by René Tankersley, feature editor
Daryl McCartor fondly remembers his first date with the woman of his dreams. It was a night of dinner and dancing.
“As we danced, our eyes locked and for a moment there was not a single person in the place but her and me,” he said.
“At the very moment our eyes met and locked, I knew that this is the one I want to be with the rest of my life.”
A scant three years later, his dream turned into a nightmare. His lady love, Tonya, was arrested, and police told Daryl she was one of the most wanted criminals in America. Now, the OOIDA member is trying to help his wife clear her name.
It started with a cup of joe
McCartor met Tonya through a phone dating service in April 1999. After several telephone conversations, the couple met for coffee at a Columbus, OH, McDonald’s. About a month later, the couple began dating.
“At the dance club, we sat and talked some more as she put on her dance shoes,” he said. “I thought for a moment that perhaps I might not meet her expectations as a dancer when she put on those shoes.”
But apparently, he did. By June, Daryl and Tonya were seeing each other every weekend. He would pick her up on Fridays after work to go with him on his weekend runs.
“After some time of going with me on the weekend runs, she asked me if I would teach her to drive,” Daryl recalls. “I was kind of surprised at first, because she wasn’t someone you would think of that would want to do such a thing. But she said her late husband was going to teach her before he died. I said OK, if you will teach me how to dance better.”
By November, Tonya had earned her CDL with plans to leave her insurance career of 20 years and drive as a team with Daryl. They started driving as a team March 1, 2000.
“For the next four months, we drove nonstop out and back 39 hours each way, switching off every two hours due to my recent ankle injury,” he said. “Talk about getting a new rookie driver some quick experience.”
After almost a year on the road, Daryl and Tonya decided they wanted to get married. Although they had picked out their rings and started planning their wedding, Daryl surprised Tonya with his “official proposal” during a candlelight dinner at their favorite restaurant in Columbus.
“With the champagne, she (the waitress) brought Tonya a plate with napkins folded to look like there was a caviar dish in the middle,” he said. As Tonya very carefully laid back the folds of the napkin, she realized that it was, in fact, a ring box. Daryl and Tonya were married Oct. 21, 2000.
After church Sunday, May 19, 2002, Daryl and Tonya accompanied other family members to a Columbus athletic club.
As the family left the club, they were met by law enforcement officials from the Ohio and Tennessee bureaus of investigation. That was when Daryl’s nightmare began.
A secret life revealed
“ When we walked out of that athletic club, it was like I had walked out of a movie theater and into the movie,” says Daryl.
Daryl thought he had unknowingly violated the law during his recent trucking haul, but the officers wanted some woman who they said was an escaped murderer. They arrested Tonya.
At first, Daryl thought it must be mistaken identity, but he soon learned his wife actually was Margo Freshwater, a woman who was convicted in 1969 of a murder she says she did not commit.
“I know who she is well enough to know she did not do what they say she did 32 years ago,” Daryl McCartor says. “It doesn’t change the way I feel about my wife.”
He continues referring to his wife as Tonya, the name she used for more than 30 years.
Who is Margo Freshwater?
Margo Freshwater became a legend as the only woman on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list. Her story was featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries,” and she eluded investigators for more than 32 years.
Margo was 18 years old when she left her hometown of Worthington, OH, and traveled to Memphis, TN, to help her boyfriend get out of jail. Her boyfriend’s attorney — 38-year-old Glenn Nash — put Margo up in a local boarding house and soon began an affair with the teen-age girl. She later testified Nash became enraged and began keeping tabs on her every move after she tried to return home to Columbus.
When Nash showed up at Margo’s rooming house Dec. 6, 1966, he took her with him to the Square Deal Liquor Store, where he tied up and killed the store’s clerk, Hillman Robbins.
Later, in court, Margo testified that she tried to untie the victim — ironically, the same man she was later convicted of killing — before the shooting.
With this murder, Nash began what would become a three-state killing spree, with Margo along for the ride. Twelve days later, Nash shot Esther Bouyea, a convenience store clerk in Florida, and then later cab driver C.C. Surratt in Hernando, MS. Nash and Margo were arrested at a bus stop in Greenville, MS.
Although Nash confessed to all three murders, he was declared incompetent to stand trial and spent 15 years in various mental hospitals. Today, he is a free man, married to the same woman and living in the same house as he was in 1966.
A jury in Mississippi failed twice to reach a verdict in a murder case there against Freshwater. Only interested in prosecuting Nash, officials in Florida chose not to prosecute Margo. But three years later, Tennessee tried Margo for the murder of the first victim, Hillman Robbins, whom she said she had tried to free.
In 1969, a jury of 12 men found Margo guilty of murder in the first degree and murder in the perpetration of a robbery. She was sentenced to 99 years in state prison.
But Margo and another inmate escaped from the Tennessee State Prison for Women Oct. 4, 1970, about 18 months into her sentence. The pair scaled a barbed-wire fence, hitched a ride and disappeared, going their separate ways. The other escaped inmate was found in 1971, but Margo seemed to have vanished.
Margo obtained a new Social Security number and a new name, Tonya Myers, according to The Associated Press. She took a train to Ashland, OH, where she met Phillip Zimmerman, who became her common-law husband. They had two children, but he left Tonya and the children in the early 1970s.
In 1979, she married Joseph Hudkins. Although Joe had three children of his own, he adopted Tonya’s two children, and the couple had a son, Tim. Joe died of cancer in 1988. Twelve years after her husband’s death, she met and married Daryl.
Working for Tonya’s freedom
Tonya’s attorneys, Robert Ritchie and Stephen Ross Johnson, filed a petition Feb. 5 seeking a new trial based on the discovery of information not available to defense attorneys in her 1969 trial.
In the meantime, Tonya remains in a Tennessee prison, while Daryl logs as many miles as it takes to earn the money for her legal defense.
Since Tonya’s arrest, his income was cut in half, but he has no doubts he’ll raise the $100,000 needed for her legal fees.
But financial woes continue to plague him. With only 12 more payments left on his truck, he gave up the vehicle when he couldn’t afford a badly needed crankshaft replacement in January.
But Daryl wasn’t landlocked for long. Within days, he had signed on as a company driver and was back on the road. With no truck payments, he says he’ll have that much more toward her legal expenses.
Daryl says he’ll keep logging as many miles as he can, but he says trucking isn’t the same without Tonya.
“It’s difficult to sit at a table to eat without my wife,” Daryl McCartor said between gulps of tears. “We always had something to talk about, and I miss her.”