In a meticulously-reported piece for Oxford American, Nick Tabor explores the bungled investigation into an unsolved 1994 double murder in Oak Grove, Kentucky — a small town next to a big army base that exemplifies the military-industrial complex’s depressing effects on small-town economic development, governance, and policing.
In an alternate history, the Army’s presence could have spurred rapid economic development in Hopkinsville. The city might have extended its borders down to the state line, annexing all of that empty farmland, and business leaders could have built new neighborhoods, stores, and a movie theater. This is exactly what happened in Clarksville, Tennessee, on the other side of the post. But it was not to be in Christian County, because the people of Hopkinsville considered the soldiers an “inferior social group,” as Turner put it to me. Parents didn’t want the troopers mingling with their daughters, which they did anyway, and fights were always breaking out at bars. In 1952, a federal grand jury determined that soldiers had been “brutally beaten or killed” by Hopkinsville police, and an Army general threatened to declare the whole city temporarily off-limits for military personnel. The space in between remained a no-man’s-land, with development limited to a few stray trailer parks.