Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Devoted mom was fugitive killer

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Some know her as Margo Freshwater, convicted of one murder and accused in two others, an escapee from a Tennessee prison who remained undiscovered for 32 years.

        To others, she's Tonya McCartor, a caring and easygoing soul who competed in ballroom dancing and worked hard to support her three children.

        Authorities say Ms. McCartor, arrested May 19, and Ms. Freshwater are one and the same, and that they have fingerprints and a confession to prove it.

        It's a claim relatives of the woman called Ms. McCartor can't fathom, and which her attorney is challenging.

        “We know a loving mother, a loving grandmother and a wonderful wife who has made me the happiest man that I could have ever imagined,” said her husband of two years, Daryl McCartor. “They've got the wrong person.”

        His wife, 53, was jailed without bail pending a hearing June 18 on whether she should be returned to Tennessee. Her attorney, Richard Pyatt, noted that in 1984 an Ohio court declared Ms. Freshwater dead at relatives' request.

        “She's not who they say she is,” he said.

        Investigators say an ordinary lifestyle helped Ms. Freshwater — one of Tennessee's most-wanted fugitives — escape detection.

        Ms. Freshwater, an 18-year-old high school dropout, had gone to Tennessee in 1966 to visit a boyfriend jailed on a robbery charge.

        She began an affair with his attorney, Glenn Nash. Authorities say Ms. Freshwater and Mr. Nash killed a liquor store clerk in Tennessee, a convenience store clerk in Florida and a cab driver in Mississippi that December.

        They were arrested at a bus station in Mississippi. Mr. Nash was declared incompetent to stand trial and spent several years in mental hospitals. He was released in 1983.

        But Ms. Freshwater escaped from prison in Nashville in 1970, when she was 23. She was 1 1/2 years into a 99-year sentence for murdering the liquor store clerk, Hillman Robbins Sr.

        With another prisoner — who wasn't recaptured until the early 1990s — she scaled the only fence, outran guards to a highway and hitched a ride with a trucker. The two women ended up in Baltimore and stayed for a few weeks before going their separate ways.

        Ms. Freshwater was pregnant. The father is unknown. She boarded a train for Ashland, Ohio, applied for a new Social Security number, took the alias Tonya Myers and settled in a boarding house, authorities say.

        There she met Phillip Zimmerman. She told him she had been raped in a juvenile jail while serving a sentence for petty theft. She never told him much else.

        “She was always very secretive about her past. We didn't talk much about it,” Mr. Zimmerman recalled from his home in Helenwood, Tenn.

        The two never married, but they raised her son and had a daughter.

        “She was completely devoted to her kids,” said Mr. Zimmerman, 55. “When she wasn't working, she was with them.”

        After breaking up with Mr. Zimmerman, Ms. Freshwater met and married Joseph Hudkins, a railroad worker, and took his last name. The two had a son. Mr. Hudkins died in 1988.

        She met Mr. McCartor, a trucker, through a dating service.


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