Slain preacher often gave rides to ‘lost’ hitchhikers
By Cassondra Kirby
HAZARD — Eastern Kentucky preacher Marion Estep Sr. was known for picking up hitch-hikers, who he viewed as lost souls in need of kindness and maybe a little preaching.
Just a few weeks ago, while at a revival in Indiana, Estep picked up a man he didn’t know and took him to Dairy Queen. He bought the man’s lunch and gave him $20.
His family cautioned the 76-year-old about picking up strangers, but “but he would just shrug it off,” said Evalee Turner, one of Estep’s three daughters. “We told him that times have changed, that people are dangerous — but he just saw it as another opportunity to preach, to spread God’s word.”
Now, Estep’s family thinks his kindness to hitchers may have led to his death. The Pentecostal minister was found with gunshot wounds and near death in his car alongside a heavily traveled road in Perry County Thursday.
Police say two Hazard hospital maintenance workers found Estep slumped and lying partially outside his white 1994 four-door Chrysler, which was parked on the shoulder of the Hal Rogers Parkway near exit 56 in Perry County. The workers noticed that the front hood was propped up on Estep’s car, and they stopped with the intention of helping what they thought was a stranded motorist.
Instead, they stumbled upon a bloody crime scene.
Estep had been shot once in the head and three times in the chest. When the workers arrived at about 4 p.m., the preacher was barely clinging to life, said Tony Eversole, chief deputy of the Perry County sheriff’s office.
He was taken to the Hazard hospital, where he went into surgery. He died about 3 a.m. Friday.
As police combed the Eastern Kentucky mountains searching for his killer — or anyone who might have seen something — they came up with few answers.
“We have had some tips, and we are chasing every one down,” Eversole said. “But right now this is a mystery.”
According to his family, Estep was last seen about 2:30 p.m. Thursday. He was visiting one of his four sons in Chavies, a community in Perry County of about 300, but had left to have dinner with his wife at their home in Jackson in Breathitt County.
But instead of turning northbound on Highway 15 to head to Jackson from Chavies, Estep turned south, traveled about 6 miles and turned onto the Hal Rogers Parkway.
There were signs of a struggle inside the car, Eversole said. Estep was shot to death with his own gun, which police found underneath him.
Estep’s license and other important information were found on the floorboard. Family members said only one item appeared to be missing — his Bible.
Estep, who had served as pastor of several churches in Perry County in his 55 years of preaching, never left home without his Bible.
“We can’t find it anywhere,” said Mary Engle, Estep’s oldest daughter. “He always had it with him.”
Engle described her father as a loving man. He attended church five or six times a week, and often traveled to other states, such as Indiana and Ohio, to preach in revivals. He always wore suits — never jeans — and because he had lost one eye as a child, he wore dark glasses.
Despite having only a third-grade education, Estep was known for his knowledge of the Bible, including his ability to quote verses and tell stories that would move entire congregations.
“There have been times when the church was so full that people would stand outside and look in through the windows,” Engle said.
Family members said Estep often didn’t carry cash with him because he would give it away to those in need, even though he was not a wealthy man. Estep’s family believes he was killed after picking up a drifter who planned to rob him.
“Whoever killed him, didn’t know him,” Turner said. “If the person would have asked him for money, he would have given it to them. There wouldn’t have been a struggle.”
Funeral arrangements for Estep are pending at Maggard Brothers Funeral Home in Hazard.
Anyone who saw Estep’s white Chrysler on the parkway or has any other information is asked to contact the Perry County sheriff’s office at (606) 439-4523 or Hazard City Police at (606) 436-2222.
Published by Lexington Herald-Leader from Jan. 11 to Jan. 16, 2008.