Editorial: Grief and loss transcend time

The Sentinel-Record 9-18-2004

The public is fascinated with what authorities call “cold cases” crimes that have gone unsolved for months, years, even decades.

And while these subjects make for entertaining television or interesting non-fiction books, they continue to cause great pain for the loved ones of victims.

They also haunt diligent law enforcement officers who never forget these cases and are bothered that they could not resolve them.

Toby Edwards of Hot Springs was only 6 and his sister, Kim only 4 when their mother, Linda Louise Ockert Edwards, a Hot Springs native, was reported missing in August, 1976. According to news accounts and investigative records, Edwards, 29, left her children with a baby-sitter around 11 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 21, and her car was found abandoned Monday, Aug. 23, along Highway 290 near Carpenter Dam Road.

In February, 1977, Edwards’ skeletal remains were found by wolf hunters who discovered them “scattered across the face of Jack Mountain in Hot Spring County.” The state Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Edwards died from “multiple blows to the head” and reports also stated the former day radio dispatcher for the Garland County Sheriff’s Department was four and a half months pregnant at the time of her disappearance.

Thurman L. Abernathy, former narcotics officer with the Hot Springs Police Department, was arrested and charged in: Edwards’ death (police said they believed he was the father of her unborn child), but the-married father of two was never put on trial. A Hot Spring County Grand Jury dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence.

Now – 28 years later – many of the individuals close to the Edwards’ case have died, retired, moved away or perhaps tried to distance themselves from the truth of the circumstances that robbed small children of their mother and took away their innocence.

But, for Toby Edwards and Kim Edwards-Smoke, troubling questions linger and the determination to find answers has grown even stronger.

The two recently requested that Edwards’ body be exhumed for DNA testing. According to state statute, “the cost of the exhumation and for transportation to and from the place of autopsy shall be borne by the county in which the death occurred.” Sources for The Sentinel-Record this week said Hot Spring County officials have agreed to pay for the exhumation and the DNA testing and that all that’s left is for the Arkansas State Police criminal investigator and Garland County prosecutor to have the order signed by a judge. Understanding that even going to these lengths might not bring justice to this “murder mystery,” Toby and Kim feel it is a step they must take. Smoke recently told a Sentinel-Record reporter, “Actually, the-case was never closed, but it has accumulated a lot of cobwebs.” And Toby Edwards’ wife said, “What we understand is the remains included some fingernails, a sweater and some hair. What we’re hoping, the way technology has advanced, is to be able to link it somehow. It’s pretty much a long shot, but by doing this, if the killer or killers are here, this might stir them up a bit … ”

So much of the success of DNA testing depends on the condition of the person’s remains (whether they were exposed to moisture, etc.). But, Smoke has said that according to Gross Funeral Home records, her mother was buried in a sealed coffin in a cement vault. “Whatever she was buried with then, she still has to this day. So that’s a good thing. I think if she hadn’t been buried like that, they probably wouldn’t even consider exhuming the body.”

Regardless of what happens from here on out, we know Linda Edwards’ life came to a violent end. Surely someone knows something that will help her children and state investigators put this matter to rest.

A lot of time has passed for sure, but then there is no statute of limitations on grief and loss.

MG

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