Residents in Eastern Whitley County can rest a little easier tonight knowing that the men believed to be responsible for a previously unsolved 2017 triple homicide have now been apprehended.
The last of three Indianapolis men, who Williamsburg police believe was involved in the Deep Branch Road killings, has been apprehended thanks to the efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies.
Williamsburg police have charged Jeremy Scott Hatfield, 34, Darnell L. Chivers, 38, and Anthony L. Hester, 33, with three counts of murder, first-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence, according to Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird.
“I can confidently say the motive was definitely drug related. Without getting into details of the case, there was some revenge that played out in this thing,” Bird said.
Because the case involves the killing of multiple people and because of the first-degree burglary charge, all three men could possibly face the death penalty if convicted.
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, were all found dead on Sept. 13, 2017, at a 1602 Deep Branch Road residence. All three died from strangulation.
Shortly before 5 p.m. that day, Kathy Faulkner, Emogene’s mother, called 911 reporting that she had found her daughter dead at the residence.
Faulkner owned the residence but her daughter, grandson and son-in-law had been staying there while she was away from home.
Kathy Faulkner found Emogene with a bag over her head inside the house. The other two victims were found outside the house.
“It looks like they put a bag over her head. Oh, my God!” Kathy Faulkner told a dispatcher during a 911 call. “I have been having some problems out of some guys in Indiana, but I think that they put them in jail or something. I don’t know.”
Bird said that his department began investigating the case in July 2018 after a member of the victim’s family approached Mayor Roddy Harrison asking that Williamsburg police get involved in the investigation.
At that point, Bird and Detective Bobby Freeman started looking into the case, and over the course of about six months they developed three suspects.
“We made tremendous progress in that six-month time period. We developed three strong suspects,” Bird said.
Bird said he also enlisted the assistance of ATF Special Agent Todd Tremaine because of the location of the suspects, who were all out of state, and because the case somewhat involved firearms coming across state lines.
“Todd Tremaine has been instrumental in this case,” Bird said.
Williamsburg police then met with Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling, who reviewed the evidence police had and agreed law enforcement had enough evidence to obtain arrest warrants for the three men.
Identifying third suspect
One of the delays in making arrests in the case was that police hadn’t been able to identify and locate the third suspect in the case.
Initially, police only had the nickname of “Tony G” for the third individual, who last week they identified as Hester.
Hester was apprehended by an Indianapolis Metro Swat Team around midnight Thursday in an apartment in Indianapolis, and was arrested without incident.
He is currently lodged in the Marion County Detention Center on the Whitley County murder charges, and is awaiting extradition to Kentucky.
Chivers is currently incarcerated in the Hamilton County Detention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was already there on unrelated charges when Williamsburg police obtained their arrest warrant.
“There have been holders placed on him, so he will be coming to Kentucky soon. He will probably be in federal custody first,” Bird said.
Bird said that Tremaine recently charged Chivers with a federal firearms charge.
In December, Williamsburg police obtained an arrest warrant for Hatfield on a charge of possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and receiving stolen property (firearm) in connection with an August 2017 incident in Whitley County.
Hatfield was arrested in Indiana just before Christmas, and shortly after Christmas he waived extradition and was transferred to Whitley County.
Williamsburg police served Hatfield with the arrest warrant about 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 28, 2018, at the Whitley County Detention Center.
According to the warrant, on Aug. 17, 2017, Hatfield allegedly possessed the stolen handgun, which was reported stolen during a residential burglary on June 4, 2014, in Indianapolis.
Williamsburg police recovered the weapon in Williamsburg on Aug. 13, 2018, and took it into evidence.
Hatfield was initially incarcerated in lieu of a $7,500 cash bond, but that was increased to a $50,000 cash bond during his Jan. 2 arraignment in Whitley District Court. During a Jan. 7 court appearance, Hatfield waived his right to a preliminary hearing in the case.
“The handgun charge was a key factor in leading to getting enough evidence to arrest these three people,” Bird added.
August 2017 incident
Bird said there was a disturbance in August 2017 at the residence where the killings took place, which occurred about one month before the killings and involved all three of the suspects.
Hatfield and Hester ran off before a Whitley County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at the residence, and that sheriff’s deputies didn’t even know they were there. Deputies did make contact with Chivers at the time though, Bird said.
The disturbance involved a dispute over ownership of a pick-up truck, and the sheriff’s department separated Chivers from the residence.
“There was an altercation, but more details from that I can’t go into,” Bird said.
Police knew Chivers identity early in the case because the sheriff’s department had made contact with him during the August 2017 incident, but Bird said authorities didn’t know the identity of the other two suspects until later in the case.
“We slowly learned that Hatfield was there in August (2017). We knew this other individual was, but we didn’t have a name. This is where the ATF was instrumental. Their Intel analysts and the resources that they have, it was amazing to watch these guys do what they do and come up with information on this individual. Through that we were able to locate the third suspect (Hester),” Bird said.
All three suspects are previously convicted felons, and Bird anticipates additional charges being added when the case goes before the Whitley County Grand Jury, such as persistent felony offender charges against each defendant, which would potentially enhance any penalties that the three men might face.
Bird said that police believe Hester has gang ties, but he couldn’t say the killings were directly related to gang activity.
Authorities have talked to all three suspects, but Bird said he couldn’t elaborate on what they said.
Help from other agencies
“There are some people that I really want to thank in this case,” Bird said.
He noted that recently elected Whitley County Sheriff Todd Shelley has been very cooperative with the investigation and was glad to share what evidence and information his deputies had developed while investigating the case.
“Without his cooperation on what they already had in their initial investigation it would have made it much harder for us. Todd Shelley cooperated fully with us. He has been great so far to work with,” Bird said.
Because the prime suspects were out of state, Bird said that he and Freeman knew they would have to enlist help from an outside agency, and asked for Tremaine’s assistance on Dec. 31.
“I can’t say enough about how instrumental Todd Tremaine has been in this case,” Bird said. “These guys from the ATF have worked non-stop. Not just the ATF here, but the ATF in Cincinnati, Ohio, and especially the ATF out of Indianapolis.”
The Kentucky State Police, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department in Ohio, the U.S. Marshal’s Service in Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis Metro Swat Team have also played key roles in the investigation, Bird added.
The swat team worked almost 24 hours non-stop in their efforts to track down and apprehend Hester.
“Everybody working together and cooperating, this thing is starting to come together,” Bird said.