Now authorities are investigating whether a slow-burning desire for revenge that began with an arrest a decade ago was behind last month’s death of Herbert Proffitt, 82, who was gunned down in his driveway while he went to fetch the mail.
Charles Hammer, 81, is accused of killing the former police chief and sheriff, who arrested him in 2002 on charges of harassment, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
“It appears that there was an ax to grind,” said Trooper Billy Gregory, a spokesman for Kentucky State Police post handling the investigation. “It appears to me to be revenge.”
The slaying has staggered people in Tompkinsville, a tight-knit town in the hills of south-central Kentucky, about 120 miles south of Louisville. The Proffitts’ only child, Jeff, is mayor.
Five days after her husband was killed, Bernice Proffitt died. Family friends described the cause of death as a broken heart. Hundreds turned out for the funeral of the man known affectionately as “Sprocket,” a nickname that stuck since his teenage days of fixing bicycles at a service station.
“The town for a week had no direction,” said City Attorney Reed Moore, a family friend. “Nobody around the (town) square got anything done. They just walked around with a blank look on their face.”
During his law enforcement days, which spanned more than a half-century, Proffitt was known for using his wits to defuse plenty of dangerous situations in the Appalachian foothills, his friends said.
“His best weapon was his knowledge of people and how to handle them,” said Tompkinsville Police Chief Dale Ford, who worked under Proffitt and considered him a mentor.
But Proffitt never worried that someone he had put away might someday seek revenge, they said.
“He was never the type of person who would look over his shoulder,” said Ricky Richardson, a city commissioner.
Monroe County Judge-Executive Tommy Willett said Proffitt was willing to extend a hand to those he once cuffed.
“If he put somebody in jail, he’d be friends with that person — if they let him — when they got out,” he said.
While town residents mourned Proffitt, they also shared stories about the man accused of killing him and his troubled past.
Hammer’s initial court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday. Court records turned up no sign that Hammer has lined up an attorney, but a brother came to his defense.
“I don’t think he did it,” Jerry Hammer told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I think he’s covering (up) for somebody.” He declined further comment before hanging up.
Bev McClendon, another former local sheriff who said he was friends with Proffitt and Hammer, said Hammer harbored feelings for years of having been wronged. He said Hammer once remarked that McClendon had never barged onto his property, unlike others in law enforcement.