No matter how good forensic science gets, the truth at the core of our justice system hasn't changed: Prosecutions are about not what you think you know, or what everyone believes, or what you feel in your heart of hearts. Prosecutions are about what you can prove.
Which brings us to the murder of 46-year-old Hot Springs Village police dispatcher Dawna Natzke. So far, the only person investigators have called a "person of interest" in the case is Natzke's boyfriend at the time of her death, Kevin Duck. While Duck isn't considered a suspect — and Duck is, of course, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law — the lead investigator on the case said all the information collected so far points to no one else.
Attempts to reach Kevin Duck and his family members were unsuccessful.
By all known accounts, Duck was the last person to see Natzke alive on Dec. 21, 2011, the night the couple suddenly left a Village Christmas party under mysterious circumstances, leaving Natzke's purse, cigarettes and mother — who had ridden to the party with Natzke and Duck — behind. The next morning, Natzke's car was found burned down to the hubs in the Ouachita National Forest. It would take another nine days and a volunteer search — organized and conducted without the help of the Hot Springs Village Police Department — before Natzke's body was found, floating in a murky pond miles away.
Over a year and a half later, the case remains unsolved. At this point, even Dawna Natzke's mother has given up hope that anyone will ever be convicted of the crime. Behind the gates of Hot Springs Village, rumors still boil about the case. But with an investigation that some called botched from the start, will anyone ever be brought to justice?
Originally from St. John, Ind., Dawna Natzke and her husband, Todd, moved to Hot Springs Village — the 55-square mile gated town of around 13,000 residents, most of them retirees, which straddles the Garland/Saline County line — a few years after her mother and father, Homer and Doris Smith, retired there in 1989. Natzke worked as a waitress, then as a receptionist for a doctor's office in the Village. Her mother recalls that even long after she'd left the receptionist job, Natzke remembered the patients and their ailments.
"We would go shopping or go out to dinner or something," Doris said, "and she was always charging across the room hugging someone and asking, 'How's your arm?' or 'How are you?' or 'Did your husband ever get his new car?' Everyone remembered her." In 1999, after Homer Smith's health began to falter due to long-term dialysis treatments, Natzke volunteered to donate a kidney to him, an operation that meant cutting out at least one of her ribs, followed by a lengthy recovery. The new kidney allowed Homer Smith to live another 10 years.
Eventually, Natzke took a job at the Hot Springs Village Police Department, working as a dispatcher for the seven years preceding her death. Court records say she separated from her husband in January 2011, with Todd Natzke filing for divorce in April of that year.
After that, Natzke lived with two of her three sons in a house in the Village.
Doris Smith said her daughter's failed marriage left her depressed a lot of the time. One of the lone bright spots, she said, was that on Thursday nights, she and Natzke would go to Patsy's Bar, near the East Gate of Hot Springs Village, to watch football.
"Until the end of football season," Doris said, "we went all the time. Kevin started coming in there, and she met him there."
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