January 23, 1974, is a day that Historic City News editor Michael Gold is not likely to forget; in fact, anyone who lived in St Augustine at the time will probably tell you the same.
Today we mark the 42nd anniversary of the murder of Athalia Ponsell-Lindsley. Depending on who you ask, it remains the city’s most notorious, high-profile homicide for several reasons. And, whether you want to argue if the case was ever solved, one claim is irrefutable — no one was ever punished for this crime.
That claim is likely not to change, either. Most of the people that are known to be connected to the case are dead. Sheriff Garrett, Sheriff O’Laughlin, and Sheriff Perry, are all dead; and Sheriff Shoar explained that although there is no statute of limitations to prosecute a murder, the Lindsley murder investigation is considered “closed”.
Born in Toledo, Ohio in August 1917, Athalia Ponsell was a remarkable woman. She was an attractive young model in New York, had a television game show gig, was said to have dated Joseph Kennedy, and as stubborn and spoiled as they come. By the time she settled in St Augustine, she moved into her mother’s home at 124 Marine Street.
Records from the SAPD Case E-7330, SJSO Case 10109, and FDLE Case 523-1A-0016, were preserved by Michael Gold for Historic City News archives.
Athalia’s last husband, it was never clear how many times she was actually married, was a suspect in her death. One time St Augustine mayor James Simpson Lindsley was never prosecuted after he passed a polygraph examination.
Although the crime occurred on the front steps of the residence, on a busy street, in broad daylight, no one was able to identify the killer. The 18-year-old son of Lindsley’s next door neighbor announced that he saw another neighbor, Alan Griffith Stanford, Jr., “hitting Mrs. Ponsell”. Locke McCormick later told authorities that he could not be sure that the man he saw was actually Stanford. Authorities tried a cognitive interview under hypnosis but were never able to develop reliable testimony after McCormick’s initial statement.
Stanford was arrested, tried and acquitted at jury trial in St Johns County.
People still talk about the crime and even argue “who done it”.
Photo credits: © 2016 Historic City News archive photograph