Interlude: Sherry Ballard Barnes
Several decades before the disappearance of Crystal Rogers, her family went through an eerily-identical tragedy. On January 19th, 1979, Sherry Ballard Barnes - Crystal's aunt - went missing. Her estranged husband would later be implicated, and charged in the deaths of both Sherry and her unborn child...
Freda Sharene Ballard was born on August 6th, 1959, to Till and Betty Ballard.
Sherry, as would she would later be known - a shortened version of her middle name - was just one of six children. Her younger brother, Tommy, would later become an integral part of this mysterious saga, but... that's a story for another day.
Sherry, like her brother, grew up in Nelson County, Kentucky. Specifically, in a picturesque small town named Bardstown, which had roughly half of its current population at the time Sherry was growing up. There, she would meet a young man named Edsel Barnes, Jr. - nicknamed "Eddie" - who would later become Sherry's husband when the two had just scratched the surface of adulthood.
Their short relationship was incredibly tumultuous, eventually leading to them growing distant and estranged within months. One of the breaking points in their relationship seemed to be Sherry's pregnancy, which had become evident in the latter half of 1978. Eddie seemed to be unwilling or unable to deal with the fact that he was going to be a father, and it led to a stark divide between Sherry and himself.
On January 19th, 1979, Sherry left her parent's home for the last time. She was headed to a nearby mechanic's shop, seeking repairs to her car, and promptly disappeared.
A large search was organized for her in the following days and weeks, with the local media emphasizing her pregnancy. She was due in March - just two months later - and everyone that knew Sherry was hoping for a quick and peaceful resolution.
Unfortunately, that resolution seemed to become a distant fantasy, especially when news broke that Sherry's vehicle was found submerged in the Ohio River (across state lines in Clarksville, Indiana). A rock had been placed on the gas pedal - something I believed only happened in movies - and the car had been driven into the water in an attempt to hide it. Sherry's purse was found inside the vehicle, leading police to believe that foul-play was involved.
Naturally, the investigation into Sherry's disappearance centered around Eddie Barnes - her estranged husband - who had not been looking forward to the prospect of being a father. It was believed that he might have done something drastic to avoid the financial and social hit that parenthood would bring to his life, but without any actual evidence, there was nothing linking him to the mysterious disappearance.
The family of Sherry Ballard continued making pleas to the media - including being featured in a front-page article in the Kentucky Standard, which was released on March 22nd, 1979. More than two months had passed since Sherry had last been seen, and this date was chosen in particular because it was her due date. Her family appealed to the public, hoping to raise awareness for Sherry's disappearance, and/or garner sympathy from involved parties.
Tragically, weeks and months continued to pass. Sherry's family - in particular, her parents, Till and Betty Ballard - remained hopeful that answers could be found.
It wasn't until 1982 - more than three years later - that Sherry's remains would be found. She had been shot to death, and then buried on a farm in Nelson County - just outside of Bardstown, Kentucky - along with her unborn child.
Ironically, her remains were found not too far away from where the vehicle of Crystal Rogers would be found, abandoned, several decades later. Despite the two never crossing paths in life, they shared much more in common than either of them could have realized.
Shortly after the discovery of Sherry Ballard's remains, her estranged husband Edsel Barnes, Jr. - aka "Eddie Barnes" - was arrested. He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, including both Sherry and her unborn child.
His trial would face more than two years of delays, as Kentucky legal minds weighed on on whether or not Sherry's unborn child could be ruled a "murder victim." Eventually, in 1984, it was decided that no, a fetus could not be a victim of violent crime (a decision that would change several years later). Thus, Sherry's estranged husband would only be facing one murder charge.
The trial commenced in 1984, and the prosecution alleged that Barnes had been hoping to avoid paying for child support and other associated costs, such as hospital fees for the birth of the child. In essence, their entire case boiled down to Eddie Barnes being a coward that was A-okay making a child, but was unable to man up and help take care of it.
In his defense, Barnes insisted that he did not kill Sherry himself. Rather, he had recruited an associate of his to kill Sherry; supplying him with the firearm used to do so, as well as transportation to and from the crime scene. This defense implicated another man - named George Allen Weir - who had been charged alongside Barnes.
Later that year, 1984, both Barnes and Weir were found guilty of first-degree murder. They were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Edsel Barnes Jr. was sent to stay in the Kentucky State Reformatory, eventually being moved to the privately-operated Lee Adjustment Center - where he remains to this day. His prisoner ID number is 091227, and he will remain behind bars until the day he dies.
Sherry Ballard is remembered by not only her loved ones, but by Kentucky State legislators, who - in 2004 - added the crime of fetal homicide to the Commonwealth's penal code. Meaning, of course, that the murder of a pregnant woman counts as a double-murder.
This legislation, which passed in 2004, was originally named "The Sherry Ballard Fetal Homicide Act," but went through a name charge during several changes in its implementation. Nonetheless, a resolution was passed by Kentucky state lawmakers, crediting Sherry with the passing of this landmark legislation, which many felt was long overdue.
Sherry's loss continued to hang heavy over the heads of her loved ones, especially in the summer months of 2015. That was when Sherry's niece, Crystal Rogers, disappeared from the same region under eerily similar circumstances. Like Sherry, Crystal's vehicle was found nearby - hinting at foul-play - and the father of her child was implicated in her mysterious disappearance.
These similarities did not fall past the father of Crystal Rogers - Tommy Ballard - who had just been entering adulthood when his sister went missing. He was just twenty years old when his sister's remains were found, and twenty-two when her estranged husband - his ex-brother-in-law - was convicted.
More than thirty years later, he had to live through a similar set of circumstances when Crystal - his adult daughter, who had given him five grandchildren - disappeared from Bardstown, Kentucky.
However, unlike Sherry Ballard's case, Crystal's remains have never been found. And the loved ones that had to live through both tragedies - the loss of Sherry Ballard in 1979 and the disappearance of Crystal Rogers in 2015 - would have to endure yet another loss just a short time later.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on February 20th, 2019