County, West Virginia
Date of Alleged Crime: February 17, 1988
Paul William Ferrell, a rookie sheriff's deputy, was convicted of the
murder of Cathy Ford, a 19-year-old waitress from nearby Maryland. Her body
has never been found and no one had ever seen her with Ferrell. Some time
after Ford's disappearance, her boyfriend, Darvin Moon, discovered her badly
burned truck 75 yards from Ford's trailer home. Some believed that the truck
was burned elsewhere because there was no scorching on the vegetation
surrounding the vehicle.
FBI agents found traces of blood under a newly laid carpet in Ferrell's
trailer as well as on the walls and ceiling. Laboratory tests showed the
blood to be that of a woman, but DNA tests could not match the blood to
Ford. Ferrell said the trailer was eight years old, had been occupied by
others, and might be stained by blood from a variety of sources. At trial,
the prosecution purportedly engaged in “mathematical wizardry” which made
the found blood look like that of Ford's.
An FBI agent testified that while giving Ferrell a “hypothetical scenario
about Cathy Ford's murder,” he had “observed signs of guilt” in Ferrell's
“body language.” According to Ferrell's appellate attorney, “this is the
first time, ever, in the history of American criminal jurisprudence, that
this kind of evidence has… been allowed to go to a jury.”
On the grounds that Ferrell might have committed the alleged crime for
sexual reasons, his trial included circumstantial evidence that he had
telephoned bookstores and libraries throughout the country posing as a
physician and asking clerks who answered to read explicit passages from
books on sex.
A witness, Tamela Kitzmiller, testified to having received an obscene phone
call from a man she took to be Ferrell. She later recanted her testimony,
claiming that the prosecution convinced her to testify by telling her that
Ferrell had been involved in a series of murders in Yellowstone Park. “They
told me that he was a sicko, and that he needed to be put away.” After
giving her testimony, Kitzmiller says she waited for prosecutors to produce
proof of Ferrell's involvement in the Yellowstone murders, as they had
promised. This proof never arrived.
Kim Nelson, a neighbor of Ferrell, testified that on the day of Ford's
disappearance she heard “banging, a gunshot, and a woman's scream” coming
from Ferrell's trailer. Later, however, she stated she “didn't know nothin'
about Paul Ferrell killin' anybody,” and that she had not heard anything out
of the ordinary on the day in question.
Private investigator and author Martin Yant helped expose the case by
publishing a story about it in a magazine. He also got the case
exposure on Montel Williams and Unsolved Mysteries.
Ferrell was released pending an evidentiary hearing, but he was
reincarcerated for the crime in 1997. West Virginia Governor Underwood
commuted Ferrell's sentence in Jan. 2001. He wrote that Ferrell's
convictions “are not supported by the presence of the alleged victim's body,
weapon, eyewitnesses, or physical evidence such as fingerprints, hair and
fibers.” The commutation made Ferrell eligible for parole which he was
granted in May 2004. [2/08]
State v. Ferrell
Victims of the State,
West Virginia Cases, Police
Officer Defendants, Murder
Cases Without a Body