East Arkansas Church Continues Worship after Sanctuary Murder

CROSS COUNTY, Ark. - A church is the last place you would think could be the scene of a murder but it happened nearly seven years ago in a small Arkansas town.

We took our cameras inside the Methodist Church in Hamlin, where friends of the 80-year-old murder victim shared her story and how they've used it to move on, inside and outside the church.

"I don't come in the church alone," says Mary Anne Cruthirds, Ms. Lil's friend.

No one could imagine that a house of God could house such evil.

"Woooh. It's a scary feeling," Mary Anne adds.

She will joke with her husband about their little church off Hwy. 64.

"When I need to come down here, I'll say to my husband, I'll say 'go in and debooger the church for me (laughs)'," she says.

But she's as serious as can be, in a place many now know for one thing.

"Oh you remember where the lady was killed, and immediately they know about it," continues Mary Anne.

On a Sunday in June of 2010, while the rest of the congregation worshipped at a nearby church they split time with, Lillian Wilson had stopped by her home church to pick up buckets collecting supplies for tornado relief. But she would come face to face with the evil waiting inside the church that morning.

"I sometimes still wonder if I have processed all of it," says Reverend Dixon Platt, who was church pastor at the time of the murder. He now leads the Elm Springs United Methodist Church, but that Sunday, when his friend didn't show up, he found her at their church.

"I noticed Lil wasn't there and Lil never missed," he says. "I saw actually just two legs and white pants. The pew had been pulled over on top of her."

"Dixon called us and said 'Lil's dead'," says Mary Anne.

The search began for the killer who her car and credit cards. But no one knew who could do something like this, and their minds raced.

"Is it somebody here? We had no idea what had happened," Mary Anne adds.

What was clear was that Lil had been beaten to death.

"It had to be a violent killing. Something you wouldn't imagine another person could do," says David Taylor, another of Lil's friends.

A friend of the church, David volunteered to help cleanup the church after Lil's death so its parishioners wouldn't have to do it.

"(There was) Splattered blood and the carpet was messed up. We came in and moved things around and cleaned it the best we could," he says.

Meanwhile, four days and more than 2,000 miles later, authorities arrested Rene Bourassa in Seattle, Washington. According to his arrest affidavit, Bourassa confessed to the church killing. The details played out in his capital murder trial almost two years later in Cross County Circuit Court.

"A set of circumstances making it even more personal," says Rev. Platt.

When he killed her, Bourassa used a heavy brass cross Lil and her husband had bought for the church.

A jury found him guilty, sentencing him to life in prison, for a crime Lil's friends knew didn't have to happen.

"Just uncalled for. Was no reason, no rhyme or reason for him to do anything other than rob her," adds David.

As it turned out, Bourassa had broken into the church and spent several days there leading up to the crime, a chilling reality for those who knew it could have been them.

Bourassa told investigators he was asleep on a pew when Mary Anne came in the Saturday beforehand, not knowing a potential killer was hiding just a few feet away. But for some reason, he chose Lil.

"So Lil's memory lives on not just in my heart and in my head but in the heart and head of this congregation," adds Rev. Platt, who keeps one of the buckets Lil went to pick up that day. "Her life has been an example to me...and an example to people in that smaller community of Hamlin."

As her story continues on, so does the church, despite what happened.

"How many people would think that a person was murdered in this little church?," Mary Anne says. "At one time we thought we may just make this a shrine and close our church but then we couldn't do this."

So, despite that evil everyone knows happened here, Lil's legacy will live on inside and outside the church doors.

It's believed that Lil's killer snapped during the course of a robbery. In trying to calm him down, it's believed the victim expressed understanding of his situation and also brought up his mother, who Bourassa reportedly had a strained relationship with. He's serving his sentence at the Cummins Unit in Grady.

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