Mystery Monday

Nov 25, 2013 8:20 PM

Mystery Monday: A 1985 Double Murder

The story begins innocently enough in the late 1970's. Johnny Vannarsdall married Linda Spencer, his teenage sweetheart. They had two sons, Sean and Jeremy. By the fall of 1985, Johnny was doing electrical work at the Brass Falcon, a Georgetown business, and the marriage was in trouble. That's when Linda got the phone call that would change her family's life forever.

"He said that he was going out of town and, uh, he would be gone a few days, and when he came back he would have thousands of dollars... 46-50...' he said we was gonna get back together... be a family again," Linda said.

That was the last time she would hear from her husband. In late November, Linda watched a TV news story about two bodies that turned up in Emanuel Hollow near Barbourville. J.M. hall was a young deputy coroner at the time.

"They had been shot and dumped in a ravine. Two rabbit hunters came through rabbit hunting and came up on the bodies," Hall said.

Linda heard police describe what the two dead men were wearing, and she knew one of them was Johnny. She says during the investigation, state police told her they theorized Johnny and his friend, Estle Jackson Junior, had driven Estle's van to Barbourville to steal someone's marijuana crop, and were murdered.

"They were [shot to death] execution style," Linda said. "The two of them, shot three times."

Johnny's oldest son, Sean, admits his dad was probably mixed up in some drug scheme, but the stories and rumors he's heard over almost 30 years have led him to a different conclusion about what happened.

"I think that they were growing marijuana and there were several people that knew they were growing it, and they were just waiting for the right time to take it from them," he said.

The legal trail in Vannarsdall and Jackson's murders led LEX 18 to the Knox County Courthouse in Barbourville, where in July of 1988, Jerry Lee Edwards and James C. Warren were subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. Less than three weeks later, Jerry Lee Edwards was dead.

So the case against Edwards that began in the winter of '86, and was repeatedly bogged down by Edward's mental illness claims, was dismissed three years after the murders. A convenience not lost on his co-defendant, Warren, who had his case dismissed in the summer of 1989.

The lure of big money in illegal drugs can be a very seductive proposition. But as Johnny Vannarsdall and Estle Jackson Junior found out, the consequences can be fatal.

No one else has ever been charged in the murders. But Sean Vanarrsdall still believes someone out there knows something that will lead to another arrest.

Of this much we're certain. Because of what happened to Johnny Vannarsdall, a woman never got a second chance at her marriage. There were no more family dinners, no church together on Sundays and two boys never got to play ball, or go hunting or fishing with their dad. That's not a mystery, that's a fact.


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