January 23, 1974
St. Augustine, Florida
Athalia Ponsell Lindsley (56) is murdered near her front door

Shortly after 6 p.m., Lindsley’s 19-year-old neighbor heard screams and “a thumping sound” which he investigated. He found Lindsley “lying on her back with her nearly severed head resting on the bottom step of the front porch,” as well as a man between 40 to 60 years of age walking away from the scene.

Athalia Ponsell Lindsley in her youth
Detroit Free Press. Jan 25, 1974
via newspapers.com

The Sentinel Star [Jan. 27, 1975] reported Lindsley “had time to emit only two, maybe three moaning screams before she was dead.” No murder weapon was recovered but it was presumed she had been hacked to death with a machete, meat cleaver, or another type of heavy knife. No motive could be established, with sexual assault and robbery being ruled out quickly. Instead, authorities believed the crime was carried out in “pure hate.”

Lindsley’s covered body on the front steps to her house
via HistoricCity News

Lindsley often walked her pet bluebird — whom she rescued when she discovered it was unable to fly — while she read her mail on her front porch. It was assumed she was attacked while she was gathering her mail.

Alan G. Stanford Jr., Lindsley’s next-door neighbor, became the immediate prime suspect. Aside from living directly next to Lindsley, he and the victim had been engaged in a small feud in which Lindsley had been attempting to have Stanford fired from his position as a St. Johns County Manager. At trial, the prosecution argued Stanford “simmered and smouldered” during this months-long feud until he “exploded.” Meanwhile, Stanford’s defense tried to deflect suspicion from their client onto Lindsley’s husband. Lindsley had married James “Jinx” Lindsley five months before her murder but the couple lived in separate houses, a fact the defense brought up on multiple occasions. According to her friends, Lindsley had not wanted her late mother’s house to be vacant while she was in the process of selling the home, and she planned to move in with her husband after the property was sold.

Alan Stanford and Athalia Ponsell Lindsley
The Miami Herald. Jan 27, 1975
via newspapers.com

Public opinion was divided as to Stanford’s guilt. “They had to arrest somebody, and Alan was just handy,” one court spectator commented to reporters. “I just don’t think he did it. He’s a nice man who is being railroaded.”

“He did it,” another spectator declared. “He’s guilty as sin.”

Stanford was acquitted of Lindsley’s murder in 1975. He did not mention who may have killed his neighbor, but did tell reporters: “Evidence indicates some sort of collusion or plotting was underfoot and I was the scapegoat. Somebody killed Mrs. Lindsley and pointed the finger toward me. The jury understood that, and that’s why I was found not guilty.”

Several months after Lindsley’s murder, one of her neighbors was also killed. Frances Bemis (76) went missing on November 3, 1974; her body was found in a vacant lot the following day. Bemis’ skull had been crushed, presumably by a bloody concrete block left near her body. Some historians and reporters believe the Lindsley and Bemis murders could be related, due to both victims being women who had retired, and both occurring in the same general area within a calendar year. It was further speculated Bemis was killed because she had information regarding Lindsley’s murder. Others do not think the murders are connected, noting the difference in methods of murder. Additionally, Bemis was killed three days before two more victims were attacked in St. Augustine under similar circumstances. Charity May Merrell (55) and Jack Tyner (40) were found in a vacant house, and both had blunt force injuries to their heads and faces. Merrell died within hours while Tyner succumbed to his injuries several days later.

Frances Bemis
via Find A Grave

Lindsley and Bemis’ cases remain unsolved. I could find no information to suggest whether Merrell or Tyner’s murders have been solved or not.

“Former mayor’s wife hacked to death.” HistoricCity News. January 23, 2017. Accessed: January 23, 2021. https://historiccity.com/2017/staugustine/news/former-mayors-wife-hacked-to-death-61705
Randall, Elizabeth. Murder in St. Augustine: The Mysterious Death of Athalia Ponsell Lindsley. Charleston: The History Press, 2016
Wilson, Julie. “Jury Frees Stanford In Slaying.” Sentinel Star [Orlando, Florida]. February 4, 1975
Wilson, Julie. “Lindsley Slaying Spreads Fear.” Sentinel Star. January 27, 1975
Sachs, Ron. “County Official’s Trial Has St. Augustine Abuzz.” The Miami Herald. January 27, 1975
“Last Victim Dies.” Florida Today [Cocoa, Florida]. November 13, 1974
“2 Die From Beatings In St. Augustine.” The Tampa Tribune. November 7, 1974
“St. Augustine Slaying Suspect Posts Bond.” Palm Beach Post. February 27, 1974
“Murder may have been commited in ‘pure hate’.” The Daily Dispatch [Moline, Illinois]. January 25, 1974
“Former Actress Slain on Front Steps.” Detroit Free Press. January 25, 1974

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