The car was a beauty: a blue two-door Oldsmobile Cutlass, still so new that it gleamed in the darkness. On an August night in 1997, it pulled out from a restaurant parking lot, smoothly cutting through the lingering heat that had dominated yet another summer day. Soon a cold evil would encompass the young couple in the car, a cold that still lives within the hearts of their families.

 

For American teenagers, getting a first car is a rite of passage in every sense of the word. It is a given for a lot of kids, while for others, they know that getting any kind of wheels at all is going to require a lot of effort — theirs.

 

“We didn’t come up from much, so we knew we had to work for what we wanted,” Tynisha Hudson said.

 

The Hudson kids did not flinch from their challenges, especially Tynisha’s younger sister, Teela. Going into her senior year at Hot Springs World Class High School, Teela had plans for her post-graduation life. Like her older brother, Rodney, she wanted to study computer science, starting with classes at the local National Park College. NPC would not be quite as convenient as her high school, and she would have to work a lot of hours to pay her college expenses. Having her own car would be a huge benefit, so paycheck after paycheck went into the bank account she set up for that car.

 

While a lot of high school kids were already cruising around in their new cars, Teela’s life was an unrelenting cycle of school and jobs — yes, jobs as in plural. For the 17-year-old, a day out of school was a day she could work full-out. Those mornings, she would work a day shift at the local McDonald’s then go on to do the night shift at Applebee’s Grill + Bar just down the street. Other days, the jobs were wrapped around school.

 

The Hudsons, a family that included six siblings, were headed up by a divorced mother. As daunting as it must have been for her at times, she was a woman determined to raise them right, even if that took some doing. Transportation was just one of the many challenges she faced; with only one car to share between herself and the kids still at home, the family’s scheduling was a master class in coordination.

 

Early mornings, the Hudson girls — Teela, Tynisha and another sister — pulled out of their driveway to go to Applebee’s. The latter two then began working while Teela headed out again to pick up their mother, now getting off her overnight job. As one shift at Applebee’s ended and another began, Teela was back, handing the car keys over to Tynisha. While Tynisha drove home, Teela started her shift. Around closing time, she called Tynisha to pick her up.

 

On a fateful Saturday night in 1997, Rodney and Teela, both line cooks, worked together. The clock had ticked well into Sunday, Aug. 31, by the time employees began to make their way out the back door, some tossing friendly see-you-laters across the parking lot.

 

Teela had decided not to wake up Tynisha and instead spend the night at Rodney’s place. She got into his car just as Frank Delaney pulled up beside it and offered to give her a ride home. Teela got into the new Oldsmobile.

 

Originally from Louisiana, Delaney had been a year ahead of Teela in school. Although he and Teela were sweet on each other, it was not the typical teenage romance. Teela’s mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, and her belief on dating was that it was permissible only as a prelude to marriage. Thinking the two teens were simply good friends, Delaney was welcome in the Hudson home.

 

For the two youngsters, however, it was a classic case of opposite personalities choosing the same orbit. Teela’s warm smile and sweet nature endeared her to most everyone around her.  Delaney seemed like a nice kid, a quiet sort who kept mostly to himself. Nothing set off alarm bells about the relationship, and that night, there was no reason to doubt that the two were heading for Teela’s house. Indeed, the Oldsmobile left the parking lot, turning left on Central Avenue heading toward Malvern Avenue, off of which the Hudsons lived. It took only a few minutes to cover a short distance, but something unexpected happened — something still unexplained.

Teela Hudson

Teela and Delaney were not the only ones out on that dark night. Earlier in the evening, a first responder had been called to work a boating accident. A few hours after the couple were last seen, turned onto his street, Hayti Lane, back then a dark dirt road in a more remote eastern area of Garland County. He was surprised to see that beautiful new Oldsmobile parked in the middle of the road, loud music tearing through the stillness of the night through open doors. As he began to maneuver around the Oldsmobile, he saw Teela. He knew what he had to do next. He stopped, locked his car door and called the Garland County Sheriff’s Department.

 

Officers arrived at a crime scene detailing a particularly malicious death. This was not a robbery, an attempted carjacking or a sexual assault; the couple was killed execution style — death as a message. Shot multiple times, Delaney’s body was in the back seat. Teela’s head was face down in the passenger seat in a pool of blood. Based on the crime scene photo she was given access to, Tynisha said she believes Teela was forced to her knees and at least one shot caused her to fall forward with her legs still outside the car.

 

The investigation quickly yielded something else: Before multiple gunshots stopped her, including one to the forehead that mourners noted as Teela lie in her funeral casket, the teen had fought hard. The medical exam noted her fingernails were broken, as well as both her arms.

 

How had the couple ended up in this remote place? Given the absence of today’s surveillance cameras and the lack of known witnesses, it is believed the two were intercepted on their ride home. Perhaps they stopped for gas or snacks, or maybe they were forced over to the side of the road.

 

Police deduced that there were multiple shooters. About six weeks later, one weapon confirmed to have been used in the murders was retrieved from Hot Springs Creek about 6 miles away. If any other weapons have since been recovered, that has not been made public.

 

In an interview last year with KARK in Little Rock, Rodney told reporter Tylisa Hampton that the murder was an act of street violence, a species of crime that lived by its own simple code: Say nothing.

 

That silence enables criminals to feed on the lives of those around them, yes, but those who break the code are subject to swift and unmerciful accountability.

 

The press attention since that night 26 years ago has added up to less than 10 articles published. Unfortunately, that number is not uncommon in cold cases, despite the fact that exposure can be critical to solving a crime. The hard truth is that both the press and law enforcement have, over the years, become increasingly challenged by cuts in manpower and resources. In what is a painful Catch-22 for families, the reality is that only something compelling — a previously unknown witness or evidence — can justify turning away from a current case or story and back toward a cold one.

 

In case after case, social media is now proving to be a powerful weapon in solving crimes, even taking cases far beyond their geographical limits. Teela’s case has not yet benefited from the exposure provided by podcasters, YouTubers and documentary filmmakers, but Hampton’s broadcast might just change that. There is power in words, and perghaps hers are the catalyst needed to reach the hearts of others who can carry this story forth and, most importantly, those who have stayed silent.

 

During the interview, Rodney expressed what the Hudsons need so very much: “simply who did it and why.”

 

Why was the couple targeted? What message were the murders meant to send? Over the years since, how many other families have suffered because of the killers? How many more will die before the perpetrators are taken off the streets?

 

Teela never got her own car. Instead, the money she saved went toward paying for her funeral. She is remembered today as someone who was not afraid to do what was right, no matter how hard it was. There may be someone out there that can do the same for her now. Anyone with information about the couple in the car can call the Garland County Sheriff’s Office at (501) 622-3690.

 

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