On Wednesday, May 29, 2019, Tate Williams texted her mother, former Arkansas State Senator Linda Collins, a picture of shoes because she knew her mom was obsessed with shoes. Tate told Dateline NBC that when her mother didn't respond, she thought it was weird, but figured perhaps Linda was busy with work. Unfortunately, the body of Linda Collins would be discovered less than a week later on June 4.
Eventually Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell, a former campaign aide, would be arrested and charged with Linda's murder. What happened to Linda Collins and where is Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell now? A new Dateline NBC special takes a deep dive into this bizarre murder.
What happened to Linda Collins?
Tate told Dateline's Dennis Murphy that, "If you knew Linda, you knew that [the] most important things to her were God, and then her family, and then probably the people of Arkansas."
It was her love of Arkansas and its people that drove Linda into politics. She served one term in the Arkansas House of Representative from 2011 to 2013. Though she was elected as a Democrat, Linda would switch to Republican a mere eight months into this term.
In November 2014, she would beat out James McLean for the Arkansas State Senate seat. While in office, she introduced polarizing bills such as the Arkansas Physical Privacy and Safety Act, which was an anti-trans bathroom bill. Linda was also a member of the NRA and set forth the True Campus Carry Act which would allow concealed-carry license holders to stroll around on campus with very little training.
When it came time for reelection in May 2018, Linda was also going through a divorce from her then-husband, Judge Phil Smith. Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell was a woman Linda knew via various business ventures, and who was working on Linda's reelection campaign which Linda lost. A year later, Linda's body would be discovered by her son as well as her father, wrapped in a tarp in her front yard. Two weeks later, Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell was arrested.
Where is Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell now?
Police arrested O'Donnell while she was at Linda's memorial. According to the Arkansas Times, authorities were able to obtain footage from a security camera that O'Donnell tried to remove. The footage showed her standing in Linda's kitchen holding a bloody knife. Another piece of evidence that linked O'Donnell to the murder was $15,000 in stolen gold and silver coins.
Eight months before Linda's murder, O'Donnell sold these coins in Little Rock and Memphis. They were part of a property settlement between Linda and her ex-husband, but Linda claimed she could never locate the coins. Police suspect that Linda discovered what O'Donnell did and upon confronting her, was killed.
While in jail awaiting trial, O'Donnell managed to add more charges to her list of crimes. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that O'Donnell attempted to "recruit several other inmates in a plot to kill [Linda's] ex-husband, Phil Smith, and frame him for the senator’s murder." In August 2020 during her trial, when asked by Judge John Fogelman what she did, ODonnell eerily replied, "I intentionally killed her."
Based on a deal she struck with prosecutors, O'Donnell was sentenced to 50 years in prison. In a statement about the sentencing, Linda's daughter Tate said, "No amount of punishment will ever fill that void that Rebecca O’Donnell made in our lives the day she killed our mother. Today we find some shred of peace that Rebecca O’Donnell will be put away in prison for a very long time, unable to hurt anyone else."
Learn more about this story on Friday, April 8 in Dateline's The Hands of a Killer at 9 p.m. EST on NBC.