SUNDAY EDITION | Kentucky woman battles state police for answers about daughter’s abduction
MADISONVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It seemed like a clear-cut case.
A witness watched through a telescope from his home as a bushy-haired man grabbed 23-year-old Heather Teague by her hair as she was sunbathing on Newburgh Beach in Henderson County, Kentucky, on Aug. 26, 1995. The man dragged Teague into the nearby woods.
Police would find a towel, Teague’s notebook and part of her swimsuit. But Teague was never seen again.
The description of the suspect matched the driver’s license photo of Marty Dill, a man whose truck was seen near the beach. Five days after Teague disappeared, when police knocked on Dill’s door to serve a search warrant, Dill fatally shot himself.
“We were told Marty had done it, so that’s what we believed,” said Heather’s mother, Sarah.
But two decades later, Heather’s abduction is anything but settled.
Kentucky State Police, the agency that worked the case from the day of Heather’s disappearance, says it’s still investigating.
But Sarah Teague said she suspects the agency is hiding something. She’s waged a court battle against state police over access to evidence, saying the 911 tape police allowed her to hear in 2008 differs from the one they let her hear in 2016.
The lack of a body or closure in the case has created a hive of conspiracy theories in the small town of Henderson.
Partial FBI records about the case, which Sarah Teague obtained, would only deepen the mystery.
The FBI records, produced in the mid-2000s, tell a different story of the crime scene than that of the eyewitness.
“The things I know now are heartbreaking and disturbing,” Sarah Teague said in a recent interview at her Madisonville home, where one room is adorned with Heather’s clothing, stuffed animals and thousands of documents about the case.
Most recently, a judge ordered state police to turn over evidence and pay more than $25,000 in court costs to Teague for willfully withholding it.
Much of the angst over the case concerns Dill. While state police never found the body or closed the case, Teague said they told her years ago that Dill probably committed the crime and that she should move on.
But according to Dill’s family and jail records, he had a shaved head and no beard at the time of the abduction, hardly the bushy-haired, bearded man described by the eyewitness.
The FBI also interviewed a witness in 2006, who said he saw Dill two weeks before the abduction and he had a shaved head and no facial hair.
That witness claimed Dill committed suicide because he was growing marijuana on his property when state police surrounded his trailer and didn’t want to go back to prison, according to the FBI documents.
In addition, the FBI documents don’t match the original reports of what happened. An unnamed FBI agent wrote in a 2005 memo that Heather Teague was last seen on a boat ramp – not on the beach – two hours after the key witness called police.
And heavily redacted FBI documents indicate more than one person may have been involved in Teague’s disappearance and that she may have been going into a witness protection program involving drugs and public corruption.
“Presently, attention is primarily being focused on the strong possibility of drug/prostitution (strip club)/public corruption link to Heather Teague’s abduction. Investigation continuing,” an FBI agent wrote in 2005.
A 2007 FBI synopsis also mentioned that something, redacted in the memo, was “being kept a ‘secret’ by KSP (Kentucky State Police) at the present time; no family member/attorney is aware of the same.”
The records don’t explain why the FBI started looking into the Teague disappearance. Sarah Teague said an FBI agent told her it was because the case was potentially connected to another case in which the agency had interest.
In an interview, Kentucky State Police Cpt. Robert Shoultz, the post commander in Henderson, said he could not discuss the details of the Teague case, including the information in the FBI documents, because the case is still pending.
“It is a unique case in this area because of the circumstances to it,” he said.
Shoultz denied, however, that police let the case go after Dill’s suicide.
“We’ve never said Marty Dill is the only suspect,” Shoultz said. “He‘s just a person whose name came up at the very beginning.”
Sarah Teague has made some headway in unraveling the mystery of her daughter’s disappearance after years of filing public records requests with state police.
She took the agency to Franklin Circuit Court over access to evidence. The dispute centers on the 911 call from the main witness, Tim Walthall, who said he saw from his home on the Indiana side of the river a shaggy haired man, perhaps with a beard, approach Heather with a gun and pull her into the nearby woods by her hair.
In 2008, after years of requests, KSP let Teague and an attorney listen to what police said was Walthall’s 911 call. In the call, Walthall said that the man could have had bushy hair and a beard or may have been wearing “mosquito netting” or a “wig,” according to Teague and her attorney, James “Chip” Adams.
But in 2016, a different state police detective let Teague and her attorney hear what they immediately claimed is a very different 911 call from Walthall, in which he did not mention the netting or wig.
“I was almost devastated” with how different the calls were, Heather Teague said in an interview.
Teague has pressed the issue in court.
“We have reason to believe that the state police has actively withheld information and … are covering up certain instances of evidence that came about from” the abduction, Adams told Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd on June 5, 2017. “This is shocking for anybody to hear.”
Judge Shepherd asked Cody Weber, an attorney for KSP, if there was any explanation for why the two 911 calls were different.
Weber said he had “no explanation” for the claim and that KSP has maintained there is only one 911 call.
Sarah Teague told the judge what they heard in 2008 “was not the call to a dispatcher” they heard in 2016. She told the judge she believes the witness changed his story and description after Teague and police learned Dill had a shaved head at the time of the abduction.
“To this day the state police will not admit that the man they blame for this (abduction) was clean shaven, bald,” she said during the 2017 hearing.
The case was in court because state police declined to give Teague a copy of the 911 recording and other information, like a log of who had access to it.
Police said they couldn’t turn it over because of criminal investigation into Heather’s abduction was still pending and releasing evidence could “tip off” someone involved in the crime or bias a potential jury pool.
An attorney for KSP showed the judge records that troopers had interviewed multiple possible witnesses in 2016, “some of which will lead to further investigation,” according to court documents.
“The KSP is not merely holding this investigation in open status to prevent public inspection of the case,” Sgt. Jonathan Whitaker said in a court affidavit last year.
But in October, Shepherd ruled KSP’s concerns about releasing the 911 tape are “vague, speculative, and extremely remote based.” And he noted that KSP voluntarily played the call for Teague and her attorney in 2008 and in 2016.
Shepherd ordered KSP to release, among other evidence, the 911 call or calls; the names of troopers who had handled that evidence over the years; the names of troopers present when Teague and her attorney listened to the call, or calls, in 2008 and 2016; and any mugshots of Dill.
In the 911 call from 2016, Walthall said the suspect had “shaggy hair” and either a beard or something over his face.
He said the man snuck up behind Heather, possibly holding a gun, and dragged her by the hair to the woods, according to an audio recording obtained by WDRB News. Walthall told police he decided to call after the woman did not come back from the woods after 25 minutes.
In December, Judge Shepherd ruled KSP “acted in a conscious disregard” of Teague’s rights, willfully violating the state open records law and ordering the agency to also pay about $25,000 in attorney fees, penalties and court costs. KSP has appealed the ruling.
In May, Adams asked the judge to hold KSP in contempt and force Walthall to testify as to the discrepancies and whether there were multiple 911 calls.
“We’ve heard two calls. We’d like to talk to the individual who made those calls,” Adams told the judge on May 10.
A KSP attorney told Shepherd that Walthall was just being “a good Samaritan who has now been drug into this” and the request to take testimony from him is inappropriate for an Open Records Act dispute.
KSP also said Sarah Teague has called troopers hundreds of times and the department has done its best to continue to work with her and chase down any leads in the case.
The judge said he understood Sarah Teague’s frustration but was concerned with trying to compel testimony from Walthall, who lives in Indiana.
However, the judge added, “there is no dispute that you all have heard two calls and one call was produced for you.”
“… There is something odd about the 911 calls, you know, what they heard eight years ago and what is available today,” Shepherd told state police after the May hearing wrapped up, though he added he didn’t believe it was “nefarious” on the part of KSP.
In 2004, Walthall said in a Ohio TV interview he was confident Dill was the man he saw.
"If I'm wrong then I'm sorry for it, but when you see something like I saw and it's instilled in your memory banks, then you don't forget it,” he told the station. “That is the individual and there is certain things that I saw that lead me to believe it was the individual Mr. Dill."
At the time, Medina, Ohio, police were investigating a different Henderson, Kentucky, man who confessed to the 1991 murder of his girlfriend. The woman’s body was never found. Police thought the man may have been involved in Teague’s abduction.
A detective told the media the man had been in the area at the time Teague was taken.
The man, Chris Below, is in prison and has denied involvement in Teague’s disappearance.
Sarah Teague noted it will be 23 years later this month since her daughter’s disappearance, meaning she has been gone as long as she was with her mother. And Teague said she won’t stop battling for information about out what happened to her daughter.
“We’re close,” she said in an interview. “They (investigators) don’t want this to come out, but we’re close.”
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