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December 3, 2020
As we’re all snuggled up inside watching the new season of Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix, most of us are googling “unsolved mysteries solved” with popcorn dust on our fingers. This is a true crime story about Margo Freshwater- an Unsolved Mysteries episode that actually got solved. You’re gonna wanna buckle up for this one.
Self-harm, adoption mentioned, trigger warning to turn it down in the episode and no graphic details: 4:20-5:10
Margo Freshwater – Their role here
Alfie – Margo’s imprisoned boyfriend
Glen Nash – His attorney who is yikes
Hillman Robbins – The clerk at the liquor store
Faye – Margo’s, uh, traveling companion
Phil – Margo’s son
Daryl- Margo’s third husband
Tim – Another one of Margo’s sons
Ester Bouyea, CC Surratt, Deborah K. Johnson – Victims I feel should be acknowledged in this case.
Sexy Legs – My favorite patron, Lauri!
Leg Inspector – My favorite patron, Teresa!
(One way that I am able to continue producing content is through the use of affiliate links for tried and true products that I can vouch for. If you decide to take action after clicking that link- like if you were to buy a book or subscribe to something voluntarily- it would help support the podcast at no extra cost to you <3 )
Hello everybody! This is Bethany and you’re listening to Milk and Murder, a once-a-weekly-ish True Crime case about lesser-known cases. This week’s case is wild and a bit longer than the cases I’ve done so far, and I’d like to keep doing episodes about this new length.
One way I am working on being able to do that is through help from listeners like you. I love to give a thank you and shout out to each and every new Patron, a few at a time, just like I do at the end of this episode. Truly, I’m so grateful for each and every one of you listeners and I could absolutely not do this without your encouragement. I have all of the information about how you can easily support the podcast right here.
Now, on to the episode.
I really wanted to set the mood for 1966 because truly it’s hard to even imagine what that’s like. Honestly? There weren’t that many things that I personally found interesting enough to share about pop culture at the time. The #1 song of the year was California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas. I asked Google to play it while I was writing this and it’s a pretty good jam. Truly though, I think this story in this episode is probably the most interesting thing that happened in 1966.
The Vietnam war was going strong and Lyndon B. Johnson was the president- he took office in 1963 after Kennedy was assassinated, and then won his reelection run with the widest popular vote margin to date: 61% of the popular vote, with 43 million votes.
Just an interesting note and as a comparison, Joe Biden did not have the same margin. However, he did have 78 million votes when he won a week or so ago when he won the election. No, this is not any kind of comparison in numbers because the US population has increased but he did break a record much like fellow Democrat Johnson, receiving more votes than any other candidate in US history.
Also of note, the population in 1966 was 196.6 million. 1966 and 196.6! Number matchup alert. Also, Joe Biden is president now! Aren’t numbers rad?
Margo Freshwater was a young high school student in Worthington, Ohio when her life was suddenly turned upside down. (Just as a side note, This is only about an hour away from where Cheryl Coker’s body was found in April of this year. You can hear her story in episode 5.)
It was Margo’s junior year of high school, and she was an athlete with a promising future. She was an excellent swimmer and a sprinter for her track team. She had a close group of friends, and things were plugging along as one would expect for a high schooler in the 60s.
Okay, so YES this is a true crime podcast and blog. However, I want to warn you that this next part might be a bit triggery because I’m going to be discussing self-harm and adoption. Pay attention if these topics might be hurtful to you, I’m going to pause and give you a moment to turn the volume down for about 45 seconds. It won’t be graphic but there’s no reason to wreck your day if these topics are sensitive for you. You can also skip ahead on your podcast app if you need to.
Margo had to face the unexpected when she found out she was pregnant. If you’ve seen Riding in Cars with Boys with Drew Barrymore, you can recall how she felt when she found out she was pregnant and this was just like that. In this case, however, the father of the baby was neither excited nor supportive, and Margo was devastated. She unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide, and she was unfortunately forced into placing her child for adoption at a week postpartum. Any parent listening is probably gutted at the thought right now and I am too.
If you chose to skip ahead, welcome back! We were just talking about how Margo’s life took a really hard turn and she was left on the other side of it with a lot of hard stuff to process. She dropped out of high school and when she was 18 met Al, and I like to imagine that she called him Alfie, so that’s what we’re going to call him.
Alfie was young as well, but he was a career criminal. He was arrested in Memphis after an armed robbery charge. Margo decided to hop on a bus and take a 15-hour trip down to Tennessee to help him in his time of need.
I’m just going to tell you now: this girl’s got gumption.
Upon her arrival in the Bible Belt, she got right to work trying to find an attorney for Alfie, and all the stars aligned for this wild tale when she walked into the office of Glen Nash. He was a chain-smoking lawyer who was trying to save his law practice after he had almost been disbarred. How noir is this story right now??
Spirited Margo tells him about her boyfriend in jail, and tells him she’s desperate for help. She convinces Nash to take the case pro bono, and he agrees. As a husband, father to one, and local karate instructor, he isn’t totally ostracized by his community. He ends up looking generous when he helps his new client find a job as a babysitter with a couple who will provide her room and board.
Unfortunately, things are rarely this innocent, and the two end up starting an affair. Sorry, Alfie.
This affair carries on deep into 1966, through Thanksgiving, and into December. On December 6th, Nash rolls into her babysitting job and asks her if there was any whiskey in the house. He’s #OverIt with his marriage- his wife had just found out about the affair and they had, uh, an argument.
Now he’s running to Margo, not realizing that not only does she have a date that night, but she’s also still planning to go see Alfie the next day. She gets around, but we’re not judging her, alright??
He tells Margo he’s going to get some liquor and she decides, “What the hey? Why don’t I take this baby I’m supposed to be watching and just load it up in the car and I’ll pop out to the liquor store with you?” and the trio are on their way.
When they arrive at the liquor store, they too have a fight, this time about Glen’s wife. Dang, Glen’s having such a day. He gets his whiskey, they head back to the apartment where he gets drunk. Margo’s over it, but Glen’s outside honking his horn and being an idiot.
After her babysitting shift, she told the landlady (who is probably thinking wtf at this point) that she and Glen are going bowling and she went back down to the car. The two decided to head back to the liquor store.
What happened next is a big hot mess and the details are the center of much debate. The only facts known for sure are that Glen decided he was going to rob the place, and in doing so, he ties the clerk Hillman Robbins up in the back. The two argue in the back, and a customer walks in, who Margo helps at the cash register because of course, she does. This is so on-brand for Margo.
Glen shot the clerk, Hillman Robbins, a father of two, and Bonnie and Clyde of the 1960s are seen running from the liquor store and peeling out of the parking lot in Glen’s White Ford Fairlane. The two drove off into the night.
(Interest fact alert: Hillman Robbins, Jr., the clerk’s son, became a famous amateur golfer and I thought it was cool that he turned out okay)
The two are on for 12 days before a convenience store is robbed and the clerk is killed. The police only realize that Nash is involved when they find the Ford Fairlane abandoned on the side of the road with weapons from the Liquor Store killing. At this point, the cops aren’t even worried about Margo, they are coming after Nash.
There’s a long crime spree, and one other person is murdered, now totaling three. I won’t regale their whole trip at this point because believe it or not, we’re not even to the interesting part yet. I did however map out the spree starting from Margo’s trip in Ohio and it basically makes the shape of Baby Yoda. You can see that on the website because I’m sure you love crap like this as I do.
The two are arrested while boarding a bus in Mississippi to Who Knows Where. When Margo goes to court, thoughtfully dressed and styled like Jackie O, a salacious picture is painted of her relationship with Glen.
You’re probably thinking what I was thinking at this point- besides the fact that it’s the 60’s and women don’t matter, why isn’t this CREEP Glen getting the same treatment in court? Well, that’s because he was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity. Remember when I said that he was almost disbarred? Well, after that point, he began to believe there was a conspiracy by the bar association to disbar him and to ruin his career.
I got pretty curious at this point because I was thinking, wait but doesn’t guilty by reason of insanity mean that he was mentally altered in such a way as to not even know that he was doing something wrong? Obviously, this varies from state to state, but that’s a general principle, right?
Hang with me here, things are going to take a wild turn after I explain some legal jargon.
Here’s what I found out: pretty much across the board two legal criteria must be met. One is mens rea and the other is actus reus. Quoting Elle Woods in her glorious moment in court in Legally Blonde,
“There is a complete lack of ‘mens rea’ which by definition tells us there can be no crime without vicious will.’” -Elle Woods
End quote, and okay cool, close enough.
Actus Reus refers to the ACT of the crime. So mens rea = state of mind at the crime, actus reus = the act of the crime. Proving mens rea + actus reus = guilty. NOW, actus reus MINUS mens rea is where that guilty by reason of insanity plea falls. That is to say that NOW, in TN where this case is tried, the law is that this ruling can apply if: “ the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness of the defendant’s acts.”
In the decade before this crime was committed, a Supreme Court decision led to the addition of the mental disease or defect addition but it was still a relatively new law. Granted I’m no lawyer, but Glen’s crimes hardly seem to fit the criteria by today’s standards. Basically, he struggled with depression and some paranoia but he pretty clearly seemed to know what he was doing and why.
It seems like he just had better lawyers than Margo. Which, you know. He was a lawyer so this tracks. As a note, Glen was described as incredibly sharped and one article I read describes him as so smart that during his short incarceration, he carried on 7 games of chess by MAIL by simply just remembering where the pieces were. This isn’t to say that he couldn’t have been clinically insane but mmmmm it mostly sounds like he wasn’t.
The prosecution couldn’t have Nash so they were out for blood and went after Margo. She’s tried twice for two of the murders and these result in hung juries. The question at hand was whether Margo was responsible for these crimes or was she just along for the ride. The TN court did not rule in her favor. Margo was sentenced to 99 years in Tennessee’s prison for women.
Glen Nash is hospitalized and spends 15 years in institutions before being released and going back to- wait till you hear this- his ORIGINAL HOME IN WEST MEMPHIS ARKANSAS WHERE HE STILL LIVES WITH HIS ORIGINAL WIFE AND CHILD??
This chick, Mrs. Nash, stuck by him after all of that? Woweee.
Margo started her prison sentence in TN prison for women and spent 18 months there. Prison doesn’t strip her of shrewd and clever nature, however, and after befriending another prisoner named Faye, the two plot an escape.
The two of them outran a guard, scaled a 10-foot fence with barbed wire, and hit the road where they hitched a ride to Baltimore. The two of them took a train to Ohio, about 70 miles from Margo’s hometown. Within a month, Faye was captured by authorities but Margo was not.
Nine months and ONE DAY after her escape, she gave birth to her son, Phil, and became a single mother. She changed her name to Tonya and was determined to keep on the straight and narrow and she did. She got married but sadly that ended in divorce- then she met another man who she fell in love with, had two more children, worked in office jobs, and she raised her family. Margo lived a happy life until her second husband passed away.
A few years later, she decided to try a phone dating service and that’s where she met Daryl McCortar, a truck driver like her last husband, and they hit it off hard. They met at McDonald’s for their first date and made such a great connection that they ended up marrying within a few months, and she became Tonya McCortar.
Things were going so great for Tonya/Margo- she and Daryl went out on the road together and traveled all over the US. She even learned to drive his rig. Her CB Handle was “Sexy Legs” and he was “Leg Inspector,” woooo hoooo. Her youngest son, Tim, had his first baby with his high school sweetheart and she was a doting grandma.
She cultivated a really beautiful life, all while federal agents looked for her everywhere. They truly never even got close to finding her, even after America’s Most Wanted AND Unsolved Mysteries aired episodes about her. The only real clue they had about her was that she had changed her name to Tonya and that was only because Faye, her fellow escapee, told them. THANKS, FAYE.
It ended up being kind of a genius move that she went back to her hometown. She was so under the nose of investigators that they didn’t really think to look for her. She lived, at the time of her arrest, 40 miles away from the office of the main investigator. L O L.
I know I shouldn’t probably be rooting for her, but dang, she’s so smart in such an understated way. She did make one BIG mistake, however. Though she changed her name, forged her documents, and made her new life, she kept her same birth date.
An investigator took a chance one day and looked up the name Tonya and used Margo’s date of birth and bam- up she popped. It was almost as if Margo stepped into a time machine and popped out 32 years later.
When she was approached by police the following Sunday afternoon, she was out with her husband, son Tim, soon-to-be Daughter-in-Law, and she was carrying her grandson. They approached her and said, “We have reason to believe that you are not Tonya Hudkins but Margo Freshwater.
She was holding the baby and passed him to his parents. She gave each of them a big hug, calmly assured them that, “It was all going to be okay.” To her husband she whispered, “I was always afraid this day would come.”
From the time she left Columbus to go help Alfie to the time she was ultimately arrested again, the #1 song of the year went from “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas to “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback. What a contrast.
Her family spent some time in serious denial, having no idea that she was on the run. It wasn’t a family secret that they all just kept on the DL- literally, no one in her family knew. When they all started to accept it as a fact, that she WAS Margo, the legacy she was building and her years of being a wonderful mom paid off. Her family rallied around her with love and support.
Her husband Daryl, though he had no idea that she was a fugitive, wanted his wife back and set out to hire the best lawyers he could. He used his own life insurance policy as collateral to hire them. How many lawyers have been in this story at this point? 8,000?
Margo started the legal battles all over again while her family led the charge of helping her through it. She reconnected with her brother whom she had left in Columbus the first time she left. Margo’s kids visited her as well, and she said over and over again that all she wanted was for them to be taken care of.
She was extradited to Tennessee and placed right back in the same prison she had escaped: Tennessee Prison for Women. If anyone’s story has a very cyclical path, it’s Margo’s, but instead of spiraling down, she spiraled up.
University of Tennessee law students from The Wrongful Convictions Clinic worked her case. Her lawyers worked her case, and her family worked for the funding. All of the appeals were denied. However, new evidence was brought into light showing that Nash confessed to being the lone murderer of all three victims. He also had a cellmate that wrote that Nash had confessed to all three murders, but this letter ended up not making it to court.
The big question was: is Margo a victim or is she a murderer?
I think the answer to these is probably just a simple yes. Nash, who was 20 years her senior, took advantage of her with his place of power. She likely wasn’t completely innocent of all involvement in his three crimes. This fact is what is what granted Margo a retrial.
Nevertheless, in May 2011, the court battles were over- while awaiting a retrial, the DA made a plea agreement with her and she entered a guilty plea. In exchange, she was released from prison, time served, and was able to go back and live with her family as Tonya McCortar.
As her attorney said, “The true measure of her character was evidenced by her life after she escaped.” Whether she was guilty or innocent of the crimes she committed, THIS was true.
In August of this year, Tennessee Prison for Women was renamed as the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center. It’s now known as notable prison because of its rehabilitative efforts which is truly what prison should be, and it leads to some important questions to chew on about whether or not Margo would have benefited from incarceration or not.
At the end of the day, there were three victims here who’s killer is living free in West Memphis, AR. Their names were: Hillman Robbins, Ester Bouyea, and C.C. Surratt. I want to take a moment to acknowledge them here.
Though Glen the Murderer now lives a quiet life, he was once interviewed about where he thought Margo was now that she was on the run. His guess? “She’s married to a truck driver and she’s the best damn wife anybody ever have and is completely buried in obscurity and children.”
You finally got something right, Glen, you ole screw-up.
If you want to support this podcast, I’d love it if you’d head over to milkandmurder.com. There, you can see what Margo and Glen look like because I know you’re dying to know what these two look like.
I’d like to mention a really beautiful organization called TheSentencingProject.org. It’s an organization that works to ending life in prison sentences and creating a better way of thinking about crime and punishment. Check them out if you feel inspired by this idea and want more information, it’s pretty great.
Additionally, I’d like to take a moment to honor Deborah K. Johnson. She was beloved staff member at TN Prison for Women and a Black woman who helped initiate change at the prison. Unfortunately, she was murdered by an inmate and I felt strongly that she should be honored.
Finally, I want to thank two of my latest Patreon Subscribers Lauri and Teresa- without you, I couldn’t freakin’ do this, and I’m not lying.
Until next time, please hold onto your butts until inauguration day and tell your friends how much you love them. See you next week!
Issues Mentioned in This Episode:
The Sentencing Project – TheSentencingProject.org