What Happened to Linda Collins? 2024 Update & Background

Linda Collins was born on April 17, 1962, in Pocahontas, Arkansas, to Benny Collins and Caroline Vernice Hunnicutt Collins. Raised in the small town of Williford in Sharp County, she experienced a modest upbringing. Collins often described her childhood as one marked by significant financial hardship. She revealed in interviews that her family did not have running water until she was in her teens, emphasizing the challenges she faced growing up in a rural and economically deprived environment.

Despite these hardships, Linda Collins was dedicated to her education. She attended school in Williford, where she developed a reputation for her determination and resilience. These early experiences of overcoming adversity would shape her character and later influence her political career. Her upbringing instilled in her a strong work ethic and a commitment to advocating for those who, like her, faced economic challenges.

Marriage and Family

In 1995, Linda Collins married Philip Smith, and together they had two children. During their marriage, she went by the name Linda Collins-Smith, reflecting her new family identity. The couple shared a life that included both personal and professional ventures, such as their involvement in the hospitality industry. However, their relationship eventually began to deteriorate, leading to a separation in June 2016. The divorce was finalized in October 2018, but the aftermath was far from amicable.

The contentious nature of their divorce was exacerbated by ongoing legal battles over property disputes. Philip Smith, who had resigned from his position as a circuit court judge amidst allegations of improper use of office equipment, continued to be a significant figure in Collins’ life due to these disputes. At the time of her death, the unresolved litigation added stress and complexity to Collins’ personal life, illustrating the turbulent relationship that persisted even after their official separation.

Professional Career

Before entering politics, Linda Collins established herself as a successful real estate agent and entrepreneur. Around 2001, she and her husband owned and operated the Days Inn in Pocahontas. This business venture marked the beginning of Collins’ career in hospitality and real estate. The couple later sold the Days Inn in 2016, but Collins continued her entrepreneurial pursuits. In 2012, they purchased an independent, non-franchise motel, which they renovated and reopened in 2013. Collins managed this establishment until her untimely death, showcasing her commitment to local business and economic development.

Collins’ professional background in real estate and hospitality provided her with valuable insights into the challenges faced by small business owners. Her experience as an entrepreneur influenced her political platform, where she advocated for reduced government regulations and support for local businesses. This foundation in business and real estate not only informed her policy positions but also contributed to her reputation as a practical and results-oriented leader.

Political Career

Linda Collins’ political career began in 2010 when she was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives as a Democrat. Shortly after assuming office, she switched her party affiliation to Republican, citing disagreements with the Democratic Party’s increasingly liberal stance on social issues. This switch marked a significant turning point in her political trajectory, aligning her with conservative values and the Republican platform. She served in the House from 2011 to 2013, where she was an active member of several committees, including the City, County, and Local Affairs Committee.

In 2014, Collins ran for the Arkansas Senate and won, serving until 2018. During her tenure, she introduced a controversial “bathroom bill,” which garnered significant attention but ultimately did not pass. Collins was also involved in various legislative committees, including the Judiciary Committee, where she served as vice chair. Her legislative work focused on issues such as gun rights, pro-life policies, and reducing government interference in business. Despite losing her reelection bid in 2018, Collins’ impact on Arkansas politics was notable, as she remained a vocal advocate for conservative causes.

Murder and Investigation

On June 4, 2019, Linda Collins was found murdered outside her home in Pocahontas, Arkansas. Her son, Butch Smith, and her father discovered her body during a welfare check after the family had not heard from her for a week. Collins’ body was in an advanced state of decomposition, wrapped in a tarp and left in the driveway, indicating a clear case of foul play. Blood stains were found in the kitchen, further suggesting that a violent crime had occurred within her home.

The investigation quickly focused on Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, a close friend and former political aide to Collins. O’Donnell had been a trusted confidante and was described by many as being “like a sister” to Collins. However, as the investigation progressed, it became evident that O’Donnell had a significant motive related to financial crimes. Security camera footage showed O’Donnell tampering with the cameras and holding a bloody knife, providing crucial evidence that led to her arrest on charges of first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.

Legal Proceedings and Sentencing

The trial of Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell revealed the depth of her betrayal. Initially, O’Donnell pleaded not guilty, maintaining that she had been set up and accusing Collins’ ex-husband, Philip Smith, of the crime. However, the evidence against her was overwhelming. In 2020, O’Donnell changed her plea to guilty of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. She also pleaded no contest to charges of solicitation to commit capital murder for allegedly attempting to arrange the murders of Collins’ ex-husband and others from jail.

O’Donnell was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the murder of Linda Collins, with additional sentences for the solicitation charges. The plea deal spared her the possibility of facing the death penalty. This outcome provided a measure of justice for Collins’ family, though it could never fully compensate for the loss they experienced. The legal proceedings highlighted the calculated nature of O’Donnell’s actions and her willingness to commit further crimes to protect herself.

Motive and Impact

The motive behind Linda Collins’ murder was rooted in financial crimes. O’Donnell had embezzled money from Collins, and when confronted about the theft, she resorted to murder to cover up her actions. This betrayal by someone Collins trusted deeply added another layer of tragedy to the case. Collins had considered O’Donnell a close friend and confidante, making the discovery of her involvement in the murder all the more shocking.

The murder of Linda Collins had a profound impact on her family and the community. Her children, Butch and Tate, publicly expressed their grief and the horror of discovering their mother’s body. The case also underscored the potential dangers in political and personal relationships, serving as a stark reminder of the lengths to which individuals might go to hide their misdeeds. The community of Pocahontas, and indeed the entire state of Arkansas, was left to grapple with the loss of a dedicated public servant and the dark circumstances surrounding her death.


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Ryan Gill

Ryan is a passionate follower of true crime television programs, reporting on and providing in-depth investigations on mysteries in the criminal world.

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