Duckett case: 5 weeks, no killer

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Police have remained tight-lipped about who might have killed Shelby County man

By Lisa King

More than five weeks after James Duckett was found brutally murdered in an execution- style manner at his home on Rockbridge Road, his killer remains on the loose.


Police have appealed to the public and offered a reward to help locate the killer, but so far, no useful information has surfaced.

But admittedly, the public has had precious little information to go by.

Duckett's death sometime before Nov. 10 remains a curious web of minimal information and wild public rumor about a type of crime seldom seen in Shelby County.

Here's what we do know:

Kentucky State Police did release a photo of Duckett's pickup truck, which was stolen from his residence about the same time he was murdered. That vehicle was found the same night, several miles away from where the crime occurred. They suggest the theft is related to the killing.

A few weeks later, KSP offered a reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. Then, a couple of weeks later, the family called a press conference to appeal to the public personally to keep looking for the killer.

At the same press conference, KSP Trooper Ron Turley "spoke" to the killer on television, saying it was only a matter of time before an arrest was made, and implying that he or she or they should turn themselves in.

More than three weeks have passed since he made that statement, and still, no more progress has been announced in the case, making the case feels almost "cold."

Police say they can't release any more information because they can't reveal details that only the killer would know.

Law Enforcement Instructor John Schwartz, a former New York City homicide detective who now trains police officers at Eastern Kentucky University, said the reason for this is because more than once, he has seen someone come forward to confess to a high-profile crime - such as Duckett's - merely to gain public recognition.

"They [such people] want to be famous for something, and crazy as it sounds to you and me, that is one way to do it," he said. "So police have to be sure they really did commit the crime.

"And if the details were in the paper, they can't be sure the criminal really knew because he did it, or because he read it in the paper."

A cold case is a crime that police are not actively working on, Schwartz said, because they can no longer spare the manpower to work on a case where there have been no leads for a long period of time.

So when does an unsolved crime become a cold case?

"Every case is different," Schwartz said. "You might have a case go cold after a few months, or a few years. It just depends on the case, and the resources of the agency

working on it."

Schwartz said he has never given up on any homicide case he worked and said he once solved a cold case in New York after 10 years.

"It's tough," he said. "That's why some murder cases are never solved. You can't solve a homicide by sitting in the office making phone calls like they do on television. You have to constantly be going out and visiting with people and talking to them to see what they know."

On Tuesday, for instance, police in Florida announced they had solved the 27-year-old murder of young Adam Walsh, with a longtime suspect finally being named as the murderer. That case spawned the whole "America's Most Wanted" program to help pursue criminals through the public's help.

Such prolonged murder investigations are not just hard on police but also on the family. And in high profile cases such as Duckett's, it's even hard on the community.

Turley said at the press conference that not only does the family need closure but the whole town does as well.

"Shelbyville is a small town," he said. "And to have something like this happen, it doesn't just affect us, it affects the whole community. There are people who are afraid to go out. So everybody needs closure.

Though there is a level of understanding about why the police can't release specific details, information about the victim is also useful in helping the public be on the lookout for a potential suspect.

For example, what gender or race was the victim? Was there trace evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA? What is the profile of the killer? Did Duckett have any threats from anyone or possessions of value that may have been taken?

But the pubic knows far more about Duckett than his assailant. He was an Army veteran who signed up in 1983 and served in Desert Storm in the Military Police. He was an "Army brat," who came from a long line of military veterans, his niece, Brittney Claycomb, said.

The family has said he was honorably discharged from the military. Veteran's records surrounding the state of discharge are not public record.

Jail records are public, however, and Duckett was jailed twice this year. The first time, in January, was for driving on a suspended license, and he was arrested for the second time in May for his third DUI, according to jail officials.

Aside from a confirmed drinking problem, Duckett is known to have one son, Alex, who lives out west, and that Duckett moved to Shelby County four years ago.

He had acquired his contractor's license shortly before he was killed and was doing some construction work at Rockbridge United Methodist Church across the street from his home, where he was a member at the time of his death.

No possible motive for his murder has been released, and the family has said they know of no reason why anyone would want to harm him.

"Uncle Jim never knew a stranger; he would do anything for anybody," Claycomb said. She added that her uncle was a good person. "He had no enemies I'm aware of," she said.

Shelby County Jailer Bobby Waits confirmed Claycomb's assessment of her uncle's personality.

"Other than his drinking, I have not heard anything negative about him," he said. "He didn't cause any problems while he was in here. He didn't seem to be a bad guy."

If you have any information about the case, you are asked to contact Kentucky State Police at 502-227-2221 and ask for Detective Mitch Harris.