FORT SMITH, Ark. — Employees at Lowe's in Fort Smith knew something was wrong when 54-year-old Rita Collins was late to her shift and wasn't answering her phone on April 13, 2010.
Over 13 years later, Kelly Mason recalled the morning she called police to perform a welfare check on her close friend and coworker. "I said, 'I need a welfare check,' and gave them her name and address and said, 'She hasn't been at work and that's not like her,'" Mason said.
It was during that check that police discovered Collins murdered inside her Fort Smith home on North 46th Street.
In body cam footage you can see a Fort Smith police officer enter Rita's home and walk through the living room. Blood was visible on the living room floor and investigators noted that you could tell there had been a struggle. The blood on the carpet looked like someone had written words using blood. Then, in the footage, another officer arrives and the pair find Rita's body behind the door of a bathroom on the first floor. They said she had been stabbed multiple times.
"The first thing they do is clear the house to make sure there is no threat still in the house. Once they clear the house, they back out and call for EMS and detectives and crime scene investigators to respond," said retired Fort Smith Police Captain Jarrard Copeland.
"There was a struggle that was very apparent from the time you go into the living room— there is a lot of blood on the carpet. There is some spilled oatmeal on the carpet. There were some words written in blood which was very unusual," Copeland said.
The captain had been at the Fort Smith Police Department for 25 years on the day the officers found the words written in blood. "First time I had ever seen that in the 25 years I had been there."
Investigators were able to make out the word cousin but with what looked to be an attempt to wipe it away next to the word Mackie or Maxie, according to Copeland.
Police also found an oil spill in the driveway, but no vehicle was parked nearby. They also said they found a scrape in the street right outside of the driveway and thought the person who pulled out scraped their hitch on the pavement to make the mark.
Then they began the search for Rita Collins' killer.
The first place detectives thought to look is Rita's ex-husband, Greg Smith.
"They said, 'Can we search your trailer?' I said, 'Yes. I have nothing to hide. I will do anything I can to catch who done this to her,'" Smith said.
"They took this rug out of my car that had some kind of red stain on it. So, they took it. When I got down at the police station, they asked me to go down and contact family members. I was in such shock and disarray that I didn't even realize they thought of me as a suspect. When I was down there, they read me my rights."
The next day Fort Smith police got a break in the case. They received a call from a hospital in Missouri letting them know they had a patient there in possession of an I.D. with the name Rita Collins.
"We immediately sent three detectives and a deputy prosecutor to the hospital in Branson," Copeland remembered.
Once at the hospital, they came face-to-face with Sandra Dobbs— Rita's cousin who went by the name "Maxie".
Police say they believe this is the name Rita tried to write on the carpet in her own blood.
"The evidence that the victim left us eventually would have been enough," Copeland said. "That alone would have led to arresting Sandra Dobbs, in my opinion."
Police said they also examined her vehicle in the hospital parking lot. They said they found an oil spill under it, noticing it was leaking oil. There also appeared to be an extremely prominent scrape on the hitch attached to her vehicle.
Sandra Maxine Dobbs was arrested for first-degree murder and was later sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Dobbs never gave investigators a reason as to why she murdered Collins, other than that she had been having thoughts of committing a murder and claimed to hear voices.
Greg Smith said that even though they had been divorced for quite some time when Rita was murdered, they remained friends and cared deeply for one another. He said they had talked on the phone the day before her murder.
"This is a Godsend. I believe it with all my heart. She said, 'Greg, even though we are divorced, I will always love you.' I said, 'Bobba, I always love you too. If you ever need me to do anything for you, I will do it,'" Smith said.
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