There’s always a story to tell of what happens in life.
Along the twisting Youngers Creek Road, up a long, frozen driveway to a luxurious 5,200-square-foot home on a vast farm in the winter of 1975, there’s a story that would live on for decades, as tales of murder so often do.
That Jan. 13, 1975 night was when Peggy Rhodes, 57, the wife of a prominent local car dealer Paul “Dusty” Rhodes, went out to a barn on the property about eight miles east of Elizabethtown. At home with Susan, an 11-year-old granddaughter, Rhodes left the house looking for her large black cat, Binky.
With each step, she unknowingly was walking closer to her death.
She was found in a tack room of the barn by Jerry Gilchrist, who at the time was dating Ruth, Peggy’s daughter and Dusty’s stepdaughter.
He and Ruth had arrived at the home after the granddaughter awoke from an afternoon nap. When the child couldn’t find her grandmother, she telephoned Ruth, her mother.
What Gilchrist found was grisly. Peggy Rhodes was dead, as was a chestnut horse named Tony, who Peggy is said to have enjoyed riding and brushing.
When Kentucky State Police received a call about what Gilchrist had walked upon, it initially was reported Rhodes had been killed by the horse.
That also left an intriguing question: How did the horse die?
It goes much deeper. Who killed Peggy Rhodes and why? Author Gary West pieces together stories from all sides in his book
“Murder on Youngers Creek Road”
West, who grew up in Elizabethtown, has written 17 books, mostly on travel and sports figures.
He is the author of “Murder on Youngers Creek Road” which details the 1975 killing of Rhodes and will be released this month by Acclaim Press.
It’s a culmination of more than two years of research, interviews and writing.
West, 77, interviewed 127 people for the book which includes photographs and includes the accounts of numerous people involved in the case and crime scenes.
“There’s something always intriguing about a murder,” West said. “There’s always a mystery to it.”
In his research for the book, West, a 1961 Elizabethtown High School graduate, explored his own links to the family of Peggy Rhodes as well as David Walker, the man hired to set up what transpired on Youngers Creek Road.
With Dusty Rhodes at work that day, Peggy Rhodes and the horse died when a bomb packed with dynamite exploded in the barn.
West described it as a “horrific scene” based on interviews with investigators, including the first law-enforcement officers to reach the home.
“The Peggy Rhodes murder was one of the most horrific murders in the history of Hardin County,” West said.
While Ruth Hudson, 86, remembers many of the details, many others have faded in the 45 year since the night her mother was killed.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said of West’s book. “I’m happy that the story is out there, but it also brought back a lot of thoughts from that time. It was a different time.”
Dusty Rhodes was her stepfather in name only, she said.
“He was a Dad to me.”
What led to the night of 1975 began about two years earlier, according to West, when Dusty Rhodes sold his Ford dealership along Dixie Highway in Elizabethtown to Jim Simon and Jim Johnson.
Simon was a former Elizabethtown Catholic High School basketball star and Johnson at one time was the sheriff in Logan County. He also had worked part-time selling cars for Dusty Rhodes.
Then considered the outskirts of Elizabethtown near the present site of Towne Mall, the dealership became Simon-Johnson Ford after the sale.
Through his interviews, West said he learned the two men had became disgruntled because the business was not as profitable as anticipated. High interest rates on loans prompted by the national economy didn’t help.
The men were in debt to Rhodes $180,000, which was trimmed to a $128,500 deficit after Rhodes purchased back the Ford Tractor portion of the business. The terms of the agreement were to pay Rhodes $1,500 a month plus 8.5 percent interest until the debt was paid off.
Johnson and Simon were struggling financially with the dealership and they didn’t see it getting better anytime soon. They even met with then-County Attorney James Scudder, believing they had been “criminally swindled” by Rhodes, West wrote.
To cut expenses, the men had the dealership bookkeeper contact their insurance agent to see how much life insurance they were paying, who the beneficiaries were and for how much. They wanted to cut costs as quickly as possible.
Simon and Johnson learned that as part of the purchase agreement, they were paying for a $150,000 life insurance policy on Dusty Rhodes. If Rhodes died, the $150,000 would be paid directly to the dealership.
As West tells it in his book, Johnson and Simon soon were driving to Cave City to meet Walker, who reportedly had been involved in organized crime in Bowling Green. The men met Dec. 1, 1974, at a Jerry’s Restaurant.
Ironically, West said his family knew Walker’s family.
“This is somebody I knew on both ends of it,” West said. “The organizer of the murder and the family of the victim.”
According to the book, the men told Walker they needed to have someone taken care of.
“Are you talking about having someone killed?” Walker asked.
“Yes,” they answered, the book recounts.
The men finished lunch and walked outside. Walker said he would take $10,000 in cash and a new Thunderbird as payment for the job.
Walker got a map of where Dusty Rhodes lived and hired “two thug-type guys,” West said. Steve Monroe and Carlos Lloyd as the men who would plant the bomb, the book says.
In a prison interview with Lloyd, he said he and Monroe drove his Buick LeSabre near Rhodes’ home and Monroe placed the bomb New Year’s Eve 1974.
In the darkness of night, Monroe believed he had set the bomb in the horse barn where they figured Dusty Rhodes would enter to feed the horses the next day. Instead, it was planted by a door in the tack room that wasn’t used as often, especially in the winter.
The improvised explosive device was in the tack room chest high and hung by a nail inside a door. When it was opened, the device would be triggered. The device was 60 percent dynamite, according to the book.
Days passed and the men hadn’t heard of the death of Dusty Rhodes, which they found odd, West writes. They had been told he went to the barn every day.
Then Jan. 13, 1975, arrived and Peggy Rhodes opened the door to the tack room looking for her cat.
“It was a very disturbing the way the scene looked,” former Kentucky State Police Trooper Glen Dalton said. “ ... it was pretty bad.”
Dalton, who later would become Hardin County judge-executive, was one of the first officers on the scene along with KSP Trooper Bruce Slack. He said they quickly turned the case over to detectives.
He said it didn’t take long to realize what he and Slack were looking at that night was more than an accidental death caused by a horse.
“You found out pretty quick it wasn’t that,” Dalton said.
Monroe was arrested and charged with murder March 27, 1975, in Bowling Green, and Lloyd later would be tied to the case and was arrested Sept. 22, 1975, on the same charge. Walker was arrested the next day for setting up the murder.
Monroe would be the first to be convicted in the killing of Rhodes and he was sentenced to life in prison. Lloyd received 18 years and Walker 10 years.
Since Monroe led authorities to Lloyd and Walker, his sentence later was reduced to 20 years.
Monroe, then 51, died in 2002 following his release from prison. Walker died the same year at age 71.
In April 1975, West writes Johnson was found unconscious in the garage of his home, “apparently overcome by carbon monoxide.”
A month later, he was dead at 46.
His wife found him in their garage with a car running in Logan County, holding a Bible and a note he had written on the back of two envelopes, West writes.
Simon was arrested 13 months to the day of the death of Peggy Rhodes for helping set up the murder plot.
He went to trial in federal court, represented by Frank Haddad, a high-profile Louisville lawyer. Simon testified at his trial and denied, among many things, ever meeting to discuss killing Dusty Rhodes.
He was found not guilty as Haddad hammered at Walker’s credibility, West wrote.
Simon died, West was told by a friend of Simon’s, while reading a Sunday newspaper in 2001. He was 60.
Dusty Rhodes moved away from Hardin County. He went to live in Shelbyville where he was 87 when he died in 1997.
The only prominent figure still alive in the case is Lloyd, who is known as Inmate 152699 in the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections. He is up for parole Oct. 1, 2022, on a 2001 conviction of two counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree sodomy in an unrelated case.
West said he logged many miles and hours in getting the hundreds of details of the case.
The case became more intimate to him because he worked in the tourism industry and became acquainted with Hudson, the former tourism executive director in Elizabethtown.
“The hardest call I had to make on the book was calling Ruth and telling her,” West said. “She cried and said, ‘thanks for keeping my mother’s name alive.”’
Hudson said Thursday she had read the first three paragraphs of the book and said, “it was very thorough. I know Gary worked very hard on this.”
“I don’t know too many people that were around then that are still around,” Hudson said. “What happened, it took me years to come to grips with everything ... it’s very hard for me to go back to that night and I have mixed emotions. It’s amazing that it’s been 45 years.”
Murder on Youngers Creek Road will be available at acclaimpress.com for $24.95 beginning March 20. West also said he expects to make various book signing appearances in the area.