ST. AUGUSTINE, FL — On January 23, 1973 — 20 years before Nicole Brown-Simpson was murdered in Los Angeles, a very similar brutal killing took place in St. Augustine, Florida.
The body of Athalia Ponsell Lindsley, a former model who had made local enemies due to her barking dogs, was discovered in a pool of blood on the front steps of her home on Marine Street just before 6 P.M. She had been, in the words of an article in The Florida Times-Union, “hacked to death with a machete.”
According to medical examiner Dr. Arthur Schwartz, who performed the autopsy, she was struck nine times by the machete on her hand, arm, and head. One of her fingers was severed and — like Nicole Brown-Simpson — she was nearly decapitated.
The only thing missing from her house after her murder was a pet bird, whose cage was found smashed.
It was a brutal end to an extraordinary life. Lindsley was born to a wealthy family in Toledo, Ohio, and later spent 20 years in New York as a model, chorus line dancer, and hostess on the TV game show Winner Take All.
While she lived for a while in Jacksonville, Florida, Lindsley wrote a book on gardening, patented a pot-cleaning device, and became a real estate agent.
She then married a former mayor of St. Augustine, Florida, James “Jinx” Lindsley, just four months prior to her murder. Despite being newlyweds, the couple lived in different homes.
At the time of her murder, Lindsley had been in an ongoing feud with Alan Griffin Stanford, Jr., her neighbor at 126 Marine Street, due to her six dogs, who neighbors complained barked incessantly. On the very day before her murder, she criticized Stanford’s competency at a county commission meeting, and disputed his recent raise in salary. In fact, in a transcript of a county meeting, Lindsley had told the county commissioners that “he [Stanford] threatened my life.”
A witness described the attacker as a middle-aged white man wearing a white shirt and dark pants. A trail of blood led from the body to Stanford’s garage. Stanford was indicted. He went to trial but, after only two hours of jury deliberation, he was acquitted. Stanford has always maintained his innocence, and has since passed away.
Critics accused the police of botching the investigation and tainting evidence and, even today, local residents are still debating who killed Lindsley.
The socialite had no shortage of enemies due to her “obnoxious” behavior.
According to the St. Augustine Record, Lindsley wrote to her sister two weeks before her death, expressing concerns about her new husband. She wrote: “If anything happens to me, my husband owns nothing in my house.”
In 1998, Nancy Powell, a former reporter for The Florida Times-Union, coauthored a book about the slaying called Bloody Sunset in St. Augustine: A True Story, which explores various theories on the murder.
Sheriff Dudley W. Garrett, Jr., who investigated the case and was convinced that Stanford was guilty, has also died. Though the case has gone cold, the Sheriff’s Office still maintains a case file.
On November 3, 1974, Lindsley’s friend and neighbor Frances Bemis went out for her evening walk and never returned. Her body was found the next day in a vacant lot with her skull crushed, and it was rumored that she may have been collecting material for a book on Lindsley’s murder. Like that of her friend, Bernis’ case remains unsolved.
Lindsley was buried beside her parents at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jacksonville.
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Main photo: Athalia Ponsell Lindsley [Wikimedia Commons]