SEARCY, Ark. – It was the scandal that rocked the state of Arkansas in the mid-1970s – a well-known doctor’s affair leading to a murder for hire. Now, decades later, that story is the subject of a new book digging deeper into the crime.
Mike Allen recently flipped through his latest project that dives into a childhood memory that continues to stick in his mind.
“It was something that we talked about in my home,” Allen said. “It was something being talked about in the community and it was really sort of the focus of the town for about six months.”
The year is 1974 in Searcy, Arkansas, a quiet little town filled with mom-and-pop shops and home to a small Christian university.
“It was a tight community,” Allen said. “Everyone sort of knew each other. We knew our neighbors.”
At that time, Allen said Dr. Porter Rodgers and his wife Fern were two of the most well-known people in the community.
“If you meet anybody from Searcy who was born during a certain time frame, they’ll tell you, ‘Oh yeah, Dr. Rogers delivered me,'” co-author Deana Nall said.
From one day to the next, the prominent and beloved doctor became a murder suspect.
“A society matron, if you will, in Searcy, Arkansas, in White County was found brutally murdered two shots to the head in her home at night and it was just unbelievable,” former KARK 4 News reporter Mel Hanks said.
Hanks covered the murder of Fern Rodgers from the day it happened to the trial.
“Each day brought a new shocker,” Hanks said.
It was quite the scandal, as Rodgers and his mistress conspired to have his wife killed. They hired a hitman and actually went through with it.
Decades later, as Mel was interviewed for the book, every detail came back.
“It was something that never left you because of all the elements that it had,” Hanks said.
That’s how Allen felt, too. While he was only in third grade when it happened, he continued to think about the crime and the toll it took on his hometown.
That’s why he decided to sit down and write about it with Nall.
“We were able to talk to three of the state police investigators,” Nall said. “We talked to a couple of attorneys that had been involved, talked to some journalists that had covered the trial.”
Those details are now bound in the book ‘A Murder in Searcy’ that re-hashes the crime itself, the investigation and the trial.
Along with sharing the facts of the case, they also wanted to put Fern at the forefront.
“Fern Rogers was a real person,” Nall said. “She was loved. She was a pillar in that community. She invested so much in that community and the people who lived there. She wasn’t just a murder victim. She had a whole full rich life leading up to that.”
Page by page, they take the reader back in time and recount the story of a deadly love affair that continues to cast a shadow on this quiet community.