Sheriff Hubbard Ferguson
Gallatin County Sheriff Hubbard Ferguson disappeared on the night of June 18, 1954. He owned a farm that ran between Lick Creek and Park Ridge Roads near Sparta, Kentucky, and had visited the tenant, Robert Dickerson, who operated the farm for him, earlier that evening. Dickerson said it was common for Ferguson to come around, that he came about 8 pm that night, talked for about 30 minutes, got a small piece of tobacco from the barn, and left. Ferguson saw his sister, Mrs. C. N. Wheeler, about 10 pm that night in Sparta. Jimmy O'Connor said he saw the Sheriff's car parked on Lick Creek road about 11 p.m. Ferguson was beginning his second term as sheriff, having been sworn in the prior January. He had been sheriff earlier, from 1946-1950.
Driving along Park Ridge the next morning, Saturday, Dickerson and his wife saw Ferguson's car parked about 3/4's of a mile from the farmhouse, but thought nothing of it. There is a road that used to run between Park Ridge and Lick Creek Road, and Ferguson's car was there, but pulled off to the side, so the driver's door couldn't open. He frequently parked there and walked the farm. But when it was still there at 10 pm Saturday night, the Dickerson's began setting off alarms.
The Sheriff's bed was not slept in Friday night. When Ferguson’s abandoned car was investigated on Park Ridge Road the next day, the sheriff’s gun was missing from the glove compartment. His friends organized a search party, and 100’s responded, but it was not until Robert and John Samuel, whose horses shied away every time they disked weeds near a certain section of Eagle Creek, found the dead body on Monday, about 3:30 p.m.
Ferguson had been shot above the right ear, and the bullet emerged near the top of the head. There was also an inch and a half gash in his head, and a 22-pound railroad tie plate fastened around his neck with baling wire. He was fully clothed, and his pockets contained half a box of 38-caliber bullets, four dollars, a flashlight, a blackjack, and other personal items. His wrist watch had stopped at 10:30, and he was still wearing his spectacles when the body was found. His hat was found about 20 feet from the car. There was a blue coat, not his, in the back seat of the car. The car had no blood stains, and there was no sign of a struggle.
Gallatin County Deputy Coroner U. P. Carlton indicated he would deliver a verdict of “murder by gunshot and drowning.” He said the body was too badly decomposed after two days in the water to perform an autopsy. The Coroner, Dr. R. S. Brown, delivered the verdict two days later, and called it a homicide.
County Judge Earl Spencer said “The county is very much disturbed over this brutal crime. It is the worst thing that has happened in this county or in this part of the state. It was a brutal thing, a planned affair.” (Louisville Times, June 23, 1954). On July 5, he added “Hub didn't have any enemies. He was a kindly and reasonable man. He would rather do almost anything than arrest someone. He would go to almost any lengths to settle trouble without taking it to court. I don't know anyone who had a grudge against him.” (Ky Post, July 5, 1954)
The chief investigator, Harlan Heilman, working with state police detective Robert K. Gordon, was confident the murderer was a local person, since the murderer would have to be familiar with the area to have put the body where it ended up. Ferguson's brother-in-law, C. N. Wheeler, said a local bootlegger had been a thorn in Ferguson's side for some time, and was quoted as saying “the bootlegger got him.” General rumors in the community blamed bootleggers. Two men in jail for drunkenness were questioned and released. There was a theory about a man wanted for delinquent taxes, and another theory about a father's plea that his wayward daughter be returned home. A 15-year-old girl, who told investigators a long involved story, turned out to be a total hoax.
The sheriff had a warrant for a youth wanted on an assault charge, but he was ruled out. Heilman reported that Ferguson had received a number of threats against his life in the last couple of weeks, by letter and by phone.
Spencer and the County posted a $500 reward for information leading to fining the killer, that eventually grew to $2,500 but Heilman complained that people were reluctant to talk, for fear the killer might come for them, too.
On July 1, a Cincinnati pathologist, Dr. Frank Cleveland, got some headlines because he criticized the lack of an autopsy done by the coroners. “They buried their case against any murderer” by not doing an autopsy, and that doing so was “a careless or foolish misuse of the coroner's authority.” Ulous Carlton deemed the comments “silly;” Judge Spencer vowed to leave no stone unturned and ordered the body exhumed.
On July 6, a bloody car was found in a parking lot in Madison Indiana, that was riddled with bullet holes. Further investigation revealed that two drunken men had been using it for target practice, and the blood belonged to a dead rabbit.
By July 26, the reward was up to $2,500, but the leads were non-existent. Heilman had reached these conclusions:
He felt sure that there was more than one killer involved; probably three.
He thinks they were white persons.
He does not believe that traffic in marijuana or other drugs was involved.
He knows the bullet was fired from a gun only a few inches from the sheriff's head.
He's sure the killers came from the neighborhood.
Motive was a mystery. County Judge Earl Spencer said that “Hub just wasn’t the type of man to get into trouble,” (Courier-Journal, June 22, 1954). Ferguson lived in a Warsaw apartment by himself, at the Louis Hall home on West High Street. He was separated from his wife 30 years earlier, and had been divorced only a year before his death. The Gallatin County News described him as “Not the most popular man in the county, but the least disliked.” In a follow-up story on June 19, 1955, a year later, Ruth Moore Craig wrote in the Courier-Journal:
“There was not a more respected man in the county than Hub Ferguson. Everyone says he hadn't an enemy in the world. But discreet questioning brings out the fact that he hadn't a friend, either, if we are thinking of close friends and confidants. Everyone liked him, but no one was close to him. He kept his own counsel and he tended to his own business. He didn't go in for social life and he was a poor mixer.”
Over 25 persons were given lie detectors tests – some as suspects, some merely to get good information, but none provided suitable leads. Over 200 people were questioned. Neither the gun nor the bullet were ever found. Former Gallatin County News Editor Charlie Adams argued that the death was a suicide. The path of the bullet was consistent with suicide, and there was just the single shot. The gun was fired a close range, and there was no blood on his clothes The bullet went in just above the right ear, and came out on the left side, near the top of the head. The car was parked where it frequently was parked. Hub Ferguson grew up on that farm, and would have known how to walk directly down the hill and to the site on Eagle Creek where the body was found - perhaps he carried the flashlight to help him do just that. If he were murdered, why not just shoot him where the car was; why walk all the way to Eagle Creek? The tie-plate could have done by Ferguson, but the gash in the head needs to be explained. And there was no note. Also, Ferguson was a tall man, so a shorter person shooting him in the head may well have had to point the gun upwards.
Most of the authorities and the citizenry, however, believed foul play was at hand, and that bootleggers were, indeed, involved, although no proof was ever established. The murder remains unsolved, and reminded some citizens of the disappearance of Warsaw's Virgil “Paddlefoot” Carver, 20 years earlier. Carver's saddle horse came home without him, the saddle riddled with buckshot. No trace of that body was ever found. More on Carver is here.
Ferguson was 64 years old at the time of his death, and was survived by a son, James Franklin, and a sister, Mrs. C. N. Wheeler. Rev. Herb Tinsley performed the funeral at the Carlton Funeral Home. Ferguson is buried in the Warsaw Cemetery.
from contemporary newspaper accounts