The cold-blooded murder of 66-year-old Margaret Abernathy shocked the town of LaGrange, Georgia, especially after it was revealed that her killer was her own daughter.
Nestled against the Alabama border, LaGrange has a population of 30,000 and is an hour southwest of Atlanta. Margaret and her husband, Bill Abernathy, ran a successful car dealership in town and invested in real estate and rental properties with the profits.
‘It was a small town but they were part of everything, whether it was on the board of the local power company or the board of commissioners,’ granddaughter Christy Lumpkin told ‘Snapped,’ airing Sundays at 6/5c to Oxygen.
The Abernathys had three children: Alect, Priscilla and Melody. All worked intermittently over the years in the various family businesses.
Priscilla showed particular interest in the car dealership. The business flourished while she was involved in it, but she suffered difficulties in her personal life. When she was still a young woman, Priscilla’s first husband died suddenly, leaving her a single mother of two children. She relied on her mother for emotional and financial support and the two became inseparable.
In the 1980s, Priscilla began dating a local man named Nick Matula, whom she later married. Nick soon joined his wife working at the Abernathys dealership.
Then, in 1989, Bill Abernathy’s health began to fail. After his death in 1991, Margaret chose to sell the car dealership. Priscilla and Nick decided to open their own dealership but lacked funds. Margaret agreed to help start the business.
While Priscilla ran the business, Nick handled the service. Priscilla often turned to her mother for advice on how to run the business.
But on Monday, February 4, 1991, the relationship was terminated. Priscilla called 911 from her mother’s house. She said there had been a burglary and her mother was lying on the bathroom floor covered in blood.
“Ms. Abernathy had two gunshot wounds to the back of her head. One was just under the skin and the other had hit the brainstem,” said Melinda Davis, a former Troup County Sheriff’s Investigator, to “Snapped”.
Margaret was alive but unconscious. She was rushed to a nearby hospital where she succumbed to her injuries.
Investigators from the Troup County Sheriff’s Office have returned to the crime scene. They found a broken window in the back door and a bloody mattress and pillows in Margaret’s bedroom.
“From the blood in the bed, you knew she was most likely sleeping when she was first attacked, or at least lounging in bed,” the former sheriff’s investigator said. of Troup County, Mike Newsome, to “Snapped”.
Investigators believe that after being shot, Margaret crawled to the bathroom. Toilet paper on the floor led them to believe she was trying to clean herself.
Priscilla told investigators she arrived at work around 8 a.m. on the morning of the murder. She said she left the dealership twice that morning to run some errands.
“The amount of detail she gave to investigators when questioning them seemed excessive. She had a story she wanted to present,” prosecutor Anne Cobb Allen told “Snapped.”
Priscilla said she spoke to her mother most mornings and it was not uncommon for Margaret to stop by the dealership. When she couldn’t get in touch with her, she said she started to worry. During her lunch break, Priscilla went to her mother’s house to check on her. She said after entering she found Margaret on the bathroom floor with blood pouring from her head and called 911.
An autopsy revealed that Margaret Abernathy had been shot by a small caliber weapon. The first shot did not penetrate his skull and would not have been fatal. Investigators believe that was when she went to the bathroom.
“The second shot punctured her brainstem which meant that at that point she couldn’t do anything, walk, talk, whatever, which means the shooter had to shoot her once in the bedroom and once in the bathroom,” Newsome explained.
Nick and Alect Abernathy soon showed up at Margaret’s house. After speaking with investigators, they discovered that some items had been stolen, including a mink coat and a small-caliber handgun, similar to the one used in the murder.
Investigators noted that other valuables were not taken, including electronic equipment and jewelry left in plain sight. While the house had been ransacked, the burglar took the time to neatly dispose of items on the floor. The shattered glass outside the rear door, meanwhile, indicated that it had been shattered from the inside.
“The hole was really small, like someone had just kicked it in to break it to try and trick anyone that someone had done that to get into the residence. It didn’t make sense,” former Troup County Sheriff’s Captain Larry Harris told “Snapped.”
Speaking to investigators, Nick indicated that Alect may have a personal interest in his mother’s murder. He claimed that Alect was deeply in debt and relied on his inheritance to solve his money problems.
“Nick Matula said Alect made a comment that he needed his inheritance, so his parents had to move on and pass away,” Davis said.
Alect, however, had an airtight alibi. He sometimes worked at the Matulas dealership and had been there all morning the day his mother was murdered.
Investigators received an anonymous tip from someone who worked at a local bank. They said Margaret had come two days before her death to ask that Priscilla be removed from a checking account linked to the Abernathys’ real estate business, according to court documents. They learned that in addition to personally loaning the Matulas a substantial sum of money to open their car dealership, Margaret had also co-signed their business loans, using her home and a certificate of deposit as collateral.
“I believe Ms. Abernathy had given Nick and Priscilla Matula $130,000 to help buy that dealership, so she was pretty close to them already,” Cobb Allen said.
Unfortunately, the Matulas’ business struggled to turn a profit and they took on additional debt to stay afloat. Eventually they started writing checks they couldn’t guarantee to transfer money from one account to another, an illegal practice known as “kite checking”.
“She had sent checks for $20 to $30,000, so it looked like she was cash flow positive with the car lot,” Cobb Allen added.
The Friday before her murder, Margaret learned that Priscilla was not making the required lien payments. She then discovered that Priscilla had forged her signature to access funds from the Abernathys’ real estate company, according to court documents. That Saturday, Margaret requested that Priscilla’s name be removed from the property company’s checking account signature card. She was told she would have to wait until Monday to complete the process.
Authorities believe Margaret confronted Priscilla over the weekend about her illegal activities and told her she was cutting her off financially on Monday morning. Without the concessionaire, the Matulas faced complete financial ruin. Investigators speculated that Priscilla then crept into her mother’s house on Monday morning and shot her while she slept. They believe she returned later that morning to stage the crime scene and, upon discovering Margaret alive on the bathroom floor, delivered the killing blow.
A witness later came forward to say he saw Priscilla at a convenience store near her mother’s house at 7.15am on the morning of the murder. Another witness claimed his car was parked in his mother’s driveway at 10 a.m. and then they heard a gunshot across the street, according to court documents.
On February 12, 1991, Priscilla Matula was arrested for the murder of Margaret Abernathy. During her interview with investigators, she denied having anything to do with her mother’s death and claimed that she had not committed any financial impropriety.
Priscilla Matula was tried in August 1992. She was found guilty of her mother’s murder and six counts of forgery and sentenced to life in prison with parole, according to court documents.
After serving 23 years of his sentence, Priscilla Matula was released from prison in May 2015.
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