Old mysteries linger over green pastures and black fences that enclose Ramsey Farm, intertwined with the deep roots of the famed Jessamine County property nestled along the most historic road in Kentucky roughly 11 miles from Lexington.

Almost forgotten amidst the farm’s rich annals encompassing both outstanding Thoroughbred and Standardbred runners is a real whodunit, an unsolved murder of a prominent horseman that occurred nearly nine decades ago.

Long before Ken Ramsey purchased the property, formerly known as Almahurst Farm, and subsequently raised champion and leading sire Kitten’s Joy and current multiple Grade 1-winning 3-year-old Cyberknife, several hundred acres of Almahurst were called Knight Farm.

In the early 20th century, one of America’s greatest racehorses, Exterminator, was born and raised there by his breeder, farm owner F. D. “Dixie” Knight, the uncle of Almahurst founder Henry Knight of Chicago.

A quiet, unassuming man with a knack for developing good Thoroughbreds, Knight was among the last of Kentucky’s old-time breeders, as well as a large landowner and bank director. His senseless slaying at the farm on the evening of Aug. 1, 1934, shocked nearby communities and made newspaper headlines throughout the nation.

Despite intense investigation by law enforcement in both Jessamine County and Lexington, the case went cold and is likely never to be solved.

Somebody got away with murder.

A photo of F.D. “Dixie” Knight published in the Louisville Courier-Journal on Aug. 3, 1934.

Knight’s home, where the crime was committed, faced the narrow old Harrodsburg Road at Keene Road on what remains an otherwise peaceful and pastoral landscape renowned for its natural beauty.

A scenic drive from Lexington, the old road followed an ancient buffalo trace that pioneers had traversed to and from the state’s first permanent settlement at Fort Harrod in neighboring Mercer County.

Miles of rock walls, hardwood tree canopies and traditional four-board fences defined well-tended pastures shaded here and there by ancient woodland trees. Such a stunning, quiet countryside belied the unimaginable evil in store for Knight and his family.

It was 77 degrees on that Wednesday evening, a welcome reprieve from the previous week when temperatures had soared to a stamina-sapping 101 in the area.

Around 6:30 p.m., Knight returned home, tired, hungry and ready for dinner. But instead of finding sustenance at his manor, he was confronted by two gun-wielding intruders intent on robbing him.

The men reportedly sought a treasure trove of diamonds and money they thought was locked in a safe. How they knew of a safe inside the home, or what supposedly was within, remains unknown.

Family members who had been subdued and held captive elsewhere in the house prior to Knight’s arrival, later recalled their shock as the robbery turned deadly, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. Knight was heard begging for his life after opening the safe, followed by a terse command: “Let him have it.”

One of the men fired two rounds from a .38 caliber pistol into Knight’s head and heart, and he fell dead at the age of 68.

About an hour and a half earlier, the criminal pair had stealthily entered Knight’s home, surprised his cook and his wife, Lydia, binding and gagging them and taking them to an upstairs room so they could not warn Knight, according to accounts of the murder.

Soon afterward, Knight’s nephew Blackburn Knight and his wife, Jessie, arrived from Lexington for dinner and were met at gunpoint by a man wearing a cap pulled down over his forehead, a handkerchief across his face and goggles. The men bound and gagged the couple in a downstairs room adjacent to the area with the safe, took Blackburn Knight’s car keys, then lay in wait for Knight to arrive.

Jessie Knight said she could hear everything that transpired once Knight entered the house.

Dixie Knight told the men there was no money in the safe as he searched for his glasses and fumbled with the safe’s combination. When the safe was finally opened, it held only insurance papers, a diamond ring and a diamond pin.

Although Knight complied with every demand, Jessie Knight said she heard the muffled gun shots, presumably at close range, even as he offered the men everything he had and begged them to spare his life.

The men fled to Lexington in Blackburn Knight’s car and abandoned it near the West High Street viaduct. In a search of the nearby Davis Bottom section of the city, police found blue denim overalls with a sheriff’s badge pinned to it, striped coveralls, rubber gloves, and socks the men had worn over their shoes, presumably to throw off their scent if bloodhounds were pressed into service, the Lexington Herald reported. Efforts to track the men from there were fruitless.

These clothing was collected and taken to the Lexington Police Department for evidence. Blackburn Knight’s car was searched and dusted for fingerprints.

Police speculated Dixie Knight may have recognized one or both of his assailants, prompting his murder.

Reports of the homicide hit area newspapers the next morning and the crime was covered in great detail. Sprawling across the front page of the Lexington Herald in large type was “Robbers Murder F. D. Knight,” while the Jessamine Journal headlined its own report as “F. D. Knight Assassinated.”

Knight’s obituary in the Jessamine Journal declared: “This marks (one of the) darkest pages in the history of Jessamine County as it records one of the boldest, most dastardly, sad, horrible crimes.”

A $2,000 reward, equal to approximately $40,000 today and a huge sum during the Great Depression, was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderers. It was never claimed, and the farmland and buildings gave up no secrets.

Knight’s antebellum home, surrounded by 1,000 acres and watered by clear springs, was built in 1799 by James Williams, who ran a tavern and stagecoach stop there. After selling it in 1849 to a Mr. Huggins, the facility was known as Huggins Tavern, according to an 1860 map of the county, and used as an inn during the Civil War.

Huggins sold the home and several hundred acres to Knight for $10,129 in 1890.

Other members of the Knight family lived on and farmed adjoining property that had been in their family as part of a land grant to ancestor James Knight, a soldier who served at Valley Forge with George Washington during the terrible winter of 1777-78.

These properties, marking five generations of horse breeding, eventually formed the nucleus of Almahurst Farm, which was founded soon after Knight’s death.

Meanwhile, in a collaborative investigation into the murder, Jessamine County Sheriff John Combs and detectives with the Lexington Police Department chased intriguing leads to several states and questioned a few suspects, but eventually turned up nothing solid.

Eventually, investigations slowed and then stopped altogether. Today, both law enforcement agencies replied to requests for the latest information by saying they have no records.

Over the years, there has been much speculation as to who was responsible for the heinous act committed that summer night long ago. One theory is that the perpetrators were members of mob boss Al Capone’s gang, although reasons for this speculation are unknown. 

What is clear is that Dixie Knight at times ranked among Kentucky’s leading Thoroughbred breeders of the era, among famed peers including John Madden, Harry Payne Whitney, August Belmont, Arthur B. Hancock Sr., E. R. Bradley, C. W. Moore, and Thomas C. McDowell.

George Smith, winner of the 1916 Kentucky Derby, with L. Mink aboard

Knight also boarded mares for numerous clients at his farm, including John Sanford, who kept as many as 100 mares there, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Preston Burch. Among stallions Knight stood were 1916 Kentucky Derby winner George Smith, a black horse named after the famous gambler also known as Pittsburg Phil.

Notable horses foaled at Knight’s farm include 1927 Travers winner Brown Bud, who eventually stood at Claiborne Farm.

One of Knight’s most ardent supporters was renowned Kentucky breeder, owner, trainer, and raconteur Colonel Phil T. Chinn, who in 1910 campaigned a stakes-winning 3-year-old colt he had named Dixie Knight.

Colonel Phil T. Chinn

During a coast-to-coast radio broadcast “Horse Talk by Real Horsemen” recapped in the Lexington Herald prior to the 1933 Kentucky Derby, Chinn paused and tipped his hat to Knight as he described the kind of horse it takes to win the Derby.

“Colonel Chinn paid tribute to another horse breeder that seems to have escaped the press, and it was so remarkable that it should go into the broadcast record, also. Asked about yearlings, he mentioned incidentally that out of 17 yearlings he had purchased from Dixie Knight, 16 were winners.”

Knight’s achievement as the breeder of Exterminator, winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby, has been a topic of speculation for decades, most of which stemmed from articles published in the 1920s and ’30s.

One article questioning the feat appeared in racing publications The Thoroughbred Record and Daily Racing Form and several newspapers in 1922.

Its author unknown, the article asserted that Knight’s brother, Grant L. “Joe” Knight, a well-known banker, breeder of trotters, and father of Henry Knight, recommended the mating between Exterminator’s dam Fair Empress and leading sire McGee, whose progeny included 1913 Kentucky Derby winner Donerail, and that their mother, Martha Mizner, a sister of noted harness horseman Scott Hudson, was the mare’s owner and thus officially the breeder.

Fair Empress, who would produce 16 foals over the course of her life, was inherited by Mizner upon the 1907 death of her other son William P. Knight, himself a noted Thoroughbred breeder. Some accounts suggest the Dixie Knight only handled paperwork on the mare and named himself Exterminator’s breeder.

Whatever family dynamics were at play that launched a public questioning about the breeding of Exterminator are unknown.

Grant Knight’s claim to have masterminded the mating, a seemingly great accomplishment for any Central Kentucky horseman, was not mentioned in his 1935 obituary in the Lexington Herald, but in the Louisville newspaper’s obit he was credited as the breeder in partnership with William P. Knight, who was dead seven years before Exterminator was conceived.

A painting by Richard Stone Reeves of Exterminator and his pony companion, Peanuts

Further adding to the confusion, John L. O’Connor’s History of the Kentucky Derby 1875-1921 listed an unknown “Joseph Knight” as the breeder of Exterminator.

Those deeply involved in Thoroughbred racing, however, such as Blood-Horse publisher and Turf authority Thomas Cromwell and former Churchill Downs President Col. Matt Winn in Frank G. Menke’s biography Down the Stretch, acknowledge Dixie Knight as the breeder of Exterminator, the first gelding enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame.

Knight was always active in Thoroughbred circles, buying and selling at Kentucky and New York sales, and in promoting and protecting the well-being of Kentucky’s signature industry.

In 1908, Knight was present with Kentucky’s most influential horsemen—among them Catesby Woodford, Milton Young, Major Foxhall Daingerfield, John Barbee, and Desha Breckinridge, to name only a few—at the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington to organize a protest against the repeal of New York’s Percy-Gray law of 1895. The law’s repeal and replacement with anti-gambling measures would have dealt a serious blow to racing and breeding.

Knight also joined those voicing concerns about aspects of Kentucky’s anti-gambling legislation at the time that many believed would have destroyed Kentucky racing.

The last retrievable newspaper mention of Knight’s unsolved murder was published in 1959. Any remaining clues vanished when his old mansion was demolished in 1975, but discovered among the rubble was James Williams’ original cabin, which was restored and relocated elsewhere on the farm.

Puzzling deaths of people connected to Central Kentucky’s Thoroughbred community made news in later decades. The 1965 murder by poisoning of prominent Thoroughbred auctioneer George Swinebroad’s daughter, Mary Marrs Cawein, at her home on Chinoe Road in Lexington, and the demise of French horseman Jean Michel Gambet, married to the daughter of Harry B. Scott II, within his burned BMW on a lonely Fayette County road in 1982, are both cold cases.

What sets Dixie Knight’s death apart is that it brought attention to the need for a Kentucky state police force to protect rural residents and to coordinate criminal investigations between various local police organizations. However, it took more than a decade following his slaying for the Kentucky State Police to be established.

Knight’s farmland has long occupied a place in Kentucky pioneer lore.

Located on the current Ramsey Farm is the head of the beautiful and storied Jessamine Creek, which gushes powerfully between two large rocks. It flows about 30 miles southerly to the Kentucky River and has never been known to go dry; Ramsey horses can wade in and directly drink the clear limestone water.

According to some accounts, the daughter of an early Kentucky settler and surveyor, Jessamine Douglass, was sitting upon one of the rocks, daydreaming and oblivious to impending danger, when she was scalped by an Indian. Her grieving father named the creek for her.

Later, the surrounding county, which was carved from Fayette County’s boundaries in 1798, took the same name.

Historians have disputed the origin of the creek’s name, but the tragic tale is yet another mysterious chapter enfolded within the bountiful land that has played such a longstanding role in the development of racehorses in Kentucky.  

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