No Town is Immune from Murder


In my business travels I had reason to be in Madisonville, Kentucky more than once.

A quiet, small town, not much hustle and bustle, and no fear of anything bad happening to you day or night.

One of my friends invited me to a fish fry late one afternoon where townspeople and political celebs showed up, many I knew.  I do believe that was the best fish I ever put in my mouth.  An old black gentleman was frying the fish, and even though I wanted to ask him for the recipe, I figured the recipe had been handed down from generation to generation, and I didn’t want to infringe on his privacy.

For any Lawrence Welk fans among my readers, Madisonville is where Jimmy Roberts the singer was born. He sang solo sometimes, and at other times sang duets with Norma Zimmer.

You can discount all those pleasant thoughts, because the serenity of this town was shattered on the night of 1/12/03.  Anna Mae Branson, 85, was murdered, the first murder in over a decade in this Southern town.

According to the program on ID TV, she was stabbed 93 times, and bashed in the head with a claw hammer so many times, there was no way of telling how many times she had been hit.

Anna Mae and her husband opened a Dairy Queen in Madisonville in 1950, and operated it 40 years until Anna Mae sold it after her husband died.

Even though many in town regarded Anna Mae as a shrewd businesswoman, you might think she would consider retiring at that time, but that did not seem to be exactly on her mind.

She started buying rental properties, and had at least 40 at her death, perhaps a few more.

Who would want to kill Anna Mae?  Again according to townspeople, no one, because in addition to other attributes, she was a very kind person.  She loaned money to people, but did not like to foreclose on any property they might have put up for collateral, instead granting them extensions, sometimes several times. She was not a greedy individual.

Her nephew Russell Winstead was questioned about her murder, but his wife backed up his story that he returned home from church at 7:12 P. M. after dropping off his children at his ex-wife’s. Russell had told police that he arrived home at 7:12 when the police talked to him before even talking to his wife, based on a digital clock that sat on a table in the hallway as he entered his house. The time frame cleared him of the murder.  Anna Mae had eaten supper after she returned home from church directly across the street from her house shortly after 7:00.

Russell was a coal mine foreman, but had borrowed money from Anna Mae to buy mining equipment. The ID program did not make it clear whether Russell was opening his own mine, and needed his own equipment.  That would seem to be the reference.

Anna Mae was probably sympathetic to anyone wanting to mine coal, because, I believe it was her grandfather who opened the first coal mine in or around Madisonville.

Police were baffled, and chased down every lead that they received, sometimes a very long and laborious process. Those leads turned up nothing.

Finally Russell’s now ex-wife, who had provided him an alibi initially, came forward to say she lied about the time he arrived home and that it was slightly after 9:00 o’clock, which gave him ample time and the right time frame to murder his aunt.

As the police dug into it, they found he had written her a check for $12,000 to repay a loan, the check had not been cashed, and was nowhere to be found.

By this time Russell had gotten out of town, and was located in Costa Rica, a country where extradition prospects were not all that good. Finally, for whatever reason not made clear, Costa Rica took Russell into custody, and agreed to extradite him to the United States as long the the death penalty could not be imposed.

Do these countries like Costa Rica, Mexico, and other countries ever look at the brutality of a murder the suspect committed?  They must not, because this one would have merited five death sentences.  Of course, with good luck, and the Supreme Court not outlawing the drugs they use to kill murderers in lethal injections, one death sentence would have been sufficient. Russell Winstead was finally tried in 2007 and convicted of 1st degree murder and 1st degree robbery, the combination of the two ordinarily good for the death sentence.

He got life without parole for 25 years on the murder charge, and life without parole for 20 years on the robbery charge. The judge said the sentences would run consecutively, which of course means the second sentence kicks in when the first one ends, which would have put the possibility of parole at 45 years instead of 25 years.

Just to show you the quirkiness of our legal system, when Russell appealed his sentence, the appellate court ruled he was still guilty, but that his sentences must run concurrently and not consecutively.  For you reading this closely, that makes you aware of the fact he could appear for a parole hearing after 25 years, that would be from the date of conviction which was 2007.

By this time, Anna Mae may have died of natural causes.  Russell Winstead, her nephew, guaranteed that would never happen.

He’s still alive, unfortunately.




  • I can guarantee you that I will be there for that parole hearing. Ann Branson was my great-aunt. She and her sister married two brothers and my dad was the only child between them. She was like a second paternal grandmother to me. Thanks for keeping her memory alive.

    • I wrote many feature stories on people long before I ever wrote crime stories. Still write them, and they are posted on my site.

      Wish I had had the opportunity to meet your great aunt/paternal grandmother, and write a feature on her. The best features I ever wrote were on people with a sense of humor, and I’m betting she had a very good sense of humor. Such a fun time I would have had talking to her, and there would have been a laugh or two in what I wrote. Sometimes life deprives one of knowing people they should have known.

      Thanks for your comment. Readers like you who give us insight into their relatives and or close friends is the reason I write these stories. Thanks again.