Mollie Chambers

On Jan. 23 of 1974, Athalia Lindsley was outside of her home in St. Augustine, Florida, when she was suddenly hacked to death by an unknown man with a machete. The man was wearing all black clothing and fled the scene as quickly as he came. Lindsley’s attacker was never identified, however I have a theory as to who her attacker was.

When authorities arrived at the scene, Lindsley had been attacked so viciously that she was nearly decapitated. The police chief acknowledged the severity of the murder by describing Lindsley’s body as being “badly butchered.” The ferocity of this attack leads me to believe that this was a crime of passion, meaning Lindsley most likely knew her attacker.

An important element in this case involves a separate murder that involved Lindsley’s close friend Frances Bemis. On Nov. 3 of 1974, Frances Bemis was found dead by a man walking his dog.

Bemis had been beaten to death with a stone block, and her clothes has been ripped off. The injuries indicated that her attacker had attempted to burn her body to hide evidence but eventually had failed. Bemis’ murder is important not only because she was Lindsley’s friend, but because she was extremely outspoken about her friend’s murder just months before her own.

While the rest of St. Augustine reacted in fear to Lindsley’s murder, Bemis had a different reaction. Bemis made it known on various occasions that, although her friend had been murdered, she was not afraid. One day when speaking with her friends, Bemis insinuated that she knew more about the murder than she was putting on. It was also rumored that Bemis was writing a book about her friend’s murder. However, Bemis’ outspokenness about Lindsley’s death left her with the same fate.

While I do find Bemis’ actions after her friend’s murder to be suspicious, I do not think this makes her the killer. If anything, I think Bemis saw her friend’s death as something to capitalize on and upon doing so, she got herself in trouble. I think Bemis’ outspokenness about Lindsley’s murder caught the attention of the real killer, Alan Stanford.

Stanford was a county engineer as well as Lindsley’s neighbor. The duo were known for having a public feud in which county officials had to intervene on numerous occasions.

For instance, Lindsley was an animal lover and was known for taking in stray animals. Due to the noise her numerous pets caused, several neighbors began to complain. Stanford took these complaints to the county, causing Lindsley to have to pay a fine.

The most notable of their disputes involved Stanford allegedly threatening Lindsley’s life. During a county board meeting in which Lindsley and Stanford were both in attendance, Lindsley took the floor and began bad-mouthing Stanford. She claimed Stanford was unfit for his position with the county and claimed he had once threatened her with her life. While Lindsley’s accusations were ignored at the board meeting, they were not ignored the day she was murdered.

Hours before she was butchered, Lindsley accused Stanford of violating Florida state statutes. This complaint prompted the Florida Department of Occupation Regulations to investigate Stanford's home. While their investigation found he had done nothing wrong, I think this was the final straw for Stanford. I think after this visit, Stanford snapped and decided to end his local feud once and for all.

Due to their feud being so public, Stanford was a prime suspect in Lindsley’s murder. In court there were several pieces of evidence presented that placed Stanford at the scene of the crime. These pieces included his watch and bloody shirt — found in the woods behind Lindsley’s home. There were also a trail of bloody footprints that appeared to go from Lindsley’s home to Stanford's.

In my opinion, it seems obvious that Stanford did it, however the jury declared him not guilty. I believe Stanford's role as an employee of the county influenced the jury’s decision.

When Stanford was initially arrested for Lindsley’s murder, several county residents raised money to pay for his bail. To me this shows how highly he was thought of in his community and showed that even before his trial by jury, public opinion had declared him not guilty. I believe the jury made the wrong call in this case and let a killer go free.

Mollie Chambers is a sophomore majoring in journalism and electronic media. She can be reached at mollcham@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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