News and Tribune

April 17, 2014

Hooten’s words led police to search for bodies

By R.G. Dunlop
Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting

— Richard Hooten’s sordid saga possibly could include ties to still other murders, though he denied personally committing them.

While in custody, Hooten told law enforcement that he knew of several other killings, which prompted authorities to search and dig unsuccessfully through the grounds of a Clarksville farm. Also, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting recently learned that Hooten last year told police about bodies allegedly buried near Memphis.

Authorities conducted an exhaustive search spanning several days in March 2013, using ground-penetrating radar and cadaver-sniffing dogs. They dug with a backhoe and interviewed the property owners. But their search yielded no trace of homicides or burials.

“We don’t know if he was trying to bring more fame to his name, but nothing was found at that time to substantiate his story,” said Clarksville Police Chief Mark Palmer, whose department assisted in the search.

Porsche Sandbach, who lives on the Ebenezer Church Road property where the search occurred said Hooten, a former neighbor, falsely asserted that her father “was responsible for the killings.”

Russell Sandbach was not around to defend himself against Hooten’s charges, however. He had died in November 2012 at the age of 75, and both his widow and Porsche Sandbach told KyCIR that he was in a wheelchair or using a walker for the last few years of his life.

“He was not in any shape to commit murder,” Porsche Sandbach said. Her family rented a home across the street to Hooten and his wife for a period of months, three or four years ago.

Russell Sandbach was never in any criminal trouble, his family said, and Indiana court records show only two speeding tickets for him.

Indiana State Police, the lead law-enforcement agency in the investigation, appeared unannounced at the Sandbachs’ house with a search warrant and proceeded to ask “a zillion” questions, some of which were “bizarre,” Porsche Sandbach said.

“They asked me if we had any ropes. I said, ‘of course we do, we live on a farm.’ I guess it had to do with the story Hooten told about the murders. I think he told them people were tortured as well.”

Porsche Sandbach said she did not recall police telling her how many bodies Hooten allegedly said were buried on the property, but that she heard varying accounts elsewhere, with the number ranging from seven to nine.

An Indiana State Police spokesman provided to KyCIR only a “media summary report” of the allegations, which contained virtually no information except the location of the search and a two-sentence statement that said:

“Information was received that evidence of several crimes may be located on the property. Probable cause was developed for a search warrant on the property that was executed by officers of the Indiana State Police and the Clarksville Police Department.”

ISP spokesman Capt. David Bursten said the agency does not comment on “active investigations” and declined to elaborate.

— This story was produced by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, which partnered with the News and Tribune to last year publish an in-depth multimedia piece on Richard Hooten’s criminal history. Visit kycir.org for more information.