Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Paul Ferrell

Real Name: Paul William Ferrell
Case: Appeal
Location: Gormania, West Virginia
Date: February 17, 1988


Details: Former Deputy Sheriff Paul Ferrell was convicted of murdering nineteen-year-old Gorman, Maryland resident Cathy Ford; he maintains that he is innocent. Ferrell lived in Gormania, West Virginia, which was just across the Potomac River from Gorman. His parents owned a general store; after serving in the military, he came home to help run the family business. He was also involved in boxing. In January of 1988, he became a deputy sheriff in Grant County, West Virginia. To outward appearances, he seemed to be settling down; he was in a serious relationship with Cathy Bernard, a local woman with two children.
Around the time he started working for the sheriff's department, Ferrell rented a trailer off of Bismarck Road, just outside of Gormania. Unbeknownst to Bernard, he was seeing another woman. The other woman was Cathy Ford. According to Ferrell, he and Cathy had been engaged in an on-again, off-again affair since the fall of 1987. Both wanted to keep the relationship secret from Bernard and Cathy's boyfriend Darvin Moon. Ferrell claimed that he and Cathy were more friends than lovers. According to him, they spent most of the time talking about work and their families.
On February 17, 1988, Cathy went to work at the Old Mill Restaurant, which was owned by her parents. At 1PM, she received a phone call; the caller claimed to be a magistrate and said that the sheriff's department was cracking down on bars and restaurants about selling alcohol to minors. However, she refused to tell her co-workers about the reason behind the call. She left the restaurant, went home, and got a shower. At around 2PM, she returned and picked up her purse. Her co-worker noticed that she was dressed up. She drove off in her father's Silver Bronco and was never seen again.
Almost seven hours later at 8:30PM, Ferrell joined friends at a local bowling alley. He was told that a woman had been calling, asking for him. When he called the number, Cathy answered the phone. According to him, she was crying and asking to see him. Although she wanted to see him at his trailer, the two agreed to meet at the high school parking lot. He claimed that he waited there for twenty minutes, but she never showed up. He had no idea that her parents had already called the police and reported her missing.
The next day, Cathy's family and her boyfriend Darvin put up posters and organized search parties. They also offered a reward for information. Ferrell saw Darvin twice that day; once outside the Old Mill Restaurant. Darvin said that she had been seen the previous day on Bismarck Road near Ferrell's trailer. He also said that smoke from some unexplained source had been spotted near the trailer. Ferrell believed that he was being accused of something. He went into the woods near his trailer to investigate.
Ferrell located Cathy's burnt-out car less than two hundred yards away from her trailer. However, fearing that her body was inside, he did not tell anyone about it. He then made another "stupid mistake": he sent an anonymous letter to the Old Mill Restaurant, claiming that Cathy had run away and wanted her parents to know that she was safe. He even enclosed $200 to pay for the ruined Bronco. Initially, he denied writing the letter. However, an FBI handwriting expert later proved in court that he was the author.
Ferrell claimed that he did this because he wanted people to stop searching and didn't want them to find her car in his backyard. Finally, on March 8, almost three weeks after Cathy vanished, her car was re-discovered by Darvin and her brother Rich. On March 11, the FBI searched the area. They found no trace of Cathy's body or any evidence that proved she had been there. Fire and rust destroyed any fingerprints that may have been on the car. Because the area around the car did not have much fire damage, some speculated that the car had been burned elsewhere.
Ferrell became the focal point of the investigation. On March 19, FBI agents tore up a newly laid carpet in Ferrell's master bedroom. They found traces of blood on the floor, as well as on the wall and ceiling. The samples proved to be the blood of a woman. However, DNA testing could not provide a positive match. The most that could be said was that the blood was not inconsistent with the blood of Cathy's parents. It appeared as though the blood had been covered up in an attempt to keep it from ever being found.
Based on the evidence, investigators believed that Cathy was dead and that she had been killed during a violent act. When questioned about the blood, Ferrell suggested that it may have been there from before he lived there. Based on the evidence, Ferrell was arrested and charged with kidnapping, arson, and murder. Because Cathy lived in Maryland and her car was found in West Virginia, police from both states investigated the case. They looked into Ferrell's past and discovered that he had a "habit" of making crank sex phone calls.
Ferrell's trial started on January 25, 1989. The prosecution wanted to show that he had a split personality. They presented evidence that on over 200 occasions, he called bookstores and libraries in several cities, pretending to be a doctor. He then asked women clerks to read the same sexually explicit passage. He admitted to making the calls, but claimed that they had nothing to do with Cathy.
Other women in the area had also received unusual anonymous phone calls from a man who asked them to meet him in various locations. Tamela Kitzmiller testified that she thought the man who called her was Ferrell. However, she later stated that she wasn't sure if the caller was him. She claimed that investigators told her that they knew he was the caller and that they could prove it. She also claimed that she was told that Ferrell was connected to a series of murders in Yellowstone Park, where he once worked.
However, prosecutor Dennis DiBenedetto stated that they did not force any witnesses to testify or perjure themselves on the stand. As the trial progressed, the prosecution introduced rather "unorthodox" testimony. An FBI expert said that during one interrogation he gave Ferrell a hypothetical scenario about Cathy's murder. While doing so, he said that he observed signs of guilt through Ferrell's body language. He said that Ferrell nodded in agreement with the scenario.
Some of the strongest evidence against Ferrell came from his neighbor Kim Nelson, who could see his trailer from her home. She told Maryland prosecutors that she had heard screams coming from the trailer on several different occasions, both before and after Ferrell had moved there. In court, she testified that on February 17, she heard banging, a gunshot, and a woman's scream coming from the trailer. However, after the trial, she claimed that "words were put in her mouth".
She claimed that "screaming and gunshots" were common in the area. She also claimed that prior to the trial she signed a statement typed up by prosecutors without reading it. The statement specified that she heard the sounds on February 17; she claims that she did not specify that day. She also claimed that Maryland prosecutors pressured her to testify to what was written in the statement. Prosecutor DiBenedetto denied that this "forcing" ever occurred. He believes that she has been influenced by family and friends of Ferrell to try and recant her statement.
Ferrell never testified on his own behalf. On February 4, 1989, he was convicted of kidnapping, murder, and arson. He was sentenced to a minimum of fifteen years in prison. However, new evidence began to surface that suggested that Ferrell may have been innocent. Journalist Martin Yant looked into the case and was able to locate two witnesses who claimed to have seen Cathy over a year after she vanished.
In December of 1989, a couple from the Gorman area was passing through Tennessee when they visited a restaurant and noticed that the waitress looked like Cathy. They noticed that the waitress appeared to be nervous when she noticed the couple. When another waitress came over to them, she asked what the husband felt was a strange question for a restaurant off of a freeway: "You seem to be strangers here, where are you from?" When she went to talk to the waitress that looked like Cathy, "Cathy" ran back into the kitchen.
Cathy's family, however, does not believe that she is still alive. They are certain that she would have contacted them at some point. Ferrell appealed his conviction, claiming: there was insufficient evidence that Cathy was dead, the body language testimony should not have been used, and the jury was not properly instructed. The West Virginia Supreme Court rejected the appeal with a 3-2 vote. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to reconsider the case. Ferrell will be eligible for parole in 2002. He continues to maintain that he is innocent.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the September 25, 1992 episode of Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries.
Results: Unresolved. In 1994, Ferrell was released from prison while the Supreme Court reviewed his case. After two years of home confinement, the court re-affirmed the convictions and Ferrell was returned to prison. In February of 2001, the West Virginia governor commuted Ferrell's sentence, which made him eligible for parole. His parole was granted in May of 2004. Although Cathy Ford has never been found, it is assumed that she is deceased. Many are still certain that Ferrell is guilty. It is important to note that eyewitness sightings of missing persons have often been proven to be false.
Evidence not mentioned in the segment appears to point to Ferrell's guilt. Witnesses placed him at a phone booth outside of the magistrates' office at the Mt. Storm Fire Hall on the day Cathy vanished. A caller pretending to be a magistrate (the same as the person that called Cathy) asked a woman to meet him at the fire hall at that time. A postal employee was asked by a caller to pick up a stranded mail carrier on Bismarck Road, near Ferrell's trailer. However, the carrier's route did not take him to that area, so the employee hung up. Ferrell's family store was in close proximity to both the post office and the Old Mill Restaurant.
On the day after Cathy vanished, Ferrell ripped out and burned the carpeting from the master bedroom of his trailer. He claimed that the carpet had stains and a foul odor. However, his girlfriend Cathy Bernard and his landlady both claimed that they had not seen stains or noticed a foul odor coming from the carpet.
Following her disappearance, Ferrell claimed that he feared being considered a suspect in her case. Bernard also found a note in his pants pocket about a couple "setting up someone" by using a false identification card. When she asked Ferrell about it, he mentioned that someone from the liquor board was going around and trying to get places to sell liquor to minors; this is what the caller mentioned when talking to Cathy.
About a week after Cathy vanished, Ferrell told a volunteer searcher that she call off the search for 48 hours because police found "solid evidence". He later told the searcher that she should search everywhere except Bismark and Cherry Ridge Roads. A few days later, he called Bernard from Uniontown, Pennsylvania and asked her to call the Ford family and tell them that Cathy was alright. A few days after that, he sent the anonymous letter to the restaurant.
When police searched Ford's trailer, along with the blood, a cigarette butt of the type smoked by Cathy was found. The cigarette was smoked by someone with a blood type not inconsistent with her parents. A watch that was believed to belong to her was found in a burn area near Ferrell's trailer.
Along with the "crank sex" phone calls, Ferrell apparently made several other calls to women in the weeks preceding Cathy's disappearance. He directed the women to go to locations near where he lived. Some of the locations were just a few hundred yards from his trailer. In these calls, he posed as either a doctor, police officer, or a magistrate. The calls continued until the time Cathy vanished. According to investigators, the women had one thing in common: they all knew Ferrell.
Ferrell continues to maintain his innocence.