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Family: Netherland legacies about more than their tragic final moments

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Five years after double murder, many questions linger in unsolved case

By Forrest Berkshire, Editor


This week marks five years since Kathy and Samantha Netherland were murdered in their Botland home, a crime that remains unsolved.

That horrific event thrust their names into the headlines, but their family says what they are most widely known for should not be the mother and daughter’s legacy.

 You look at Samantha and you think about, she would have been a credit to society.”

 

STACEY HIBBARD | Sister and Aunt to
Kathy and Samantha Netherland

Those who knew them best still hold in their hearts the memories of a special education teacher who could help children when others had given up on them, and the young girl who was intelligent and quiet with a love for music and animals and was destined for great things.

“I don’t ever remember a time in her life where her life was focused just on her,” Stacey Hibbard said of her sister, Kathy.

As a career, Kathy chose to work with special-needs children, and she and her late husband, Bob, worked with the Special Olympics since the 1990s. She turned to caring for Bob in the final stage of his life, after he was diagnosed with cancer that would end his life seven months before his wife’s murder.

Samantha was 16 and her life was just beginning and full of promise. She had a boyfriend who was taking her to prom in a few days and had recently been accepted into The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science on the campus of Western Kentucky University, an academically selective residential two-year program for gifted and talented high school students.

“She was bright. She was motivated. She was engaged. She loved school. She loved animals. She loved her family. As much as I miss my sister — it’s truly like you lose a part of yourself, a hole that never gets filled — but it’s almost in some ways harder because you look at Samantha and you think about, she would have been a credit to society,” Hibbard said. “She would have succeeded in life and would have made real contributions to society. Knowing she never got a chance to do that crushes your soul at times, because it’s such a loss.”

Last week, the Netherland family held a press conference with the Kentucky State Police in Elizabethtown, where police said there were no new details to release. But Hibbard and another of Kathy’s sisters, Stephanie Thompson, sat down with The Kentucky Standard and PLG to talk about their loved ones’ legacies and share the experience of living the last five years with the unsolved murder and amid widespread media attention to a series of unsolved crimes in Nelson County.

The crime

April 22, 2014, was a Tuesday. Kathy didn’t show up to teach her class that morning at Bardstown Elementary, and Samantha was absent from Bardstown High School.

Kathy’s father went to their Botland home on Springfield Road to check on them after school officials contacted the family. He discovered a scene from a nightmare.

Police have not released any specifics of the crime. Follow-up reporting on the nature of the injuries depicted extreme violence that seemed to be directed mostly at Samantha.

Hibbard was at her office in Danville when she got a call from another sister that something had happened to them, but Hibbard couldn’t tell what through the sobs of her sibling. The whole drive to the house, she thought of all kinds of scenarios — something had gone wrong with the house or carbon monoxide.

“It never once dawned on me they were killed,” she said. “It never even crossed my mind, because they lived lives that were so detached from anything violent or hateful or bad or mean.”

Early progress goes cold

The Kentucky State Police have been the investigating agency from the very beginning, and quickly concluded the Netherlands had been killed the night prior, on a Monday. By Wednesday, detectives were asking if anyone in the family knew someone who drove a black Chevy Impala. By Friday, they were circulating video surveillance of a car they believed the killer or killers had used.

It seemed like a promising lead. But while multiple cameras recorded the car, none showed a license plate, and the best detectives could determine was that it was about a 2010 model of one of the highest-selling cars in the region.

“Whoever killed those ladies is in that car, whether they were driving or a passenger,” Trooper Jeremy Thompson, an investigator assigned to KSP Post 4 at the time, said about one month after the crime. “We need to find that car.”

At the press conference last week, KSP were still asking for help finding the car, which they think might still have some physical evidence tied to the crime or at least lead them to the owner. It seems it is still the best lead after five years.

The lack of any other physical evidence — at least any that has been publicly acknowledged, because police are not saying much — has been frustrating.

“It’s amazing how they died in a terrible, horrible manner. Not a death where there was no physical touching or engaging. It’s so amazing that whoever did it didn’t really leave anything behind,” Hibbard said. “That is startling to think someone could commit a crime in broad daylight on a busy highway with houses within a stone’s throw and essentially get on and off the property and no good trail left behind.”

Hoping for justice if not closure

Kathy’s sisters hope the killer is found and punished. But they doubt, for them, that solving the case will ever bring real closure to their loss.

It was hardest for Stephanie Thompson during the early days of the case.

“Each individual person internalizes it differently. I think there will be justice done. It may not be in our time, but it will be done in God’s time. And it reaffirms my faith that we have a God who will take care of it,” Thompson said.

Hibbard said if a suspect is ever identified, she hopes it does not mar her sister and niece’s memories.

“Who did it isn’t really important to their story and their legacy. It’s almost like I don’t want to give whoever did this any right to notoriety,” Hibbard said.

Other unsolved cases, publicity lead to speculation

Kathy and Samantha’s murders happened a little less than a year after the ambush killing of Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis in May 2013. And 15 months later, Crystal Rogers would go missing in July 2015. Rogers’ father, Tommy Ballard, led a high-visibility search for his missing daughter until he was assassinated by a rifle shot in November 2016.

All remain unsolved. Police have only named even a suspect in one — Rogers’ former boyfriend is a suspect in her disappearance and presumed death — and only one motive seems plausible among the five deaths. Ballard’s is widely believed to be tied to his quest to find his daughter.

It is said nature abhors a vacuum, and so many shocking crimes happening so close together in a short span of time, combined with a lack of information released by police for fear of jeopardizing ongoing investigations, led to widespread speculation and rumors that all of the cases were somehow tied together.

Rumors have persisted, despite the family’s best efforts. People have tried to say Kathy taught Ellis’ child. Not true. People have said Samantha babysat Ellis’ children or Rogers’ children. None of that is true.

“It defies coincidence that you could have three unsolved crimes in a row in the same small town in America,” Hibbard said. “But we can reassure people that Kathy and Samantha had no ties to Jason Ellis or to Crystal Rogers or to Tommy Ballard.”

Ellis’ murder attracted significant media attention because he was a police officer and the ambush style and apparent premeditation used. Rogers’ family has sought to keep her case in the spotlight in hopes that publicity might lead to at least finding some answer as to what happened to her. Ballard’s apparent assassination stands out for its extremely rare nature.

 “Until you go through something like this, you can’t judge anyone’s reaction,” she said.

So while a mother and daughter brutally murdered is also significant, sandwiched between Ellis and Rogers, the Netherlands have often been relegated to an almost secondary consideration in coverage.

Hibbard said she has heard criticism that Rogers’ family has sought too much publicity, or that the Netherlands have done too little. She said that is unfair.

“Everyone has their own reaction to these things,” Hibbard said. “As a family, we have just turned more inward than we have out.”

She said circumstances between the crimes are different.

“Crystal has never been found,” Hibbard said. “When I look at our situation — and as horrible as it is — I know where my sister and my niece are. We don’t have to worry they are God knows where and didn’t get a decent burial.

“Until you go through something like this, you can’t judge anyone’s reaction,” she said.

The sisters did not participate in a series that aired in August on Oxygen Network titled “The Disappearance of Crystal Rogers” that was a dramatized depiction of a TV personality and a former police detective investigating the Bardstown cases on their own.

Recent public details questionable

The one remaining member of the family, Holly Netherland, sat for an interview, though. She was a student at Morehead State University when her mother and younger sister were killed, only seven months after she lost her father to cancer. She is now married and has a child and does not live in the Bardstown area.

During her interview, she speculated that Kathy and Samantha’s killers had a grudge against them, possibly because they had made comments about an alleged gang in the area. She also speculated on other details of the crime, such that there was no forced entry and the killer had never been to the home before.

The series also claimed to have contacted a prison inmate who had details about the murder, alleging that he knew about a cell phone jammer used to block any calls for help.

One of the details Holly shared, though, aligned with other reporting — that the majority of the violence was directed at Samantha, and the nature of the crime suggested rage against the victims.

Kathy’s sisters said they watched portions of the Oxygen series that dealt with the Netherlands, and the details as described by Holly and the anonymous inmate did not match what KSP had told them.

They haven’t discussed the series with Holly, though.

“I think it’s easy to get caught up in speculation,” Hibbard said. “I think from Holly’s perspective, her family was wiped out in less than a year and whatever her coping mechanisms are that she is able to get up and put one foot in front of the other, I’m supportive of that.”

Discovering a sister again

The sisters hope for justice in the case, and are supportive of KSP’s efforts in the investigation. They said the detectives working the case have been quick to communicate with them.

While they wait for answers, they want to focus on the mother and daughter’s legacies.

“It is important to know the hard work that Kathy and Samantha did and their legacy on the positive,” Thompson said.

 "I strongly feel that both of them had made a worthy impact.” 

The Bardstown School District dedicated a playground in Kathy’s name. The Special Olympics renamed its premier event, the triathlon, after Kathy and her husband. The family set up a scholarship fund in Samantha’s name that helps Bardstown graduates with high academic achievement and interest in music to afford college. They were both dedicated volunteers at the local animal shelter, which memorialized them on a wall after their passing.

Those are the outward manifestations of their loved ones’ legacies. But it is the personal legacies that they hold dearest.

“I think I thought of my sister in a very narrow light until she passed away. To me, she was my sister first and foremost, so that was the role she really occupied in my life and that’s how I viewed her,” Hibbard said. “After she died, and I saw how much she had impacted people through the things that they said, even the newspaper coverage was so thoughtful, you were like ‘Wow, she had this whole world that was bigger than all of us. I think all of us hope the time you spend on this earth you leave something behind that matters. And I think both of them did. People can live decades and not do that. I strongly feel that both of them had made a worthy impact.”