On the evening of 23 January 1974, 56-year-old socialite Athalia Ponsell Lindsley was attacked and murdered by an unknown assailant on the front steps of her Florida home. So brutal was the attack and with such few witnesses, the event would become notorious in the annals unsolved crimes. Although a suspect would go on trial, her murder and that of her friend would remain unsolved.
Lindsley was born into an affluent and wealthy family in Toledo, Ohio. She had worked for over 20 years as a model in New York, later a broadway dancer and was a hostess on the television game show "Winner Takes All", hosted by Bud Collyer. At one time she was engaged to Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., who had died whilst on active duty in World War II. She had moved St. Augustine in 1972 with her mother, and four months prior to her murder she married James "Jinx" Lindsley, who was a successful real estate agent and was the former Mayor of St. Augustine. She had made an unsuccessful bid for state senator and then had plans to run for a seat on the St. Johns County Commission. This brought her into conflict with Alan Stanford, a St. Johns County Commissioner and her neighbour.
Athalia Ponsell Lindsley
On the afternoon of 23 January, Athalia had returned home around 5:00pm from shopping, whilst her husband Jinx left at about 5:30pm. Between that time and 6:00pm an unknown individual walked up her driveway and as Lindsley exited her front door, the unknown assailant began to attack her with a machete, striking her nine times. The autopsy was performed by medical examiner Dr. Arthur Schwartz who stated she had been hit mostly on her hand and arm, which indicated she had attempted to defend herself, with one of her fingers being severed. She was also hit in the head, with the attacker nearly decapitating her. Lindsley's neighbours at 122 Marine Street were Rosemary McCormick and her son Locke. On that fateful evening, at the time of the attack, 18-year-old Locke heard what sounded like arguing outside. When he looked out the window, he shouted to his mother that "Mr. Stanford is hitting Mrs. Ponsell". When the assailant had left, the McCormick's rushed over to the crime scene and witnessed Athalia lying in a pool of blood on her front porch. They quickly dialled 911 and waited for the emergency services to arrive.
124 Marine Street
Alan Griffin Standford Jr. lived next door to Mrs Lindsley at 126 Marine Street. 48-year-old Stanford was a County Manager and had allegedly been having an on-going dispute with Mrs Lindsley over a variety of issues, most notably the six stray dogs that she kept and which barked incessantly. This later developed into a feud between the two, with Lindsley going so far as to complain about Stanford at a County meeting in October 1973. Lindsley made a complaint on record concerning the issue of Stanford's raise in salary to $20'000. One of the County Commissioners replied; "I am aware you are a neighbour of the Stanford's and that y'all have had neighbour problems." to which she replied, "That's true. (But) my life has been threatened. You mention personal things, he threatened my life." Lindsley and Stanford were often at odds both personally and politically.
On several occasions she had attempted to get him fired and he had taken her to court over the noise issues she was causing in the neighbourhood. Lindsley had made numerous enemies with her volatile personality and conservative views, whilst Stanford was liked by most who knew him. Both had frequently sparred with one another at county meetings and the two families, who were adjacent neighbours, did not talk to one another. Athalia believed Stanford was incompetent and one county meeting transcript records Stanford asking Athalia why she was attempting to get him fired. She replies "Your wife was meddling in my business with the dogs last fall." Many neighbourhood complaints were made about the dogs barking, but most were made by Stanford. St. Augustine Police Sgt. Dominic Nicklo, had visited Athalia's home to warn her about the dogs. It didn't do any good. "There was just no compromise with her..." Nicklo later said.
When the police arrived at the crime scene, they found Lindsley's lifeless body on her front steps. She was pronounced dead on the scene and the police began their investigation. Despite many valuable antiques, the only thing missing from the house was Lindsley's pet baby Blue jay, which she had found and was nursing back to health, and whose empty cage was found smashed. Initially, Athalia's husband James Lindsley was considered a suspect. Despite being married for only four months prior to her murder, they resided at different properties. Athalia lived at 124 Marine Street, whilst James alternated between two residence, the historic Lindsley House at 214 St. George Street and another on Lew Boulevard, located on Anastasia Island.
The investigation against James was soon dropped after it was established that he was nowhere near the vicinity at the time the crime occurred. Former St. Augustine Police Sergeant Dominic Nicklo would later comment that "Jinx Lindsley was eliminated (as a suspect) immediately. He was somewhere else. We know Alan did it. We had the right guy." A St. Augustine Record Photographer, Phillip Whitley, who had taken the crime scene photos later recalled that the police did not secure the property. "People were walking through the yard and climbing over hedges," Whitley said. "It was a bizarre deal. They were destroying the crime scene."
There were many who believed the investigation had been botched from the start. A Bloody trail was found to lead away from the body, right up to the wall of Alan Stanford's property next door. Later, blood droplets were also found in his county vehicle, a Chevy Impala. When the police told Stanford about Mrs. Lindsley's death, he asked "Was she shot or was she cut?" Stanford protested his innocence and said five county employees could identify him as being in his office at the time of the murder. Because no murder weapon had been found and without concrete evidence of his guilt, the police had to continue their investigation. With a $500 reward being offered for information, County worker Dewey Lee decided he would find the murder weapon.
On 15 February 1974 he searched the marsh at low tide at the South End of Riberia Street. He eventually found a dress shirt, a pair of trousers, a belt, pair of shoes, a machete, a watch and oddly a baby diaper. The blood on the clothing and machete was too degraded to match it to Mrs Lindsley, however the watch was found to belong to Stanford. On 22 February 1974, Sheriff Dudley Garrett and Sgt. Dominic Nicklo arrested Stanford at his home for the murder of Athalia Ponsell Lindsley. He spent four days in Jail but was later released on $25,000 bond until trial, which took a year.
Frances Beamis was a friend and neighbour of Athalia Ponsell Lindsley and both had been socialites with a history in the entertainment business, with Beamis being a former newspaper writer, radio producer, and a fashion director. She was one of Lindsley's few friends and supporters and lived at the Maria Sanchez Apartments, which was located four doors away from the Lindsley and Stanford residences. With no-one else being charged with her friends murder and believing it wrought with controversy, she began gathering evidence, it was believed, to write a book based on the crime.
She was overheard alluding to the fact she had information pertinent to the case, that she knew who the murderer was. She had expressed her dislike for Stanford on several occasions and would no doubt have been a witness for the prosecution at Stanford's coming trial. On Sunday 3 November 1974 she went for her usual evening walk, from which she did not return. He body was later discovered at around 07:00pm, a block and a half away from her home in a vacant lot near the corner of Bridge and Marine Street. Her skull had been crushed with a cement block. There were no leads in the investigation and her murder remains unsolved.
On 23 January 1975, a full year to the day of Lindsley's death, Alan Stanford went on trial for her murder at the St. Johns County Courthouse. He was defended by private attorney Edward Booth who was himself a former county commissioner. The prosecution sought to implicate Stanford based on the circumstantial blood evidence located in his car, as well as the items of clothing found by Dewey Lee in the marsh, which included a watch, later identified as belonging to Stanford. Stanford would claim he had lost his watch and that the clothing was not his. However the prosecutors noted that Stanford bought a new pair of shoes on the day they buried Ms. Ponsell.
The most damning evidence against Stanford was the alleged witness, Locke McCormick. However when interviewed by Investigators, McCormick's testimony about witnessing Stanford attacking Mrs Lindsley was not recorded by police as part of his statement. When he took the witness stand, Locke was unable to positively identify Stanford as the attacker, stating instead that he saw a man in his "40's to 60's" wearing a "white dress shirt and dark pants" walk away from the scene. After two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty and Stanford was acquitted. A month later in March 1975, Stanford was fired from his job as a County Commissioner. Not long after this Stanford moved out of the State.
At the time the story was reported extensively by the newspapers, especially by reporters Jackie Feagin and Patrick Lynn of the St. Augustine Record, as well as Nancy Powell of the Florida Times-Union. Then it vanished from the media. In 1998, the first 10'000 copies of "Bloody Sunset in St. Augustine" was published. It was written by Jim Mast of Federal Point and Nancy Powell and mixed fact with fiction. Mast commented, "It's a story based on a true event, but it's not a history,". The book proved a sensation in St. Augustine with residents eager to read about the lurid details of the unsolved crime. In 2000, A&E aired an hour long documentary, detailing the case for the City Confidential Series.
In late 2006, another 2000 copies of "Blood Sunset in St. Augustine" were reissued by Powell with the permission of Mast. Powell later commented, "My son convinced me that it will always be a good seller," she said. "And I heard that copies are being sold on the Internet for $50 and $75. That's ridiculous." Powell was a friend of Lindsley's and remembers she has lunch with her at the Seafarer Restaurant on Anastasia Island the day of her murder. She stated that Athalia and her husband James then went to Jacksonville to shop.
A website on the case was setup by a team of volunteer researchers led by Private Investigator Michael Gold. Gold, a former St. Johns County Deputy wants the public to be able to examine the evidence for themselves. He later commented about missing case evidence. "How is it that the trial transcript is lost?" Gold said. "Witness depositions are gone, and many documents are missing. I want to collect and preserve the remaining evidence. It was a brutal murder involving high-profile people on a very busy street." The deaths of both Athalia Ponsell Lindsley and her friend Frances Beamis remains unsolved.
Written by Nucleus
Written by Nucleus