Linda Edwards case: Policeman charged in murder

By NANCY BRITT
The Sentinel-Record 7-9-1977

Hot Springs police Lt. Thurman Abernathy was charged Friday afternoon in Hot Spring County with murder in the first degree in connection with the death of Garland County Deputy Sheriff Linda Edwards.

Abernathy, who was released on $25,000 bond, was arrested at the Hot Springs Police Department on a warrant issued to Arkansas State Police at 1:30 p.m. in Malvern, according to Malvern deputy prosecutor Ed Scrimshire.

Deputy Edwards turned up missing under mysterious circumstances Aug. 22, 1976, a Sunday when she was supposed to have returned to a babysitter’s home to pick up her two children.

The search and investigation to find out what happened to her involved numerous law enforcement officers for months, but petered down when all available traceable clues had come to nothing. Possible foul play was suspected because her locked car was found east of Hot Springs on Arkansas 290, and she never touched her bank account.

The skeletal remains of her body were found Feb. 12, 1977, scattered across Jack Mountain in Hot Spring County. The remains were discovered by wolf hunters who notified law enforcement officers.

In the intervening period, about a month after her disappearance, a reward fund of at least $1,000 to aid in the search for Mrs. Edwards was announced by her brother, Roy Ockert, who is also editor of the Batesville Daily Guard and Weekly Record.

On Nov. 5, Arkansas State Police investigator Mike Fletcher asked local hunters to help locate the missing deputy.

One fact brought out during the period the deputy was missing was that she was about four months pregnant when she disappeared.

The arrest Friday about 4 p.m. was made by state police investigator Lt. Ken McFerren of Little Rock, who took Abernathy to Malvern for processing of the charges. Fletcher was out of state on other police business at the time. Hot Springs Police Chief Grover Douglass immediately suspended Abernathy from duty.

When asked about the bond set for Abernathy, Scrimshire said the $25.000 is a minimum bond for the seriousness of the charge, and that other factors affecting the level of bond have to do  with the likelihood that the defendant will show up for trial.

He said no date for initial preliminary hearing in Malvern Municipal Court had been set, but “I’m sure it will be soon.”

When told of the arrest, Edwards’ former roommate Sarah Edwards said, “You’re kidding.”

Ockert said, “At this point, it should be up to the courts to decide what will happen. Beyond that, I can’t say anything.”

The deputy’s mother, Mrs. H.R. Browning said, ‘”I just heard it on the news – I can’t quite believe it. I’m just thankful they’ve finally made an arrest. I don’t know anything else to say.”

Sheriff Leon Barlow said, “I’m just glad that proceedings are in the works, unpleasant a task as it is.”

Abernathy began employment with the Hot Springs Police Department on June 1, 1967. He was promoted to lieutenant in August of 1976 within days of Linda Edwards’ disappearance.

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