Margo Freshwater was found guilty of murder, but not even prison could stop her becoming a mum and living an amazing double life.
In 1969, Margo Freshwater was convicted of a brutal murder and given a 99-year jail term. But, just one year in, she scaled a prison wall and escaped. Thirty years, four kids and two husbands later, she was finally recaptured…
Smiling for the camera, Margo Freshwater looks a gentle, caring grandmother who wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Yet, behind her innocent exterior, there lies a dark past.
In 1966, Margo was 18 and had just dropped out of high school. She was young, lost, with no idea what to do about her future.
Then she met Glen Nash, an attractive lawyer 20 years her senior. Despite the age gap, he wooed Margo, and they began an intense affair.
But this was no typical love story. Soon, crooked Nash began to manipulate Margo, and she fled her family home in Worthington, Ohio, to be with him.
Shortly after, he persuaded her to join him in a spate of robberies across three different US states.
But the crime spree ended in disaster, when three of their unsuspecting victims ended up dead.
One of these was Hillman Robbins, a shop assistant in Memphis.
He was found in the back room of his shop, his hands tied behind his back – and five bullet holes in his head.
It was a shocking scene, and a manhunt for those responsible was launched.
When the pair were tracked down and arrested, Freshwater was accused of pulling the trigger alongside Nash.
But Nash was deemed to be insane by courts in each of the three states in which he committed the crimes – and therefore unfit to stand trial.
He was ordered to be locked in a psychiatric hospital, where he stayed until 1983.
However, Margo Freshwater was forced to stand trial.
She denied murder, but said she did whatever Glen told her to out of fear, claiming he threatened to kill her if she didn’t follow his instructions.
It made little difference to the jury. She was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 99 years in jail.
But, after a year in a Tennessee prison, in 1970, Freshwater managed to climb over a prison wall, and escape!
She did little to alter her appearance, but changed her name to Tonya after moving back to Ohio.
Soon afterwards, ‘Tonya’ met and married a man named Hudkins.
She had four children, built herself a new life.
Hiding in plain sight, ‘Tonya’ took a job as a secretary for a local business, applied for a licence to sell insurance, and learned to drive a tractor.
After her first husband died, she moved to a different part of town, got a new job and married Daryl McCartor.
She was now known as Tonya Hudkins McCartor.
But her luck ran out… In 2002, TV show Unsolved Mysteries sparked an investigation which led detectives to join the dots between Freshwater and her alias.
She was finally tracked down and arrested after being on the run for an incredible 32 years.
A judge ordered the grandmother serve the remainder of her jail sentence, plus an extra year for escaping.
But Freshwater began a petition for a new trial, after it was discovered prosecutors in her first hearing had crucially failed to reveal the full details of a statement from a jailhouse informant which claimed she was innocent.
Johnny Box, an inmate who’d served time with Glen Nash, wrote a four-page letter claiming Nash confessed it was him who shot the shop assistant, not Freshwater.
But only one page of the letter was released at trial.
Based on this fresh information, Freshwater was granted a new trial in May 2011.
Judges at the Appeals Court in Tennessee ruled that prosecutors withheld vital evidence which might have led to a different conclusion.
It was a huge victory – but before her new trial could take place, Freshwater – who’d just spent another nine years in jail – accepted a plea deal, so she could be reunited with her family.
She still denied murder, but agreed to a ‘best interest’ plea – where a defendant doesn’t admit guilt to any offence, but agrees that a guilty plea is in their best interest under the circumstances.
Freshwater’s sentence was reduced to 25 years – but she was released when her time already served and credits for good behaviour were taken into account.
In October 2011, Freshwater, 63, was free – for good this time.
‘I am thankful beyond words to be reunited with my family,’ she said. ‘My faith in God and the belief that I would be with my family again are what kept me going and looking to the future with optimism.’
After spending a decade travelling to visit ‘Tonya’ in prison every month, her husband Daryl McCartor said he was excited about being able to hold his wife’s hand, and treat her to a hot bath and good food.
‘I knew God wouldn’t have put us together just to keep us apart,’ he said.
Freshwater said she was looking forward to spending time and making plans with her husband, four kids and seven grandkids.
A remarkable end to a remarkable tale.