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Still no justice for Athalia after 37 years

January 22, 2011 | By More

Twenty years before the nation learned of the brutal murder of Nicole Brown-Simpson; another murder was taking place here in St. Augustine — with many eerie similarities.

The autopsy report of Nicole Brown-Simpson identified an incised wound of her neck with a total of seven multiple stab wounds to the neck and scalp, multiple injuries to her hands, including a defensive incised wound to the ring finger of her right hand, as contributors to the sharp force injuries that caused her death. But that was in Los Angeles, California.

St. Augustine was a quiet little town in 1974; not too much traffic, not many worries and not too much trouble — that is until January 23rd.

When St. Augustine Police Investigator Dominick Nicklo requested an autopsy performed on the body of Athalia Ponsell Lindsley, whose body was discovered at her home on Marine Street just before 6:00 p.m. that night, he reported almost identical circumstances that would have been observed by investigators at South Gretna Green Way.

Assistant State Attorney Richard O. Watson was told by Nicklo that Athalia Lindsley “was hacked to death by an unknown weapon on the front steps of her house.” When the actual Lindsley autopsy was performed, Dr. Arthur Schwartz agreed; finding that death was caused by multiple lacerations with an unknown weapon and a fractured skull. The autopsy photographs of the two murdered women are too gory to publish here, but, I assure you, they are almost indistinguishable — right down to the hand wounds and near-severed fingers.

Athalia Ponsell Lindsley was beautiful, well bred, and well read. She was disciplined of mind and body, maintaining a trim figure and a keen mind.

She had been a resident of St. Augustine for just over two years. Athalia Lindsley made her share of friends – and her share of enemies. Friendly and convivial with those who shared her interests; she could be abrupt, curt, and sometimes arrogant with those who did not view the world with her perspective. During her time here, her focus narrowed on the cultural and political life of the city.

Lindsley marched to a different, distant drummer who struck his own particular beat. A human character, mixed in such fashion, made passionate friends – and passionate enemies.

Lindsley appeared before the city commission — she told the city fathers, bluntly, that they were dead wrong on the issue of fluoridating the city’s water supply. And later, in public comments before the county commission, Lindsley was equally blunt and direct.

She was highly critical of a host of county miscues – real or imagined – from the condition of county roads (Joe Ashton Road, Cabbage Hammock Road) – to the status of County Manager Alan Stanford. Directly she criticized Stanford for his management of county projects. On the day just before her murder, she flailed away at Stanford for signing his name to official documents as “county engineer”. On that day, Tuesday, January 22, 1973, she appeared at the county commission to criticize Stanford’s competency, his legal ability to be county manager as well as his recent salary raise to $20,000 per year.

Wonder what she would think of the current county administrator’s salary and severance benefits?

Stanford, consistent with his quiet demeanor, politely declined to respond to Lindsley, perhaps in the knowledge that she was carrying over a neighborhood feud into the county courthouse.

Lindsley was the center of a neighborhood dispute involving a host of dogs – seven dogs at one point – that she kept at her 124 Marine Street home. They were described as “yapping dogs”, dogs that “barked and whined constantly”, dogs that were a “continuing nuisance” in the Marine Street neighborhood. At one point, several neighbors signed a court complaint about too many dogs in too small a place.

There are as many theories on who killed Athalia as there are people who knew her.

The only man tried for the murder, County Manager Alan Stanford, was acquitted by a St. Johns County jury. He has since passed away; but, steadfastly maintained his innocence. The sheriff during the investigation, Dudley W. Garrett, Jr., has also passed away; but, remained convinced that there were no other suspects to investigate.

There is no “statute of limitations” regarding the prosecution of a murder in Florida, however, many of the likely suspects and witnesses are also dead. The Sheriff’s Office still maintains a case file on the investigation from the early 1970’s; however, cold case detectives are not actively pursuing leads.

So, for all of the arguments over St. Augustine’s best known “who done it”, and all of the evidence that makes for interesting reading, one fact that seems indisputable is that no one will ever be punished for this heinous and violent murder.

Many of the trial exhibits, photographs from the crime scene and clippings about the murder are cataloged on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/athalia.lindsley

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

© 2011, HISTORIC CITY NEWS. All rights reserved.

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