Carefully, the young, blonde Sandra Locke laid out the story for Det. Ronnie Smith of the Little Rock Police Department. An advertising account executive for a Little Rock television station, Sandra said daddy called her over to where he and his friends were sitting at Margarita Bay on the evening of July 18, 1992.
“Can you tell me the exact words that he said?” Smith asked.
“Uh, I’ll try,” Sandra replied. “He just said, ‘you’re not going to believe what’s happened.’”
“I’ve got pictures of Scharmel without any clothes on,” daddy said, or something to that effect. “There’s another man in my bed, Scharmel is trying to push me out the door, and as I leave, I see a roll of film laying on the dresser, and I took a roll of it, and it’s the film of a big party she had last night,” daddy told her.
Daddy continued to tell her about how now that he had the pictures, the divorce should go a lot easier. Just before the Burnett party of six departed, he ran into Scharmel’s friend, Gail Adams. Gail would later tell Det. Oberle of the LRPD about seeing Johnny Burnett at Margarita Bay at 11 p.m. on July 18. Drunk and in good spirits, daddy continued his press junket telling everyone about how he caught Scharmel in bed with another man and took pictures of them. Scharmel was not having the best day ever.
“I made love with him Saturday morning, and the police think I made love with him Sunday night,” Scharmel wrote about her estranged husband Johnny Burnett in her private notes that were recovered by forensic investigators. “We were planning on continuing our counseling sessions and possibly seeing each other. He wanted to date me, but I was uncertain because of how my family would view the non-traditional arrangement.”
That Saturday morning, July 18, after they’d fought, showered, put clean sheets on the bed and then had sex and pillow talk about the future (all by Scharmel’s account in the police files), daddy left the house on Canal Pointe, and Scharmel realized she was stranded without her car keys. She called John Merck.
“Scharmel called him a short time later and wanted to talk,” Det. Watson of the LRPD wrote. “John wouldn’t go back to the home on Canal Pointe, so he agreed to meet her at Harvest Foods at Riverfront on Cantrell.”
Scharmel walked 20 minutes to meet John Merck at the Harvest Foods grocery store and they rode around in his vehicle.
“He said that she was telling him to deny being in bed with her in reference to Johnny catching them in bed together. John Merck told her that he wasn’t sure about that. He wasn’t able to provide any further info to his statement other than she was on foot when he met her.” Det. Watson wrote.
But Scharmel would tell police that she did not see anybody or talked to anybody at Harvest Foods. She even got a little nitpicky about their questioning because they asked her about seeing Mark Babbitt, a friend of daddy’s. We know from cell phone records that Mark talked to daddy at 10:20 a.m. to tell him he saw Scharmel. Later, Scharmel told police she didn’t want to “talk about that till I talk to Jack [Lassiter, her attorney] about it.”
“Johnny told me that he was going to have a restraining order filed, I guess is the word, against John Merck, ’cause he didn’t want him around me or around him,” Scharmel told police. Did she mention this to John in the truck when they rode around on Saturday?
In the meantime, Scharmel had plans to get out of town and on to Lake Hamilton with her friends. Not sure if Scharmel returned to the house on foot, but at around 10:30 a.m., her friend Gail Adams called Scharmel from Hot Springs.
“I asked her if she was coming to Hot Springs this weekend. Scharmel said Johnny was here this morning, and she thought he had taken her keys. She told me she couldn’t come,” Gail told police.
“I told them I couldn’t come because I didn’t have any keys.” Scharmel said. “Johnny was at the house Saturday morning, and he was going through the drawers and things and my keys were in a drawer in the kitchen,” Scharmel told police in her first visit to LRPD in the late evening of July 21.
“I asked him later if he had taken my keys, and he said no. I was supposed to go to Hot Springs with some girlfriends Saturday, and they called me Saturday morning to see if I was coming,” Scharmel said.
She also reached out to her brother for help.
“Johnny must have taken my car keys,” she said. She was stranded in Little Rock. Her brother looked for a spare key at their parents’ house. Coming up short there, Scharmel’s brother then drove to Canal Pointe and helped her look for the keys at the house. After another unsuccessful attempt, she drove him home in his truck and then drove his truck for her transportation on Saturday.
“On Saturday morning, after John Merck left the house, Johnny told me that he had left a gun on the seat of his car when he entered the house because he ‘didn’t know what kind of trouble he would run into,’” Scharmel wrote in her private notes recovered by forensic investigators.
Scharmel had a whole page written about “missing keys” the way she had pinpointed “bedsheets” as a topic of interest that warranted a page of her recollection.
“My key ring was missing after Friday night: car keys, house key, office key. Saturday: first called my brother to see if he had a key to my car and asked him to check at my parent’s house to see if they had a key to my car. Made two trips to Acura Dealership with J. Tried to make a key to fit my car based on serial number but couldn’t get one to fit. Threw both of those keys in the trash (detectives probably have those from the trash and think they fit my car and that I purposely threw them in the trash). Had ASAP Locksmith make a key to my car but not to the house,” Scharmel documented in her personal notes.
That night at Margarita Bay, Gail would later tell police: “I did ask Johnny that night about the keys. He told me he didn’t have them.”
We will never know the truth. Did daddy hide Scharmel’s keys? Did Scharmel set up this whole side story about missing keys (and write sections about the garage door opener or security gate opener) to immediately throw people off about not being able to get into the house? Or were Scharmel and her brother just really shitty searchers who couldn’t find keys, which police later found in the couch?