
As Bardstown’s ‘crime-scene Katie’ arrives on scene, she unites more than 50 investigators and Kentucky State Police personnel scouring the scene for clues.
A flurry of badges circulate the scene:
Kentucky State Police investigators/detectives
Kentucky State Police crime scene unit aircraft
Kentucky State Police drug enforcement investigators
Kentucky State Police lab personnel
Kentucky State Police fingerprint techs
Kentucky State Police vehicle investigators
Kentucky State Police accident reconstruction team
Kentucky State Police K-9 unit
Everyone has a job to do.
The technician stands back and takes aim and shoots: distance, intermediate, and close-up photos of the scene, as well as all evidence collected, with and without coordinating evidence number and letter.
Once photos are taken, the evidence is scooped up by another crime scene technician’s latex-gloved hands and is gingerly lobbed into a translucent plastic bag and promptly sealed up securely.
A fingerprint technician thoroughly combs over the scene for evidence in search of prints and any DNA left behind by the assailants.
“Our families were very close. We were family. We were a family outside of work,” Reece Riley remembers.
Then-Nelson County Deputy Sheriff Reece Riley, brother of Officer Andrew Riley, is asleep after a long Friday night shift.
His dogs frantically barking startles him awake.
There’s a knock at his door.
Peering outside, he sees headlights streaming through his home’s windows.
As he opens the door, Officer Cauley, standing at his doorstep, somberly greets him. He tells him they need to talk.
Riley’s heart sinks.
He thinks something has happened to his police officer brother. No sooner than he steps outside, still in his pajamas, Cauley tells him Ellis has been shot and killed.
They don’t know much else. But Riley knows that he must get dressed and head to the crime scene immediately. Before leaving, he wakes his wife and as he tells her, he begins to sob.
Once on the scene, Riley is put in charge of notifying other officers. When they don’t answer their phones. He knocks on their doors.
“Be safe… it was the last thing I said [to Jason],” Riley remembers.
Another phone rings. This time, a sleepy police captain’s wife mutters over the phone. “Did someone call here?”
“Yeah, uh, is Tom there?”
“Hold on just a minute,” she says before going to wake her husband, Bardstown Police Capt. Tom Roby.
“Hey Tom, um, Rick’s wantin’ you to come out. We had a call from a passerby, from an officer’s radio, ‘officer down’. It’s gonna be Ellis.
"And they’ve called for the coroner.”
“Jason has been and always will be the love of my life. I loved him more now than that day we met. That’s how it is supposed to be,” Amy Ellis says.
Several knocks at the door startle Amy Ellis awake. She had been sleeping, curled up on the light brown, overstuffed wrap-around couch.
She thinks to herself: ‘It’s Jason. He must have forgot his house key.’
She shuffles to the door, just a few feet away.
But before she can turn the knob, the thoughts of a cop’s wife take over.
‘There was an accident.’
‘It’s not real.’
‘This is a dream.’
‘It’s a small town. Nothing bad can happen here.’
‘It’s not real.’
She scurries to turn on the kitchen lights.
She sees two figures – not one – through the green and yellow stained-glass window of the door.
Her hands tremble as she unbolts the deadlock and turns the doorknob. She opens the door and standing in front to her are the police chaplain, Dr. Tom Mobley and Major Ray Lewis, the assistant Bardstown police chief.
Lewis stands at the side porch door, shaking his head, wiping the tears away from his cheek.
“There was an accident,” he tells her.
Her most overwhelming fear has come true.
Shock sets in.
And tears, so many tears stream down her porcelain skin face as she crumbles into a ball on the floor.
“I try not to remember that night… It’s a nightmare I have to live with for the rest of my life,” Amy says.
Within minutes, her mom Kris Phillips, who lives next door, and her brothers—including Nathan Phillips who has been a Bardstown Police officer since 2008—race to Amy’s side.
In the comfort of her family’s presence, she waits.
And as she waits, she’s grateful that her elementary-school aged sons, Hunter and Parker, are still sound asleep in their beds.
All she knows is that Jason was shot. She believes it was a routine traffic stop gone wrong. But as the morning progresses and each officer comes and goes from her home more details slowly begin to emerge.
She’s encouraged not to call his mom and sisters in Ohio, giving police the opportunity to go to them in person to deliver the news.
“Waking up and knowing he’s not here. Going to bed, knowing he’s not here” are the hardest moments to get through she says. “I want to be able to pick up my phone and call him and I can’t. Waiting for his call…”
The Nelson County coroner arrives at the scene and pronounces Ellis officially deceased.
By daybreak, the scene is a sea of blue: police, investigators and emergency personnel.
KSP investigators begin a 3-D diagram of the scene, as media helicopters loom overhead.
The diagram will show the typography of the land, and eventually lend itself as more useful in court—like a movie, presenting the crime scene to scale. To do so, they must unveil Ellis’ now-tarp-covered body to gauge a true 3-D evaluation.
“Controlled chaos that it was, you can’t prepare [for that]… it was overwhelming,” Reece Riley says of his arrival to the scene.
It’s daylight when Reece Riley finally makes his way down the stretch of highway. Ominous blue lights flood the early morning sky from nearly two miles away.
Marked. Unmarked. Police cruisers were everywhere along the highway and the exit.
As he reaches the scene, still foggy about what has happened, he spots his devastated, disheveled brother.
He sprints toward him.
As he reaches him, the two wrap their burly arms around each other.
No words are spoken. Tears stream down their faces, drenching each other’s shoulders.
Officers quietly stand around, some crying, others with their heads down in disbelief, not knowing what to do or say. They turn to the Riley brothers and one by one migrate to them, joining their embrace, mourning Ellis.
“It’s a scene and a memory that will never go away,” Reece says.
Morning dew dances along the plants’ leaves and sprigs of grass along the exit, as the brilliant morning sun washes over the horrible night.
Chad Monroe is finally told that he may now leave the scene. Relieved and tired, he finally heads home.
Lt. Thompson rallies the Bardstown Police around a white Nelson County Sheriff’s cruiser outside the yellow taped-off crime scene perimeter.
The cluster of disheartened uniformed and non-uniformed officers, including the Riley brothers, Medley, and Capt. Roby, listen to what the KSP investigator has to say.
And then Ellis’ body is removed and taken to the coroner’s office for the autopsy.
After 12 hours, the Kentucky State Police decides it is time to call it quits, at least for today.
The Nelson County Fire Department uses its truck’s thick hose and massive water pressure to wash the blood away.
The exit is re-opened to traffic.
With no dashboard camera in Ellis’ cruiser, due to lack of department funds, there is no video evidence for investigators. To this day, Bardstown Police cruisers are not equipped with cameras.
Ellis’ death remains unsolved. The case is wide open.
Early on, investigators probed multiple leads every day, but they “all lead to dead-ends,” Lt. Thompson said.
The KSP detective has renewed his vow to have a “relentless approach to the investigation.”
“I’d be kidding myself if I said we weren’t frustrated,” he said. “We’re as frustrated as anyone.”
McCubbin said he has no idea what happened that morning.
“We were placing faith in the fact that more information would surface, and along with the reward, we felt that something would break.”
He said he’s convinced the person who gunned down Ellis “knew what they were doing... trained in this type of assassination,” McCubbin said.
Investigators won’t say if they have a suspect in mind, but they said they have ruled out Amy Ellis and Chad Monroe. All Bardstown officers have been interviewed and have submitted alibis, however, no polygraphs were conducted—although many offered, said Thompson.
McCubbin said he remains confident the case will be solved and Ellis’ killer will be brought to justice.
But detectives are up against a slew of compounding factors making that outcome far more difficult than first thought.
Thompson, the KSP investigator ticks those off:
The location is isolated and rural
It was the middle of the night
There were no witnesses
It was not a crime of passion, with evidence left in the heat of the moment.
The interstate made for a quick getaway.
“The proximity to the parkway, a quick exit for the shooter or shooters, has enabled them to, at least to this point, to go without being arrested,” Thompson said.
“[This] was very personal—killed in cold blood, very personal,” Thompson said.
But still that doesn’t give them much to go on.
“The options that we have investigated, at least to this point, have not led us to any one direction. And that’s the frustration in the time that has elapsed since the murder.”
The FBI and other federal agencies helped in the investigation, and continue to do so, he said. And, he added, the case is far from cold, which is when all leads are exhausted in a criminal investigation.
“We are far from that point with this investigation,” he said. “It is such a detailed investigation. It’s so wide-ranging from theories of a professional hit man from another state, to cartels, to locals that could’ve been involved.”
“Nothing has panned out to where we’ve made an arrest, unfortunately.”
Depending on the day and how much information they have coming in, police have between one to 20 investigators on the case, including: one full-time KSP investigator, one FBI agent, one special investigator and seven detectives at KSP’s Elizabethtown, Post 4.
A nearly $225,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.
“It is still troublesome that the amount is so high and no one is talking. It is not what the reward amount is doing; it is what the reward amount is not doing; getting someone to talk," McCubbin said.
"This tells me that this murder is deep,” he said.
Who Killed Jason Ellis?
While the KSP said Ellis’ killer could be anybody, retired homicide detective and forensic consultant, Wayne Wallace, of Northern Kentucky, said that he believes the killer or killers are likely within Ellis’ inner circles. That his killing could be related or his personal or his professional life —or both. He said he believes those two circles overlapped.
“[Reward money] draws all the cockroaches out of the woodwork because this monetary gain is still the motivation for people, ill-repute people, who would do something like this. What you want to do is get one person to talk… What you’re going to have happen is someone’s going to say, ‘Screw him, I’d rather take the money.’ This is like water pressure. You just keep that little trickle of water going and it will expand and break the dam,” Wallace said.
“These are people who’ve been able to keep quiet, and to keep the evidence from being identified for quite a while.”
Wallace is not involved in the investigation and does not have access to all the evidence police have in the case. But based on known evidence, Wallace said that he believes that there were multiple people involved and a shotgun was purposefully chosen and that the killing was personal.
“Yes, you can hit something more clearly with a handgun, but that’s under better circumstances. With Officer Ellis moving, and with him being able to fire back, you would want to overpower somebody like that. So that’s why you would want to use shotguns,” Wallace said.
And why does he think it was personal? The killer did not take anything from him. There was no robbery.
“They didn’t go up to the car. They didn’t damage it. They didn’t shoot the car. They didn’t take anything from the car. They just left.
"They accomplished their mission. And that tells me one thing… they were there to kill Officer Ellis,” he said.
Plus, he said, they knew a lot about Ellis, his routine and the area, like when he would call off duty, where he lived, that Ellis was a cop, would have a gun, would get out of his car to move debris; and that Exit 34 was remote, secluded and somewhat dark and a shotgun would give them the upper hand as an effective weapon to overpower victim's handgun—overwhelming firepower was necessary, shotgun blows away anything in its path.
Wallace also said that the killer could have been, not only a hunter, but also someone would possibly had knowledge of police work.
The killers also created what Wallace called a “kill zone,’’ a place with “appropriate cover and concealment, remote enough to carry out a fairly elaborate ambush without arousing immediate attention, thereby enabling them to conduct their mission effectively and escape without detection,” Wallace said. “This required significant strategic planning and actual reconnaissance.”
As someone who has worked on years’ worth of cases, much like this, he said the profile of someone who could have done this may include traits like: anti-social, disregard for human life, detail-oriented, forward-thinker, functional in society but with serious personality defects, a loner and sociopathic tendencies.
An investigation is “like a trickle of water,” said Wallace. “It takes a long time to get done.”
A Look Inside ‘The Thin Blue Line’
Even though it’s been a year since Ellis’ slaying, the Bardstown Police Department remains hurt and frustrated, McCubbin said.
“While we have faith that it will be closed with an arrest someday, we can only hope sooner than later,” he said.
Former Nelson County sheriff’s deputy and current Bardstown police officer, Reece Riley, who has taken Ellis’ shift on the force, said they want closure on the case, but will always remember Ellis.
“Not a day that goes by that we don’t talk about him or think about him,” Riley said. “[It] brought us close together. It took a brotherhood that was tight and made it tighter.”
“We were hoping we would have who’s responsible. It’s aggravating that it’s not solved,” he said.
Riley, who was interviewed weeks after the shooting by KSP, said that he and the others, including his brother, Officer Andrew Riley, still have a job to do. But some things have changed.
Riley said that officers, like himself, are more cautious when they answer calls.
Policy for responding officers has improved. Now dispatch sends two officers instead of one to each scene.
And radio communication, Riley said, has improved, allowing all officers to know where everyone is at all times.
Riley has become more alert and more cautious in the days since Ellis’ death. But he’s not afraid.
“Don’t fear… fear will change the way you do your job,” Riley said.
McCubbin wants those involved to know that this won’t end until they are caught.
“We’re not going away,” he said. “They did it cowardly. We won’t do it cowardly… we’re ready for them this time. And we’re not going to give up.”
And he wants to be here when that happens.
“You don’t lose anyone under your command… it happened on my watch,” McCubbin said. “I want full circle. I want to be here the day that person’s arrested.”
Ellis was buried just three miles from the home where his widow, his sons and Figo, his now-retired K-9 partner, a husky German Shepherd, still reside.
Amy Ellis declined to be interviewed for this story. But she issued a statement earlier in May:
“I want to thank the community for the unending love, support and prayers that has been poured on our family throughout the past year. It’s unbelievable that is has been a year. I can remember when I thought I couldn’t make it through my next breath let alone a year. We could not have made it this far without the tremendous help from God and the support of everyone around us. Please continue to remember us as we continue trying to put the pieces of our shattered lives together. Continue to pray for healing and justice.”
Photos by Jessica Noll | WCPO Photo contributor: Jennifer Grote | The Kentucky Standard (May 25, 2013, Exit 34) Photo contributor: Wales Hunter and Mark Lynch | Louisville Metro Police Dept. Photographers (Jason Ellis funeral)
TV story by Lanny Brannock, 9 On Your Side investigative producer
For more stories by Jessica Noll, go to www.wcpo.com/noll. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.