Off the Hook – September 30, 2012: POMC Day of Remembrance speech

I was asked to speak on the National Day of Remembrance for POMC – Central Arkansas Chapter. This is the text version. I will post the video as soon as I can. I was nervous, but I was more cold standing on the breezeway than I was nervous! 

I would like to thank Elaine for asking me to speak here today.  It is a great honor to speak on this National Day of Remembrance.  Like most of you, remembering isn’t limited to one day but today we can join together and support one another. I realize I’m not a parent of a murdered child but several years ago I was told by Elaine and Dee that they didn’t care and they welcomed me with open arms anyway.

My mother’s name is Linda Edwards and on August 22, 1976 her car was found parked on Hwy 290 off Carpenter Dam Rd in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  A full scale search and rescue operation of the area began on August 23rd–including a helicopter search.   Many citizens assisted in this operation, an effort my family has been very grateful for all of these years.  Much to our dismay, she wasn’t found.  At first, my sister Kim and I were told our mother was on vacation. Later, we were told that she was lost and that law enforcement had flyers out trying to find her.

In February 1977, a hunter found human bones on Jack Mountain in Hot Spring County, approximately a ¼ mile over the Hot Spring/Garland county line. The bones were later determined to be the remains of my mother. The autopsy determined the cause of death to be “blunt trauma to the head with compound skull fractures”.

One day soon after the hunter found my mother’s skeletal remains, my dad told my sister and me he needed to speak with us. He sounded sad.  Kim and I both kept asking him what was wrong but he kept getting choked up.  When he was finally able to gain enough composure, he told us our mother wasn’t coming home because she had died and gone to heaven. Kim and I immediately began crying and asked him what happened and what did he mean she wasn’t coming home.  With tears in his eyes he did his best to explain to two small children, ages 6 and 4, the reason why their mother wasn’t coming home.  By this time all three of us were crying.  We couldn’t stop.  We sat on the bed holding one another and sobbing.

After a little bit, I asked my dad if he was going to disappear and never come back.  He kept assuring me that wasn’t going to happen. Kim kept saying she was going to run away to the woods and die so she could go to heaven and be with our mother. That was a day I will never forget.

In 1976 Kim and I lost our mother. Her murderer suffered a few months of discomfort while the investigation was in progress.  My mother’s case did not go to trial as presiding Judge Henry Means ruled almost all conversations as hearsay and all evidence as circumstantial. The charges were dropped against the accused Hot Springs police officer, Thurman Abernathy. Sometime in 1979, the case fell by the wayside due to lack of progress, time, money and energy.

In 2004 Kim and I signed paperwork to have our mother’s remains exhumed.  Since much of the hearsay dismissed by Judge Means was based on the lack of proof that the alleged murderer was the father of her baby, we are requesting to have the remains tested for DNA to provide proof of parentage.

To date, nothing has happened with the exhumation request.  We have been told, even with the presence of DNA, a conviction is still a crapshoot. However, many criminals have been convicted on far less circumstantial evidence.

I would like to share one good memory I have about my mother. It’s a memory that always makes me smile.  My mother and I were in her bedroom and I found a bunny costume.  Apparently, I had been a bunny on a previous Halloween.  I told my mother I wanted to put it on.  It was a one piece bunny suit with a zipper up the front. She kept telling me I was too big and I wouldn’t fit into that little bunny suit. I persisted and she finally gave in.  I managed to get both my feet and legs in the little bunny suit. As I was pulling it up I realized it was a little too tight. I kept going because I knew I could fit into it.  I had trouble getting my arms in the small sleeves.  I struggled with getting the suit pulled up over my arms and shoulders; but I finally managed to do so.

The moment I got it on was the moment I realized, beyond a shadow of a doubt; I really was too big for that little suit.  I started trying to take it off. No matter which way I maneuvered, wiggled or jumped, I couldn’t get that bunny suit off.  At this point I could hear my mother laughing.  I really wasn’t paying attention to her as I was still struggling to take the little bunny suit off.

My jumping around must have been quite a sight because it only made my mother laugh that much harder.  By this time, I was feeling claustrophobic and like I was going to hyperventilate.   I needed to get the suit off. I began hollering, “Mama, Mama, help me get this bunny suit off me”.  That made her clutch her stomach and roll around on the bed laughing even harder. I was standing there watching her roll around while laughing at the whole situation.  I remember she was a happy person.

I was asked to speak today as an advocate for cold cases and to share some of the things I am doing to move my mother’s case forward.  My interest in cold cases came about because of my mother’s murder in 1976.  Her murder has remained on the unsolved list for 36 years now.   I realize I am not the only person feeling as if my mother’s case is not moving forward. I never considered myself an advocate for cold cases, but in a way I guess I am.

When I was a teenager in California, a case popped up on America’s Most Wanted on TV.  It was a case based here in Arkansas about two teenage boys who were the same age I was at that time.  I had never before watched America’s Most Wanted, but I did watch that episode. Right then and there I wondered if the people who were covering up those murders had something to do with the cover-up of my mother’s case. I filed this information in the back of my head.

Since that time I’ve created a website using my mother’s name, posted case facts which I could legally post, and have written letters to state senators and other officials. I’ve been to the library, searched out every single article I could find printed in the newspaper.  I have also posted articles indirectly related to my mother’s murder.  At the prodding of one of my Facebook friends, I created a Linda Edwards Facebook page.  Another friend created a Facebook group where comments can be made or discussed.

On a daily basis, I post a newspaper article, newscast, or case facts in chronological order in two Facebook groups and the Linda Edwards’ Facebook page, on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.  Prior to posting in the Facebook group named Remember in Hot Springs, I asked for, and was granted, permission. The point in posting an article a day is to spread awareness.  Generally I have 2-3 new people each week comment on or remember my mother—keeping the topic open.

We also hosted a social media campaign whereby people were asked to call, email, Twitter or Facebook a list of officials asking for the exhumation and DNA testing of Linda Edwards.  On October 13th we are having a petition drive at several locations both in Hot Springs and in Malvern, asking people to sign the petition which also asks for the exhumation and DNA testing of Linda Edwards. The petition is also available online at www.change.org. Search for Linda Edwards by Toby Edwards.

I have a section on LindaEdwards.com dedicated to other unsolved cases. I try to include a synopsis, picture, link to any sites pertaining to the cases. I encourage all to have your case listed so we can document the need to have a working cold case division.  You can email me the details if you would like your case added to the list.

Having cases listed on the website does work as noted by the Ryan Bradley Hill case. Over 300 downloads of his petition have occurred since his story was shared on the LindaEdwards.com website.  There have been well over 400 page views of Ryan’s story which leads readers directly to Ryan’s Memorial and  Facebook pages.

The purpose of compiling the list is to see if there are any connections or patterns and secondly to show the growing list of cold cases or unsolved murders in our state.  I also would like to hear what you are doing that is working in your specific case.

Which brings me to us, here in this room, we all want and need the generous emotional support offered by the POMC; however, those of you with unsolved cases, like mine, also need support that will enable us to keep fighting for our loved ones.  One person can’t do it all, but together we can step outside our comfort zones and make a difference.

Many, like I have done in the past, will sit by and twiddle their thumbs while waiting on others to stand-up.  We have to quit sitting back. Band together as one, diversify our talents, expand our core beyond the emotional support, and do something.  Some of us can offer emotional support, some technical support, others have legal backgrounds and there is always legwork to be done.  None of us have the time to fully devote as an individual but we can all work together and accomplish our goals.

I admit, sometimes I have to quit working on my mother’s case, step back and re-group.  I have to lean on our core group for that support.  I’ve learned it is comforting stepping away and letting myself block the case from my mind, but I can’t stay there—it would defeat the purpose, and you can’t stay there either.  Once we quit, they win.

When you are beaten down from fighting for your loved one, step back: find your mind, clear your soul of the bitterness and sadness, gather your strength around you, bend down and pull up your boots by the straps, straighten your back and take that renewed determination, mix it with a little anger and get MAD.

Yes, I said MAD.  It makes me angry that my mother’s case is unsolved.  It makes me mad that the prosecutor doesn’t do anything. It makes me mad when I see other people suffering through the same problems with the system that I am fighting against BUT and here is where MAD meets the road–

I am MOTIVATED AND DETERMINED to see this through to the end. MAD. I’M MAD – I AM MOTIVATED AND DETERMINED.

Together we can unite and help push through legislation that will change the way cold cases are handled.  Together we can demand that elected officials are held accountable for their actions.  I understand there are some things that may be in the works legislatively along these lines.  When those items are ready to be presented, we –you, me, our family and friends, need to stand up and support those who are trying to change things for us.  Get MAD—Get Motivated and Determined.

In conclusion, I would like to read a poem my mother wrote before her death.  I had this poem with her signature inscribed on her tombstone when I came back to Arkansas in 1989.

NEW LITE

Are you held by the past?

Oh, Let it go! Let it go

Into a total nothingness—

And instead let there flow

The joy of the presence,

The presence of God, that so

Enfolds you it brings

All you can possibly know,

Of health, of abundance,

Of peace. Thus you grow

Into the fullness of being.

The past is done; let it go.

Let God’s goodness, His truth

From now on be all that you can know.

 

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