(Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)
What started out as a beautiful fall day 20 years ago turned into a nightmare that will haunt the family of Sandra Alberda of Monette for the rest of their lives. Their nightmare was a parent's worst fear of being awaken in the middle of the night with the news that a precious child is dead and not only hearing of the loss, but later learning she had been brutally murdered.
Alan "Al" and Bea Alberda, truck drivers, of Monette were making one of their familiar 18-wheeler runs to California on Sept. 30, 1986, when the phone call came telling them their home back in Arkansas had burned and their youngest daughter Sandra, 21, was found dead inside.
"This was before cell phones and easy access in locating people," Al Alberda said. "Our daughter Gena had contacted the trucking company I worked for to try to locate us. When the company located us they provided us with airline tickets to make the agonizing trip back to Arkansas.
"All sorts of things crossed our minds as we thought about the fire," he added. "How could this have happened? I knew that the smoke detectors were working inside the house. Why had she not been able to get out?"
The Alberda siblings, Gena, Linda, Rick and Don, had gathered at Gena's home, which was just a few blocks from her parents' house, as they awaited the arrival of their parents.
"We were just devastated to know that Sandra had died in the fire," Gena Alberda said. "My uncle had gone to Memphis to pick Mother and Dad up, and they arrived home about 10 p.m. that night.
"Soon afterwards a knock came at the door. It was police officers from Monette and Craighead County Sheriff's Departments. They asked to talk with Dad. Dad and my brothers went to the police station with them and were told Sandy had been murdered. That was one of those pivotal moments that changed our lives forever."
Deputy Coroner Bill J. Emerson reported that Sandra Alberda had been shot four times in the head with a small calibre weapon. She was also stabbed 40 times in the abdomen area with a small knife, probably a pocket knife with a half inch blade.
Emerson said the death had occurred before the house, at 210 N. Nance St., was set on fire. Sheriff Johnson reported that there were two separate fires, possibly three. The blaze was extinguished before her body was consumed.
Hundreds of people were questioned trying to find out who could have committed the murder and why. Many deputies were assigned to the case.
"Sheriff Floyd Johnson (now deceased) told us they planned to work around the clock until they got a break in the case and could solve the murder," Gena Alberda said. "Unfortunately this statement did not hold true altogether. Yes, they spent many grueling hours on the case and leads seemed to pour in from every direction - hundreds of people were interrogated - but to no avail."
Al Alberda added that authorities told the family they were "98 percent sure" who committed the crime, and an arrest was coming.
"We would get our hopes all built up, anticipating an arrest, just to be knocked down again, because an arrest never came," he said. "We posted a $10,000 reward in hopes that this would cause someone to talk and bring the murderer to the surface.
"This has made me feel so bitter after all these years of sleepless nights, trying to imagine what kind of animal could have done something so gruesome to my precious daughter. She was so young and so dear to us all. I knew someone was out there that knew something, knew someone that did this."
"Our grief is still so real, so painful," Bea Alberda said. "We can't get any closure on this not knowing what really happened, and seeing someone brought to justice, to pay for taking Sandra's life."
Gena Alberda is the postmaster at Monette and works less than a block from where the murder occurred 20 years ago.
"Many times as people come in and out of the post office I have to wonder, 'Was it you?' or 'Do you know something about my sister's death?'", she said. "I am convinced there are local people who have information about this case."
Bea Alberda said the family "constantly" relives the weeks leading up to her daughter's murder.
"I remember talking to Sandra about safety precautions to take if she was home alone and someone tried to break in," she said. "I told her to go into our room, pull the chest of drawers in front of the hall door, and escape out the window. Sure enough, we were told, it appeared that when she had been shot running down the hall, she was trying to get to our bedroom, and possibly to safety. She was found dead in the bedroom."
Alberda was employed by Liz and Company hair styling salon in Blytheville when she died. She was well known in the Northeast Arkansas area.
"Sandra was born on our anniversary, Oct. 21, 1964, at Fort Sill, Okla., while Al was in the Army," Bea Alberda said. "The nurse told Al, 'Look what your wife has given to you on your anniversary, a bundle of joy.' Sandra was a joy to us, and we loved her dearly. She was taken from us much too soon. We have hoped that we could live to see her murderer caught and punished, in our lifetime. As we grow older, and face times of bad health, we wonder if that is going to happen. We have not had any contact from the police for over 10 years."
Al Alberda retired from the Army in 1972.
"we decided to move our family back to Bea's hometown, in Monette, because we felt that Monette would be a safe environment to raise our children," Al Alberda said. "Sandra was only 8 years old at the time. Now we wonder if we made the right choice. There is a killer out there somewhere and that can't make anyone feel safe.
Al Alberda compared the case to the murder of Amanda Tusing in June 2000. Tusing's body was found in the flooded Big Bay Ditch just west of Monette.
The county and state police worked with the FBI diligently for years, but resulted in no arrest being made. The Alberdas also hired a private investigator, to no avail.
Craighead County Sheriff Jack McCann said that the Alberda case has regrettably gone cold, with no leads or tips received in years.
"We are all familiar with the case and would love to have new information or directions to search for the killer, but that has just not happened," McCann said. "We never lose hope that someone will want to get information on this case off their conscience as they grow older, and come forth with a lead. This is a burden to all of us, as we want someone brought to justice as bad as the family does. We want to get the killer, or killers, off the streets and in jail where they belong."