It is 43-years later and we still have never punished the person responsible for the gruesome hacking death of the City’s former first lady — Athalia Ponsell Lindsley. Almost everyone who was thought to have committed the horrifying murder has died. Many of the investigators and public officials, the judge and prosecutor in the Alan Stanford trial (which ended in an acquittal) the sheriff, police chief, and members of the jury — all dead.
In the late afternoon of Wednesday, January 23, 1974, however, this editor was not dead; and, as far as I know, I’m still not. Historic City News had not yet been invented, nor had the Internet. I was a Deputy Sheriff, appointed by Sheriff Dudley W. Garrett, Jr., and although I was not working the crime, I was there at the home of Athalia’s mother on Marine Street. Athalia had inherited the residence, two doors down from the National Cemetery; which to this day, with minor modification, is eerily the same on the outside as it was the afternoon she was slaughtered with a machete.
The only eyewitness was 19-year-old Locke McCormick, who is also alive and resides with his wife in Jacksonville. Upon hearing screams at about 6:10 p.m., McCormick ran out of his parent’s house, next-door to Lindsley, where he saw a white man, about 40-50 years-old, walking away from the Lindsley home around the south side of the building.
Glancing at Lindsley’s battered body on the front steps, he went back to his parent’s home and called police.
Investigators, including sheriff’s detective Eddie Lightsey, later traced a trail of blood which led from Lindsley’s sprawled body to a driveway at the south side of her home. The blood trail petered out in the grass adjoining the driveway.
Athalia had just married former commissioner and two-term Mayor James Lindsley in September 1973; about four-months prior to her death. Although Athalia grew up in Jacksonville where she lived from the time she was nine-years-old, she had only moved to St Augustine, with her mother, in 1972. She was born in Toledo, Ohio and before moving to Jacksonville, her father and mother, Mr and Mrs Charles Fetter, made their home in the West Indies. Athalia was 56-years-old at the time of her death.
From the time she arrived in St Augustine, she became very active in civic and county affairs and had recently become a vocal critic of her neighbor, Alan Stanford, who was county manager.
In 1970, Athalia ran, unsuccessfully, as a Republican for the Florida House of Representatives. During the weeks before her murder, she hinted that she had an interest in running for county commissioner. She reportedly inquired of county officials to learn what would be required to qualify as a candidate.
In addition to her husband, Lindsley was survived by her sister, Geraldine Horton, who lived in Honolulu, Hawaii with Athalia’s niece. Athalia had no children of her own, although she had been married at least three times. Craig Funeral Home was in charge of the funeral arrangements. Athalia is buried in Jacksonville’s Oaklawn Cemetery.
Photo credits: © 2017 Historic City News archive photograph