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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Robbery - Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 29, 1987
Date of arrest: June 15, 1987
Date of birth: 1954
Victim profile: Deborah Pooley, 36
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole for 25 years on October 31, 1988
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Commonwealth of Kentucky Court of Appeals

Brenda Humphrey v. Commonwealth of Kentucky

Supreme Court of Kentucky

Brenda Humphrey v. Commonwealth of Kentucky

According to the state’s case, on 29 May 1987, a 36-year-old woman, Deborah Pooley, was abducted at knifepoint outside the restaurant where she worked by Gregory Wilson, then 30, and Brenda Humphrey, a 34-year-old white woman.

Deborah Pooley was forced into her car, raped, killed and her body left in a wooded area in central Indiana, a state neighboring Kentucky. Gregory Wilson and Brenda Humphrey were tried jointly in 1988 with the state seeking the death penalty for both. Gregory Wilson was sentenced to death, Brenda Humphrey to life imprisonment.


Parole denied in 1987 Covington killing

By Brett Barrouquere -

April 19, 2012

PEWEE VALLEY — A former prostitute with a long criminal record on Wednesday apologized for her role in a 1987 kidnapping, rape and slaying, calling herself "a coward back then," but the Kentucky Parole Board opted to keep her in prison for at least five more years.

The two-member panel rejected 58-year-old Brenda Humphrey's move for immediate release from prison after a quarter-century, after quizzing her for more than 30 minutes about the death of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley, an Ohio native who lived in Covington at the time. The decision means Humphrey, who was sentenced to life without parole for 25 years, will not be eligible for release until at least 2017.

The board cited the seriousness of the crime as well as Pooley's death as reasons for the decision after the hearing at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley.

Humphrey, speaking publicly for the first time about Pooley's death and her role in it, apologized and said she was a drug abuser at the time of the crime. When asked what she would say to Pooley's family given the chance, Humphrey wasn't sure.

"What could I say to the family? I hope they have found peace and closure," Humphrey said. "If me staying here makes them feel better, then that's where I should be."

Pooley's family and friends circulated an online petition that drew about 250 signatures calling for Humphrey to remain in prison. Family friend Kathy McBurney Salce of Miami, Fla., said the petition brought Pooley's friends back together and turned her from a "faceless victim" and made "Debbie come alive again."

"Today is a good day," Salce said.

Humphrey and 55-year-old Gregory Wilson were convicted in 1988 of kidnapping, raping, robbing and killing Pooley. Wilson is awaiting execution, a fate he avoided in 2010 when a judge halted lethal injections in the state after ruling Kentucky's method of carrying out the procedure was flawed. A final ruling in that case is pending.

Humphrey, wearing tinted glasses and a tan prison uniform, sat silently as board member Ray Winburn read off the details of Pooley's kidnapping, rape and murder. Periodically as Winburn spoke, Humphrey lowered her chin onto her fingers, but otherwise showed little emotion.

Winburn recounted how Humphrey and Wilson approached Pooley after she parked her car near her home in Covington, with Humphrey driving the vehicle as Wilson attacked Pooley in the back seat.

Humphrey and Wilson, who has an extensive criminal record in Ohio and Kentucky, drove toward Danville, Ill., and Wilson raped and killed Pooley along the way, with her body being dumped in a berry field not far from the Indiana-Illinois border. The pair then took Pooley's credit cards to make purchases at Kmart and Payless Shoes in Illinois before returning to Kentucky, where they were arrested several weeks later.

When asked about the details of the crime, Humphrey said she and Wilson, her then-boyfriend, were looking for a car to steal. Humphrey said she was unaware that Wilson planned to kidnap Pooley.

"I was a coward back then, sir," Humphrey told the parole panel. "I thought we were just getting the car. That's how it went down."


Deborah Pooley’s family, friends remember a ‘sweet girl'

By Brett Barrouquere -

September 16, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Debbie Pooley left Miami for the suburbs of Cincinnati in the mid-1980s looking for a safer place in a smaller city near home.

To her family and friends, her kidnapping and murder in 1987 about two years after she moved home proved a cruel irony.

"She was a sweet girl," said Kathy McBurney Salce, who worked with Pooley at a restaurant and bar in suburban Miami. "To lose her like that, we're still not over it."

Pooley's sister, Bonnie Shinkle, and several friends spoke to The Associated Press in recent days as the Kentucky Supreme Court weighed whether to let the execution of the man convicted of her killing go forward. It's the first time many have spoken publicly about Pooley since her death.

Gregory Lee Wilson, 53, had been set to die by lethal injection at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville on Thursday before a judge halted the proceedings because of concerns about the inmate's mental state and how Kentucky execution method. The high court was considering whether to lift the stay of execution.

Wilson was convicted in 1988 of kidnapping Pooley from the parking lot of her apartment complex in Covington, Ky., raping her while a co-defendant drove, then killing Pooley, 36, in 1987. Investigators found Pooley nearly three weeks later in a field in Indiana.

When Gov. Steve Beshear signed a warrant setting Wilson's execution date for Sept. 16, memories of Pooley and the way she died 23 years ago came rushing back for her family and friends.

"It's just opening old wounds for all of us," said Salce, who now works at the University of Miami.

Pooley, a native of Hamilton, Ohio, moved in with her sister in South Florida in the early 1980s and went to work as a bartender at Dalts, a popular eatery and bar in Kendall, a suburb of Miami. She joined a group of young employees, including Salce, in an atmosphere veterans of the establishment describe as "flamboyant" and "family-oriented."

The group became a tight-knit circle of friends that shared holidays, spawned lasting connections and several marriages.

"We used to always eat Thanksgiving dinner together like family," said Maria Doria Perez, who also worked at Dalts and is now a teacher in the Miami area.

In the middle of this group was Pooley, who earned the nickname "Mom" from co-workers who turned to her for advice about relationships, college and the future.

"If Debbie had not been murdered, she's still be my friend," Salce said. "We were robbed of that because of this heinous murder."

Pooley also doted on her two nieces, who would sit in a booth at Dalts eating homemade potato chips under her watchful eye. Shinkle, who took her sister in after the move to south Florida, said Pooley would read to the children, who couldn't get enough of their aunt.

"She made the stories come alive," said Shinkle, 62. "I think she would have loved to have had a family."

Perez recalls Pooley buying large amounts of "Hello Kitty" paraphernalia for the girls.

"They were the world to her," Perez said.

Pooley moved back north to be near her parents, Walter, a pressman at the Hamilton, Ohio, Journal-News who died in May, and Anne, who is now in poor health, in the mid-'80s. She settled in northern Kentucky and went to work at Barleycorn's Yacht Club in Newport, across the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Within two years, Wilson and Brenda Humphrey, a former prostitute now serving life in prison, would kidnap and kill Pooley.

The pending execution date has brought back the horror of the days when no one could find Pooley and the sadness they felt at her death.

"We were all young and it hit everyone hard," said Donna Lovell of Miami, who worked at Dalts.

Shinkle said her parents stopped putting up a Christmas tree and kept all of Pooley's things at their home.

"They've still got her clothes in a drawer, like she still lives there," Shinkle said. "You think she's going to come walking in the door someday."

More than 23 years after Pooley's death, her friends still miss her some speak of her in the present tense and remain angry at Wilson.

"If he's found God, he should be willing to meet his maker," Perez said. "I don't think he should be seeing any sympathy."


The facts

The victim was a restaurant employee in Newport. On Friday, May 29, 1987 at 11:45 p.m., she left her best friend's house and said she was going straight home. The prosecution presented evidence that she had just parked her car outside of her apartment in Covington when she was abducted by Wilson and co-defendant Humphrey at knife point.

Testimony at trial from various sources, including Humphrey, indicated that the victim was forced into the back seat of her own car. Humphrey drove the car to the flood wall in Covington. Wilson took the victim out of the car and took her up on the flood wall and made her lie down with her eyes closed while Humphrey went to put gas in the car. After Humphrey returned from the gas station, Wilson again forced the victim into the back seat of the car.

Wilson made the victim unbutton her blouse. Wilson finished undressing the victim and raped her. He then tied her hands with a lamp cord, and the victim began begging for her life. Wilson told her she would have to die. Humphrey said, "You have seen us. You know who we are, and you have to die." The victim kept begging, "Please don't kill me. I don't want to die." Wilson robbed her and strangled her to death before they crossed the state line into Indiana.

Wilson and Humphrey disposed of the victim's naked corpse in a wooded thicket in rural Hendrix County, Indiana. Later that same morning, Saturday, May 30, Wilson and Humphrey stopped at a Holiday Inn in Crawfordsville, Indiana. According to a registration card, Humphrey and a guest checked into the hotel at 4:19 a.m. Two of the maids there identified the pair as Wilson and Humphrey

Wilson and Humphrey proceeded to a Payless Shoe Store in Danville, Illinois where the victim's credit card was used to purchase two pairs of women's shoes and some hosiery. Later that same day, May 30, 1987, Wilson and Humphrey went to a K-Mart in Danville where the victim's credit card was used to make purchases totalling $227.46. Included in these purchases were a man's Seiko watch and a woman's Gruen watch for $68.00 each. Wilson and Humphrey also paid cash for a number of cosmetic items and some clothing. Later that day, the victim's credit card was used to make a $24.50 purchase at an Amoco gas station in Urbana-Champagne, Illinois.

On Sunday, May 31, Wilson and Humphrey returned to the home of Humphrey's best friend, Beverly Finkenstead. Finkenstead testified that Humphrey had a K-Mart bag with a blouse in it. They both had a watch on and were each wearing a necklace. On Sunday, June 7, Humphrey visited Finkenstead and told her details of the crimes in which she and Wilson had participated the previous weekend. Eight days later, on June 15, Finkenstead reported to the police what Humphrey had told her. Also on June 15, the Hendrix County, Indiana Sheriff's Department was summoned to a wooded thicket where a corpse had been discovered.

Authorities were able to determine the identity of the corpse only by comparing its remaining teeth with the victim's dental X-rays. The cause of death could not be determined due to the absence of internal organs. A forensic entomologist testified that, based on the extent of blowfly maggot development in and on the corpse, the estimated time of death had occurred 15 to 19 days prior to his June 16 examination of the corpse.

Wilson told cell mate Willis Maloney details of the crimes including that the initial intent had been to "snatch" the victim and rob her; that the victim was still alive when her money was taken from her; that the victim was killed before they crossed the state line into Indiana; that the corpse would be so badly decomposed that no sperm would show up; and that they had used the victim's credit card to purchase, among other things, a watch Wilson was wearing at the time of his arrest which Humphrey later obtained by signing it out from one of the jailers. Wilson also told Maloney, "I bet they can't find what I used to strangle her with."

Maloney's and Humphrey's account of the rape was corroborated by the presence of semen on the back seat of the victim's car. Head hairs similar to those belonging to Humphrey were found inside the victim's car. Pubic and head hairs similar to those belonging to Wilson were also found inside the victim's car. A handwriting expert established that Humphrey had authored the forged credit card receipts. A search of the hotel room where Wilson and Humphrey were arrested produced various items of clothing, all bearing K-Mart price tags.

Humphrey was the only defense witness during the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. Wilson gave his own closing argument in which he told the jury he was not guilty, he "never met nor knew the victim" and that Humphrey told her sister that she killed the victim. The jury returned guilty verdicts against both defendants.



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