KM and I were not quite newlyweds in 1982 when I bought my first new car, a black Pontiac Firebird with those hidden headlights. Practical? Not so much. Cool and fast? Oh yeah. And to try out the new wheels, what better road than scenic Highway 7 through the Arkansas portion of the Ozarks, from Russellville to Harrison and then over to Mountain Home?
We left on July 3, another holiday weekend. Sometime after lunch, I searched for a radio station, because my new Firebird 8-track player had swallowed my “The Best of Mountain” tape in front of my eyes.
All I found on the radio was news about a guy named Larry Walters, who had been flying high above California on a lawn chair attached to weather balloons. Walters, dubbed “Lawn Chair Larry” by the press, had risen to a height of 15,000 feet before landing safely, after shooting some of the balloons with a pellet gun. Officers from the Long Beach Police Department arrested him soon after.
When asked by a reporter why he had done it, “Lawn Chair” replied, “A man can’t just sit around.”
It had been that kind of year in the news, beginning in January when Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a bat someone threw at him at a concert in Des Moines. Afterward, Ozzy said something like, “I ute ta glartcuk blat,” which translated means, “I thought it was made of rubber.”
As KM and I drove on towards Mountain Home, there was another couple in their mid-twenties not far away, who also had decided to spend their day cruising through the Ozarks. Keith and Kate Haigler were members of the Foundation of Ubiquity Church, whose leader was a guy named Emory Lamb from Jasper. Reports after that July 3 day were that Lamb and the Haiglers — all three — believed they would be resurrected three days after they died. Maybe you can see where this is headed.
About 40 miles south of Jasper, we heard that a Continental Trailways bus traveling through north Arkansas had been taken over by gunmen. There were 15 passengers on board. Two of them were the Haiglers, who had boarded in Little Rock that morning around 8:15, probably about the time KM and I were leaving for our long weekend.
Sometime around noon, Keith Haigler put a gun to the head of Bill Carney, the bus driver, and ordered him to take them to Jasper. When they arrived they told Carney to park on the Highway 7, two-lane bridge, which crossed the Buffalo River. Carney did as he was told. Once there, the hijackers demanded an interview with a TV station out of Springfield, Missouri, which broadcast into the area. They got their wish and during the interview complained that the media wasn’t reporting the Messiah’s presence.
When KM and I got to Jasper, the Haiglers had begun letting their hostages go after one of them had fainted from the heat. When they were all safe, we watched the bus from the sidewalk in front of a barbershop with other townies and tourists. State Police were everywhere, and soon one of them came over and told us to move behind the building because there were police snipers on the other side of the bridge with high-powered rifles. We did as told and minutes later heard the gunfire.
Reports that evening said that when the couple came off the bus they were still armed. The police told them to get rid of their weapons and lay face down. Instead, they got on their knees, started moving toward the officers and began shooting.
The snipers shot back, putting them both down. As the young couple lay wounded on the road, Mrs. Haigler shot her husband in the head with a .38-caliber pistol. Then she shot herself. Keith Haigler died there on the bridge and Kate joined him about two hours later in a nearby hospital.
Before Keith Haigler’s body was moved from the bridge, traffic was allowed to pass. I looked down from the open window of my Firebird at the white sheet covering the form on the ground. Spots of blood were seeping through. Three days later, as we passed over that spot on our way back home, bloodstains could still be seen on the pavement. As for the Haiglers, there was never any reported witnessing of their resurrection.