Jessica Currin was found dead behind Mayfield Middle School in 2000. Five years later, the investigation into her murder was stalling. A suspect had been charged, tried and acquitted. Mayfield’s police chief and assistant chief resigned, claiming it had nothing to do with the case. The state police took over, but made little headway. So people began asking for federal involvement. But local involvement made the difference.
Susan Galbreath decided to do her part to find the killer. By 2004, Susan had collected enough information to know she needed help. She wrote to Oprah and Julia Roberts. Nothing. She also emailed BBC journalist Tom Mangold, and to her surprise, not only did he reply, he came to Mayfield. They became good friends, and their work helped insure Quincy Cross’ 2008 conviction for Jessica’s murder. WKMS Reporter Todd Hatton sat down with Susan Galbreath in our studios, with Tom Mangold on the line from England, to talk about the alliance that cracked the case.
Read Tom Mangold's personal account, Murder in Mayfield.
Listen to the full BBC Radio Four presentation here.
Read the full transcript from this interview below:
Todd: Susan Galbreath, you said that after you came across the body of Jessica Currin, after the authorities had located it, she just didn’t seem to quite let you go and you felt compelled to get involved. But I have to wonder if since then, if there was some sort of identification somehow, something that went beyond sympathy that really drove you to pursue this case.
Susan: Well, in 1999 I had the death of my brother, father and mother and. So it was a real rough year for me. And I think that I’ve always felt I was meant to be there the day they found Jessica’s body and I often refer to it as through her I somehow got my purpose back, because it was a real rough year in 1999.
Todd: Let me bring you in now Tom Mangold. You wrote that you had the sense there was a real story here and that’s part of what brought you to the case and across the Atlantic. But you also mention that there was a certain kind of something about Susan and have you subsequently been able to put your finger on what that thing is, that quality is.
Tom: Well I noticed that she really didn’t answer your first question, because I don’t think Susan herself is quite sure what it was that particularly grabbed her about the Jessica Currin case. If I had to hazard a guess, and I’ve never really done more than guess about it, I think she has a kind of Erin Brokovich dimension which came out at that particular time. And I think it’s still there and I think it could come out again tomorrow. You’re asking me why I sensed a story, one just does. Well it seemed to me that here was a very interesting situation where you have a murder, well murder is pretty commonplace everywhere in the western world. But you had somebody who was absolutely dedicated to finding out who the culprits were, didn’t know why she was so dedicated, and was up against what was effectively a corrupt police force, a totally failed series of investigations, but just plowed on and on without any particular benefit to herself.
Todd: You’re fully confident in the results that you got obviously.
Susan: I am, yes. I interviewed Quincy Cross. I spent about an hour and a half interview with him. In that interview, Tom told me ‘don’t expect a confession’, and so I didn’t. But the truth never changes, but lies do. In that interview he gave me some telling information that I knew had never been made public. I remember at the time screaming pretty much to the Kentucky State Police that this is enough to arrest him on right here. Did it happen? No. But I definitely believe they got the right culprit with Quincy Cross.
Todd: Well I have to say the account of the interview was to say the least hair-raising. I don’t know how you managed to find the intestinal fortitude to go and talk to him. Knowing and believing what you knew and what you had walking in there is really quite remarkable.
Susan: I used Tom in fact, I….
Tom: Well, let me just add this. I’m reasonably an unemotional kind of bloke, and when Susan told me she was going to interview Quincy Cross I started yelling at her. My yells turned to screams and my wife downstairs was saying ‘Is anything wrong dear?’ you know. I said under no circumstances are you to interview this man. You must be out of your mind. You’re not to go, I’m telling you, I’m ordering you, I’m begging you. But, I have to say, it had absolutely no effect. You don’t stop Susan. When she’s got an idea in her head she just moves ahead. Period.
Todd: Let’s talk about the reaction. People in Mayfield have not reacted all that positively, did they?
Susan: No. In the beginning they did. In the beginning it was all bells and whistles. The thing is, is when you got family members of the accused that are fighting to prove innocence, who plead guilty, the Alford plea. But they did plea guilty. You’ve got them screaming innocent, innocent, innocent. That’s what it all stems from. The families of the accused that are the biggest ones shouting against everything,
Todd: Some recent developments, a little less than three months ago, Jessica Currin’s parents, along with relatives of those who were convicted in her murder, asked for federal help to more fully investigate the case. I’ll throw this question out to both of you, what is your reaction to that and what do you think needs to be more fully investigated here?
Susan: I personally believe that all of the police officers, including the mayor and some prosecutors and some judges, and everyone involved in the legal stand of the case back then should be investigated. Personally. There were some legalities that were not followed up on and there was a lot of things that were not done that were totally legal. And so I do believe they should be investigated. As far as my opinion on the family, I completely feel for them and I believe they’re right to want answers. And there’s still answers I’ like to have. But I believe that we got it right. I can only hope that her family has found some kind of closure.
Todd: Tom Mangold.
Tom: I agree with Susan a hundred percent. I am absolutely astonished that the allegations of corruption within the Mayfield Police Department, which have been made very, very strongly to me on tape, have not been investigated. I don’t understand why the state authorities have not looked at it, because clearly there was great deal of hanky panky in Mayfield. And the Kentucky Bureau of Investigation detective who was sent in to finally clear this whole mess up, you may recall they had to have protection when they traveled around Mayfield because they felt very threatened by the MPD. So there’s a whole kind of back lot of mess there which still needs to be looked at and dealt with.
Todd: Well I’ll talk a little bit more about the fallout from that. Certainly the chief of police and the assistant chief of police were subsequently convicted on corruption charges. Those corruption charges were wiped off of their record because one of the conditions of that happening was they went for two years without a felony. And that was nine years ago. And I can see where the culture of the law enforcement in Mayfield would lend credence really to the idea that there was a conspiracy.
Tom: The investigation was such a farce that it cannot have been in my humble opinion accidental and if I do subscribe to one tiny piece of a conspiracy theory I think from day one the decision had been taken that this investigation would be flawed and would lead nowhere. And that’s exactly what happened.
Todd: I read on your website Mr. Mangold that there is a film in the works about the subject?
Tom: I did a piece not so much about the murder, but about Susan and me, for the Times of London three years ago. And I received approximately 15 to 16 film offers. And they were all interested in the relationship between an aging British hack and this lovely young lady originally from Chicago. But the relationship, which is a formidable one and a very close one, is something that intrigued to film makers. And in the end Susan and I, quite logically, signed a contract with BBC Films. The script has been written. I think the plan is to shoot, for some reason, in Tennessee for tax reasons. Don’t ask me who’s going to play me because I wanted Brad Pitt to play me.
Susan: That’s what I was thinking Tom, it would have been a perfect match.
Tom: He’s far too old for me. I know the talk is of a Susan Sarandon type actress to play Susan. It’s an interesting story and we have had a remarkable relationship and one that’s given me intense pleasure.