32 year-old Fulton County cold case solved, brings closure to family
By Tammy Curtis, Publisher
Editors Note: This article is from newspaper articles about the crime from 1991, that included interviews with Sabrina’s mother, as well as court documents related to the arrest and the former arrest of the alleged killer that put him behind bars for life without parole in 2019 in another murder.
The family of Sabrina Underwood has waited for 32 years for the day their loved one’s killer would be identified and charged with the heinous stabbing and decapitation. That day came on Monday, Oct. 16. Thanks to the tireless work of decades worth of investigators, including Dale Weaver, who never gave up on solving the case.
Sabrina Underwood’s death has haunted locals and puzzled sheriff’s for decades as a rash of rumors and innuendos about her death have continued to circulate. The solving of crimes does not work on those fallacies, but simply on facts. This is something former Sharp County Sheriff, Third Judicial District Drug Task Force Coordinator and Fulton County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Dale Weaver, has always had a skill for. This case was no different from the other cold case files he is working on. Weaver also played an integral part in bringing closure to the family of Angela Christine Mack- Cox and her son, Mikey, who were killed in 2002 after solving the case working alongside investigators with the Arkansas State Police in 2021.
How did Sabrina Underwood go missing?
19-year-old Sabrina was from Huntsville, Ark. Her mother, Loretta, spoke to the Baxter Bulletin after her daughter went missing. She said she had dropped her off near Harrison on Jan. 20 with plans for Sabrina to hitchhike to visit her boyfriend in the North Central Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections in Calico Rock. When she didn’t arrive, her boyfriend called her mother asking about her whereabouts. This was the second time she would attempt to make the 70 mile trip via hitchhiking, the first time a week earlier, was successful.
When they never heard from her again, the family filed a missing person’s report on Jan. 24 in Madison County.
For over four months, despite many efforts, there was no clue as to her whereabouts, it was if she had vanished from thin air. It wasn’t until a hunter discovered clothing wrapped in two leather coats at the Gum Springs Cemetery near Salem on April 8, 1991, that Sabrina’s story began to unfold. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department later located human bones, a pair of panties, an earring stud and human hair near where the xlothing and hair were discoverved at the cemetery.
Arkansas State Police Investigator Tommy Clevland obtained hair samples from the Underwood home from Sabrina’s mother that matched hair found in the woods with the remains.
after a forensic examination was performed at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory the remains and clothing were also determined to belong to Underwood . At that time, her cause of death was undetermined.
80 acres surrounding where the bones were located was burned off by Fulton County authorities at the time in an attempt to locate more bones, but none were found.
The case goes icy cold
For over three decade investigators followed many leads, tips and items of information. They were evaluated and investigated by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, 16th Judicial Drug Task Force and the Arkansas State Police, all were to no avail until over 32 years later, last July.
The cold case warms up, new information presented
Last July, Arkansas State Police Special Agent Justin Nolin received information from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department in Huntsville that would ultimately solve the case. An area attorney advised them tha one of his clients had very solid and seeemingly factual evidence regarding the identity of Underwood’s alleged killer.
On Aug. 19, Nolin and Weaver interviewed the witness at the North Central Unit in Calico Rock. The man informed the investigators he had previously been housed with a man named Rick Headley at the Varner Unit. He furthe indicated the man had provided him with a confession letter about the Underwood murder.
On Aug. 24, the investigators made their way to Varner to interview the alleged killer Rick Headley about the crime. The detectives showed Headley a photo of the woman, who he identified as Sabrina Underwood. Headley, also claimed to have been the author of the confession letter regarding her murder. After being Mirandized, Headley began to tell the tale of that fateful day, 32 years ago.
Sabrina’s last day alive
On the night of her murder, then 17 year old Headley encountered Underwood in Bellefonte, Ark. where she asked where he was going and if she could ride along. He told her he was going back home to Mountain Home after taking his uncle to Huntsville. He agreed and the two rode off in his red Chevy Luv truck.
Once they reached Mountain Home, Underwood allegedly told him she was going to see her mother or family in Viola or Salem and inquired about him taking her the rest of the way. She allegedly explained she didn’t have money for gas, but Headley agreed and the two headed toward Fulton County. On the way Headley alleges that Underwood offered to “take care of him in another way”. He explained they intended to pull over at Harber’s Cycle, but due to people being present, continued down the highway.
Headley said the two then went to the cemetery on Gum Springs Road, which was the next available road to turn on. After having sex Underwood allegedly asked him or $200 or said she would tell that he had hurt her. After realizing she was planing to ruin his life, he said he snapped and attacked her and drug her into the woods where he stabbed her with a Rambo style knife he had in his truck, cutting her throat and using a rock to shove the knife through her throat bone, ultimately decapitating her. Saying she would never be able to tell on him now. He then confessed he took the rock and knife but claims he left her head behind at the crime scene and covered her body before throwing her belongings that were in his truck on top of the pile.
Headley then drove back to his apartment in Mountain Home, throwing the murder weapons out along the way. When he retuned home, he told the investigators that he showered and threw his clothes in the trash behind the apartment complex.
To further prove his guilt, Headley explained he would never forget the name of someone he murdered and stated he had never read any news articles about the crime or even been told about the murder, because he was the one responsible.
Witnesses collaborate Headley’s story
A second witness was also interviewed by the investigators on Aug. 26. The woma told them Headley had told her he confessed to her of the killing because he wanted to get it off his chest.
Further information from the investigation proves that Headley also drove a red Chevy Luv truck at the time of the murder and lived in the apartment complex in Mountain Home.
Sabrina Underwood’s son, Danniel was only an infant when she was brutally murdered. Fulton County Sheriff Jake Smith said, “Jailhouse confessions are dubious and require no small amount of verification. However, after diligent work by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas State Police, we now have the person we believe responsible the death of for Sabrina Underwood. Rick Allen Headey confessed. It has been verified and a warrant was served upon him. He will be transported by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and delivered to Circuit Court on Nov. 13. While no pleas have been made and no verdicts handed down yet, I hope and pray justice will finally be served and Sabrina’s family can find some small peace in that knowledge.I would like to give special thanks to Detective Dale Weaver with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and Sergeant Justin Nowlin with the Arkansas State Police for their tremendous effort working this case and others like it.”
Why is Headley in prison now?
Perhaps the killing of Sabrina created in Headley a blood lust, because it was many years later that he became angered again at a female and killed her in March, 2018. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in Baxter County Circuit Court in 2019 for the murder of his wife.
Headley pled guilty to a number of charges, including Capital Murder, False Imprisonment, Aggravated Assault, Violation of a Protective Order, Terroristic Threatening, Criminal Use of a Prohibited Weapon and Possessing Contraband items in the Baxter County Detention Center.
Similar circumstances in second murder
Rick Headley is reported to have come to his wife, Kirstie Headley’s place of employment, the Dollar General Store, on March 13, 2018, despite the fact she had filed a restraining order against him.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Rick Headley grabbed his estranged wife by the shirt and dragged her outside the store. Video surveillance cameras showed him with a knife in his right hand. Witnesses told investigators they saw Headley stab his estranged wife several times.
The cameras at the store also captured scenes of Kirstie Headley walking back into the building holding her chest. She was reportedly covered with blood. Emergency medical personnel arrived and transported her to Baxter Regional Medical Center where she died a short time later.
Headley, who fled the scene of the stabbing and was captured a few hours later and booked into the Baxter County Detention Center about 2 in the morning on March 14. He is alleged to have told officers he went to his estranged wife’s place of employment with the specific intent of killing her.
Court Appearance upcoming
On Oct. 17, the warrant for the Y Felony of First Degree Murder in the Underwwood case was served on Headley at the Varner Unit. Judge Tim Weaver set a no bond hold on him and ordered him to appear in Fulton County Circuit Court on Nov. 13, 2023.