In the early morning hours of September 20, 1994, a small town in Oak Grove, Kentucky was forever changed by a brutal double murder. The victims, 18-year-old Gloria Ross and 22-year-old Candida “Candy” Belt, were found dead in the back room of the New Life Massage Parlor. The crime shocked the community, and to this day, the case remains unsolved.
The victims: Candy Belt and Gloria Ross
Candy Belt was a single mother working to support her two young children. She lived in Providence, Kentucky, and was also taking business management classes at a local college. Gloria Ross, just 18 years old, had been married for less than a year and had a six-week-old daughter. She lived with her family in Oak Grove and had only started working at the New Life Massage Parlor two weeks prior to the murders. Both women were just trying to make ends meet and support their families.
The New Life Massage Parlor: More than meets the eye
The New Life Massage Parlor operated as a front for a house of ill repute. While it was advertised as a massage parlor, everyone in Oak Grove knew that the business was actually a front for prostitution. The parlor primarily served the soldiers from the nearby Fort Campbell army base.
Tammy Papler, a 31-year-old woman, ran the New Life Massage Parlor. She felt a sense of responsibility for the murders because she considered herself a mother figure to her employees. Tammy later made shocking accusations about the Oak Grove Police Department, claiming that they were involved in the corruption and cover-up of the murders.
Tammy accused the police department of benefiting from the New Life Massage Parlor. She claimed that some police officers would demand money and free sex in exchange for protection. According to Tammy, they would also have her purchase various items for the department, such as police car lights, shoes, uniforms, and even organize Christmas parties and bonuses. She believed that the police officers and the mayor essentially ran the town and got whatever they wanted.
One police officer, Edward Tyrone “Ed” Carter, was singled out by Tammy as taking excessive advantage of the situation. She claimed that he would demand more than the other officers and would use his position as a police officer to intimidate her. Tammy alleged that Carter had a secret relationship with a manager at New Life and had even coerced her into contracting janitorial services from him. She also accused Carter of being involved in the murders.
The unsolved dual-murders
On the night of September 20, 1994, the New Life Massage Parlor was unusually quiet. By 3 am, Candy Belt and Gloria Ross were the only employees present. Their coworkers left briefly to take another employee home and grab a bite to eat. When they returned, they found the front door locked from the inside with a rock acting as a doorstop. Inside, they made a horrifying discovery: Gloria was found nude and lying on the massage table, while Candy was on the floor covered with a camouflage blanket. Both women had been shot in the head and had their throats slashed.
The Oak Grove police were called to the scene at 4 am, but by the time the Christian County Sheriff’s Department arrived, the crime scene had already been compromised. Several people, including the mayor, city council members, and all of the Oak Grove police officers, had been inside the parlor. Detective Leslie Allen Duncan, one of the first officers on the scene, was known to frequent New Life and was even Carter’s former roommate.
Investigation and compromised evidence
The investigation into the murders remained unsolved for years, with evidence being lost or destroyed. Tammy Papler and her husband Ronald were later arrested and charged with promoting prostitution. New Life was shut down, and the Paplers pleaded guilty to the charges, receiving probation. However, Tammy’s determination for justice did not waver.
In July 1997, as Tammy made shocking allegations of police corruption and cover-up during a City Council meeting, the case recieved an intensified interest from the community. She accused the police and city officials of accepting bribes, buying sex from her employees, and covering up the murders. While some members of the council ignored her, city councilwoman Patty Belew confirmed that Tammy’s allegations were indeed true. Patty had worked at New Life under the name “Harley” for two years and had quit just one week before the murders.
Suspects and controversies
Edward Tyrone “Ed” Carter, the police officer accused by Tammy, became a primary suspect in the murders. Carter worked as a janitor at New Life and had a key to the building. He admitted to stopping by New Life on the night of the murders but claimed to have left before they occurred. Carter denied owning a small-caliber gun, which was believed to be the murder weapon. However, his ex-wife, Carol, contradicted his statement, saying he did own such a gun.
Detective Leslie Allen Duncan, who was in charge of the murder investigation, was also considered a potential suspect. Tammy Papler accused Duncan of taking money from New Life and even tampering with evidence at the crime scene. Duncan resigned from the police department a year after the murders.
Despite the allegations and suspicions surrounding Carter and Duncan, the case remained unsolved. The lack of physical evidence and compromised crime scene made it difficult to bring the killers to justice.
New developments and arrests
In 2006, the Kentucky State Police took over the murder case and launched a new investigation. In July 2012, Duncan, by then 49 years old, was arrested and charged with tampering with physical evidence in the case. Duncan was accused of throwing away shell casings and wiping fingerprints off the lobby phone.
In November 2013, Carter, then 43, and Frank Black, a resident of Gadsen, Alabama, were arrested and charged with the murders. Carter was living in Ohio at the time and was extradited back to Kentucky for trial. Black, although not a police officer, had a criminal record and had attacked a woman at knifepoint shortly after the murders.
The trial and acquittal
The trial against Carter, Black, and Duncan began on September 6, 2016. Prosecutors theorized that Carter had enlisted Black’s help to commit the murders, while Duncan intentionally covered up their involvement. However, after deliberating for two hours, the jury found Carter and Black not guilty of the murders. Duncan’s charges were dismissed during the trial.
The victims’ families and others close to the case believe that Carter was responsible for the murders. Gloria’s daughter, Shanice, even filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Carter, Duncan, and the city of Oak Grove. Despite the acquittals, the case remains officially unsolved.
Hope for justice
The brutal double murder of Candy Belt and Gloria Ross continues to haunt the community of Oak Grove, Kentucky. The allegations of police corruption, compromised evidence, and the subsequent acquittals have left many unanswered questions. The families of the victims are still searching for justice, hoping that one day the truth will be revealed and their loved ones will finally find peace.
As the case remains unsolved, it serves as a reminder of the importance of a thorough investigation, the preservation of evidence, and the pursuit of justice for all victims of violent crimes. The murders of Candy Belt and Gloria Ross may have faded from the headlines, but the desire for answers and closure remains as strong as ever.
After reading about the mysterious deaths of Candy Belt and Gloria Ross, read about The unsolved deaths of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon.