Kansas man who maintained his innocence in murder case released from prison
December 8, 2015
OSKALOOSA, Kan. -- A Kansas man who spent more than 15 years behind bars accused of murdering a teenage girl is now free, and prosecutors say it appears his brother was the one responsible.
Floyd Bledsoe always said he was innocent, and at one point, his brother Tom actually confessed to the murder. Still, it was Floyd who was convicted, and only saw freedom for the first time on Tuesday after DNA evidence was uncovered, and that brother confessed again from beyond the grave.
Fourteen-year-old Zetta Camille Arfmann, better known as 'Millie,' disappeared on her way home from school in Oskaloosa outside Topeka in November of 1999.
Tom Bledsoe was named a suspect and told detectives where to find the body on his parents’ property. But he told jurors that Floyd took his gun and murdered the girl, and ultimately Floyd was convicted.
The University of Kansas’ Innocence Project got involved and DNA was uncovered linking Tom Bledsoe to the crime. Tom Bledsoe then killed himself in Bonner Springs. On Tuesday, the Jefferson County attorney asked a judge to throw out the conviction.
“I’m just glad this day’s here,” said Floyd, who was asked what he wanted to do first.
“Get out of a courtroom,” he replied.
Jefferson County Attorney Jason Belveal was still in law school at the time of Floyd’s conviction, and said he won`t pursue any further charges against him. Belveal said he tried to reach out to the original prosecutor in the case, who is now retired, but he didn`t return his calls.
FOX 4’s Dave D’Marko also spoke to that teenage girl`s father and asked him about the fact it now appears his daughter`s real killer will never serve time behind bars, but he said he had no comment and the family didn`t want to deal with the tragedy all over again.
By Joe Miller
When Floyd S. Bledsoe spoke publicly for the first time in eight months, he did so with desperation befitting a man in shackles. "First of all, I want to say I didn't do it," he said at his July 14 sentencing hearing, commencing a monologue that rambled for nearly five minutes. Floyd insisted the case against him was rife with doubt. He simply couldn't have killed his sister-in-law, Zetta "Camille" Arfmann -- a 14-year-old whom friends and family hailed as a model Christian, a girl so gentle, her mother said, that bunnies would flock to her like tame kittens. Floyd's final plea was barely coherent. He spit out fragments of evidence: the sound of his car; his work schedule; a receipt from a sporting-goods store. He lashed out at his family -- "Tom Bledsoe, my brother, why he's done this, I don't know" -- and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department -- "There's only a few good cops left in this county." Emotion rippled across his slight frame. His lower lip and receding chin quivered. He slammed his fists across the edge of the defense table.
Judge Dennis Reiling's eyes glazed over as Floyd babbled on. And when the rant ended without summary, the judge calmly laid out the 23-year-old's future: life in prison for first-degree murder plus 16 years for kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child.
For Heidi Bledsoe, the sentence was unsettling. Camille was her younger sister, and her husband's life-long imprisonment provided little closure on the lurid family tangle surrounding her death.
On the afternoon of November 5, 1999, a school bus lumbered along Fairview Lane, just north of Oskaloosa, Kansas. It eased into a curve and pulled to a stop in front of a beige trailer tucked into a dense swath of woods. Camille Arfmann gathered her books and stood up from her perch in the front row.
"Have a nice weekend," the bus driver said, yanking open the door.
"You too," Camille replied. She stepped off the bus and greeted a pair of dogs in the trailer's driveway.
It was Friday, and the shy, quiet ninth-grader had plans. Her church, Countryside Baptist, was holding a retreat that night at the farm of Jim Bolinger, her Sunday-school teacher. After playing games and eating a meal with her young Christian friends, Camille would go to her mother's house in Winchester, a dusty cluster of houses nine miles to the north. She'd spend the weekend there as she usually did, since the trailer was home only on school days. It was a new arrangement. Camille had been performing poorly at Jefferson County North, the school she attended while living with her mother in Winchester. She had moved in with her sister, Heidi; her brother-in-law, Floyd; and her two young nephews, Cody and Christian, right before the start of the school year so she could go to Oskaloosa High School.
Camille's weekend plans never came through. Within an hour, she had disappeared. About 5 o'clock, Camille's best friend, Robin Meyer, pulled her white Sunbird into the trailer's driveway. She'd just gotten off work at the TLC Daycare in Winchester and had come by to hang out with her best friend, as she did on most days.
Robin knocked, but there was no answer. She tried the doorknob. It was unlocked, so she poked her head inside.
"Camille?" she called.
No answer. She must be with her mother, Robin thought. Unconcerned, she headed back to Winchester and watched TV.
An hour later, Jim Bolinger pulled up in one of Countryside Baptist Church's vans to take Camille to the retreat. Usually she was waiting out front, always eager for any church activity. He sent Jennifer Snell, a church member, to the front door. She knocked, but there was no answer. It was dark outside. A couple of lights burned from inside the trailer. Bolinger thought her absence odd. But like Robin, he assumed Camille was with her mother.
By all accounts but her own, Tommie Sue Arfmann had a peculiar relationship with her daughters. She often undermined their social plans by hauling them home to do unfinished chores. Tommie Sue was restless and liked to drive all over Jefferson, Douglas, and Leavenworth counties. Sometimes she'd pull her daughters from church activities or school to ride with her to Atchison or Lawrence, where she'd stop at a store only to emerge with a loaf of bread. "She never made us go to school," Heidi says.
Tommie Sue expected Camille to arrive home from church at 10 o'clock. When 10:15 rolled around and the girl still hadn't arrived, she grew worried. She called the Bolingers, but Jim's wife, Rose, said Camille had never made it to the retreat. She hung up and called her son-in-law, Floyd, at Zule's Dairy, where he had been working since mid-morning: "Do you know where Camille is?"
Floyd and Heidi arrived home from work at about the same time, near midnight. As Floyd pulled up the drive, he saw Heidi approaching the front door with a co-worker who had given her a ride home from her job in Lawrence. Floyd hopped out of his green Nova, leaving the car running.
"Have you seen Camille?" he asked Heidi.
"Not since last night," she said. "Is she inside?"
The dogs were inside, but not a human soul. Things didn't look right. Camille had left her coat in the living room, though it was early November and a chill was settling into the evening air. A half-eaten brownie lay on the couch.
Heidi went to the kitchen and found a note she had written to Camille earlier that day. It congratulated her sister on her report card, which had arrived in the mail that afternoon. Camille had gotten all A's and Bs, and Heidi had written that Camille should stop by over the weekend to pick up her reward: a $20 bill. But Camille hadn't written a note back. Panic welled up in Heidi. Camille always left a note, no matter where she was going.
Camille liked to walk in the woods adjoining their property, which extended north a mile or so. Perhaps she had been in an accident, Heidi surmised. They scoured the area with flashlights. Tommie Sue and Robin arrived and joined the search. They peeked through a hole in the trailer's skirting. They aimed their beams down the water well. They wandered off into the darkness of the woods, crunching through the fallen leaves and yelling Camille's name.
At about 12:30, they decided to call the police. While Floyd went off to pick up the boys from the babysitter, Heidi and Robin went to the sheriff's office to file a missing-person report. Tommie Sue got in her car and searched the countryside.
The cops seemed unconcerned, suggesting that perhaps the girl had gone to a party. "She doesn't go to parties," the women said. They convinced the officers to file a report, but Heidi wasn't Camille's legal guardian, so they had to track down Tommie Sue.
Afterward, the group convened at the trailer and continued the search. Tommie Sue suggested that Camille might be with Camille's sisters, Roberta Graika and Rebecca Wheatley. But they lived far to the south, in Ottawa and Quenemo, and they didn't have phones. Floyd decided to go find out. He arrived at Rebecca's house at 4 a.m., but there was no sign of Camille. He headed for Roberta's home in Quenemo, but she said she hadn't seen Camille either. He returned to Rebecca's, and together they left for Oskaloosa, arriving at the trailer around 6:30.
Running on no food and little sleep, the search party regrouped for a new strategy. A gray fog shrouded the area and people's energies were waning. While Robin and the others made up fliers with Camille's picture on them, Floyd went to town for doughnuts. He ran into Sergeant Robert Poppa at Casey's General Store.
"Why aren't you guys looking for her?" Floyd demanded.
Poppa told him he hadn't even heard about the missing-person report. "Do you think she's been kidnapped?" Poppa asked.
"Yes," Floyd said.
Floyd returned with Poppa, and soon the search was going full steam. The police brought in Barney, a bloodhound from Leavenworth. After taking a whiff of Camille's pillowcase, the dog led them in several directions, but all the trails petered out. Then Sheriff Roy Dunnaway arrived and suggested they take Barney to the area around Zule's Dairy, where Floyd worked milking cows. At a little after 7 the night before, W.S. Knoebel, a colonel in the U.S. Army, had called the sheriff's department claiming he'd heard screams while he was deer hunting. It had been the voice of a young woman, he said, and at about 5:30 she was screaming, "Please don't hurt me! Somebody help me!" But Barney showed no interest in the area. They brought the dog back to the trailer, and he led them to Oskaloosa High School, right up to Camille's locker. They opened it but found no clues to her whereabouts.
The search continued through the weekend. Floyd, Heidi, Tommie Sue, and a shifting assortment of friends drove around the county tacking fliers wherever they could, asking people whether they had seen her. By then, most believed she had been abducted. It wasn't like Camille to just disappear. She had no boyfriend. Family and church were her life. Emotions ran high, and the women often broke down crying. They got only a few hours of sleep each night. Floyd hadn't changed his clothes all weekend.
While she was at Robin's house on Monday morning, Heidi got a call from the sheriff's department. They told her to come to the trailer immediately. She and Robin picked up Tommie Sue and headed home, hoping for the best.
But Camille wasn't there when they arrived. Instead they saw Sergeant Poppa and a priest. Heidi's heart sank. She dropped to her knees beside her husband.
"Camille's dead," Floyd said.
Heidi and Robin burst into tears. Tommie Sue wailed. She recalled how just a week before, Camille had been reading about death in the Bible. "What's it like to die?" she'd asked her mom.
After several minutes, Floyd spoke again: "Tom killed her."
"Tom?" Heidi asked. "Your brother, Tom?"
Throughout the weekend, Floyd's family hadn't helped at all with the search. ("I'd heard she'd run off with her boyfriend," Floyd's father, Floyd L. Bledsoe, told them.) Heidi was disturbed by their lack of concern. Camille had always seemed a part of their family, even working for them at county fairs in summers past, helping serve hamburgers and brisket out of their portable canteen, the B&C Chuckwagon. When the family took a trip to Abilene, she had gone along and the Bledsoes had paid for everything. They'd often bought her gifts and welcomed her at family meals.
But at the same time, Heidi had to admit, she and her sister had never felt perfectly at ease with the Bledsoes. Camille would never visit them unless Heidi and Floyd were present. She'd told her friend Robin she was scared of the elder Floyd. He and his wife, Catherine, were hard drinkers, and his moods shifted dramatically with the flowing spirits.
Heidi recalls another strange thing about Tom and Floyd's parents the weekend Camille was missing. She and Floyd had wanted to bring their sons to the Bledsoes' while they continued to search, but Cody had refused to go -- which was out of character for the 2-year-old. He loved his grandparents and usually begged to visit them two or three times a week.
And Tom, who still lived with his parents, gave Heidi and Robin the creeps. Once, when the two women were alone in the house with him, he had left a dirty magazine conspicuously near the phone. At 25, he was still an active member in the 12-and-up Sunday school group. Tom never had a girlfriend -- he was a virgin, and there were rumors he had a crush on Camille. Just three days before Camille disappeared, he had given her a ride home from an evening church service, though the conservative congregation at Countryside Baptist frowned on young singles being alone together. "I heard that he wanted Camille to be his first," Heidi says. (When police later interrogated him, Tom would confirm his sexual desires for Camille.)
Tom went to church twice that Sunday. Jim Bolinger led both services, and Camille's disappearance weighed on his mind. At the end of the afternoon service, he gathered the congregation in prayer, calling on anyone with knowledge of Camille's whereabouts to step forward. After the group said "Amen," Bolinger noticed something peculiar about Tom. "Prayer -- that does something to people," Bolinger says. "Tom and Floyd. I go way back with them. I know 'em. I know 'em well. I knew something was the matter with him because I just know Tom."
Later that night, his suspicions were confirmed. He got home and pressed "play" on his answering machine. There were two messages from Tom, who sounded upset. In some spots, his voice became inaudible.
Hi, Jim, this is Tom. I ... wanted you to be the first to know. I know ... I lied to you. I know where Camille is. And when you get this message, I'm going to turn myself in to the police.... I wish I never did it. I hurt the church, I hurt God, most of all, I let everyone down. All I can say is, I'm sorry. I'll pay for the rest of my life for what I've done. All I can ask is for the church to remain strong. Please forgive me. As a favor, please remember my mom and dad. Help them when they go through ... Help with the pain.... I'm about to...Thank you, Jim.
A few minutes later he left another message saying he had wanted to tell Jim in front of the church but didn't "have the guts.... I wish I could turn the clock back, but I can't. I made my choice."
Tom had also called his parents to tell them he was at the police station. They took him to find a lawyer, securing the services of the reputable Michael Hayes, whom a fellow attorney describes as "the big dog in Oskie."
As they drove to the Law Enforcement Center, Tom told his mother he loved her and was sorry for what he had done. Catherine Bledsoe took his comments to mean that he had killed Camille.
Sheriff Roy Dunnaway arrived at the sheriff's office and found Tom there with his father and Hayes.
"Are you looking for a young girl?" Hayes asked.
"We know where she is. She's not alive."
A group went to the Bledsoe property, arriving a little before 1 in the morning. The lawyer led the entourage of law enforcement agents and County Attorney Jim Vanderbilt to a shallow ditch, about 75 yards long and filled with trash. For years, the whole Bledsoe clan had hauled its garbage there. Tom sat in a car, saying nothing. Hayes didn't offer specifics as to exactly where the body was, so the officers had to search around. They found a pile of boards on top of a dirt mound that looked suspicious, so they started lifting away sheets of plywood, miscellaneous paper, a gray sock, an egg-noodle bag, a plastic grocery sack, a pair of Rustler blue jeans size 28 x 32.
When they reached dirt they noticed blood. Two officers began digging carefully with their hands. Soon they exposed the white sole of a tennis shoe. Next appeared two legs wrapped in blue jeans that were buttoned and zipped. When they got to the girl's torso, they found her breasts exposed. Her shirt and bra were pulled up near the base of her neck. Three bullet holes marred her torso; two in the chest, one in her left arm. Her face was covered with dirt and scarred with an exit wound. She'd been shot in the back of the head at point-blank range.
About the same time, Tom's lawyer appeared and handed Poppa the gun: a Jennings 9mm semiautomatic, stainless steel with black grips. It was wiped clean of any blood or fingerprints and protected in a white plastic bag. Tom had purchased it just two weeks earlier.
The officers dug around some more but found no bullets or shells at the scene. They would later determine that Camille wasn't killed there. No one would ever know where the girl drew her last breath.
The next day, an eyewitness to the murder surfaced: Floyd and Heidi's 2-year-old son, Cody. While the members of Countryside Baptist prepared for a memorial service that night, Cody told a story to the other children who were there at the church. "Uncle Tom shot Aunt Milly. Bam! Bam! Bam!" he said and dropped to the ground, shaking as if he'd been shot.
Rose Bolinger overheard him. As soon as Heidi arrived, Rose took her and the boy into a room, where he told the story again. Heidi was chilled by what she heard. She was certain that Cody hadn't even heard about his Aunt Milly's death. "He was saying things no 2-year-old would know," Heidi recalls. "He walked us through the whole thing in full detail. And all anyone knew at that time was that Tom shot her." The boy pointed to his head, chest, and arms, indicating where she'd been shot. He explained how her body had been covered.
"How do you know?" Heidi asked.
"I watched it through the window," he said.
"A car window," he said. "They put her in a van."
"Was it Mama and Papa's van?" referring to her in-laws, the Bledsoes.
"No. Mama and Papa were gone. They came back later."
He took them by the hand and led them to the parking lot, where he pointed to one of the church vans.
That couldn't be it, Heidi thought. Then she remembered that the Bledsoes had a white van on their property near the ditch.
Heidi rushed to the police, but they were skeptical. "They said, 'He's 2 years old; he's heard things. That's all it is.'" Nevertheless, Cody would later resurface as a key witness against Floyd -- his own father.
The next day Tom was charged with first-degree murder.
Even with Tom's arrest, however, the case was far from closed. "Things just didn't add up," says Sheriff Dunnaway. Tom was an avid churchgoer, a quiet, seemingly harmless kid. Even his confessional phone messages to Jim Bolinger seemed a little off. "I listened to that tape over and over," Dunnaway says, "and he never did say he had killed her."
So the investigation plodded on, focusing more on Floyd. Police and some of Camille's friends and family had grown suspicious of Floyd since the day after her disappearance. There had, after all, been the report of screams near the farm where he worked. Then there was Floyd's behavior during the search. Early on, he had expected the worst, telling the first officer on the scene he thought she'd been abducted and later asking Dunnaway, "She's dead, isn't she?"
Dunnaway had been puzzled by the question. At that point, the cops assumed Camille had run away. During their interviews with Camille's friends and family, they had learned she was uncomfortable living with Heidi and Floyd. The couple was gearing up for a divorce, and the young girl was troubled by the tension between the two. They had fought almost from day one, when they'd hooked up at the Old Settlers Reunion, Oskaloosa's annual rite of summer. Heidi had been in her mid-teens, and Floyd was pushing 20. The following summer, with Heidi one month pregnant, they had wed at the county courthouse. Because Heidi was 17, she had to get her mother's permission, and Tommie Sue Arfmann would sign the marriage permit only if Floyd provided the dowry of a used car. He had given her an old compact -- it later broke down, and Tommie Sue tried to rescind her consent. (Tommie Sue denies this. She says she agreed to the marriage because Floyd said he would help Heidi finish school.)
Heidi claims it was never her goal to get married. On the day of their wedding, Floyd picked her up under the auspices of visiting some relatives who were in town. When she got into the car he said they were going to get married, and he told Heidi not to embarrass him by protesting. "Let's just go through with it," he said. She now understands that she wasn't ready, that the real reason she went through with it was so she could get out of her mother's house.
The marriage immediately fell into infidelity, with Floyd and Heidi each having their own flings. They fought often and spent long periods of time living apart. Despite the birth of their two sons, their marriage was on again, off again. By the time Camille came to live with them, the couple was talking seriously about divorce. Camille sensed the tension. She wanted to move out and live with Rose and Jim Bolinger.
The Bolingers had a history of taking care of forlorn youth. Jennifer Snell, now 20, had lived with them since she was 14. Her parents had essentially kicked her out of the house, Rose says, and she and her husband had raised Jennifer like a daughter. The Bolingers had offered to do the same for both Heidi and Camille. "Camille could see the love and security we offered Jennifer," Rose says. "Her home life wasn't what it could have been. But her mother wouldn't let her live with us."
Rose also recalled that Camille told her, just a few weeks before she was murdered, that she was afraid to be alone in the trailer with Floyd. Her brother-in-law often provoked pinching fights or tried to wrestle her, Camille told Rose. While that might have been okay when she was a kid, she had grown uncomfortable with the horseplay as she'd matured. When Camille came up missing, Rose thought of Floyd.
Rose helped with the search for a while on the day after Camille's disappearance. "I watched Floyd that day, and he did things I thought were strange," she says. Floyd seemed "nervous, flighty." Whenever officers arrived at the trailer he'd race to their vehicles, pumping them for information. His urgency seemed overboard. And he said things that didn't sit right with Rose, such as: "They act like I did it."
"I couldn't understand what he was referring to as being done," Rose says. "Did what? At that time we didn't know she was dead."
And an incident occurred the following day, when Floyd bumped into Dick Stephens, a local laborer, at Casey's General Store. Floyd stopped Stephens to ask if he could fill a well on the property. Stephens said he could, but not as soon as Floyd wanted. Floyd had hoped he could get it filled that day. He seemed urgent. It wasn't until after Camille was found dead that Stephens thought back to the incident and stepped forward to tell the police.
Finally, there was Floyd's behavior at Camille's memorial service, held at Countryside Baptist the day after her body was found and Tom had turned himself in.
The service that night was wrenching for Heidi. Shortly after it began, when people started talking about how sweet the young girl had been, Heidi broke down and stumbled outside. Floyd followed and then Rose and another friend of Heidi. While Heidi was consoled by her friend, Floyd went into his own squall, pounding his fists against his thighs. "I didn't have no sympathy for him because it was fake," Rose says. "It was a show. If someone is grieving, they go off into a corner. They don't pound their legs and put on a show."
And his "show" was punctuated with strange comments. "If I had only been there five minutes earlier," he cried. Floyd's story had been that he hadn't gone to the trailer at all on the afternoon Camille vanished.
It's easy to see why Floyd would be distraught. He'd spent almost all day under police scrutiny. Earlier he had gone to the Law Enforcement Center, telling Heidi he wanted to help the cops prove Tom had committed premeditated murder. He thought he'd spotted a drop of blood in Tom's truck earlier that day. "We didn't want Tom walking around," she remembers.
When Floyd got to the Law Enforcement Center, he was interrogated by a special agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations. Agents questioned him again on Tuesday, the same day his brother was charged with the crime. But Floyd's father hadn't provided him with legal counsel as he had for Tom. "They always treated Floyd different," says Heidi. "They favored Tom. I guess they always felt sorry for him because he couldn't hear very well and he was smaller." Without an attorney, Floyd waived his Miranda rights and faced Detective Randy Carreno alone.
Carreno asked Floyd about his whereabouts on the day Camille disappeared. Floyd gave him his entire itinerary.
After a fairly routine morning and afternoon of running around town with Heidi and milking the first round of cows at Zule's Dairy, Floyd had run an errand for his boss, Richard Zule. It was 4 o'clock, and Zule sent Floyd to Winchester to buy some duct tape. He handed Floyd a $50 bill and reminded him to bring back a receipt.
As Floyd drove north on Wellman Road, he spotted Camille's school bus heading south, preparing to turn onto Fairview Road, where the trailer is located. He thought about stopping to pick her up and take her with him to work, as he did about twice a week, but he decided not to stop because he knew Sherry Zule would be making him dinner.
He arrived at the hardware store at about 4:20, right around the time Camille stepped off the bus. He visited with the store's clerk, bought the duct tape, and then browsed some of the sweatshirts they had for sale, eventually paying $4.25 for one of them. He bumped into Billy Summerville, who was there with his father purchasing lag bolts. They talked briefly about Floyd's impending divorce. Summerville had a history with Camille -- he'd often pursued her when he'd lived in the same trailer park as Heidi and Floyd. Floyd and Heidi had even filed a complaint and obtained a restraining order against him. "You'll pay for this," Summerville had told Floyd at the time. But that day, they chatted like old neighbors.
The two left the store at the same time. Floyd followed Summerville's black Chevy truck down Wellman Road until their paths diverged and Floyd turned east toward Zule's Dairy, arriving back at work a little before 5.
"Where'd you go, Kansas City?" Zule asked him.
Floyd gave Zule the duct tape and the receipt and returned to milking cows. He continued working until 11:30, more than an hour after Tommie Sue Arfmann called to ask if he'd seen her daughter. He lingered for 20 minutes more, calling Zule to tell him he had a sick cow and trying to reach Tommie Sue and other relatives to check on Camille. Then he went home, eager to find out where she could be.
Floyd did make one admission during the interview that would later be used against him. He said he had once desired his young sister-in-law, in the way he desired his wife.
The investigation into Floyd's involvement intensified throughout the week. Detective Randy Carreno searched Floyd's trailer and the surrounding property. He found burnt fragments of blue jeans near the well Floyd had wanted Dick Stephens to fill on Sunday. Carreno asked Floyd why he would want to burn his jeans.
Floyd said he had been digging and had gotten his jeans covered with dirt. They weren't worth keeping, so he burned them.
"I've never known you to wear a clean pair of jeans," Carreno said.
At that, Floyd started to shake and cry. "You've got to believe me!"
Carreno challenged Floyd, calling him a liar and saying the fabric tatters would be sent to the KBI to be tested for blood.
Floyd pleaded more. "I had nothing to do with Camille's death!"
Carreno went back to the trailer to ask Heidi some questions. Heidi pointed him toward a stain on the carpet in Camille's room. She suspected it could be blood. Carreno collected fragments for the KBI to test.
As Carreno was leaving, Floyd again insisted he was innocent. Carreno asked whether he would be willing to take a lie-detector test.
"Yes," Floyd said. They scheduled a test for Friday afternoon, a few hours before Camille's visitation. When Heidi learned of the test, she questioned her husband. He said he was taking the test because Tom was trying to push the blame on him.
"You don't think I did it, do you?" he had asked her. She didn't know what to think.
Floyd was nervous about the test. The interrogation went on for hours, pressing into the time Floyd was to be at his sister-in-law's viewing.
Floyd never made it to the visitation or to the funeral the following day. That Friday was his first night in jail, and he's been there ever since. He told Heidi he "hadn't done so well" on the lie-detector test.
That same day, Tom was let out of jail on a $2,500 signature bond. All that's required for such releases is a signature on a dotted line -- it's a privilege rarely extended to suspects charged with first-degree murder. The following Monday, the case against Tom was dismissed.
Camille's family and friends were shocked. All week long, Tom's picture had been in the papers and on TV. He had led investigators to her body, and she had been killed with his gun. Suddenly he was out on the streets.
Tommie Sue Arfmann called the cops. "Why is he out?" she demanded. "Camille's just been buried."
"We had no intention of releasing Tom," says Sheriff Roy Dunnaway -- and he offers few reasons for why he ended up letting Tom go. Tom hadn't admitted to killing Camille, he says. And when Tom and Hayes had taken them to Camille's makeshift gravesite, he hadn't told them exactly where the body was. Plus, he just seemed like a harmless Christian.
"Church is Tom's life. We found that out from talking to people and from talking to him," Dunnaway says.
"We had all become uneasy of his being the murderer," adds Vanderbilt.
But Vanderbilt would prefer not to reveal his strategy in this, the strangest twist in the Bledsoe case. "Some of the results of the investigation can't be released," he says. And court records contain little information about Tom in the days prior to his release. In fact, Carreno's report has no record of Tom's activities between November 10 and 14, the period when Tom and Floyd switched places. It reads as if the lead detective on the case took a short vacation right at the most critical moment.
So in the end, Tom's freedom boils down to a simple fact: He ratted on his maligned brother and the authorities believed him.
Though there are hints that Tom changed his story while he was in jail to implicate Floyd, his official statements, videotaped and polygraphed, didn't occur until a couple of weeks later. According to Sheriff Dunnaway, Tom passed his lie-detector test "with flying colors. We kept pushing him closer and closer to the truth, and his answers appeared to be consistent with the truth."
Floyd's attorney, John Kurth, says that's not what sheriff's deputies told him. "What they told me is both of them were close," he says. "They said, 'Tom, you're close, so we're going to say you pass.' And they said, 'Floyd, you're close, so we're going to say you fail.'"
And Floyd's failure wasn't pure, Kurth says. "They told me the test proved he was withholding information, that there was something more he knew."
Regardless, polygraph results can't be used to convict someone of a crime. "It's basically voodoo stuff," Kurth says.
Even with the lie-detector test, Tom's version of events was hard to believe, at least to those who knew the two Bledsoe brothers.
Tom told the investigators that on the morning after Camille's disappearance he had seen Floyd driving along U.S. 59, which runs through Oskaloosa, and drove up beside him.
Tom asked if they'd found Camille, if they'd put out fliers.
Floyd replied, in what Tom thought was a "harsh way," that he had.
Tom said he'd heard the police were looking for Camille. At this, Tom noticed Floyd getting nervous. He appeared scared. He leaned forward and rested his head and arms on the steering wheel.
"What's wrong?" Tom asked.
"Camille's dead," Floyd said. He started to weep.
"What do you mean?" Tom is hard of hearing, so he couldn't fully understand Floyd when Floyd then said that "I," "we," or "they" had killed her, accidentally.
"Why?" Tom asked.
Floyd laid a hand on his forehead and shrugged his shoulders. He shook his head, not speaking.
"Did you rape her?" Tom asked.
"Did you sexually abuse her?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. If you call pulling her shirt and bra up over her shirt sexual abuse."
"Why?" Tom asked again.
Floyd said nothing. He just sat there.
"What did you shoot her with?" Tom asked.
"With your pistol."
Tom reached behind the seat in his truck with his left hand and felt where he kept the gun. The bag felt heavy.
"How did you get it?"
Floyd said he'd gotten it out of Tom's truck earlier in the week.
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did," Floyd said. "I put it back in the truck when you, mom, and dad were sleeping."
"Where is she?"
Floyd said she was lying over in the brome field on their folks' property, underneath some dirt and trash.
"Why are you telling me this?" Tom asked
Floyd answered with a threat: "Don't tell anyone. If you do, I'll tell them about your past."
Tom told the police that he thought of running straight to the authorities with what he knew, but he didn't. Instead he headed for Lawrence, where he worked as a security guard at Farmland Industries. While he was at work he checked his gun. He raised it to his nose and sniffed. It smelled like gunpowder, recently fired. He checked for bullets. There were two in the clip and one in the tube. When he got off work, he drove past his parents' house and into the field. He parked 10 or 15 feet away from the ditch where everyone threw their trash. Flashlight in hand, he wandered around until he found shovel marks revealing the gravesite. He climbed down into the ditch and dug around until he saw part of Camille's body, and then he covered her back up.
He went home, where he lay in bed, tossing and turning, wondering what to do. At some point, he decided to take the blame for his brother's crime. He didn't want anyone to know what he'd once done.
Tom's story was unfathomable to those who knew the two brothers. By all accounts the men hated each other and rarely spoke. "They fought like cats and dogs for as long as I can remember," says Rose Bolinger, who has known them since they were children. "There was always envy and strife between them." Jim Bolinger used to refer to them as Cain and Abel.
"They always hated each other," Heidi says. "Totally hated each other." She recalls how Floyd would say "something stupid," cutting Tom down about his looks, his being somewhat deaf, his lack of a girlfriend. Tom would react in a rage. "Tom always had a bad temper. His face got red." He'd chase Floyd around, sometimes with makeshift weapons -- a hose, a hand vacuum, whatever was lying around.
They were deeply jealous of each other. Floyd envied Tom's apparent lack of responsibilities and problems. Tom had a crush on Heidi before Floyd married her, and he yearned for the family life Floyd had procured, even though his marriage hardly seemed desirable.
The couple saw Tom only when they visited Floyd's parents, Heidi says. The brothers interacted very little. It was hard to believe Floyd would know about Tom's gun, which was almost brand-new. It was even harder to believe that Floyd would confide in his brother. "Why would he run off and tell the person he hates most?" Heidi asks.
To assuage doubts about his story, Tom reluctantly offered a reason at Floyd's preliminary hearing last November 29.
"I believe you testified earlier that Floyd would humiliate you if you didn't take the rap for his murder," Kurth said from the podium. "Is that correct?"
"Yes," Tom said.
"What exactly did he say?"
"That he'd tell people about my past."
"But he gave no indication of what that would have been?"
"It would be everything," Tom said. He paused and then added: "It would be one little thing."
"Tom, what is it about your past that you were worried about?"
"That I've done it when I was a kid ... that I looked at dirty magazines."
"You were worried that if you didn't take the rap for murder, he'd tell that you read dirty magazines?" asked Kurth, dumbfounded.
"That, plus some other stuff."
"Some other stuff. What other stuff?"
"Okay. You've looked at dirty movies, dirty magazines. Was there something else you were worried about?"
"What was that?"
"I played with myself."
"That you played with yourself. Okay. Anything else?"
"There was some other stuff."
"What would that be?"
"When I was a kid -- do I have to answer that?"
"Tom, I'm not trying to humiliate you in any way," Kurth said. "I'm simply trying to find out what it is that would have motivated you to take a murder rap to keep quiet. Is there something more serious than those things or is it just things along this nature?"
Finally, Tom told him: "I tried to have sex with a dog."
But even this didn't satisfy Camille's family and friends. They'd already heard. And they'd heard that Tom hadn't just tried, he'd succeeded. And that he'd done it several times. And that shortly thereafter, the dog died.
Months later, Floyd's trial began. Prosecutor Jim Vanderbilt went in with little on which to base a case. There was virtually no physical evidence linking Floyd to the crime. The rape kit came up negative, yielding no DNA. The scraps of burned jeans found near Floyd's trailer contained no signs of blood. None of Camille's blood was found on any of Floyd's clothes, in his car, in his house, or in Richard Zule's truck. The stains on the carpet in Camille's room most likely were from a spilled drink. There were no fingerprints or blood on the gun, though Camille had been killed at point-blank range. A shoe print inside the hood of Floyd's car trunk didn't match up with Camille. No one even knew where or exactly when Camille was killed. "We didn't have a lot of things I would prefer to have," says Vanderbilt.
The case boiled down to conflicting timelines and the recollections of two warring brothers. Kurth set out to show that Tom had more time to commit the crime than his brother by attacking the validity of Tom's strongest alibi: a receipt from Rusty's Outdoor Sports in Lawrence. Tom was off work the day Camille disappeared; his story was that he had gone into Lawrence around 2 in the afternoon to pick up his check, then stopped at two sporting-goods stores, buying bullets at the second, Rusty's. Then he went home and got ready for church, where he showed up right on time, a little after 6. The time on the receipt read 4:30, putting him far south of Oskaloosa when Camille stepped off her school bus and vanished. KBI agents had scrutinized the time on the store's cash register and found it to be "relatively close for the time" -- but when Kurth tested the clock he discovered that it was 45 minutes fast. Tom would have had plenty of time to show up in Oskaloosa as Camille had gotten off the bus, Kurth argued.
Kurth also tried to debunk the prosecution's theories on how Floyd would have had time to commit the crime. The prosecution had focused on Floyd's trip to Winchester Hardware to buy duct tape. Before the trial, a KBI agent had timed the route, driving from Winchester Hardware to the Bledsoe trailer, where he stopped for three minutes, then on to the Zule farm. At 50 to 55 miles per hour, the entire trip took 24 minutes, much shorter than the hour Floyd had taken. But, Kurth argued, the test failed to take into account the trip from the Zule farm to Winchester, or the time Floyd spent chatting with the store's owner and Billie Summerville (sheriff's investigators had already cleared Summerville of any involvement in Camille's death). It just didn't add up.
Then there was the question of when Floyd would have actually killed Camille. By this time, the prosecution had come to believe that Floyd's 2-year-old son actually had witnessed the murder -- but his story had changed. The day after Camille's body was found, he'd told his schoolmates, "Uncle Tom killed Aunt Milly. Bam! Bam! Bam!" But he now said he saw his father kill Camille. Because Cody had been with a babysitter until after midnight, the prosecution reasoned that Floyd must have killed the girl after he had picked up his kids from Brandi Wampler's. Given the witnesses who had been with Floyd that night, how could Floyd have taken his boys to an unknown location and killed her in front of them?
Moreover, Kurth asked the jury, where was the blood? If Floyd had shot Camille point-blank, some blood would have splattered on him -- yet Heidi and others testified that Floyd hadn't changed his clothes the whole weekend. (Tommie Sue even remembers that she commented that weekend on how ripe Floyd smelled.)
And how did Floyd get Tom's gun and return it to Tom's truck after the killing? Kurth swears that his client didn't even know Tom had a gun.
The trial lasted a little over three days, after which the jury deliberated for three and a half hours before coming back with a guilty verdict. Although Kurth believes he successfully challenged every bit of the prosecution's evidence, Vanderbilt feels confident that the facts pointed to Floyd. He declines to comment on the specifics of the trial, however, saying he doesn't want to undermine his efforts to fend off future appeals. Yet he acknowledges that the whole truth might not have been told. Given the dearth of evidence against Floyd, "it's easy to second guess" his conviction, Vanderbilt says.
So Vanderbilt, in the days following the hearing, turned the case file over to the Kansas Attorney General's office for review, "to see if there's anything I missed." Perhaps the state's attorneys can draw more suspects to the fore. And Vanderbilt's counterparts in Jefferson County law enforcement are still on the lookout for new leads. "The case is not closed," says Dunnaway. "I'll put it like this: Do we know the truth, the whole truth? No, we don't. Is there someone out there who knows the whole truth? I believe that's a good possibility. It doesn't sit well with me."
On a hot July afternoon, Jim and Rose Bolinger sit at a picnic table on their farm, where members of the church gather weekly for retreats. A summer camp is in session, and girls are cooling off in a barn, which has been renovated into sleeping quarters. The boys are off at the far end of the property, doing some healthy manual labor. Rose idly caresses a framed collage made out of pictures of Camille. From each photo, Camille looks out with the same expression, a closed-mouth smile, her head cocked a little to the right and pointed just slightly down.
"She would always do what she was told," Rose recalls. "When there was nothing to do, she would ask for something to do. When we were on the farm, she was always right there. Not in front, not beside. Always right here, behind me. She was an easy, smooth child." Camille told them her goal in life was to be a police officer, the one who hands out teddy bears to kids in trauma.
Rose begins to cry, wondering if Camille would be alive today if she had moved in with the couple. "That's the guilt I carry. She told me she didn't like being around Floyd and I didn't do anything. I carry that guilt."
Eventually the boys return to camp, piling out of a pickup. Tom Bledsoe is among them. He spots the Bolingers and disappears into the building. Rose glances over her shoulder at the campers milling around, preparing for an afternoon service that Jim heads off to lead.
"Ever since this happened, I haven't felt at ease around Tom," she says. "That's the hard part. I've not only known Camille all these years, I've known Tom and Floyd all these years too. It's not just that Camille's gone --" She stops herself to wipe away a tear. "It's uncertain, because no one will talk."
But Tom talked.
"But it was Tom's gun," she says. "It's one brother's word against another brother's word."
||Truth in Justice