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Unsolved murder of Transylvania University student Betty Gail Brown: Part 2

Detective Don Duckworth examines Betty Gail Brown's vehicle for evidence following her 1961 murder on Transylvania University campus.
Lexington Herald-Leader Staff,

The 1961 murder of Transylvania University sophomore Betty Gail Brown, one of Lexington, Ky.’s most famous unsolved mysteries, may be moving closer to a solution after more than 50 years of intermittent investigations.

When she did not return home after attending study group at Transylvania’s Forrer Hall, which ended at midnight on Oct. 27, 1961, Betty Gail’s father contacted Lexington police. After a brief search, police discovered Betty Gail’s body, still behind the wheel of her car, parked at Transy’s Morrison Chapel. Betty Gail Brown had been strangled to death with her own brassiere. There were no witnesses to the murder, and all male students and staff at Transylvania University were quickly cleared as suspects. It would be nearly four years before police would have a suspect in Betty Gail’s murder.

I was not until Jan. 1965 that a suspect in the murder of Betty Gail Brown came forward. According to a report from Lexington police, “on Jan. 20, 1965, Klamath Falls Ore. Police Department had arrested [Alex] Arnold for public intoxication. Arnold told an official that he had murdered Brown”. Arnold, a known drifter, had formerly been employed as a horse groomer. Based on this confession, along with a written statement provided by Arnold, which included gruesome details about the night of the murder, Alex Arnold was arrested and charged in Betty Gail’s murder.

Unfortunately, there were holes in the case against Arnold. Not the least of which was the fact that Arnold’s story frequently changed and he also claimed to have held conversations with dots on the walls. Alex Arnold went to trial for Brown’s murder in Oct. 1965, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Arnold was ultimately found not guilty.

Though the case of Betty Gail Brown’s murder was opened for investigation again in 1984, and several times since, it has remained unsolved and has become part of Transylvania University’s folklore. Each year, Transylvania University holds Ghost Tours, during which students visit the scene of Betty Gail’s murder. While at the scene, the students are told the grisly story of Betty Gail’s death. One student, a sophomore named Bethany Davenport, has played the part of Betty Gail Brown on these Ghost Tours. When interviewed by Jessica Gordon, a reporter for the Transylvania Rambler, Davenport shared her thoughts on the 2010 reopening of Brown’s murder case, stating, “Any case that gets reopened I feel it’s good, but I feel it’s hard to know what happened. … Is it still valid so many years later?”

When the case reopened in 2010, a cold case task force, made up of police from Ky., Ohio, and Mich., was tasked with reviewing the slaying of Betty Gail Brown as the possible first victim in a string of similar, and possibly related, killings. These murders, along with that of Brown, may all be the work of convicted killer Nolan Ray George. Originally from London, Ky., George had previously been convicted of “strangling two women in Ohio and confessed to strangling a third”, according to However, George only spent roughly 22 years in prison for these murders due to successful appeals.

Nolan Ray George had been living as a free man from 1992 until July 2010, when he was arrested for a 1968 murder in Pontiac, Mich. As of 2010, George was in jail in Oakland County, Mich., awaiting trial for the 1968 murder. However, he had not yet been charged with the murder of Betty Gail Brown. Interestingly, though, according to detective Rob Wilson of the Lexington police, when speaking of George as a suspect in Brown’s murder, “The manner of death, the absence of sexual activity in the situation, the violence of it – there are certain similarities. … We’re going to do everything to put him at the murder scene or prove he was somewhere else.” Of particular importance is the fact that George is known to have strangled previous victims using their bras.

As of Jan. 2012, one small bit of new evidence had come to light to bring new hope that the murder of Betty Gail Brown may still have a chance of being solved. While investigators were combing back through the enormous 50-year-old case file, a print simply fell out of a file folder. Lieutenant James Curless of the FBI, who received the print in 2006, says that Lexington police believe it may be a partial palm print – one which could hold the key to identifying Betty Gail’s killer.

Curless, however, believes that there are at least two possible suspects in Brown’s slaying, as two different serial killers are now known to have been in the area around the time of the murder. On the other hand, Lexington police must hold out hope, since the partial print, which could be nothing more than a dead end, is the only viable lead left in this case. There is no DNA evidence, according to Lt. Curless, and much of the other evidence, which could have been useful with today’s technology, was destroyed, including Betty Gail’s bra.

To date, any results related to the FBI’s tests on the partial print have not been released, but detective Wilson firmly asserts that, if any new information is received, “[Lexington police are] going to check it out”. Lexington police have worked on this cold case steadily over the last five decades, and they seem to have no intention of giving up now. If readers have any information on this case, they can contact Wilson or Curless at 1-859-258-3700.

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