Officer accused of murder: Lieutenant charged in pregnant deputy’s death

Arkansas Democrat 7-9-1977

HOT SPRINGS– Lt. Thurman L. Abernathy, 36, a narcotics officer with the Hot Springs

Linda Edwards
Linda Edwards

Police Department, was arrested Friday at his office and charged with first degree murder in the death of Mrs. Linda Edwards, 29, whose body was found in a remote area about 15 miles south of here in February.

Mrs. Edwards, a radio dispatcher for the Garland County Sheriff’s Department, had been missing since Aug. 22, 1976. Mrs. Edwards, who had been divorced for about three years and had three children, was four and a half months pregnant at the time of her disappearance.

Police believe Abernathy was the father of Mrs. Edwards’ unborn child, Garland County Sheriff Leon Barlow said Friday. Abernathy was under investigation in the case “from the very beginning” Barlow said.

Abernathy, a 10-year veteran of the police force, is married and the father of two children. He was arrested by State Police Lt. Kenneth McFerran and Hot Springs Police Chief Grover Douglas. He is being held in the Malvern city jail on $25,000 bond.

Police conducted an intensive search for Mrs. Edwards after her abandoned car was found on a road just off Arkansas 290 south of here, but found no trace of her. Police searched a large area of the mountainous, wooded area and scuba divers explored areas of Lake Catherine near where the car was found as part of the search.

Her remains were found about six months later by a wolf hunter walking on Jack Mountain, about eight miles from where her car was found. The state medical examiner ruled that she had been killed by several blows to the head. The type of weapon used was unknown.

State Police questioned more than 150 persons in their investigation, which spanned seven months. Police turned the results of that investigation over to Pros. Atty. John Cole of Sheridan in March, according to Major W. A. Tudor, head of the State Police Criminal Investigation Division. Tudor said he did not know why Cole delayed three or four months to file charges in the case.

Barlow said he thought the prosecuting attorney had wanted to conduct his own investigation of the case before filing charges against Abernathy.

“I’m sure they were checking every detail to see that there were no flaws in their case,” Barlow said. “I don’t feel they were laying back on it, they were just doing a real good, thorough job.”

In September, friends and relatives established a reward fund of $1,000 for anyone who provided information leading to the discovery of her whereabouts. The fund was later converted to a trust fund for the benefit of Mrs. Edwards’ children.

Mrs. Edwards was last seen at 12:55 p.m. on Aug. 22, driving south on Central Avenue here in her car. She was alone. She had left her children in the care of a babysitter about 10 a.m., and when she did not return that night, the babysitter called the police to report her missing. Police found Mrs. Edwards’ car the following day on a dirt road just off Arkansas 290 about 8 miles southeast of here.

Mrs. Edwards, a native of Hot Springs, had worked for the Sheriff’s department about six months before she was killed. She had previously worked as a bartender.

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