Thirty-five years after she escaped an Indiana prison to live a quiet life in a small Tennessee town, convicted murderer Linda Darby said Tuesday that she was just as surprised an anyone that she managed to keep her secret for so long.
In an interview with NBC affiliate WSVM of Nashville, Darby, 64, said her third husband never knew anything about her background. Neither did their two children and eight grandchildren.
“I couldn’t burden people. It wasn’t fair,” said Darby, who said the double life was nerve-wracking “at first.”
But “then it was like, I was needed, and I filled in where I was needed,” she said, breaking down in tears as she described raising a granddaughter whom she has had custody of since the girl was 9.
Darby said she understood that she had been living a lie.
“But where do you stop? What do you go back to?” she asked. “... I cried myself to sleep a lot.”
‘I didn’t kill him’
Darby insisted that she did not kill her second husband, Charles R. Darby, the crime for which she was sentenced to life in prison in 1970. His body, shot and stuffed into a bag, was found in the bedroom of the couple’s home in Hammond, Ind., which had been set on fire and reeked of kerosene and gasoline.
She said her attorney did not even bother to put on a defense because he thought the prosecution’s case was so weak.
“I’m not a murderer,” she said. “I just don’t know how they ever convicted me of murder.”
Darby was arrested Friday in Pulaski, Tenn., a town of about 7,800 people near the Alabama border. She was waiting to be returned to Indiana on Tuesday.
Darby escaped from the Indiana Women’s Prison in March 1972 by climbing over a barbed-wire fence.
“I was scratched up and bloody from going over the barbed wire,” she said.
She made her way to Tennessee, where she settled under the name Linda Joe McElroy and made a living as a babysitter and housecleaner.
‘Flawless life’ on the lam
As McElroy, she also remarried and had two children with her third husband. Darby already had five children from her previous marriages to Charles Darby and another man. She said she had not seen those children in 30 years, resisting attempts to contact them over the years.
At times, she wrestled with her conscience and considered going back to Indiana, especially when she was in church.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to mislead anybody. But I didn’t want to go back to something and pay for anybody else’s crime.”
Authorities and neighbors said Darby lived a quiet life in Tennessee under her new name. Giles County Sheriff Kyle Helton said he was slightly acquainted with Darby and thought she had been living in Pulaski for at least 30 years.
“As far as I know she never had any criminal history after she came here,” Helton told The Associated Press. “She never got into any trouble. She led a flawless life.”
Darby had a message for people who believed her to be Linda McElroy, not Linda Darby:
“This is who I am,” she said. “I’m not a murderer. I didn’t do it.”