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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

32 years after Sabrina Underwood’s remains were found by hunters in Arkansas, a man has been charged with her murder

A tip from an inmate and a subsequent confession from the suspected killer has led to the closure of a 32-year-old cold case, Arkansas State Police said.

Rick Allen Headley, 48, was charged with first-degree murder in the 1991 death of 19-year-old Sabrina Lynn Underwood of Huntsville, state police said in a news release Friday. Headley is currently being held at the Varner Unit in Lincoln County serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to capital murder for the March 2018 stabbing death of his estranged wife, Kirstie Headley, in Mountain Home.

Headley is set to appear in Fulton County Circuit Court on Nov. 13 in the Underwood case, state police said.

Underwood’s remains were found in April 1991, less than three months after she was reported missing, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Underwood’s mother, Loretta, last saw her on Jan. 20, 1991, when she dropped her off at the intersection of U.S. 412 and U.S. 62 near Bear Creek Springs in Boone County. She had planned to hitchhike about 70 miles east to Izard County, where her boyfriend was jailed at the North Central Unit in Calico Rock, the newspaper reported.

A police affidavit said she had made the same trip a week earlier on Jan. 13 but didn’t reach her destination this time. When Underwood’s boyfriend called her mother to find out why she didn’t make her scheduled visit, a missing person report was filed with the Madison County sheriff’s office on Jan. 24.

On April 8, roughly 140 miles from Huntsville, two turkey hunters stumbled upon a bundle of clothes near the Gum Springs Cemetery in Fulton County. Human remains also were found and later identified as Underwood, the newspaper said. The death “was ruled undetermined at the time,” KATV reported.

In the years since, the Arkansas State Police said they collaborated with a judicial drug task force and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the case.

In July 2022, state police Special Agent Justin Nowlin received a tip from an attorney who said his client had information that could possibly lead to identifying a suspect in Underwood’s murder. In an interview, the witness provided investigators with a confession letter given to him by Headley that contained details of Underwood’s killing.

On Aug. 24, 2022, investigators questioned Headley. According to an affidavit, Headley identified a photo of Underwood and admitted to writing the confession letter.

According to the affidavit, Headley told investigators that Underwood tried to extort him for money, but “knew he could not let her ruin his life,” KATV reported.

In his interview, Headley said he hoped nobody else had been arrested for Underwood’s murder, the newspaper said.

An Arkansas State Police spokesperson said Underwood’s family, which includes her mother who’s now in her 70s, was “very happy” about the case being solved.

“Sabrina’s family still suffers from the pain of her absence, but we hope this week’s arrest will provide them with some comfort and long-sought answers,” Col. Mike Hagar, director of the state police, said in a news release. “We will never give up on finding justice for families like the Underwoods.”

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