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4:04 pm
Fri September 13, 2013

After Three Months, Ky. Cop's Murder Remains Unsolved

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Three months after the killing of a police officer, a quiet Kentucky town is still looking for answers. Bardstown, Kentucky, is home to about 12,000 people. It's picturesque, recognized last year by Rand McNally as the most beautiful small town in America.

But since a Bardstown officer was shot in what appeared to be a carefully planned ambush, there is lingering anxiety. Rick Howlett of member station WFPL reports.

RICK HOWLETT, BYLINE: On a hot Saturday afternoon, hundreds of motorcyclists gather at the Jim Beam distillery for an auction. They've been riding to raise money for the Jason Ellis Memorial Fund, established for the slain Bardstown officer's wife and two sons, ages six and seven.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We've got a $400 Victory leather jacket, donated by Victory motorcycles. It's a summer leather jacket.

HOWLETT: This event raised $32,000. Similar fundraisers have also helped to bolster a reward fund for information in the case. It has grown to about $200,000. Early on May 25th, Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis had finished working second shift and was driving a department cruiser home in rural Nelson County. The highway exit ramp was blocked by tree limbs. Ellis got out of the cruiser to remove the debris and was hit by several shotgun blasts.

The officer, who was 33 years old, died at the scene. Authorities believe Ellis, a drug investigator and the department's K-9 handler, was the intended target of the attack. Kentucky State Police Trooper Jeffrey Gregory says at least one detective is always working on the case.

JEFFREY GREGORY: That's all he does, he looks at it from the time he comes to work to the time that he leaves, and I'm sure that he thinks about it when he's sitting home at night.

HOWLETT: Without many solid leads, the investigation has been painstaking. Police have been combing through Ellis' drug cases for possible leads. For Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin, it's a frustrating process, as most police homicides involve a known suspect.

RICK MCCUBBIN: Quite honestly, I was probably frustrated the day it happened, but, you know, I understand, you know, I've done this a long time, and I want it done correctly.

HOWLETT: Jason Ellis was the first officer in the Bardstown Police Department's long history to be killed in the line of duty. At a press conference just a few days after the shooting, Ellis' wife, Amy, talked about her husband's devotion to his family and his job.

AMY ELLIS: He is forever our hero. He always made me feel that he was Superman and nothing would ever happen to him.

HOWLETT: Officer Jason Ellis' photo is still taped to many storefronts downtown, where thousands lined the sidewalks to pay tribute during his funeral procession. Restaurant owner Christy Clark says people are angry about the brazen crime.

CHRISTY CLARK: It kind of drives you to keep finding that person or, you know, and getting the answers, you know, finding out the answers of why because it was such a senseless act and it was a horrific act.

HOWLETT: Asked if he's confident that there will be an arrest, Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin admits to some fleeting moments of doubt.

MCCUBBIN: You know, everyone asks me that question. And, yes, I am, but obviously there's always that fear, that gut-wrenching fear that there won't be. I have faith that we will.

HOWLETT: The investigation has received a boost from the FBI, which recently pledged up to $50,000 in reward money and to publicize the case nationally. For NPR News, I'm Rick Howlett in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.