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Beauty Queen Murder

By Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent

If the images of Nona Dirksmeyer's fresh open face convey a certain vulnerability, it shouldn't be too surprising; at 19, though she sang beautifully, looked wonderful, and had been winning some local and state beauty pageants, she was still struggling with an awful secret.

Secrets, of course, do not survive murder investigations, and the details of Nona's troubles spilled out for all the world to pick over. Certainly her mother was shocked and dismayed when Nona told her that her own father sexually abused her when she was a little girl, and that later on she began to cut herself.

Imagine then, how it was when the whole town learned about not just that but also the extremely personal details of Nona's love life.  And then total strangers made it their business to pass around innuendo about her behavior and her morality.

Wasn't it bad enough that she was dead?  And that the accused killer was her own boyfriend, the kid Nona's mother had begun to treat as a future son-in-law?

That, however, is where the whole terrible business - including media coverage of the crime - began to bog down in what amounted to family loyalties.  Or, as a supportive out of town relative called it, "local politics."

And highly polarized politics, at that.  Debates over the boyfriend's guilt or innocence actually stirred up regional resentments and rivalries that date right back to the Civil War. As a result,  covering the murder of Nona Dirksmeyer was a sometimes tricky business; local media outlets began to take a lot of flak for allegedly slanting the story in favor of one family or the other, and no matter how thorough our efforts to tell the story even-handedly, somebody was always assuming we had to be on one side or the other.  Obviously, we were not - our mission is to follow each story as fairly and clearly as possible.  And of course, in this case, as in all others, its the jury that decides.

Were truth and justice served in Nona's case?  If you were to ask around in Russellville, Arkansas, the answer you'd likely hear as often as not is no.   Perhaps, after a review of the facts, you'll come to your own conclusion.