Mildred Ann Newlin-Reynolds was twenty- two years old on March 13, 1956 when her life ended.
At the time, Mildred was newly married (less than a year) to RD Reynolds who was a teacher and coach at the high school in Avard where the couple lived with Mildred’s nephew. Mildred and her nephew, Jim Hucklebee, were both students at Northwest Oklahoma State University and usually drove back and forth from school together. However on March 13th, Jim had a later class so he stayed behind at school, while Mildred, wanting to get some housework done, left the school in the early afternoon. By 1:45 pm, she would be dead.
Around 1:45 that afternoon an Alva area farmer out plowing his fields would see smoke coming from nearby. Going over to investigate he found something I’m sure haunted him for the rest of his life. He found a light gray 1949 Chevy sedan completely engulfed in flames, with what looked to be a body inside. He then drove to a nearby residence to call the sheriff and the fire company. When law enforcement arrived, they found what remains a puzzle even sixty-six years later.
Tracks showed that Mildred’s car had veered over into the oncoming lane before skidding to a stop on a hill, backing up and going forward at least three times before hitting a fence and a tree, where her vehicle then caught on fire. Her body would be found laying across the front seat with her feet down by the gas and brake pedals and her head lying on the passenger side. She was only wearing one shoe, with the other being found 250 feet in front of the vehicle and spotted with blood. Four buttons that were torn from her blouse were also found outside the car along with three expended 9mm rounds. A bumper guard was also found by the fence that had been struck, which initially led investigators to believe that a second car had been involved and had forced Mildred’s car off the road. However, the bumper piece was later determined to have been from Mildred’s vehicle. While Mildred’s official cause of death was due to the fire, meaning she had been burned while still alive, the medical examiner noted several fractures to her skull, most of which were caused by the intense heat of the blaze, but one of them couldn’t be determined to have been caused prior to death, or after.
Almost instantaneously Mildred’s death became a media frenzy. Her death dominated the headlines for the month of March in 1956. With almost 100 people attending the coroner’s inquest, and a speaker being placed outside for those gathered outside to hear the goings on.
The coroner’s inquest was held to decide if Mildred’s death was simply a horrific accident, or if it was murder. Shortly before the jury read their verdict, Mildred’s father had stated to the press that he believed it was likely an accidental death, however the jury’s verdict read they believed that the fire was a result of arson. Her nephew, husband, and over 300 students of her college were all questioned- to no avail. It appears Mildred’s case goes cold until May 1957 when a new investigator had taken over and stated to the press that he was vigorously questioning RD Reynolds because he believed Reynolds knew more than he was telling. He even went as far as to ask for Reynolds to submit to a polygraph test, and to go down to the sheriff’s office for formal questioning. The latter he refused, the former he did, but only with an attorney present. Eventually Reynolds, plagued by whispers and side looks, left the area entirely. He remarried and had a family, but never quite seemed to get over Mildred’s death. He sent flowers to her grave regularly until he also passed away. After 1957, Mildred’s case was all but largely forgotten about in the media. But rumors were rampant. They varied from her death being the result of a mob hit, to a meeting with a lover gone wrong. Her case was even featured in the popular Real Detective magazine in February 1958. Eventually it seems that the OSBI came to the conclusion that her death really had been an accident, while the fire marshalls maintained that the fire simply could not have started on its own. Either way, the Woods County sheriff never closed the case, and officially, it remains open.