Linda Collins-Smith, a former state senator, had just returned to her home in Pocahontas, Arkansas, from a visit to D.C. She hoped the trip would re-start her political career after losing her seat, but hope faded when her family discovered she had seemingly vanished.
“I knew that she had made it home,” her son Butch Smith told "20/20." “But past that, that was the last I had heard.” It was June 2019.
Collins-Smith's daughter, Tate Williams, said her text messages to her mother weren’t going through and her mother was noticeably absent from social media. The family didn’t hear from Linda for a week.
When Collins-Smith's father and son Butch went to her house, her car was in the driveway. The door to the residence was locked, but no one answered when they knocked so they went inside.
“I could see where her suitcase was there with the tags on it,” said Butch Smith. But they couldn’t find her purse, her cellphone or any indication of where she might have gone.
A special "20/20" airing Friday, Oct. 28, at 9 p.m. ET examines the murder of Linda Collins-Smith and how a home-security camera would catch the killer red-handed.
What they did find was a dark stain on the kitchen floor.
“It looked like somebody had dropped a coffee pot and it had sprayed out from just in a semicircular path out from there,” said Butch Smith. The family would later learn it was blood.
Smith searched around the home and found his mother’s body, covered by a tarp in the driveway of the house. “I was just kind of in shock,” he said. “I saw my mom there.”
“Butch found his mother’s body in an advanced state of decomposition,” Sheriff Kevin Bell, one of the officers assigned to the case, told “20/20” Contributing Anchor Deborah Roberts.
“Looking at the scene and the circumstances around it, it was obvious that it was a murder,” he said.
“You start thinking about who the heck could have done this?” Smith said. “And my first answer was that my dad did it.”
Williams agreed. “You always think of who has the most to gain,” she said. “And with the divorce being disputed, I said, ‘You know, it was my dad.’”
Linda Collins-Smith’s and her ex-husband, Phil Smith, had recently gone through a messy divorce.
They had been married for 20 years, and the divorce involved about $2 million in assets, according to the court documents.
Investigators learned that Collins-Smith had been stabbed to death.
Collins-Smith had security cameras installed throughout her home, but they had been removed, investigators thought, by the killer. Investigators discovered that the video footage of Collins-Smith's residence had been stored, and they obtained a copy.
ABC News pushed for the release of the videos, and a judge eventually agreed to lift a gag order, which sealed all records relating to the case and barred officials from discussing it. The videos showed Becky O’Donnell, Linda Collins-Smith’s best friend, holding a bloody knife and tampering with the video cameras.
She was arrested and charged with capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.
Although she initially maintained her innocence, saying that she had been set up and the real culprit was Phil Smith, she would eventually admit to her friend's murder.
Her guilty plea was straightforward: “I went to Linda’s house and I intentionally killed her, and then hid the body,” she told authorities.
The other suspects, including Linda Collins-Smith’s ex-husband Phil Smith, were cleared by authorities. Becky O’Donnell is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence.
In a statement to ABC News, Phil Smith said, “my family and I are grateful that justice has been done. My request is to be left in peace and that Linda be allowed to rest in peace.”