• Rod Kackley

Kill. Bury. Forget. The Death of Sydney Sutherland

August 18, 2020: Sydney Sutherland and her family returned to Jackson County, Arkansas, this evening. They are back home in Tuckerman, at the end of their annual vacation to Florida.

Their light-blue crossover van is jammed with dirty clothes and all of the other collateral damage produced during the trip. But no one has the energy to truck everything into the house, so they decide to leave it for tomorrow.
Everyone goes right to bed. Said Sydney’s big brother, Sam, “Tomorrow morning it’ll back to work.”

August 19, 2020: Sydney worked out with her trainer today. After that, she helped unload the family unload from their vacation. She decided to go running, over the objections voiced by her mother, Maggy.

“Sydney, don’t run today. We’ve been gone, rest,” Maggy said. “You just did an hour-long hard workout.”

Sydney wouldn’t change her mind, explaining why she needed to run in four words. “It just releases me,” she said.

So, the twenty-five-year-old registered nurse at Unity-Harris Medical Center — she passed her boards just a few months ago --0 went for a run on Jackson County Road 41.

Quake Lewellyn is already driving on CR 41. He’s a twenty-eight-year-old, big, fun loving, bearded stepfather of three. Nothing unusual. He was driving his GMC pickup alongside a rice farm in Arkansas, checking water wells and rice fields. That’s Quake’s job with the Lewellyn family farming business.

It’s an operation to be proud of. Four years before, the Lewellyn clan had been named the Jackson County Farm Family of the Year.

Then, along comes Sydney Sutherland. Quake remembered her from Tuckerman High School. He was three years ahead of her, of course, but no one who went to Tuckerman would forget one of the prettiest girls ever in the small school of less than 200 students.

And here she was, Sydney, still high-school cheerleader blonde and beautiful — running down the same gravel road that Quake was driving on.

There was nothing exceptional about Quake’s time at Tuckerman. His high-school report cards were filled with B’s and C’s.

Other than the fact his mother and father divorced when he was young and she remarried — Quake always saw his stepfather as the “father figure” in his life — there wasn’t anything unusual about his childhood.

No history of violence, other than one fight in junior high, and he got through high school without any serious problems. Just one of those kids that doesn’t get a lot of attention because they are neither especially troublesome nor brilliant.

He was one of those kids caught in the middle who never attracted much attention.

Quake tried college, but it didn’t work out. He left Arkansas State University after less than a semester.

Did he drink? Oh yeah, when Quake was younger, he drank alcohol quite often. And he smoked pot a few times as a teenager. But he stopped all of that nonsense when he turned twenty-one.

Got married, never had any kids of his own, but he’s close to his three step kids, and of course, his wife.

(Quake Lewellyn)

This day, Quake’s normal life in Jonesboro, Arkansas, is about to change. He passes Sydney — they were Facebook friends for a while, they know each other, but not especially well — turns his truck around, and drives back toward her. But because of a cloud of dust kicked up by his vehicle, he can’t see Sydney and hits the woman.

Quake feels the impact, but he’s not quite sure what happened. So he gets out of the truck to investigate. And he finds Sydney’s broken body.

He asks Sydney if she’s okay. She doesn’t respond.

Quake panics. He goes out of his mind, when he realizes what’s happened.

So what’s Quake do? Run to a farmhouse for help or maybe grab his phone and call 911?

Nope. None of the above.

Instead, he picks up Sydney’s broken body, puts her body in the bed of his pickup, and drives off. He’s not looking for medical help. He’s sure the woman is dead. Instead of getting her to a nearby house for aid, Quake decides to hide the corpse.

Quake drives into a rice field, grabs a shovel that he always carries with him, digs a hole, buries Sydney, and drives off. Oh. But, wait. Quake does something else before covering Sydney’s body with dirt and driving off.

He undresses the corpse and “messes around with it.” At least that’s what Quake will tell a psychologist later during a court-ordered exam.

Actually, according to what Quake would tell Arkansas State Police, he tossed Sydney’s broken, battered corpse on to the open tailgate of his truck and raped her.

That done, Quake buries the body. Why’d he pick that spot?

No reason, except that is where he was at the time, and that’s where he was supposed to be at the time, on his inspection route.

Now, it’s between two and three p.m. What’s he do after deciding Sydney is dead, raping her, and burying her body in a rice field? Maybe its time to call it a day?


Quake goes back to work. He continues checking the wells in the family’s rice fields until about five or six o’clock.

Only then does he goes home.

Quake lives with his wife and stepchildren at his parent’s home. They’re trying to save money to build their own house.

Anyway, Quake tosses the shovel he used to bury Sydney back in the bed of his truck and drives home.

Walking in the front door like nothing unusual is going on, Quake cleans up, as usual after a long day of work. He sits down to dinner with his family. After they finish, Quake’s father calls.

Everybody’s talking about Sydney Sutherland, Quake’s father says, “Have you heard she’s missing?”

“No,” Quake says. But he also tells his father that he saw Sydney running on County Road 41. “It looked like she was headed home.”

Conversation finished, Quake goes to bed. Amazingly, he doesn’t feel unusually stressed out, even though something highly unusual had happened that afternoon.

Quake’s plan? Just go to work tomorrow. Maybe this will all just go away.

While Quake’s cleaning up and then eating his supper, Sydney’s boyfriend calls Maggy. He’s concerned because he hasn’t heard from Sydney. She’s not returning his calls.

Maggy calls Sydney’s phone. The call goes to voice mail. Her heart drops. She knows, as only a mother can, that something is wrong, she could just feel the tragedy that is about to swamp her life.

But she tries texting. Again, no response. She tries Snapchat, but those messages also go unread.

Now, Maggy fears the worse, She is afraid that someone snatched Sydney during her run. Could her daughter have been kidnapped?

Frantically, Maggy and Sam continue texting Sydney, just trying to find some clue that would explain what had happened.

Around 7 p.m., Maggy calls the police.

August 20, 2020: Still no sign of Sydney. News of her disappearance spreads quickly all across northeast Arkansas. Detectives start investigating. They’re talking to family, friends, community members, anyone who might know something.

Then, Sam gets a call from a friend who tells him, Quake Llewelyn might know something. The friend says Quake told him he saw Sydney running south on the County Road 41 overpass over the interstate, two days ago, like she was heading back home.

Besides the surveillance camera at the family’s house that showed Sydney helping to unload from the family’s vacation, that is the last time anyone says they had seen Sydney.

Of course, any information is going to help in the search for Sydney.

However, state police troopers find something more important today. Searching a field along County Road 41 make a major discovery. The recover Sydney’s phone in the field, about 1.3 miles from the Sutherland family home.

But that’s the good news from the ASP and Jackson County Sheriff Lucas, today. He also says the ground search around the Sutherland family home is complete and authorities “have exhausted,” all of their leads.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people turn out, today, to help search for Sydney. Maggy’s been at it all day, and is taking a break at the Command Post. She looks over her shoulder, and sees Quake standing by a tree.

Something is off. He seems to be lurking, Maggy thinks.

She goes over to talk to him. After all, according to Sam’s friend, Quake might have been the last person to see Sydney alive.

“Quake, can you tell me anything?” Maggy said. “What was Sydney doing? Did you see anything? Did you meet anybody?”

“Nope,” Quake said. “She was just running.”

Maggy can’t believe that.

“You did see her, right?”

Quake doesn’t speak, but nods to show the answer is “yes.”

“But you don’t have anything to tell me?”

Quake closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Nope. Like I said, she was just running.”

Maggy can’t think of anything else to say. But, neither can she believe Quake is telling her everything.

Just as she is about to ask one more question, Quake steps forward and gives her a little hug. Not a full embrace, more of a quick, almost embarrassed squeeze that one stranger might give another.

After he releases Maggy, she walks back to the group of searchers at the Command Post. She looks back over her shoulder. Quake is still standing by the tree.

Maggy shivers. Something is wrong here, something is very odd, She just knew it.

August 21, 2020: As much as Quake might have wanted this to all go away, it hasn’t. Everyone in Jackson County seems to know the story and to be asking the question, “Where is Sydney Sutherland?”

Quake’s father knows Quake had been driving on the road where Sydney was last seen and asks if he knows anything about what happened to the woman.

Quake’s mother is suspicious too.

So, first thing this morning, Quake and his father go to the Arkansas State Police post to be interviewed by the detectives working the case. Quake gives the troopers permission to search his truck.

The forensic team goes to work on the vehicle. Inside the cracks of the truck’s tailgate, investigators find blood. They also discover a dent in the front of Quake’s 2019 GMC pickup truck

Then, Creston Hutton, a senior special agent with the Arkansas State Police, asks to examine Quake’s phone, which he hands over.

Hutton taps the Life 360 phone app on Quake’s phone, and uses it to track Quake’s movements on August 19. The app shows that about an hour after Sutherland was discovered missing, Quake was about 2.36 miles, on August 19, from where police found Sydney’s phone.

The app also leads them to point just a few yards from where Sydney’s corpse was found, buried in the field.

At the site of Sydney’s shallow grave, troopers see footprints from “Sanuk style” boots at the crime scene, possibly from the same boots Quake is wearing.

Quake is immediately read his Miranda rights.

Unable to handle the guilt, and knowing the cops have him, Quake goes to the local sheriff’s office and confesses it all.

“It was all just a blur,” Quake says. “I didn’t kill her on purpose.”

“Why didn’t you call 911?”

“That, I don’t know,” says Quake. “I was just scared.”

Meanwhile, not having any idea what’s going on with Quake and the police; Maggy, Sam, and hundreds of people are back on County Road 41 this morning, literally crawling on their hands and knees, searching for more clues. They don’t want to take a chance on missing even the smallest clue that could lead to either Sydney’s rescue or recovery.

Cars line both sides of CR 41. While hundreds are searching, dozens of other people are handing out free food and cold drinks to those who are on their hands and knees turning over every pebble in the search for Sydney.

Jennifer Eddington, who works with Sydney at Harris Medical Center is there, too. She looks around at the crowd, but is not amazed.

“Jackson County is just this way,” Jennifer says. “We just want her to be safe and to be found.”

They’re working quietly, each concentrating on the small patch of grass, sticks, and twigs in front of them when Maggy shouts, “I have a bead from a necklace. Oh my, Sydney has been here!”

As the search team celebrated Maggy’s discovery, Sam’s phone rang. He looked at the phone and the name of the caller. His heart sank. Sam moved away from the group so he could answer the call and have some privacy.

“Hello, Sheriff Lucas,” said Sam. “Have you found anything?”

The sheriff took a breath and paused. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“Sam, you and Maggy, the whole family; please get everyone together,” said Sheriff Lucas. “We need to talk.”

The trip to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office was the longest, most difficult drive of Sam’s life. He never thought they get there, but at the same time, didn’t really want to ever arrive. He and Maggy knew, in their hearts, what the sheriff was going to say.

And they were right.

Sheriff Lucas performed the sad duty of informing the Sutherland family that they had found Sydney. And yes, she was dead.

August 24, 2020: Quake Lewellyn begins his journey through the courts of Jackson County today. Circuit Court Judge Harold Erwin reviews the state police affidavit detailing the evidence against Quake, along with his alleged admission of killing and raping Sydney.

For Quake, and of course, Sydney’s family and friends, this is all become only too real.

Judge Erwin finds there is enough evidence to charge Quake with capital murder, kidnaping and rape.

Quake is ordered to the Randolph County Jail where he will be held without bond until his next court appearance.

This isn’t an easy case for anyone, says Henry Boyce, the prosecuting attorney, tells reporters after the court hearing.

He knows the Sutherland and Lewellyn families. As Henry put it during an interview with a KAIT-TV reporter, “it’s hard to live your life in a community of this size and not know just about everybody.”

This is a very emotional case for Sheriff Lucas, as well. He tells reporters that, just like Henry, he knows the people of Jackson County. And, Lucas says he knew Sydney, very well.

“I’ve known here and watched her grow up. It hits me personally,” said the sheriff.

The emotions being felt today by Henry and Sheriff Lucas are typical of those being expressed in Jackson County.

Tyler Chatman has known Sydney it seem like forever. He promised Sydney would be remembered not because of how she died, “but because of who she was.”

Another of Sydney’s friends, Melanie Clark says even though Sydney’s life ended in such a vicious, violent manner, her “life was beautiful.”

Indeed, Melanie says, “Sydney was probably the best part of what every human wants to be.”

September 10, 2020: Multiple blunt force injuries killed Sydney Sutherland. Although the full autopsy has not been completed, the Arkansas State Medical Examiner’s Office releases its cause of death finding today. A few hours later, Sheriff David Lucas tells reporters that Sydney’s death is being treated as a homicide.

February 12, 2021: Quake’s still in a cell at the Randolph County Jail, as he and his attorney get some bad news.

After Quake entered a plea of not guilty, his attorney sent him to a psychologist, hoping he might be declared unfit to stand trial. But, that didn’t work out.

Lacey C. Willett, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Arkansas for Medical Services says today, “It is my opinion that Mr. Lewellyn was capable of forming the necessary mental state required as an element of the offense charged.”

Willett says Quake was polite, cooperative, and attentive during the evaluation.

However, Willett also points out that Quake must have known what he did was wrong, or he wouldn’t have tried to hide Sydney’s corpse.

In her report, Willett writes, “He (Quake) disclosed that he put Sydney’s body on the tailgate of his truck to ‘hide her body so {he} wouldn’t be in trouble,’ reflecting that he knew his conduct could result in legal consequences.”

The prosecutor said, after Sydney’s body was found and charges were filed against Quake, that he wanted to seek the death penalty.

During a March 2021 television interview, Maggy said that would be just fine with her. And she also said she doubted there were ever be a day that the family would be able to find it in their hearts to forgive Quake.

A tall pink cross marks the spot on County Road 41 where Sydney’s life was taken from her.

At Sydney’s final resting spot, there is another pink cross. “We don’t want Sydney to be forgotten,” Maggy explained. It’s also a message to other parents.

“Don’t forget, when you see your child, tell them you love them,” said Maggy. “It could be your last words.”

May 5, 2021: During an emotional meeting of the Arkansas Highway Commission today, state officials decided to do more to honor Sydney’s memory.

The Commission acted upon a request from Donald Ivie, the director of Jackson County Emergency Management.

As first approved by the Jackson County Quorum Court, and then by the state highway commission, an overpass on U.S. 67 in Jackson County will be named in honor of Sydney.

Plaques with her name will be placed at either end of the overpass.

As Ivie wrote in a letter to a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission, Marie Holder, “This is the overpass were Sydney was killed, and transported from, to her final days on this earth.”

Now, Maggy can be sure, Sydney will never be forgotten.

At the time of this writing, Quake’s trial date was set for Sept. 28, 2021. Of course, he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

As one of the defense attorneys, Bill James, said May 21, 2021, “What happened was a horrible accident and nothing about it was intentional.”

Someone you know or even love is the person who will kill you. Usually, that’s true. But that is not what happened in 2018 to two college students in Iowa.

Two young women who had everything to live for, killed by two men with nothing to lose. Completely random attacks. Neither case had anything else in common except they both shocked the nation and even the world.

What’s worse, being murdered by a loved one or a stranger who jumps out of the bushes when you are most vulnerable?

Previously published as We’ll Find You and Let’s Do Murder, The Iowa Murders tells the shocking true crime stories of the senseless deaths of Mollie Tibbetts and Celia Barquin Arozamena.

When Mollie Tibbetts disappeared on July 18,  2018, her mother, Laura Calderwood, promised she would never quit searching.

 For five weeks in the summer of 2018, she searched, and the whole world watched Brooklyn, Iowa because this was more than a murder story — it also became one of the top political stories of 2018.

Then, just after her killer led police to Mollie’s body, hidden in a cornfield, news of another shocking, senseless homicide came from Iowa. 

Celia Barquin Arozamena was ready to begin the next phase of her life, including a professional career and marriage. 

Collin Richards only wanted a woman to rape and murder. 

Celia had everything to live for, and Collin had nothing to lose.  

They would come together one day in September 2018. 

Only one would survive. 

The Iowa Murders is the shocking true crime story of two communities and two families coming to grips with the worst crime imaginable, knowing that even if the killer’s put behind bars today, another could be waiting tomorrow. 

The Iowa Murders: A Shocking True Crime Story is a heartbreaking, gripping, page-turning thriller that you won’t want to miss.

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