The Clinton woman charged with the murder of her sister in California two weeks ago came in to The Record’s Freeland office in late September and prepaid for her own obituary.
Island police have also confirmed that the accused, Linda Thomas, was driven to California by a South Whidbey man. He was interviewed by local law enforcement at the request of California investigators, Island County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ed Wallace said.
“[He] didn’t know what she was going to do,” Wallace said.
The man, who remains unidentified, was a family friend, Wallace added. Other reports indicate there were two men who drove Thomas to her sister’s home in Rodeo, a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they could not be confirmed by press time.
Thomas, 71, appeared in a Richmond courtroom Friday for arraignment — the hearing where she would enter a plea to charges — but it was continued until Nov. 10. She was scheduled to be arraigned last week Friday but it was also continued.
Thomas is facing a murder charge in the Oct. 17 shooting death of her sister, 69-year-old Zonna Thomas. The charge carries three enhancements: personal and intentional discharge of a firearm for bodily harm, a special allegation for murder lying in wait and a special allegation for felony burglary resulting in murder. She is also facing charges of attempted murder, burglary and two counts of elder abuse, each of which have their own special enhancements.
She is being held without bail in Martinez Detention Facility.
Attempts Friday to reach a deputy district attorney with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office for this story were unsuccessful. An area newspaper, however, reported that she is eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors will not seek it.
News of the murder has rocked people on South Whidbey, particularly some in the Possession Shores area where Linda Thomas shared a home with her late husband for many years. Shellie Moore characterized her as “the best neighbor in the world,” and was stunned by the allegations.
“She was beloved in the neighborhood,” Moore said.
“I just can’t imagine this person doing that,” she added.
According to Moore, Linda Thomas and her late husband, Richard Thomas, grew pumpkins and allowed Possession Shores children to come to their house and pick them during October. They also made cider, and would throw annual gatherings for family and friends, passing out the homemade beverage for free.
Linda Thomas was a regular at Brookhaven in Langley, eating lunch there almost every day. She was a friend and helper to the elderly, Moore said.
She was also known for helping young people with higher education, helping them pay for school. Her husband, who died last year, was a longtime South Whidbey Elementary School volunteer.
According to court records, Linda Thomas was preparing to move in with her daughter, who lives in Maxwelton, before she traveled to California and allegedly shot and killed her sister. Police believe the murder was premeditated and may have been over a long-standing family dispute concerning an inheritance.
Her husband, Richard Thomas, was the brother of the victim’s husband, Donald Thomas. In an officer’s account of the murder, Linda Thomas was dropped off at the couple’s Rodeo home by two unidentified men before noon on Friday, Oct. 16. The reunion was without incident until late that evening when he heard a gunshot and walked into the kitchen to find Zonna Thomas face down on the floor. She’d been shot in the head and Linda Thomas turned the gun towards him. A scuffle ensued and Donald Thomas was able to wrestle the gun away and call for help, according to police.
He alleged the family had a long-standing quarrel over inheritance money from the death of his father years before.
When Linda Thomas was taken into custody, she had zip ties and duct tape among her belongings, and was wearing around her neck laminated documents that outlined her burial wishes. Following the murder, search warrants were approved and exercised on South Whidbey at Linda Thomas’ residence and her car. Among the items collected were financial records.
They may have led California police detectives to call The Record this week in an attempt to ascertain whether the newspaper had been contacted regarding an obituary for Linda Thomas. It became clear that Linda Thomas had not only prepaid for the obituary, but she personally came into The Record’s office in Freeland on Sept. 22 to hand deliver the obituary and a photo of her holding a small dog.
“She had a calm demeanor, like anyone bringing in an obit,” said Rebecca Collins, The Record’s graphic artist. “She didn’t say it was for her, she just said it was for Linda Thomas.”
While confirming contact information, Collins said she noticed the names were the same and asked if there was a mistake.
“That’s when she said the obit was for me,” she said. “I thought it was really odd; I thought it might be a joke, but she was really serious.”
Moore, who is a real estate agent, confirmed that Thomas had just sold her house in Possession Shores. The deal closed about the same day she left for California, she said.
Moore reiterated her shock and dismay in learning about the allegations. She expressed hope that people will withhold judgement until more details in the case are revealed. The crime Linda Thomas is accused of committing simply doesn’t match the woman she’s known or the life she lived on South Whidbey.
“It’s just not who she was,” Moore said.