Rebecca O’Donnell, who pleaded guilty last week to first-degree murder the 2019 fatal stabbing of former state Sen. Linda Collins of Pocahontas, can be seen on security video holding a bloody knife inside the house where Collins was killed.
Efforts had been made to delete the security video, but some videos were missed.
O’Donnell later tried to drag fellow county jail inmates into a scheme to kill people involved in the case and also destroy the incriminating video. But the inmates quickly went to authorities and provided further corroboration of key elements in the murder case.
She told the inmates with whom she’d served time in Jackson County that she knew investigators had a video of her holding a knife while standing over Collins’ body and had blood on her shirt.
Collins told inmates she’d tried to enlist in a murder-for-hire plot that she was being framed. She the videos had been manipulated and she’d only been cutting up chicken.
O’Donnell was charged with soliciting capital murder in Jackson County, where she was initially held on the murder charge, for trying to get inmates to kill Collins’ ex-husband, former Judge Phil Smith, his new wife, Mary, and Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce of Newport, who brought the original murder charge. She also was accused of trying to get inmates to destroy evidence against her, including her car. She pleaded no contest to those charges in a plea deal that gave her a total of 50 years in prison.
After the plea was announced, Collins’ children said they believed Collins had discovered her long-time friend O’Donnell had been stealing from her, confronted her and was killed as a result. Evidence developed in the Jackson County investigation supports that theory.
One key piece of evidence: Gold coins unaccounted for in a property settlement of the Collins-Smith divorce — gold and silver coins that were Smith’s but which Collins said she could no longer find in her house — were sold by O’Donnell in Little Rock and Memphis six to eight months before the slaying for $15,000. She also told inmates that she did books for Collins’ motel in Pocahontas and she told an inmate she believed prosecutors were trying to make a case she’d been laundering money through that work.
Special Prosecutor Robert Dittrich had said he intended to prove a “pecuniary” motive to substantiate the original capital murder charge but never revealed evidence he’d discovered to support that. He had subpoenaed business records of Collins’ motel as well as her telephone and Internet accounts.
The State Police investigation also turned up the fact that O’Donnell had been accused by a tipster of offering to hire someone to kill a former husband, Jeff O’Donnell, in 2007, in return for $50,000 from his life insurance policy. State Police investigated in March of that year.
O’Donnell told State Police investigators she did make “statements” about her husband being dead and also admitted mentioning $50,000. But, an investigator reported, “She said she was drunk when she made the statements. Near the conclusion of the interview, I asked her how serious she was on a scale of 1-10, and she said “5 or 6, but I was drunk.”
No further information, in that case, was developed. The husband changed his life insurance policy beneficiary. He and Rebecca divorced. No charge was filed.
Things didn’t turn out so well in Pocahontas, where O’Donnell fatally stabbed Collins at Collins’ home in late May, then covered her body with a tarp in the driveway, where it was discovered in a decomposed state several days later.
Officers arrested O’Donnell going to a memorial service for Collins several days after the body was found. The evidence that broke the case came from a security camera in Collins’ home that showed her removing a security camera. That she had removed the camera became known in a limited release of information following O’Donnell’s arrest for murder.
Most of the key affidavits for search warrants were placed under seal in Randolph County, along with other information related to the case. Special Circuit Judge John Fogleman has officially closed the case and ordered relevant court documents placed in the open court file, but he said that might take several days. The State Police is currently finishing redaction and assembly of its case file in the murder case, which is voluminous.
Meanwhile, the Jackson County case is closed. And those records, which I obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, provide fresh insight in interviews given by several Jackson County jail inmates who reported to authorities that O’Donnell tried to enlist them in a murder-for-hire plot.
O’Donnell spins various tales in their accounts, not all of which mesh perfectly. All must be filtered through O’Donnell, who’d been said by some former acquaintances to be unreliable. (See NEA Report.)
But on with the jailhouse snitches:
On Nov. 7, inmate Cassandra Geoffrion told investigators of her conversation with Collins and another inmate Shana Hembrey, for fear she might find someone else to do the deed.
Geoffrion said O’Donnell told her there was a video of her buying bleach (this a reference to an item on NEA Report about a Walmart bleach purchase believed used to clean up blood). She also said there was a video (the home security camera) showing her holding a knife, wearing a bloody shirt and standing over the body of Linda Collins. O’Donnell told Geoffrion the blood was made up, insinuating that the video had been manipulated in some way.
O’Donnell explained why she “had the knife over the lady,” an investigator recounted.
O’Donnell told Geoffrion Collins had been in Arizona to receive Botox, then traveled to a meeting in Washington. O’Donnell said she picked up Collins at the airport when she returned. She said she had made Collins chicken and had cut up the chicken, which explained why she was holding a knife. O’Donnell contended law enforcement made the video look like she was covered in blood.
She also told Geoffrion that Collins’ house was totally redone. In fact, it was in disarray, with new floor covering bought months before still sitting in the driveway and accumulations of property piled up inside. O’Donnell told Geoffrion she had removed all the cameras from the house (and claimed they’d been returned to Best Buy, a claim that investigators couldn’t confirm) but forgot about one of them.
Another inmate, Amanda Hobson, told a similar story.
The chicken was again blamed in an account from a third former jail mate, Patricia Combs:
Tim Loggains was O’Donnell’s fiance. He defended her innocence in an interview with ABC News early in the case. He has not been implicated by authorities, though he’s acknowledged some attention has come his way because he helped Collins with her financial affairs. He had her power attorney and at one point was in charge of depositing a tax refund check of some $450,000 for her, money that was a point of contention in her divorce.
About pecuniary gain:
O’Donnell told her jail mates a potential source of payment for the crimes she requested could be found at Phil Smith’s house in Mammoth Spring, in the form of gold coins she believed he possessed. Her scheme was to make it appear Phil Smith had killed his new wife and committed suicide on account of remorse for killing his wife. O’Donnell had a plan to frame the prosecutor by making it appear he’d framed O’Donnell to cover various misdeeds of his own. O’Donnell wrote “suicide notes” that she gave to Geoffrion, which the FBI determined to be O’Donnell’s handwriting. Another jail inmate, Rebecca Landrum, also said O’Donnell had made threatening remarks about Judge Harold Erwin, the original judge in the case. Inmates said that O’Donnell, in addition to trying to hire out killings and the bombing of her car, wanted to get a computer expert to send a “virus” to Arkansas Crime Lab computers and those of her defense lawyers to destroy any evidence related to the ARLO security camera system in Collins’ house.
Investigators said the Collins-Smith house was equipped with battery-operated motion detection security cameras made by ARLO Technologies.
Smith’s ARLO account was breached about the time of her death and several videos were deleted from the account.
But ARLO was able to provide videos from May 28 that had not been deleted.
One video, from the driveway camera at approximately 4:48 p.m. includes the sound of a woman believed to be Collins screaming from inside the house. Two videos came from interior cameras at 5:19 and 5:20 p.m. The first shows O’Donnell holding a knife covered with what appears to be blood near the area where the murder was committed. The other shows O’Donnell leaving the residence with Smith’s red purse and interior camera.
Investigators said they believe O’Donnell also took Smith’s phone, which was missing. It contained an ARLO application with which Smith managed her security video account.
O’Donnell told her potential co-conspirators that she knew about Smith’s gold because she’d taken some similar coins from Collins. Through the search of a database of precious metal sales, investigators discovered O’Donnell had made three transactions: She’d sold coins and two rings to a Little Rock buyer for $3,000 in September 2018; coins to Memphis Gold Buyers for $4,590 in October 2018, and coins for $7,520 to Memphis Gold Buyers in November 2018.
Phil Smith told investigators $25,000 worth of gold coins was missing from his home and provided his sales slips for his purchases. He was accompanied to his former house by O’Donnell, Loggains and law enforcement officers to search for the coins after his divorce while Collins was still alive, but nothing was found. During the criminal investigation, Loggains said he knew nothing about O’Donnell’s sale of the gold.
After receiving the tips from jail inmates, investigators also obtained a search warrant for her car in search of two lawn chairs missing from Collins’ house. They were near her at the time of the murder and investigators believed they might have blood on them. The search didn’t turn up the lawn chairs or other immediately useful evidence, though this was the car O’Donnell reportedly wanted to be blown up.
A clearer picture will become available when affidavits for numerous warrants in the actual murder case are returned.
And a question arises: What if ALL video footage had been deleted from the Collins account?
Also: There are hints in O’Donnell’s stories to jail inmates of a vast conspiracy involving public officials and others potentially involving child trafficking, a subject reportedly of great interest to Collins. Sen. Alan Clark has pressed since her death for information from her computer related to this theory, a theory on which some had based a belief that O’Donnell was being framed.
She has now said in open court that she intentionally killed Collins and accepted a 50-year sentence to avoid a potential death penalty. A video shows her with a bloody knife. She profited from the sale of coins belonging to Collins ex-husband. This pokes a few inconvenient holes in the grand conspiracy theory. But that rarely proves an impediment for those conspiratorially inclined.