UNION CITY — The alcohol, the glass after glass of hard liquor, had taken over long ago. But when exactly Linda Wagoner gave in to the bottle, her brother isn’t sure.
Was it after she smuggled the first cell phone into jail for her client, ex-Indianapolis Colts quarterback Art Schlichter? Or was it when she smuggled a second phone to him and was suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court?
Was it when she tried a different legal path and opened a law office in Angola, when the locals heard about Linda and the cell phones? Clients vanished, and so did Linda’s firm.
Gary Wagoner showed up to a Family Dollar store in Union City on a balmy November day on a mission to find his sister, Linda, in their hometown.
He knew she was a “raging alcoholic.” He knew Linda was recently deemed “incapable of self-care,” Gary said. “She’s become a shell of herself.”
Gary was ready to go into every assisted living facility in town to find her. To talk to her. To see if he could help.
Gary hadn’t talked to Linda in years. Alcoholism can cause family strife. And, as Gary said, “The last time I talked to her, it was more yelling than talking.” He really shouldn’t even care, he said.
But when Gary saw Schlichter had been released from prison in June, after serving an 11-year sentence for his gambling addiction that wreaked havoc on those in his path, Gary thought of Linda, who had been Schlichter’s public defender.
Where was his sister? How was she doing? Could she explain the power Schlichter had over her? He allowed IndyStar to come along.
‘She’ll be surprised to see us’
On the morning of Nov. 3, Gary drove 60 miles from his home south of Dayton, Ohio, to Union City. He brought with him dozens of family photos on 35 mm slides in a suitcase that belonged to his late father.
In the parking lot of Family Dollar, he reminisced about his childhood with Linda and his two other sisters, Janis and Jolynn. How all his friends wanted to be at his house when the girls were having slumber parties.
How he and Linda had been at Indiana University together in the early 1970s. And how she helped finance Gary’s unsuccessful run for Residence Hall Association President.
“I thought we’d try the hospital that’s been converted to a care center to see if she’s out there,” said Gary, 71, as he pulled out of the Family Dollar parking lot. “She’ll be quite surprised to see either one of us.”
Gary doesn’t mince words about what has happened to his sister. Linda was a stellar, brilliant lawyer, on track to be a judge, maybe even appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court. She was funny and smart and not one to give in to the manipulations of men.
But Schlichter had somehow gotten to Linda. Those who know Schlichter, an Ohio State, then Colts quarterback, say women were his prime targets.
Among his most outspoken victims is Anita Barney, the millionaire widow of a former Wendy’s CEO, who lost nearly her entire fortune to help Schlichter feed his gambling addiction. In 2016, she was living on social security and had survived breast cancer.
“Material things don’t mean that much to me anymore,” Barney told the Associated Press at the time. “I survived this cancer, I survived Art, and I feel like I’m here for a purpose now. I don’t know what it’s for, but I’ll be OK.”
As recently as 2020, just a year before his release from federal prison, Schlichter was punished for “using some female acquaintances of his outside of prison” to help him gamble, said then Franklin County (Ohio) prosecutor Ron O’Brien.
Schlichter could charm women into doing just about anything he wanted, O’Brien said.
And what Schlichter wanted from Linda 20 years ago was a cell phone so he could place bets from jail.
Completely out of character, Gary said, Linda smuggled one in.
“Art Schlichter was her downfall.”
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‘She didn’t know what got into her’
It was a random draw that Wagoner ended up as Schlichter’s federal public defender.
He didn’t choose her. She didn’t choose him.
As Linda defended Schlichter for his alleged money laundering, forging of securities and unauthorized use of credit cards to pay gambling debts, Gary guesses that Schlichter turned on the charm.
In December 2000, Linda pled guilty to a misdemeanor trafficking charge for smuggling a cell phone into the Marion County Jail.
The Indiana Supreme Court suspended Linda for 90 days then placed her on a two-year probation after the suspension.
That punishment was the result of Linda bringing a second cell phone into jail. The first time she brought a cell phone to Schlichter, she was given a warning.
“Obviously, he was a persuasive guy for him to convince her to give (him) the cell phone, not only once, but twice,” Gary said. “That was the big mistake. The second time was worse, clearly, because she had been warned.”
When Gary heard what Linda had done for Schlichter those 21 years ago, Gary said he was shocked. It was not the sister he knew. All his friends called Linda a “brainiac.”
“Wow, that doesn’t sound like her,” Gary said he remembers thinking. “She always was straight and narrow, always to the letter of the law, let alone to transgress that severely.”
He talked to Linda at the time, discussing Schlichter and the cell phones.
“She said she didn’t know what got into her,” Gary said. “But if we can get a chance to talk to her today, that might be a question. That might be the question to ask her.”
‘I hope she’s alive’
Gary is driving past the family’s first home in Union City, a white house on West Division Street. It used to be blue, Gary says, but other than that not much has changed.
Just three doors down, he pulls in front of another house, the last home he knows of that Linda owned. Maybe she would be there.
This was the house Linda bought after leaving Angola and that failed law practice. Gary gets out to go knock on the door, though, he has his doubts.
“I don’t think she’ll be here,” Gary says. “I don’t think she can care for herself.”
The home on High Street looks empty. Then Gary spots the notices on the front door.
“Well, it looks like it’s been foreclosed and it looks like it also could be up for a shared sale,” he says. As he peeks inside a window, the house is empty and dark. He is sure now, Linda will be at the extended care facility.
On the way to find her, Gary stops at their other childhood home. And he talks more about Linda.
“Linda always looked like she was going to be successful,” he said. She was busy in school and filled the Union City yearbook with her successes. At IU, she was active in Alpha Chi Omega and breezed through her undergraduate classes and law school.
But after Gary finished grad school and Linda was a lawyer, the two went their separate ways, mainly due to family and geography. Gary watched from afar as Linda’s law career started soaring.
Then he watched from afar as her health and life went on a downward spiral.
“She was the smart one,” he said. “Yes, the smart one who drank herself to death.”
Gary pulls into the care facility parking lot. “Let me go in here and see if they can tell me anything,” he said. “I’ll be right back, going to see if I can find her.”
Minutes later, Gary walks out with a dejected look.
“They had a big question mark on their head,” he said. “They never heard of her, but they did suggest (another) place. She might be there.”
Gary went there. And he went to another facility. And to another. At each stop, Linda was nowhere to be found. IndyStar attempted to reach Linda’s daughter, Jessica, and other family members but did not receive a response.
“I hope she’s alive,” Gary said. “That she’s alive and that she has somewhat of a memory. She really went downhill fast.”
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‘She never did recover’
Linda was the oldest of Gary’s three younger sisters. Growing up was magical, Gary said. He remembers nothing but a warm, loving family life.
“If you look at some of those photos, you can see she was pretty happy as a kid,” he said. “She’s really smiling.”
Their father, Billy Wagoner, was one of five doctors in town with the only office that had an X-ray machine in Randolph County. He was also a general surgeon at Indianapolis hospitals and later the county coroner. Their mother, Grace Madeline Wagoner, was a school nurse.
“Everybody knew her,” he said. “She checked everybody for lice and looked down the throats of everybody from kindergarten to graduation.”
Billy and Grace also became restaurateurs when they developed property by the city park and opened a fried chicken franchise — The Wishbone Inn.
It was at a time when Union City was bustling. “You could walk down factory row and get three offers to work the same day,” Gary said.
Their parents showered their children with love and encouraged them to go after their dreams. For Linda, that was law.
“She had pretty much the world at her hands. She was on a fast track,” Gary said. “She could have been on the Indiana Supreme Court, probably the youngest judge ever appointed.”
But not after Linda got hooked up with Schlichter.
“Not just a stone in a pond rippling out, but the dominoes have to be falling and they just fell the wrong way after him,” Gary said. “And she never did recover.”
Gary suspect the bottle took hold when Linda set up that practice in Angola, no longer a successful attorney in the city or respected in legal circles. Now forced into a small practice in a small town.
“But she was a functioning alcoholic,” he said, “could still do her work without anyone knowing.”
But then that practice failed.
Gary has been told that people found Linda wandering around the town they grew up in. She was probably thinking, Gary said, about how she once was a promising prosecutor in Indianapolis, rumored to be up for judgeship. How she lost her federal public defender job.
According to Randolph County records, Linda had multiple arrests in recent years. Three of them were alcohol-related.
On Oct. 11, 2016, Linda was charged with public intoxication. In March 2017, she was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated with a blood alcohol level higher than .15%, The limit in Indiana is .08%.
And then in July of 2017, Linda was again arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level higher than .15%. At the same time, she was charged with “endangering a person” while driving.
“Tragic beyond words,” Gary said.
But Gary didn’t know just how tragic. Not until Christmas — nearly two months after he went searching for Linda in Union City — when he started searching the internet.
“I was shocked,” he said. “Totally shocked when this came up.”
‘What a sad end’
It is a link to Linda’s obituary, which was published in March. “Linda Wagoner passed away on March 18, 2021, at the age of 69.”
Gary has been trying to find out her cause of death, but without success. The obituary goes on to describe Linda, her career and her life.
“It is difficult to imagine a more zealous and effective advocate for justice than Linda,” it reads. “It would also be hard to find a more zealous IU fan. Linda enjoyed spending time on Lake James in northern Indiana. She loved to run. She was prolific at knitting, producing countless sweaters. She favored gaudy, colorful outfits. She had a raucous sense of humor and was always ready for a good party. She lived life to the fullest and on her own terms.”
Linda had one surviving child, Jessica. The obituary goes on to list her other family members. Gary is not one of them.
He wonders. Was that Linda’s choice? It doesn’t really matter, he said. Now he knows. His search is over.
Gary made an entry, for online condolences, on Linda’s obituary, the only entry that was made.
“One never expects a younger sibling or child to precede them in death. Thank you all who knew her and miss her in Union City, Bloomington, Indianapolis and Angola,” he wrote. “She was a dynamic force that will be missed.”
And, as Gary said on Dec. 26 after learning Linda had died.
“While Art walks free around Columbus, his destructive legacy continues — if he even remembers her,” Gary said. “What a sad end.”