Linda Darby was a mother of five children in 1970 when her husband Charles Darby was murdered. Charles Darby was fatally shot before the family home was set on fire in Hammond, Indiana. The crime shocked the small rural community, but the events that followed would be even more shocking. This is the bizarre story of Stolen Freedom: The Murder of Charles Darby.
Charles and Linda Darby were married in the late 1960s. Linda had previously been married and was already the mother to four children. Charles and Linda would welcome a child of their own during their short marriage. In 1969, when Linda was just 26 and Charles 25, the couple started experiencing bizarre harassment. Their fence was lit on fire, wires were ripped out of their car, and eventually the car was completely stolen. Later the house was burned down. The couple moved to Hammond, Indiana at that time. Linda suggested they may be being targeted because her husband, who worked as an aluminum siding installer, was not part of the local union.
The move did little to curb the craziness in the Darby marriage. Charles grew concerned about the amount of money Linda was spending. She explained to him that she had to spend the money on cancer treatments since they didn’t have health insurance. Only, Charles later learned his wife didn’t have cancer. She just liked to spend money. She spent so much the couple was deeply in debt. Furious, Charles took out an ad in a local paper that announced he was not responsible for his wife’s debts, only his own. Linda was furious and embarrassed.
On New Year’s Eve of 1969, someone called a local newspaper and reported that Charles and Linda Darby had died in a car crash. The newspaper printed their obituaries in the paper, only to learn they had not been killed and were very much alive. The newspaper would once again be running Charles Darby’s obituary, however, just three months after the cruel hoax.
In Spring of 1970, Charles Darby was feeling ill and decided to stay home when his wife drove with their five children to visit family nearly 7 hours away. On the day that Linda was to return to Hammond, she drove 6 ½ hours with her kids towards home. She was tired of driving, however, and decided to stop and stay at a motel about a half an hour drive away from home. The next morning, she arrived home and learned that her house had burned down the night before. Her husband was dead.
Charles Darby did not die from the mysterious fire, however. He was shot with a shotgun in the abdomen. The medical examiner determined the gun shot to be his cause of death and ruled the death a homicide. Linda Darby became an instant suspect. Why did she drive six and a half hours home only to stop and stay in a motel so close to home? Investigators searched the motel she was staying at and spoke to Linda’s children.
Linda’s daughter told the police that her mother left the hotel for a while that night. She was unsure where her mother went, but claimed her mother swore her to secrecy and threatened her not to tell anyone she had left. The search of the motel produced a value piece of evidence: a shot gun that had been hidden behind a vending machine. While not conclusively proven to be the murder weapon, an expert said it was consistent with the weapon used to kill Charles Darby.
Next, authorities spoke with gas station attendants at a local station. They claimed a woman matching Linda’s description came in the night of the murder and bought two gas cans worth of gasoline. They later picked Linda out of a line up as the customer purchasing the gasoline. Police believed that she lit the fire.
This next piece of evidence seems a little shaky, but none-the-less was part of the case. Tire tracks at the Darby home were found and so police asked a tire salesman to compare them to Linda Darby’s tires. He found them to be consistent. I am not sure a tire salesman qualifies as an expert in forensic tire tracks or that this evidence is meaningful anyway as Linda lived in that home and so her vehicle was obviously there at some point.
The medical examiner then told police that they found something else when they ran toxicology on Charles Darby as part of the autopsy. Charles Darby had large concentrations of arsenic in his blood. He had been being poisoned over the last several months, but the poison was not his cause of death. It did, however, explain why he was too sick to join his family on the trip.
Police theorized that Linda Darby was a chronic spender and was upset that her husband was no longer providing her with unlimited money. They believed that she likely was behind the odd harassment the couple had been receiving including the previous fires, vehicle damage and theft, and bizarre death hoax. Her motive was money. She tried to poison Charles for months, but that wasn’t working fast enough. They believe she drove most of the way home, stopping short to stay in a motel to secure an alibi. She left in the night, bought gasoline, and then went home. They theorized she shot Charles Darby, killing him, then proceeded to set the house on fire. She stashed the gun behind the vending machine at the hotel and swore her daughter to secrecy.
Linda Darby was charged with first degree murder. Police planned to arrest her at her late husband’s funeral, but oddly enough Linda failed to attend. She was arrested the next day in Kentucky, where she was staying with family. While awaiting trial, Linda was out on bond and went on vacation with her family.
Linda (right) went to trial in September 1970. The state presented the evidence in the case including the salesman’s opinion that the tire tracks belonged to Linda. Linda’s own child testified against her, insisting her mother left the hotel that night and then threatened her not to tell anyone. The shot gun found at the hotel was presented with an expert witness stating it was consistent with the murder weapon. The gas station attendants who identified Linda, however, were not allowed to testify as it was determined the police tainted the identification by showing them a picture of Linda prior to the line-up.
Linda’s defense had planned to call character witnesses, but instead rested their case without calling a single witness. “The evidence fell short of putting Mrs. Darby in Hammond on March 3” her attorney’s stated (Hopkins, 1970). The defense basically relied on that fact that it’s up to the prosecution to provide the proof beyond a reasonable doubt and they did not feel like the prosecution had done that.
Linda Darby was found guilty of first-degree murder after a short deliberation and was sentenced to life in prison. She was not going to be eligible for parole for at least fifteen years, which would have been 1985. She filed an appeal in August of 1971, which was denied. However, a motion was granted to allow counsel to be appointed to assist Linda in the appeals process. Another motion of appeal, however, was not filed.
On March 13th, 1972, only two years after the murder and a year and half after her conviction, Linda Darby escaped the Indiana Women’s Prison. She was returning to her unit from the recreational area of the prison when she climbed the ten-foot fence and fled. Her absence was discovered during the evening prisoner count. Linda Darby had stolen her freedom.
Most felons who escape from prison are quickly apprehended and returned to custody. In fact, prison officials told the family of Charles Darby that would be the case when Linda escaped. Much to the contrary, Linda proved hard to find. After her escape, there were few sightings of her, and she made absolutely no contact with her five children. Her whereabouts remained a mystery for a long time, a very long time. Linda Darby was a fugitive for over thirty-five years.
In 2007, the State of Indiana formed a fugitive apprehension unit to look for escapees from Indiana prisons. One of the first cases they looked in to was Linda Darby’s. How did this twenty-seven-year-old woman escape a maximum-security prison and then just disappear? The unit recruited the help the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center, who primarily coordinates anti-terrorism efforts, to assist in the investigation. They didn’t have any leads, but they had Linda’s date of birth and social security number. They ran her known data along with slight variants and quickly discovered a person living in Tennessee with very similar information.
Police in Pulaski, Tennessee, were informed that Indiana authorities believed local resident, Linda McElroy, to possibly be an escaped convict. The police in small town Pulaski thought the Indiana police were crazy. Sixty-four-year-old Linda McElroy had lived in Pulaski with her husband and family for over thirty years. She was a mother of two and grandmother of eight. She worked as a house cleaner in local homes and had never been in any kind of trouble during the last three decades. Local authorities firmly believed this was a mistake on Indiana’s part.
Nevertheless, they went to speak with Linda McElroy. They showed her a picture of Linda Darby and asked her if they knew who that woman was. She admitted that yes it was her. She was Linda Darby. “I could sit here and lie all day to you, fingerprints don’t lie” Linda told the police officer who arrested her (Prison for Life, 2018). She was right, fingerprints confirmed that she was Linda Darby.
Linda explained in interviews that she climbed the fence and escaped, claiming she was wrongly convicted and didn’t want to spend her life in prison. She said her arms were bloodied from the barbed wire fence. While on the run, she met Willy McElroy. She told him that she was escaping a violent domestic relationship. She states she never told Willy about her past throughout the thirty-five years they lived together. While not legally married, she changed her name to Linda McElroy and one digit of her social security number. She took cash jobs like cleaning houses to avoid capture.
Linda and Willy went on to have two children. Linda said in interviews that she prayed constantly that she would not be captured before her kids were grown. She didn’t want her kids to grow up without her. However, her first five children certainly grew up without her. While a fugitive, Linda raised her youngest two children and was a grandmother to eight. She even volunteered at her grandchildren’s school. She was an escapee for a total of thirty-five years and seven months.
After her capture, Linda says she told her common law husband and children about her past. She says they support her and believe in her innocence. Many people in Pulaski, Tennessee also believe in her innocence because for more than thirty years, “She never got into any trouble. She led a flawless life” (Williams & Johnson, 2007). Some people have even stated that she should be let free as she has proven she can be a productive member of society.
However, the family of Charles Darby strongly disagrees and is relieved that Linda Darby is back in prison. “We’re Christians. We don’t believe in revenge, but I was glad they caught her. I just hope they don’t let her go again” Alice Robinette, Charles’ sister, said in an interview (Hart, 2007). “She needs to pay for her crime. She got to live. He didn’t” said Charles’ niece (Hart, 2007).
Linda Darby finally filed another appeal in 2011, which was dismissed due to being more than forty years after a timely filing date. She appealed that dismissal, but the dismissal was upheld as she forfeited her appeal process by absconding for thirty-five years. Linda Darby is now seventy-eight years old and will likely die behind bars. “I’m not a murderer. I just don’t know how they ever convicted me of murder” she said (Williams & Johnson, 2007). While her original case has some questionable evidence and a lack of defense at trial, Linda threw away her chance at an appeal or parole when she stole her freedom.
Charles Darby was just twenty-five years old and the father of an infant son when he was viciously murdered. He was a Navy veteran and served upon the USS Enterprise during the Vietnam era. While Linda’s story is incredibly interesting, let us not forget that the real victim was Charles Darby.
Hart, K. (2007) Woman’s arrest brings relief to victim’s family; The Daily Independent; Retrieved at: Woman’s arrest brings relief to victim’s family | Local News | dailyindependent.com
Prison for Life (2018) Prison for Life: Women’s Maximum Security Prison; Real Stories; Retrieved at: Prison For Life: Women's Maximum Security Prison (Sir Trevor McDonald Documentary) | Real Stories - YouTube
Linda G. Darby V. State of Indiana (2012) Linda G. Darby V. State of Indiana In the Court of Appeals of Indiana; Retrieved at: Linda G. Darby v. State of Indiana (justia.com)
Williams, C. & Johnson, A. (2007) 35 years on the lam: ‘What do you go back to?’; NBC News; Retrieved at: 35 years on the lam: ‘What do you go back to?’ (nbcnews.com)
Criminally Listed (2019) 3 Escaped killers who were arrested after decades on the Lam Part 3; Retrieved at: 3 Escaped Killers Who Were Arrested After Decades on the Lam Part 3 - Bing video
Schneider, R. (2007) Anti-terror analysts turned a few facts into lead of fugitive; The Indianapolis Star; 19 Oct 2007; Retrieved at: 19 Oct 2007, Page A1 - The Indianapolis Star at Newspapers.com
Chicago Tribune (1970) Hammond man slain; house is set ablaze; Chicago Tribune 5 March 1970; Retrieved at: Clipping from Chicago Tribune - Newspapers.com
The Times (1970) Linda goes on vacation; The Times Munster, Indiana 22 April 1970; Retrieved at: Clipping from The Times - Newspapers.com
The Indianapolis Star (1970) Warrant out for widow of slain man; The Indianapolis Star; Retrieved at: Clipping from The Indianapolis Star - Newspapers.com
Hopkins, J. (1970) Linda convicted of killing mate; The Times Munster, Indiana; 25 Sept 1970; Retrieved at: Clipping from The Times - Newspapers.com