Scared to Death
Then, in 1998, investigators finally got a break in the case, from a small-time career criminal named Gary Henson.
Frank Hensley of the Middletown police department had just arrested Henson for burglary and drug possession. At the end of his interrogation, Henson dropped a bombshell, saying he knew who shot Lt. Barton's wife.
Henson told the detective the killer was his half-brother William Phelps.
Phelps allegedly revealed his dark secret to Henson just days after the murder. "Phelps finally confided in him. He said, 'I've done a horrible thing.' And, finally, Will says, 'I'm the one who shot her,' " said Det. Hensley.
Henson said Phelps, along with an unidentified accomplice, had planned to burglarize the Barton home.
"Gary told me that Will said, 'I panicked and I shot her in the head,'" said Hensley.
Four months after the murder, Phelps committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Henson said his brother couldn't cope with the guilt of killing Vickie.
Detectives Hensley and J.R. Abshear believed Henson. "He knew that she had been bitten, which had not been released to the media," said Abshear.
But the only hard evidence Abshear had to link Phelps to the crime was the DNA found on Vickie's body. He immediately ordered Phelps' body exhumed, hoping for a DNA match.
But Abshear says there was no DNA match to Will Phelps.
With no direct evidence linking Phelps to the crime — and the identity of his accomplice still a mystery — the question of who killed Vickie remained unanswered and so the case remained open.
Moving on with his life, Jim had begun dating Elaine Geswein, a human resources manager. One year later, they were married.
And, Jim says, there was more good news. In 2003, a countywide cold case team was formed to take a second look at Vickie's murder. "I was thinking, maybe they'll get some energy behind this crime, this investigation, and solve it once and for all," said Jim.
The cold case squad was led by seasoned homicide Capt. John Newsom from the Warren County Sheriff's Office. For weeks, they combed through all the evidence.
Just six weeks into the probe, the squad discovered a clue buried in the evidence. It's on Jim Barton's frantic 911 call (audio). Two and a half seconds of audiotape that broke this case wide open.
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