NELSON CO., Ky. (WHAS11) -- “A place where neighbors still borrow cups of sugar,” ”An atmosphere that seems to have magically leaped from the paintings of Norman Rockwell and the pages of Mark Twain.” These are ways the Visit Bardstown website describe the small town.
About 40 miles southeast of Louisville, nestled in a county of roughly 45,000 people, historic Bardstown has a darling downtown, where you'll still find things like an old fashion barber shop pole.
It proudly boasts on town signs "Named Most Beautiful Small Town in America." With a reputation like that, signs reading "Solve these Murders,” and "Justice for Crystal" are surprising. But they’re clues that there is mystery surrounding this town.
The ambush killing of Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis, the murders of a special education teacher Kathy Netherland and her daughter Samantha, the disappearance of Crystal Rogers, and the shooting death of her father are all unsolved.
Four deaths, 1 missing person, and 3 families forever changed, surrounding this one small town.
May 25, 2013:
Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis was on his way home from work. He stopped to remove debris in the roadway on Exit 34 off the Bluegrass parkway, which investigators say was placed there intentionally. A detail that still haunts his family.
“We know for certain that somebody was waiting, we know for certain that they waited until he was in a position he had his bulletproof vest on, it was when he bent down to pick up the debris and came back up that they shot him," said Kelly Eastman, Ellis' sister.
We traveled to Ellis' hometown outside of Cincinnati to talk with his sisters Lacey Young and Kelly Eastman. Eastman's basement has become a shrine to her younger brother.
“To be able to have a place where I could just remember special things, or his personality,” said Kelly.
A personality the sisters say shines through in his pictures.
“He was just a goofball,” said Kelly.
“Jason being Jason. This right here totally sums up him,” said Lacey, describing a picture of Jason wearing a clown wig.
Kelly and Lacey say their brother’s first love was baseball, from tee-ball all the way to the minor leagues. There's now a plaque dedicated to his memory at his high school. His number is always displayed on the scoreboard.
"There was nothing like being behind the plate for Jason, just to have total control over a game," said Kelly.
His love of baseball was only outmatched by his love for his family, especially his college sweetheart turned wife, Amy, and their two sons.
"Probably after marrying Amy the best day of his life was when his boys were born,” said Kelly, “They are both their father, it’s almost scary every time we are around them we just see Jason in both of them.”
Now approaching four years without their brother, the milestones without Jason are building.
"I just had a baby, he is 8 weeks old and to not share my new son with him is really hard," said Lacey.
It’s been four long years without baseball games, birthdays, and answers.
"We cannot put Jason to rest," said Lacey.
Questions are more difficult to process, knowing their brother’s case is not the only unsolved murder surrounding Bardstown.
"Our heart definitely hurts for those other families because we know what they are going through, to lose people that they love and to not have answers. Our stories are very similar, so at this point really anything can be connected just because, we don’t have answers," said Eastman.
April 21, 2014:
Eleven months after the murder of Officer Jason Ellis, Kathy Netherland, a special education teacher at Bardstown Elementary school, and her teenage daughter Samantha were murdered in their home, just a few miles outside of Bardstown.
A mother and sister were taken away from Holly Netherland who was at school at the time. Holly spoke with WHAS11 in 2015.
"My sister will never be my Maid of Honor, I will never get to share another secret with her. Samantha will never be able to live her dreams," said Holly. "My mom will never get to meet her grandkids. She will never help me plan a wedding."
Sixteen-year-old Samantha died just days before her prom. She was buried in her dress.
Kathy's sister and Samantha's aunt, Stacey Hibbard, declined to talk with WHAS11 for this story but says she and her family members mourn Kathy and Samantha every day. They are never far from the center of their minds.
To this day, the main lead released to the public now over three years later is a grainy surveillance picture of black Chevy Impala.
Fourth of July weekend 2015:
A weekend usually spent celebrating was spent panicking for Tommy and Sherry Ballard. They reported their 35-year old daughter, Crystal Rogers, missing. In the search for the mother of five, Rogers' car was found off the Bluegrass Parkways with her purse, cell phone and keys inside.
For 16 months, we heard the pain in their voices, we followed their desperate search for Crystal. But on November 19, 2016, tragedy struck the same family again, Tommy Ballard was shot and killed before going hunting. The search is still on for his killer.
"I definitely 100% believe my husband's case is related to my daughters. I have no doubt about that whatsoever," said Sherry.
Sherry now left without her husband of 36 years, has vowed to continue his mission to find their daughter.
"Because I'm not going to let my husband down. I will do what I have to do. What happened to him is just something I can't accept. I will do this for my family, I will do this for him and for my daughter, my daughter didn't deserve nothing that happened to her and I will keep doing what I have to do," said Sherry.
Despite what she has been through, Sherry says she will not leave Bardstown.
"We were even told before that this could be a very dangerous situation for us and me and Tommy talked about it and we are like no this is our home. They are not going to run us out of our home. I have family here, you know lots of family," said Sherry.
The Ballards are the latest family waiting for answers, waiting for justice, waiting for closure in a town no stranger to mystery.
If you have information on any of these cases, call the KSP Elizabethtown Post at (270) 766-5078.