Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bill McArthur dead at 71: MYSTEERY of wife's murder lingers

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Lawyer Suspected In Wife's 1982 Killing Dies

By Jon Gambrell
LITTLE ROCK — Bill McArthur, a Little Rock lawyer never charged but considered a suspect in the 1982 execution-style shooting of his oil heiress wife, died Sunday. He was 71.

Little Rock police Lt. Terry Hastings said a neighbor called police Sunday night after seeing McArthur collapsed at the door of his apartment. Hastings said an autopsy likely will be performed on McArthur, though investigators suspect natural causes in his death.

"There's no foul play suspected," Hastings said.

McArthur, a well-known criminal defense lawyer, became notorious in Arkansas on July 2, 1982, when police found Alice McArthur dead in a bedroom closet from a single gunshot wound to the head. A bouquet of flowers sat at her feet, with a card reading, "Have a nice day."

Two months earlier, a homemade explosive detonated under Alice McArthur's luxury car at their Little Rock home. She escaped with minor injuries.

Shortly before her death, Alice McArthur told friends she had come into "quite a bit of money," roughly $50,000 a month, from oil leases and royalties on property in Louisiana. She also discussed setting up a trust fund for her two children.

An anonymous telephone call led sheriff's deputies to arrest parolee Larry Darnell McClendon, 27, in Alice McArthur's death. They also arrested Eugene "Yankee" Hall and Mary Lee Orsini, a North Little Rock widow Bill McArthur defended against charges she shot her husband to death. The state Supreme Court overturned Orsini's conviction in that case.

Orsini received life in prison without parole for orchestrating McArthur's slaying; Hall got a life sentence and McClendon received a 20-year sentence.

Deputies later said Orsini gave a man a script to read for the anonymous phone call. Then Hall implicated Bill McArthur in his wife's slaying.

Bill McArthur also was part-owner of the state's largest country music night club, the Star Studded Honky Tonk.

Then-Pulaski County Sheriff Tommy Robinson, a flamboyant lawman who later went to Congress, arrested McArthur on suspicion of killing his wife. But prosecutors declined to charge McArthur in his wife's slaying, as did a later grand jury. Robinson later tried to have the lawyer charged with setting up a $500,000 contract killing targeting him.

McArthur later sued Robinson and another deputy, but the lawsuit was dismissed. However, the former sheriff has said he always harbored suspicions about McArthur's role in his wife's death.

"I think the truth will come out," Robinson said in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. "Somebody somewhere sometime will finally come forward and tell the truth."

Robinson declined to comment Monday.

Though never charged, McArthur acknowledged his wife's death forever stained his reputation.

"During the year 1982 after Alice's death to the middle of 1983, I didn't do a great deal of practicing law. That was a great deal by choice, but not entirely," McArthur said in a 1986 interview. "I'm sure, at that time, no one would have been terribly interested in having me try a case. There was a cloud over me."

Just before her death in 2003, Orsini told sheriff's deputies in prison that she killed her husband. She also told investigators she had an affair with Bill McArthur, though the lawyer wasn't aware of her plans to have his wife killed. McArthur had denied he and Orsini had an affair.

In a 2003 interview with The Associated Press, McArthur said he hoped his now-adult children and elderly mother could find some closure with Orsini's confession.

"One thing I learned," McArthur said of Orsini, "was that I couldn't figure her out."

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