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Revenge may be motive in ex-sheriff's murder

TOMPKINSVILLE, Ky. -- Their paths had crossed before: the career lawman and the man known around their small Kentucky town for having a mean streak.

Now authorities are investigating whether a slow-burning desire for revenge that began with an arrest a decade ago was behind last month's death of Herbert Proffitt, 82, who was gunned down in his driveway while he was fetching the mail.

Charles Hammer, 81, is accused of killing the former police chief and sheriff, who had arrested him in 2002 on charges of harassment, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

"It appears that there was an ax to grind," said Trooper Billy Gregory, a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police post handling the investigation. "It appears to me to be revenge."

The slaying has staggered people in Tompkinsville, a tight-knit town in the hills of south-central Kentucky, about 120 miles south of Louisville. The Proffitts' only child, Jeff, is mayor.

Five days after her husband was killed, Bernice Proffitt died. Family friends described the cause of death as a broken heart.

Hundreds turned out for the funeral of the man known affectionately as "Sprocket," a nickname that had stuck since his teenage days of fixing bicycles at a service station.

"The town for a week had no direction," said City Attorney Reed Moore, a family friend. "Nobody around the [town] square got anything done. They just walked around with a blank look on their face."

During his law enforcement days, which spanned more than a half-century, Proffitt was known for using his wits to defuse plenty of dangerous situations in the Appalachian foothills, his friends said.

"His best weapon was his knowledge of people and how to handle them," said Tompkinsville Police Chief Dale Ford, who worked under Proffitt and considered him a mentor.

Hammer's initial court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.

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