'Blind rage': Murder and family intrigue in an Arkansas city
04/13/2016 11:47 am PDT
It started in the guest bedroom: Gruesome stains mark the spot on the mattress where a woman was beaten over the head before being grabbed by her ankles and dragged to the ground. From there, a trail of gore leads through the hallway around a scattered pile of books and into the den.
That's where the trail ends, terminating in a dark red pool beneath Ruie Ann Park's broken skull.
It took at least 10 blows to end the 75-year-old woman's life, and to begin one of the most twisted murder mysteries the state of Arkansas has ever seen.
"This is a story that has more tragedy to it than just the murder of Mrs. Park," said Rusty Myers, a friend of Sam Park's, the son of Ruie Ann Park. "It's got numerous victims and numerous perpetrators."
The Parks' home on Logtown Hill was called the showplace of Van Buren, Arkansas, a name befitting of the people who lived within.
"The Park family was a really prominent family in town," said Anita Paddock, author of "Blind Rage," the story of the murder. "Hugh Park and his wife Ruie Ann, they both owned the Press Argus-Courier newspaper, which in those days we got our news from the newspaper, so owning a newspaper in and of itself was a big deal."
And being "a big deal" was apparently important to the family's matriarch, Ruie Ann.
"She wanted to be involved in everything," said Paddock. "She thought she was a real upper-crust lady."
"I wouldn't say she had any enemies but she just did not have a nice personality," said Paddock.
There was one person who always brought out the best in Ruie Ann, and that was her only child, Sam Hugh.
"Sam was the apple of his parents' eye and they really put him on pedestal, he was very bright and had lots of talents," said Rusty Myers, Sam's friend.
Then, when Sam Hugh was around 5 years old, the Parks decided to adopt a second child, a 7-year-old girl named Linda.
"When she first got Linda, she dressed her up in these cute little dresses, big bows in her hair and it was like 'Look at me, I'm the most magnanimous woman. I've got this little girl out of the orphanage,' but people saw through that," said Paddock.
The reality was that soon after, Ruie Ann took Linda in, she regretted it.
"She was very, very shy," said Paddock. "She wasn't nearly as smart as Sam."
"Linda consequently didn't get the same attention from her parents, specifically her mom, and her mom and her, I understand, had at times a rough relationship," said Myers.
Hugh and Ruie Ann later divorced, and after high school both Sam and Linda enrolled at the University of Arkansas, embarking on two very different life paths.
Linda got married and settled into a quiet life of obscurity about three hours away in Cabot, Arkansas, while Sam Hugh graduated law school, returned to Van Buren and found success as the youngest ever U.S. prosecuting attorney of the 5th District of Arkansas.
But in a town where some people's social views were as old as the Civil War battles once fought there, Sam was both part of the in-crowd and an outcast.
"He was gay at the time when it wasn't politically correct to be gay," said Ron Fields, former Sebastian County prosecuting attorney. "That caused a lot of people to dislike him."
"The police agencies in particular didn't like him," said Fields.
"He had young men that he would get out of jail maybe for vagrancy and he would bring them to his house and they would do odd jobs for him, and he was drinking and there was lots of loud parties there," said Paddock.
Unfortunately, Sam's partying started to become an everyday thing, and he would eventually lose his job as a state prosecutor. At some point, he moved into one of his mother's three rental properties just a few hundred feet from the main house, and opened up his own law practice. But clients weren't exactly banging down his door.
"Sam had a tremendous need for money at the time and there were numerous statements from Sam's acquaintances saying he was constantly trying to borrow money from his mother," said Paddock.
There were even reports of heated public exchanges between the two, some occurring just a few weeks before the night that would change everything.
May 16, 1981, was a Saturday.
"In fact he had supper with us and was in good spirits," said Myers.
"Our kids were with us, he enjoyed our kids, and we just had a really good evening together," said Linda Myers, Rusty's wife.
Then just before 7, Sam told the couple he wanted to get home to catch a movie on TV.
Later that night, Sam chitchatted with his mother on the phone before drinking himself to sleep.
"The next morning he had a hangover," said Paddock. "He woke up and saw his mother's newspaper still laying where she demanded it be thrown. He thought 'That's strange.'"
And when the paper was still there hours later, he thought worse than that.
"There were three keys to the house," said Paddock. "He had one, his mother had one and Linda had one. So he went and used his key. And then he walked in through the kitchen into the den and there lay his mother's body, and she was dead."
Sam, hysterical, called police, then his sister.
By the time Linda arrives at the house with her husband Howard several hours later, detectives have already pored over the scene.
"I understand there was no sign of break-in, and Mrs. Park was real careful to lock her house, and she was well-known for that," said Rusty Myers. "There was no sign of burglary, no sexual violation."
"The police investigation basically revealed that someone had managed to get inside this woman's very substantial defenses and had beaten her on the head," said Ron Fields. "It looked like a crime of anger because of the number of blows."
So who was angry enough to execute such a brutal crime?
Immediately after discovering Ruie Ann's body, some officers set their sights on one suspect, and one suspect only: her own son, Sam Hugh.
To police, the attack seemed personal, and with no signs of a break-in, they immediately question the only two people with access to the home: Ruie Ann's children, Sam Hugh and her adopted daughter Linda.
Linda told investigators she was at home with her youngest child in Cabot, about three hours away.
"They ask him where he was the night before, and Sam's alibi basically was, 'I got drunk and passed out and I don't remember anything,'" said Ron Fields.
That made Sam the only person around who had a key to the home, a home the cash-strapped attorney also stood to inherit.
To the people who knew Sam, the real reason police suspected him so quickly had little to do with any real evidence.
"They just figured it's just an obvious situation where a gay man has murdered their mother," said Myers. "That's what gays can do. They were so focused pinning it on Sam that they ignored evidence that would indicate otherwise."
Some might say, substantial evidence.
"Ruie Ann had long black hair clutched in her hand," said Paddock. "Sam didn't have long black hair. He had real short brown hair. There was a finger, a hand print, a bloody handprint on the refrigerator door that I don't know if any prints were ever taken off of that."
And then there was the fact that not long before her death, Ruie Ann had actually reported a prowler on her property. In the days and weeks that followed, authorities continued looking at Sam alone. But then, it wasn't a completely baseless investigation.
"Right after the murder they have this person in jail, says 'Sam told me he did it,' and they have another person who says 'Sam told me he was planning to do it,' and so at that point they were convinced Sam did the murder," said Fields.
"They performed a lie-detector test on Sam and he passed the lie-detector test, and the man who was the examiner of it said obviously because he's so smart and he's a lawyer that he figured out how to trick that test," said Paddock.
"The test had to be graded as inconclusive, and that's another reason why the police felt Sam was the correct suspect," said Fields.
But then district attorney Ron Fields says he wasn't so sure.
"The police requested warrants from our office," said Fields. "At that point I refused to give them the warrants. The proof, in my opinion: It's just not conclusive."
Authorities continued searching for the smoking gun that would put Sam away, but no such evidence was needed in the court of public opinion.
"Everybody in town thought that Sam had gotten mad at his mother and that he had killed her," said Paddock.
"After that Sam just really just let himself go, he pushed his friends away, his whole life, living situation, law practice, everything became just more and more came apart," said friend Rusty Myers.
Sam's drinking, already a problem, became completely out of control. Once he started ordering whiskey by the gallon, Rusty and another friend tried to stage an intervention. But Sam's last words to them were: "I haven't the least desire to stop drinking, and I intend to die like this."
Not long after that, Sam started coughing up blood. It was a little under two years after his mother's death that Sam Hugh, the only suspect in her murder, was rushed to the hospital.
The question was, Just how many answers were going with him?
Before investigators could dig up enough evidence to get an arrest warrant, Sam took himself out of the equation.
"Sam was in the hospital dying of liver failure," said Paddock.
It hadn't even been two years since his mother's brutal murder when Sam Hugh died from the effects of alcoholism. He was just 40 years old.
To many in town, his passing closed the case on Ruie Ann's murder. Sam was guilty, and he had just executed his own death sentence.
But nearly three hours away in the town of Cabot, Sam's adopted sister Linda was positive her brother had nothing to do with it, even though she had barely seen him since the murder. The fact was, her mom's death hadn't been the only trauma she was dealing with.
"She found out her husband was having an affair," said Anita Paddock. "She was very, very sad."
But before she could confront him, she got pregnant with his fourth child. Linda stuck it out in silence, never letting on what she knew, which she says made it all the harder when shortly after her brother's death, Howard decided to leave her for the other woman.
"They got a divorce," said Paddock. "She got the two little boys and he took the two big boys."
Howard also got their house, and most of their other assets. Linda initially agreed to the arrangement, but when she got word that Howard had bought his new girl an expensive engagement ring, something snapped inside the normally meek woman.
"One time she came up here for a visit and came up to our house, and that's when her attitude changed, she got mad and she wanted all the boys and wasn't just going to take what Howard gave her, she was going to fight," said Linda.
Howard got the message and arranged a private meeting with the newly transformed Linda.
Just a few hours after that meeting, the murder of Ruie Ann Park was no longer unsolved.
"My wife Linda and I had returned from a vacation and just pulled into a store here in Van Buren," said Rusty.
"And right in front of us was the box where you buy the newspaper and there was Linda's picture on the cover of the paper," said Linda Myers.
Linda Martin, a woman many people in Van Buren had forgotten even existed, was under arrest for the vicious bludgeoning of her own mother.
So just how did authorities unravel one of the biggest murder mysteries their small town had ever seen?
"We got a phone call one night from an attorney, and he said 'I have her on tape admitting killing this woman,'" said Ron Fields.
That attorney was Linda's husband, Howard, and as it turns out, before arranging that meeting with his ex, he had arranged a deal with Van Buren Police to have his own office wired.
"We sent the police there, they took a statement from her and she fully confessed," said Fields.
She had no choice. In the police cruiser on the way back to Van Buren, officers played Linda the tape of her meeting with Howard, which included passages like this:
Howard: "I've just got to know. Why did you do it?"
Linda: "You really were both a lot alike. You all demolished me."
Howard: "You demolished yourself when you killed her."
Linda: "I didn't mean to."
"So we had conclusive evidence that she did it," said Ron Fields.
Linda goes on to tell police that the fuse was lit the weekend her husband was out of town on a camping trip, and she found out he was having an affair.
"On a whim she decided she would drive to Van Buren, hoping that her mother might put her arms around her and say everything's going to be all right," said Anita Paddock. "'You have a home here, I love your children.' But that's not what she said."
Instead, Ruie Ann tore into the girl she had always considered a disappointment.
"She told Linda she shouldn't have married that man anyway and she shouldn't have had all those kids, and she berated her like she always, always had," said Paddock. "Linda told me she snapped. She went into a rage."
"What Linda did there was a gavel that had come off of a plaque that Sam Hugh had gotten when he left the U.S. Prosecuting Attorney's Office, it was lying down on the table," said Paddock. "So Linda picked up that gavel."
And with a minimum of 10 deadly blows, she dispensed her own twisted justice.
After that, Linda quietly slipped out of the house and drove back to Cabot, throwing the murder weapon out along the way.
It's possible no one ever would've found out if she hadn't taken her husband's spare car to commit the crime.
"He was such a control freak that when he got home from the camping trip first thing he did was go and see if Linda had driven that car, and he saw the discrepancy in the mileage," said Paddock. "So he put two and two together and he harassed Linda until she finally admitted to him, 'Yes, I did it.'"
Then, according to Anita Paddock's book "Blind Rage," Howard sat on the information until it served him.
"There was never a trial," said Paddock. "The murder charge was dropped to second-degree murder and she was sent to prison for 20 years with the possibility of parole."
Linda ultimately served less than a quarter of her 20-year sentence, paroled after four years.
Crime Watch Daily reached out for an interview, though she declined to speak with us at this time.
"It was a crime that, but for her husband calling and turning her in, would not have been solved to this day, and to this day people would have said Sam Hugh did it," said Ron Fields.