Louisa - Nobody in the rural community of Blaine had any reason to suspect a relatively new neighbor was the estranged wife of a man who had been on the run from the FBI for two years for his role in the alleged beatings of children and adults as part of a religious cult in Arkansas, Lawrence County Sheriff Garrett Roberts said Wednesday.
The body of John Erwin Kolbeck, 50, who was wanted in connection with his actions as part of Tony Alamo Ministries, has been taken to Fouke, Ark., for funeral services after he died on a rural farm in the Blaine community last week.
Witnesses testified during court proceedings for Tony Alamo that Kolbeck administered savage beatings to discipline children and adults at Alamo's compound in Fouke.
Sheriff Roberts said Kolbeck's identity was discovered as part of the routine investigation into his death from what appeared to be a heart attack, even though the man's wife gave false names for both of them as part of their initial followup to his death.
"Dispatch got a hysterical call from a woman who said her husband was not breathing," Roberts said, recalling the unexpected discovery of Kolbeck's identity, adding members of the man's family administered CPR until an ambulance could get to the rural farm property on Right Fork Laurel Road more than 30 minutes after the call was received.
"She identified herself as Michelle Jones and him as John Jones," the sheriff continued, explaining he asked her for some form of legal identification, causing her to provide Army discharge papers that identified the man by his actual name. Despite his status with FBI agents in Arkansas, Roberts said he was not familiar with the Tony Alamo Ministries case and Kolbeck's name didn't cause any reason to suspect anything was wrong until he called Kentucky State Police, who ran the name and informed the sheriff he was considered a federal fugitive.
Describing Kolbeck as a tall man with a long beard and hair, Sheriff Roberts also said Kolbeck did not resemble his official description. Kolbeck's identity was confirmed through his Social Security number and fingerprints taken at the local coroner's office, he said.
Mrs. Kolbeck, whose first name is Jennifer, told the sheriff she had received a call from her estranged husband in Somerset a couple of days before his death, telling her he was sick and needed help. She said they had been separated prior to that time, he reported.
"We had never had any calls or reports of suspicious activity out there," Roberts said, describing the rural property as a typical family farm with livestock including cattle and goats.
Several residents of the area who were questioned about Kolbeck said they had never seen the man before, although Mrs. Kolbeck was known to them as "M.J." and seemed to be a good, friendly neighbor who lived quietly on the nearly 250 acre farm. The property was purchased roughly eight months ago after it was posted for sale on the Internet, he reported.
After Kolbeck's identity had been established, Sheriff Roberts said he immediately left the coroner's office and returned to the farm to further discuss the case with Mrs. Kolbeck. "Once we got there she was already gone," he said, adding her sudden departure was not considered an effort to elude law enforcement or further investigation.
Roberts said the woman had expressed concerns about members of the media disturbing her grieving family as part of their efforts to report about her husband's death, adding the case appears to be of greater interest in Arkansas than it is in this area.
The sheriff said any charges that might be filed against Mrs. Kolbeck will be determined by officials in Arkansas.
"The FBI said they had no warrants or charges against Jennifer Kolbeck," he said. "As far as her providing false information we are not expecting to file any charges."
Roberts said the Kolbeck's had four children between them, and reported three adult and four juvenile children were known to be residing at the farm property in Blaine, including an 18-year-old male who was responsible for the family's livestock.
Upon close examination, the sheriff said there was "nothing to show there was any danger" to the children or to indicate in any way that the Blaine property was going to be used in connection with any church or cult activity.
Social service workers in Arkansas have forwarded their information to case workers in Kentucky who have already initiated interviews with family members to determine if any of the children at the residence were mistreated, the sheriff reported.
Roberts said he suspects Kolbeck's death was directly related to his status as one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives.
"I'm sure looking over your shoulder every day is going to take a toll on your health," he concluded.