By Roy Ockert Jr.
Batesville Daily Guard 9-1-1976
AFTER WRITING HUNDREDS of impersonal crime stories over some 18 years as a journalist, this editor has felt, really for the first time, the terror of being a victim. If the reader will forgive some personal experiences, we’d like to share some observations from this viewpoint.
Returning to our childhood home of Hot Springs last Thursday from a week’s vacation in Florida, we scarcely had time to unload the camping trailer before receiving an ominous phone call from a State Police criminal investigator, who wanted to talk with us. Minutes later, we learned that my sister, Mrs. Linda Edwards, a dispatcher and deputy for the Garland County sheriff’s office, had been missing since the previous Saturday night (Aug. 21).
Our Florida trip had represented a break from my habit of trying to make certain someone knows my whereabouts at all times. Since my mother and younger brother had gone with us, the authorities had been unable to contact us – similar to the countless emergency message situations we’ve heard over police monitors almost daily. We didn’t even know where we would be from one day to the next. We would soon regret that situation and vow to stay in touch.
By the time we could be reached, a massive investigation had been mounted and many news reports spread, which we had managed to miss. We do not regret the authorities’ decision to release reports of the investigation before contacting the victim’s family in this case because they had gained many leads that might otherwise have evaporated. And our anguish would not have been greater if we had read a newspaper story or heard a broadcast before that late-night visit from the police.
Linda, a 29-year-old divorcee, had last been seen about 11 o’clock that Saturday night when she left her two young children with a baby sitter, saying she was going to meet a man she had been seeing. Her car was found Sunday parked along side a quiet lake-area road, several miles south of town. There was no sign of foul play, but to this point we do not know where she is or what happened to her.
The investigation by the State Police Criminal Investigation Division and Garland County sheriff’s department has included more than a hundred interviews, five days of searching the dense woods near where the car was found by people on foot, mounted deputies and even National Guard helicopters, roadblocks and boat and scuba diving searches of the nearby lake. The editor has spent the last few days walking the woods, wanting to find his sister, but not wanting to. Sunday I dragged out my brother’s rusty motorcycle to go up all the rocky logging paths in the vicinity, all the time wishing I’d spent a fraction of this much time with her in recent years. Although the woods could hide almost anything, we no longer believe Linda is now in the area, if she ever was.
For various reasons our family does not believe did harm to herself or ran away, despite her personal problems, which were beyond normal. Instead, we believe she was the victim of what may be the most horrible kind of crime – a murder in which the victim cannot be found. The authorities say they don’t know and obviously can’t prove that a crime has even been committed. They have several suspects, they say, but lack the main evidence. For her family and friends the horror is in the waiting and not knowing what to prepare for.
The authorities have poured every resource they have into this case, and the experience has only served to reinforce our firm conviction in strong, well-trained, professional law enforcement agencies. Without that, our laws mean little. Our only complaint is the neglect of the victim’s family by the authorities. After that first visit by two secondary law enforcement officials, we have not been contacted by any official to tell us of progress or lack of progress. Our only official information has come as a result of our own efforts, sometimes coming after some friend or acquaintance brought one of the many rumors circulating to our attention. Compassion should be a characteristic of law enforcement.
We have also gained a new perspective on the effect of news reports on the family of a crime victim. We have always been reluctant to contact families in such circumstances, but we now have a better understanding of why some families contact us – to gain information, make corrections or even suppress facts. Our opinion has been solidified that law enforcement agencies should be honest with news organizations during an investigation and that the news organizations should be willing to withhold information that might affect the investigation adversely. They should follow the case closely enough, though, that at some point they can question objectively a poorly conducted investigation. This can only be done if the officials and press cooperate.
We must be at least as organized and prepared as those who commit crimes.