Robert Carl Foley

As I was researching this case I realized I had stumbled across the real-life Justified and Boyd Crowder, although admittedly I cannot say if Robert Foley had Crowder's charm. Harlan County Kentucky is even mentioned. In fact, Foley's first conviction for murder was in Harlan County.

On August 17, 1991 Robert Foley murdered two brothers, Rodney and Lynn Vaughn in his home in Laurel County Kentucky. It was said that there were ten other adults in the home at the time the shooting started and even several children. Witnesses would say that everyone, except it seems Foley had “checked” their weapons in a kitchen cabinet. At some point Foley and thirty-nine year old Rodney Vaughn had a confrontation of sorts. Allegedly Rodney pointed a finger at Rodney and warned him not to hit him again, Foley then knocked him to the floor and shot him six times. It sounds as if most of the people began to take off from the home but thirty year old Lynn Vaughn kneeled down by his dying brother and while he did so Foley shot him once in the back of the head. Now, there apparently was only one man left at the party. He would allegedly be forced to help Foley dispose of the bodies in a nearby creek. Some reports say that three people helped him but I could not find names of anyone involved in this case.

Sadly there is little information about this case. I can tell you that the following day the Vaughn boys' mother reported them missing and told investigators that they were supposed to be at the Foley home the night before. I cannot say how the bodies were found or what evidence or witnesses were used against Foley when he went to trial in 1993. What I can say is that he was found guilty and sentenced to death on September 2, 1993.

These two murders were far from Robert Foley's firsts or even the first he had been caught for. On April 18, 1977 he was convicted of murder and two counts of first degree assault in Harlan County stemming from a crime committed on April 17, 1976. Again, this is all of the information I can find on this case aside from the fact that he was released on parole sometime in the 1980's and had allegedly become an informant for the FBI.

He was still listed as on parole when he committed his next crime on October 8, 1989. Foley was living in Laurel County by that time with his wife Marjorie. Foley was not actually following the law at, he just was not getting caught. He was involved in dealing marijuana and the distribution of moonshine, among other things. He had several buddies that he hung out with, David Gross, Gordon Canter and Paul Riley. It was said that the four men were not exactly always on the right side of the law but it appears that aside from Foley, who had that murder charge, they stayed under the radar. It appears that another local man named Calvin Reynolds may have hung out with them some also but were not as close as the others.

David Gross lived in a cabin adjacent to property owned by his uncle, Murphy. Murphy died in August of 1989, leaving his widow on the land but by the following year she had deeded the property to John Foley, Robert's father. Robert would later tell the courts that it was actually his land but due to judgments from creditors they had put the property in his father's name. But, in October of 1989 it still belonged to Murphy's widow.

Calvin Reynolds, Gordon Canter and Reynolds' girlfriend, Kimberly Bowersock were coming home from Murphy Gross' funeral on September 2, 1989 when they were pulled over by a police officer. Calvin was arrested for DUI and while Canter and Bowersock were intoxicated it is not clear if they went to jail at all. Even if they did they bailed out quickly while Calvin had to stay for a while. He would not be released until October 7th.

It seems that sometime between their arrest and Calvin's release Robert Foley had gotten wind or some how believed that Kimberly Bowersock had planned or already had told his parole officer that he was selling drugs. Bowersock lived in Ohio but Foley made sure apparently that people knew he was looking for her and if they saw her to let him know. He had stated he planned to “kick her ass” at the very least.

When Calvin got out of jail on October 7th Kimberly was looking for someone to take her to Laurel County to pick him up and bring him back to Ohio with her. Whether she knew Foley was looking for her, or if she had even done the things he thought she had is unknown. After trying several people Kimberly finally got a friend named Jerry McMillan to take her and another friend, Lillian Contino had offered to ride with them.

Calvin was supposed to meet the other three at David Gross' cabin but when they got there he was not there and so they went to his home, seemingly just down the road and they all returned to Gross' cabin. Also at the cabin was David Gross' girlfriend, Phoebe Watts, his two children and Gordon Canter. At some point Gordon Canter called Robert Foley and told him that Kimberly was in the area and was either at or coming back to David Gross' home. Because of his felony conviction and his parole Foley had Canter holding on to his guns. According to Canter, as well as Marjorie Foley and two other witnesses to the phone call at the Foley home, Robert told Canter to bring his guns and meet him at his house. Marjorie Foley would later say that when he left the home that night he told her if he was not home by morning he was either dead or in jail and he should tell his parents.

According to Canter, the two men arrived back at the Gross cabin about 11:30 that night. As they entered the home Foley almost immediately grabbed Kimberly by the hair. Calvin Reynolds went to help his girlfriend but Foley pulled out his gun and shot him. Foley then shot Kimberly, Contino and McMillan. He went back and shot Kimberly one more time in the back of the head. He, although the reasoning is unclear, aimed the gun at David Gross but he did not shoot him when he “begged for his life.”

Foley, Canter and Gross took the four bodies to a log hauling trailer while Phoebe Watts cleaned up the cabin. The men then took McMillians car to Lexington, nearly two hours away where they left it in a motel parking lot. Canter alleged that Foley then called an auto place pretending to be Reynolds and asked them to pick up the car and that he would retrieve it later.

They all went back to the cabin where it was said they sleep several hours before moving the bodies once more. This time they were taken to a septic tank located on Murphy Gross' property. They add Lye and then concrete on top.

Nothing was very clear on whether anyone was even looking for the four people but nothing was ever known about what happened on that October 1989 night until after Foley was arrested in 1991 for the murders of the Vaughn brothers. At that point, both Gordon Canter, who now lived in Arizona and Phoebe Watts, who lived in Tennessee, went independently to the police and told almost the exact same story (the one I have told here). David Gross was no longer alive. In October of 1990 he had been shot and killed and allegedly his body was found in Robert Foley's front yard but he was never charged but it was not clear as to why. Officially as of November of 2000 that murder was listed as “unsolved” but most believe that Foley was involved. There seemed to be no sense in filing charges much later because not only did Foley receive a death sentence for the murders of the Vaughn brothers, he would receive four more in the murders of Bowersock, Reynolds, Contino and McMillan in 1994. Robert Foley, who has been named Kentucky's “most prolific killer,” went on trial for the quadruple murder in Madison County after a change of venue was sought. Once again he was convicted and on August 27, 1994 he received four more death sentences.

The defense had argued that Foley was innocent and that it was Canter and David Gross who had committed the murders because allegedly some of the four victims (I do not think he was specific), had stolen pot from them. Canter had once lived in the cabin that was then occupied by David Gross and his family and it was fairly well known that the two men grew marijuana on the property. The defense would cross examine Canter and accuse him of framing Foley for the murders because he was already in jail for a capital crime and had been sentenced to death. The defense would claim that the victims had not been shot in the cabin but in McMillan's car that had not been found, at least at the time of his trial. Despite the fact that he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 Foley remains in a Kentucky prison and if he is not filing motions claiming “new evidence” in this case he is filing other things, all of which I will get to in a bit.

Something that I found interesting about the Foley case was that I found no appeals pertaining to the Vaughn case. Now, considering that it was a death penalty case there was an automatic appeal but I found nothing, nor did I find anything that said it had been reversed in any way so that leaves every indication that the conviction and sentence stood from that trial. However, I found multiple appeals in the case of the four other victims. I guess in my opinion I did not see the point in fighting one case and not the other considering even if he got sentenced to life in one case and got off death row he would remain due to the other one. But, reading the appeals, comments from the trial, as well as other filings he has made in the courts, I feel like they were all less about him getting his sentenced reduced and more about either a) simply the filing and keeping it in the courts or b) his attempt to coerce and divert.

Over the years and in the appeals he has filed multiple times stating that new evidence has come forward. In a 2000 appeal he continued to argue that David Gross and Gordon Canter committed the crimes, only this time he claimed that in October of 1996 he got an “anonymous letter” that gave him this information as well as stated that the car had been dismantled and burnt and placed in a particular area. Apparently his lawyer had already told him that would not be enough and the lawyer was right and his conviction and sentence were upheld. Less than thirty days after that decision he came forward with a letter that was allegedly typed by his old friend Paul Riley who was actually serving time in the same prison with Foley.

Whether Riley actually wrote the letter or just agreed to help Foley after the letter was written is unknown but I did get the impression that he allegedly confirmed the information in the letter. Now, whether that information was true or not seem to be up for debate. However, Paul Riley's story was that in the summer of 1994 when he was in a federal prison in Terre Haute Indiana he had talked to Gordon Canter on the phone at a hotel in Ohio and that Canter, while not saying who had committed the murders, told him that it was not Foley. Canter denies that the conversation ever took place but it does appear that while in prison Riley was making calls to someone who patched him through to the hotel that he mentioned. The problem with that is there is no way of knowing apparently just who Paul Riley talked to but his mother worked as a bartender at the time at the hotel in question.

At some point a man named Mel “Crocket” Stevens either testified or wrote an affidavit or … something saying that in the Spring of 1990 Gordon Canter had told him that he and David Gross had “offed” some people for “ripping them off.” It seems that Stevens was less than specific or claimed that Canter had been. Stevens was a self proclaimed “life-long” friend of Foley's. The reason that I state I am unsure when this “evidence” was “discovered” is because to prove differently apparently Canter provided a letter to the court from Stevens that was dated July of 1997 telling Canter that he should blame David Gross for the murders. The letter said “Dave is dead and no one needs to protect him any longer.” If the letter was not written until 1997 then it indicates to me that Stevens had not testified at the 1994 trial. This seems odd to me that he would not have testified for his “life-long friend” with information he knew more than three years prior.

At some point two car door were found years after the crime by a “step-cousin” of Foley's. He would say that Foley had taken him to where the car had been burnt, in the place in which the “anonymous letter” stated it was. The cousin would say that he also saw two keys and dog tags belonging to McMillan in the side door panel. Whether authorities were also lead to these doors at some point is unclear but it had been said that before the bodies were dumped they basically had been cleared of all valuables and identification items. Authorities have said even if these items were at the scene as the cousin claims it does not mean that they were not planted. It also did not mean that Foley was not involved.

The courts have basically said even if one believes Riley, not that they did, he only served to impeach Canter. That would not explain how both Canter and Watts had the exactly same story, given to separate officers, at different times. Nor does it impeach testimony by Foley's now ex-wife Marjorie and the two people at her home on the night of October 7, 1989. The testimony of Marjorie and the other two witnesses confirm exactly what Canter said that Foley stated to him on the telephone that night.

The most interesting, or hilarious appeal on this case was in 2012. Once again there was an argument of “new acquired” affidavits and information was found. There were three affidavits, by three different people who would claim that they saw at least one of the victims alive past the time in which he had allegedly been killed. This was ruled on but appealed again and was available in an unpublished opinion in February of 2017.

A man named Joe White signed his alleged affidavit in June of 2004 saying that he saw Calvin Reynolds, the day after he was allegedly murdered, as he drove by the Gross property. A second man named Charles Goins allegedly signed an affidavit in July of 2005 saying he saw Calvin Reynolds on the porch of the home of David Gross the day after he supposedly had been killed. Goins went even further and stated that as he went to walk away he saw Gross raise a gun and kill Reynolds. The third affidavit came from a man named Charles Nantz and was signed in May of 2009. Nantz not only claimed to see Calvin Reynolds, not surprisingly the day after he was said to have been murdered, but he claimed to see all four victims alive.

The court ruled in 2012 that the motion for a new trial based on these affidavits was denied “in part” because “Nothing in any of the three affidavits go on to explain why an event that was witnessed in 1989, brought to light in 1991, and ultimately tried in 1994, resulted in sworn affidavits as late as 2004, 2005 and 2009.” The courts determined that the affidavits were not credible based on their “untimeliness.” The unpublished appeal in 2017 agreed with the 2012 decision.

Foley was not only in court every few years fighting to have his convictions overturned and finding “new evidence.” He has also been in court for many other things, the biggest is fighting the State of Kentucky to get a hip replacement. I found a note that stated several of his other lawsuits have been dismissed over the years as “frivolous” but the hip keeps coming back. Foley, and apparently doctors have confirmed that he suffers from degenerative arthritis in his right hip and he has been attempting to get the state to pay for the $50,000 surgery since at least 2012. The State has repeatedly claimed that it looked into the issue but several hospitals, including those at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, had refused to treat Foley. Their arguments were they did not have the security needed to provide him care. Prosecutors pointed out that Foley has all but used all of his appeals and with six death sentences he would have nothing to lose in attempting to escape or murder more people. There were other factors in the decisions made by the hospitals but the courts agreed with them. Foley continues to argue the case claiming he believes that it is a political move on the part of the warden because he is more concerned about how it would look giving a death row inmate a surgery such as this. He also argues or implies that he is being denied medical care. The prison/prosecutors have responded with proof that he has been offer a walker, pain medication and steroid shots to combat the pain.

The state of Kentucky has had issues with its death penalty law. The last person they executed anyone was in 2008 when they executed Marco Allen Chapman but in fairness he had waived all of his appeals and asked to be executed. Every year it seems that there is an article published saying this might be it and Kentucky may start executions again, but then it seems that it falls through. In 2010 Rodney Vaughn's daughter apparently came out publicly and challenged then Governor Beshear asking him why after nearly twenty years Foley was still breathing and an execution had not been set for him. In my opinion, Beshear's response to this was nothing less than BS. Beshear could have argued that the issue is not just with Foley, but every death row inmate and simply admit that law makers were not on the same page in getting a death penalty law that will endure. Instead the spokesperson stated that “the case requires research and other work dealing with attorneys and legal issues.” First, I find this to be a “cop-out” answer and passing the buck; secondly, after nearly twenty years and a multitude of appeals that have ALL been denied there should not be any more “research” needed; And, thirdly, I feel as if the answer completely dismissed the family of a victim of Robert Foley and spoke down to her.

Foley has been on death row now for nearly twenty-five years and he is still trying to play the system. He is making a mockery of the courts and of the intelligence of every justice who has had to read his ridiculous appeals. I am all about making sure someone gets a fair trial, which by all accounts Foley received... twice. Robert Foley was just a man who shot whomever he wanted, whenever he felt like it and he did not care who was around to see it. Then again, having people around is what sent him to death row. What angers me most about Foley is his continued appeals that are filled with unreasonable allegations, and the people that are willing to say them and defend him. I have full confidence that Foley murdered David Gross, he just did not have a witness, or at least one willing to come forward. Foley has been convicted of killing eight people, more than anyone else on Kentucky death row. I am confident that those eight are far from his only victims. Foley is one of those inmates that says he does not want to be executed but his behavior in the “free world” said he was begging for it.


  1. Foley has been convicted of killing eight people, more than anyone else on Kentucky death row. I am confident that those eight are far from his only victims. *Foley is one of those inmates that says he does not want to be executed but his behavior in the “free world” said he was begging for it.*

    That's the absolute truth... He should have been dead LONG ago... He's a murderer who's afraid to die- -that's normally the attitude of a coward....

  2. I am the niece to the late Vaughn Brothers. This event ripped the hearts right out of my family . Rodney and lynn were like brothers to me growing up my grandmother(their mother) raised me. Robert Foley took 2 dad's, 2 son's , 2 brothers away with no remorse at all. I find it troubling that in the almost 3 decades he sits on death row with demands of better treatment as far as his health goes. THIS IS A SLAP IN THE FACE TO the family left that are awaiting his execution. For years the only thing that kept my grandparents going was knowing they would witness the punishment owed the Foley. They have both passed now along with the brothers 3 other siblings. He lost his voice the day he took our family down this long heartbreaking loss. if Kentucky won't execute him (although he was sentenced to death) then why have a judicial system at all? His time has been up, we seek peace for what he did, and allowing him to take a breath for 25 plus years when Rodney and Lynn were denied that I feel is a big injustice Kentucky!


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