Log in

Three arrested after witness comes forward in decades-old murder case


SEYMOUR —Almost 35 years ago, Kelle Ann Workman, 24, of rural Douglas County, went missing from the Pleasant Ridge Church and was found dead about a week later in Christian County, her body disposed of in a ravine about 16 miles away.

On Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement officials, including Douglas County Sheriff Chris Degase, and Prosecutor Matthew Weatherman held a press conference at the same church to let the public know Bobby L. Banks, 65, of Seymour; Leonard D. Banks, 64, of Gainesville; and Wiley Belt, 64, of Ava, have been arrested and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and forcible rape.

They are being held on $250,000 cash bond each, Weatherman said, after a grand jury proceeded with an indictment based on evidence presented and the testimony of a witness who came forward with new information decades after the investigation started.

All three pleaded "not guilty" at their arraignments, and as of Friday morning, Belt is the only one to have hired legal representation, Springfield Attorney Joseph Passanise, according to court records. The Bankses are scheduled to appear at a hearing March 5 before 44th Judicial Associate Circuit Court Judge R. Craig Carter and Belt is to appear for a hearing the same day before 44th Judicial Associate Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Bock.


The Quill first reported Workman's disappearance on Monday, July 3, 1989, and noted she had been missing since the evening of the previous Friday from Pleasant Ridge Church near the intersection of Highway 14 and Z Highway.

The church is about 14 miles northwest of Ava and 10 miles south of Seymour, and about a mile and a half from Workman's home, where she lived with parents Stanley and Joan Workman. She had been mowing the grass at the cemetery. Her lawn mower, a gas can and her car with the keys in the ignition were at the scene, raising suspicions of foul play early on.

In the first few days, a search was conducted by law enforcement, friends, family and community members and focused on an area within a 15-mile radius of the church.

At the time Roldan Turner, who was Douglas County sheriff and has since retired, called on anyone who might have information about her disappearance to come forward, saying, “I’m sure someone has seen something where they may not have put two and two together."

Workman's father said in a published statement, before the discovery of her body about a week later, "I think somebody has picked her up. That's the only explanation. There ain't no way in the world she would have gone with them."

Her body was found July 7 in a ravine in Christian County, about 16 miles southwest of the church, off of Highway 14 and about 3 miles south of Sparta. Turner reported her body was found submerged up to the waist and badly decomposed. She was identified with dental records, and Turner compared the condition of her body with that of Ronnie Johnson, 26, of West Plains, who was found murdered and mutilated on April 26 of that year in the Mark Twain National Forest near Noblett Lake in eastern Douglas County.

He had been missing for about 24 days when his body was found by a hunter; the cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound to the head and that case remains unsolved. Since the discovery was made in Douglas County, Turner was also in charge of that investigation, but he commented at the time he had no reason to believe the two cases were related.


At the press conference Weatherman announced an individual had indeed come forward with information they felt would solidify their case and allow them to put their evidence before a grand jury.

When asked specifically about forensics and what evidence might be presented to a jury, Weatherman commented he couldn't give many details, but said the information presented to the grand jury was "rock solid."

"It's as good as a 1989 case can ever be," he added, further commenting that the prosecution would rely on the testimony of live witnesses, including law enforcement, plus the likely testimony of an eyewitness, and he was confident the suspects would be convicted based on that evidence. "There was a person that came forward after almost 30 years of holding this inside, that came forward and finally told us this last piece that allowed us to slide it all together,” he added

He further explained since it was a grand jury indictment, a probable cause statement normally filed by law enforcement in such cases was not required and would not be filed in this case.

Soon after the discovery of Workman's body interviews were conducted with possible witnesses. Steve Whitney, who was the Christian County sheriff then, commented her body had no apparent bullet wounds, there were no apparent head injuries and no sexual assault.

The grand jury indictment charges the three defendants, acting in concert, caused Workman's death by striking her with a blunt object and had confined her without her consent for the purpose of committing forcible rape.

Degase said the suspects had been on a list of persons of interest since the beginning of the investigation, but the person that came forward was not a suspect. When asked about the family's reaction to the charges and arrests, Degase said he met them Tuesday evening and they expressed they had been afraid the day would never come when they would see charges brought, and were relieved but asked that their privacy be respected while they process the latest developments in the case.

"They were as happy as could be for the outcome," Degase said. "I think we're going to be able to give Kelle some justice, and hopefully give the family some closure knowing these guys aren't out here and running around, simply getting away with it."