So far no arrests have been made in the killing of three people, whose bodies were found on Deep Branch Road about eight miles east of Williamsburg late Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities believe the three family members were strangled to death, according to Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell, whose office is investigating the case.
Authorities at the scene declined to identify the three victims, but family members said they were Robert Mack Kennedy III, who had just turned 16 years old; his mother, Emogene Ormae Gardner Bittner, 36; and her husband and Kennedy’s stepfather, Christopher Michael Bittner, 24.
About 4:52 p.m. Wednesday, Whitley County E-911 received a call from Kathy Faulkner, Emogene’s mother, who reported that she had found her daughter dead at a residence at 1602 Deep Branch Road.
Faulkner owned the residence but her daughter, grandson and son-in-law had been staying there while she was away from home.
Harrell said that initially, Faulkner located her daughter inside and thought it might have been a suicide, but authorities have since ruled that out.
Later, the two other bodies were found dead outside of the residence.
“I came home, went in the house and my house was destroyed,” a distraught Faulkner said during an interview late Wednesday evening outside the home. “I went to the back of the house and that is where I found her on the floor.”
Phronia Jones, Faulkner’s aunt and Emogene’s great aunt, said that she lives just down the road from the crime scene, and Faulkner called her shortly after finding Emogene dead.
“I couldn’t hardly believe what she was saying because she was so tore up screaming. We just jumped in our truck and come on up here … Naturally me and her went in there where Emogene was. It was just awful,” Jones said.
Initially, neither Faulkner nor Jones knew that Robert or Christopher were dead.
“We were still trying to call ‘Little Man’ (Robert) to find him so he would know about his mommy. We had no idea they were laying back there,” Jones said.
Harrell said that it is “very unusual” to have strangulation as a cause of death, let alone have three people strangled.
Whitley County Coroner Andy Croley pronounced all three victims dead about 5:30 p.m. He has ruled the manner of death as homicide for all three victims.
Croley is waiting for autopsy results before making an official ruling on the exact cause of death for all three.
Harrell said that police haven’t established a motive for the killing.
Authorities do have people of interest, but late Wednesday night Harrell stopped short of saying authorities had a suspect or suspects in the case, just “we have some people we are thinking about.”
No one has been charged, and no one is in custody.
Police also aren’t sure when the three victims were killed. Harrell said that it is possible they could have been killed Monday, and authorities would know more after autopsies were conducted Thursday at the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office in Frankfort.
“The pathologist should be able to tell us more about the time of death,” Harrell said.
Harrell said authorities feel comfortable that all three were killed around the same time period, but he couldn’t say which person died first or the order of death.
When asked if the victims had been tied up or possibly drugged, Harrell said the victims “had some marks on them” and that authorities would know more after the autopsy.
Authorities won’t know if the three were drugged until toxicology testing is completed.
About the victims
Jones said family members called Robert “Little Man.”
“He was a good kid. He never did drugs at all. He was dead against them,” Jones said.
He had just gotten his driver’s permit.
Jones said that Robert’s mother, Emogene, still minded her even at age 36.
“If I told her to shut up, she’d shut up. She would come by the house to say, ‘I love you Aunt Phronia. I have to go,” Jones recalled.
She said that Christopher Bittner and Emogene had been married for about two years.
“He was an alright guy. He was good to me. He was good to all of us,” Jones noted.
Faulkner said she hopes that police find out who did this.
“My grandson had his whole life ahead of him. He never done nothing to anybody. He was a good kid … I just hope the police can find out who did this horrible crime and they can put them behind bars,” Faulkner added.
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tim Baker, Deputy Joe Prewitt and Deputy Mike Lawson are investigating the case along with members of the coroner’s office.
Stay tuned to thenewsjournal.net for updates as they become available.