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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Betty Gail Brown cold case: Police have
evidence, suspicions — but no resolution

The Lexington Police Department’s Cold Case Unit works to investigate serious crimes that remain unsolved. Many of the cases are homicides, but all leave victims without justice — sometimes decades have passed since the crime was committed. These stories are part of an ongoing series on unsolved crimes in Lexington. Anyone with information about any of the cases is encouraged to contact the Lexington Police Department at 859-258-3700.

 

This is the third story in a three-part series. To read the first installment, click here. To read the second installment, click here.

 

Betty Gail Brown made a habit of recording her life, almost on a daily basis. She would put pen to paper and scratch out the details of her days.

 

Sometimes it was something as simple as jotting down a quick note about a test she was studying for. Sometimes she would go into great detail about an encounter with friends; sometimes she would bare her soul.

 

They weren’t words she probably expected anyone else to see. Normally, a young woman’s diary would remain private.

 

But when Betty Gail was murdered in the early morning of Oct. 28, 1961, her diary was the only window into her daily life. Her words, like the whispers of a ghost, became part of the evidence investigators would study closely, looking for clues that might lead them to a resolution.

 

Oct. 25, 1961, three days before her murder, the 19-year-old Transylvania University student wrote about studying for a sociology test — and boy trouble, an ongoing theme in her diary entries.

 

“I think boys here are a mess,” she wrote that day.

 

There was no way she could have known the following pages of her diary would remain forever empty.

 

Three days later she was dead.

Betty Gail’s murderer has never been found, but the search for her killer continues, as detectives at the Lexington Police Department are still investigating the 50-year-old case.

 

In the year leading up to her death, Betty Gail made regular entries into her diary —often in shorthand, which made them difficult for investigators to decipher.

 

The first entry Betty Gail wrote while a student at Transylvania University was by far the most in-depth and intimate of those included in the police file.

 

The Oct. 1, 1960 entry was found by investigators on the pages of an old notebook. The page-long entry details an encounter with a fellow Transylvania student, Richard Berman.

 

“My 1st college entry,” Betty Gail wrote. “Rick Berman came over to me at the dance tonight. We talked and joked like always, but I knew something was wrong.”

 

Berman said he wanted to have a serious talk.

 

“He told me that he thought too much of me, and respected me too much to try to take advantage of me,” she wrote.

 

The diary entry does not explain what happened between the two students to warrant the talk, but Betty Gail’s words make it out to be something serious.

 

“He said that he laid awake last night thinking and he had to tell me, though he would not have told any other girl,” she wrote.

 

Betty Gail was speechless at Berman’s words, “and that is something,” she wrote.

 

“It will be hard now for me to date other boys,” she continued. “They probably won’t even ask me for a date because of Rick.”

 

Why she thought that was not explained in the diary entry.

 

Berman, now a high-powered, well-known figure in Washington D.C. and president of public affairs firm Berman and Company, declined to be interviewed for this story. His spokeswoman did relay in an email that, “he remembers Betty as a very nice girl, but that it was such a long time ago that he remembers very little more than that.”

 

Whatever the issue between the two students was, it was apparently resolved, as Berman is affectionately mentioned numerous times in her diary.

 

Out of context, some of the diary entries are cryptic while others are specific.

She writes about other boys, dates and getting married.

 

“We used the Ouija board, and it came out I was going to marry Don, have four kids, be happy, only marriage for us both and (I will) die young during fourth childbirth … big farce,” Betty Gail wrote in a Jan. 31, 1961 entry.

 

The boy in the entry was identified as Don Peterson. Betty Gail had gone on several dates with him but apparently the relationship didn’t work out.

 

“Don and I talked a few minutes today, he went home this weekend,” she wrote in a Feb. 1 entry. “I felt mad all day because of Don, but I don’t really like him.”

 

Don was quickly replaced by another boy named Cal, who Betty Gail “accidentally had lunch with” on Feb. 7 (they kissed on Feb. 24).

 

But that relationship started to falter as well.

 

“Cal really got me terribly shook,” Betty Gail wrote on April 2. “He wants to marry me.”

 

April 23: “I think I hate (Cal).”

 

April 28: “Cal and I went to the Coronation Ball, he said he loved me and I didn’t say anything.  So, I guess we won’t be dating anymore, ever.”

 

Betty Gail’s diary entries continue until Oct. 25, and for all the information investigators were able to glean from the writings, nothing suspicious was found.

 

“There is nothing in the diary that could possibly make one think any such thing could happen,” detectives wrote about Betty Gail’s death.

 

Modern-day investigation

 

It comes down to a print found in the 50-year-old case file, one that just fell out of a file folder one day, said Lexington Police Department Detective Rob Wilson.

 

“They think it is part of a palm print,” said Lt. James Curless of the FBI, which was sent the print in 2006.

 

There are suspects convicted of murders with similar details that investigators are now looking into.

 

“(There are) two serial killers that passed through — in and around Lexington in that time period,” said Lt. James Curless.

 

But the handprint is the only lead investigators have today, and it may very well be a dead end.

 

“It’s one thing that we can do,” Wilson said of sending the handprint to the FBI.

 

Some of the most useful evidence was destroyed, including the brassiere Betty Gail was strangled to death with. If that key piece of evidence was still around, it could provide important DNA evidence.

 

“We’ve looked for DNA; there is none,” Curless said.

 

Investigators from the time of Betty Gail’s death were convinced Alex Arnold Jr., was the killer, even though he his trial resulted in a hung jury.

 

Former Fayette Circuit Judge George Barker, who was then an assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney told investigators that “he believed Arnold was responsible for the death” even though some of the details he gave police didn’t match the crime scene.

 

“(Barker) recalled that the prosecution contended that Arnold had fabricated portions of his confession to justify and rationalize his actions,” case documents say.

 

The case, one of the most notorious in Lexington history, has not been idle over the years.

 

“It looked like, from the case file, at least a couple detectives from each decade picked it up,” Wilson said.

 

A four-volume case file, comprised of hundreds of documents, shows that investigators did everything they could to solve the case.

 

“Those guys worked hard,” Wilson said.

 

At one point, a psychic was brought in to examine the case.

 

Peter Hurkos, of Waukesha, Wis., told detectives on June 11, 1962 that “the reason the killing happened was because there was a discussion about making love, then a fight started.  After the victim couldn’t breathe anymore, the murder was scared and ran off.”

 

After everything was said and done, though, the case never found a conclusion. That was something that caused Lexington residents considerable concern.

 

“This was what commanded the attention of the town, like the O.J. (Simpson) trial,” Wilson said. “Because it just consumed the town for so long.”

 

“It captured the attention of Lexington and it bothered a lot of people,” Curless said. “They wanted it solved.”

 

Investigators today are no different; they want to solve the case.

 

Results on the partial handprint are pending and police are asking anyone with information on Betty Gail Brown’s murder to contact them.

 

If there is new information, “we’re going to go check it out,” Wilson said.

 

The person who killed Betty Gail could have been anyone.

 

“You’ve got her strangled in her car,” Wilson said. “Could it have been done by a stranger? Yes it could.

 

“Could it have been done by someone known to her? Yes it could.”

 

Anyone with information on the case can contact Curless or Wilson at 859-258-3700.

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