Michael Crisp, director and producer of The Very Worst Thing, the documentary film about the 1958 Prestonsburg (Floyd County), Kentucky school bus disaster, has written a book about another famous Kentucky story: the unsolved murder of Muriel Baldridge.
Murder in the Mountains: The Muriel Baldridge Story revisits the slaying of Muriel Baldridge, the 17-year old Prestonsburg High School cheerleader who was found beaten to death on the morning of June 28, 1949. After a yearlong investigation that featured several twists and turns, culminating with a sensational trial and a controversial verdict, the case remains unsolved to this day.
On the evening of June 27, 1949, Muriel Baldridge, a pretty young high school girl from West Prestonsburg, attended a carnival with 3 of her girlfriends. Later that evening, she and her friends parted ways at the West Prestonsburg bridge. As she began making her way home across the bridge, she was abducted and assaulted by an unknown attacker. Her screams were heard throughout the neighborhood, but the crime went unseen and her killer vanished into the night.
The following morning, Muriel’s body was discovered lying on the riverbank underneath the West Prestonsburg bridge. Her family, as well as the community, were heartbroken.
Evidence was gathered at the scene, which included an 8-inch lead pipe which many believed to be the murder weapon. Other clues included several footprints found near her body, as well as an empty whiskey bottle found near the bridge. Other physical evidence would soon materialize, as would eyewitness testimony from a 15-year old carnival worker who claimed that he saw the murder occur.
The investigation also featured a confession from a former carnival worker who claimed he killed Muriel, but his confession was withdrawn the next day. Another young man from a prominent family in Pikeville confessed to the crime, but he also repudiated his statement soon afterward.
After several strange twists which included “truth serum” interrogations, a jailbreak, and a statewide manhunt, a grand jury eventually indicted two Prestonsburg men, one of which was a prominent member of the Floyd County Board of Education. After their murder trial, which provided just as many twists and turns as the murder probe itself, it was easy to see why the Floyd County Times called the case “probably the most bizarre and confusing in the annuals of Eastern Kentucky crime”. The murder of Muriel Baldridge remains unsolved to this day, and is still considered a “cold case” by local law enforcement officials.
Michael Crisp researched the case thoroughly, and is working closely with John Preston, who is a nephew of Muriel Baldridge, as well as John’s wife Lynn Preston, who has been instrumental in gathering information about Muriel’s life and the investigation into her murder. The Prestons have contributed several photographs to the book, and several of Muriel’s friends and classmates were also interviewed for the book.
Murder in the Mountains: The Muriel Baldridge Story will be available at bookstores throughout the state, as well as online at www.kentuckycoldcases.com.