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In the summer of 1994, Lynne Friend, a 35-year-old divorced hospital administrator, was about to embark on a fresh start. She and her 5-year-old son, Christian, were moving from southeastern Florida to Tennessee, where she and her fiancé, Ed O’Dell, planned to marry.
Those plans never came to be.
At the end of August 1994, just days before she was set to leave Hallandale Beach, about 15 miles from Miami, Lynne vanished without a trace. Increasingly desperate phone messages from loved ones including O’Dell and Esther Sanchez, the maid of honor at Lynne’s wedding in 1988 to ex-husband Clifford Friend, went unanswered.
Police wondered if all of the upcoming life changes could have been too much to handle. Could Lynne have gone off the grid? No way. Not without her son, Sanchez told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “Lynne would have to be dead to not have Christian.”
Investigators working the case found little at Lynne’s home to advance the search. There were no signs of forced entry. There was no evidence that she had been abducted. Lynne’s car, which had been found near her home with a flat tire, offered no clues to her whereabouts.
Authorities did learn that on August 28, Lynne had told her fiancé she was going to the home of her ex-husband, who, like her, was in a new relationship, to pick up a child-support payment, reported the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2014.
Still, investigators, who had no forensic evidence or leads, had essentially hit a wall. That changed when the U.S. Customs agents who patrolled coastal waters for drug-runners and smugglers connected the dots between Lynne’s inexplicable disappearance and an event on August 28 seven miles out at sea.
Agents had spotted two men tossing a large duffel bag off their boat. They initially suspected it was a smuggling job gone wrong, but by the time they caught up with the boat, the bag had sunk. The men turned out to be Clifford Friend, who owned a pawn shop near Miami, and his longtime pal Alan Gold.
The focus of the investigation turned to Clifford, who had a criminal history that included drug smuggling, according to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.” But after obtaining a warrant to search his home, authorities found no clues to advance their case.
Similarly, a search of the deep waters off the Florida coast by the U.S. Navy to retrieve the large bag tossed overboard by Clifford and Gold was a dead end.
Authorities were back at square one. Clifford Friend went on with his life with his son and a new wife, Janet, who told producers he helped keep Lynne’s memory alive for Christian. O’Dell, who had an airtight alibi and wasn’t a suspect, also eventually moved on.
But in 2010, the case was brought to life when prosecutors Michael Von Zamft and Mari Mato looked at evidence that hadn’t panned out originally with a fresh eye. They focused on the fact that one of Clifford's acquaintances claimed Clifford said Lynne was never leaving the state with Christian. Instead, he allegedly said she was “going for a boat ride and never coming back."
Investigators had no body — but they had a motive for murder. And although Clifford's acquaintance was a convicted felon and thus not an entirely credible witness, prosecutors used that recollection to get a grand jury indictment. In 2012, prosecutors charged Clifford Friend with first-degree murder.
Their key witness was 68-year-old Alan Gold, who was subpoenaed to testify and given a grant of immunity along with it. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, according to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.”
On the stand, Gold testified that 20 years earlier, the night Lynne vanished, he had gone to Clifford's house. His son was with a babysitter. On the floor in the house, he said, was a large canvas bag that contained Lynne’s body. He told the court Clifford said when he met with his ex-wife, things got out of control. He “knocked her down and choked her out.”
Although Gold never looked inside the bag, he was convinced Lynne’s body was in it. When the pair threw the sack overboard they used an anchor to weigh it down to make sure it sank.
Prosecutors were banking on the fact that using Gold as a witness would pay off. They reasoned that even though Gold was despicable he was still a credible witness — and that the jury would believe him.
The prosecutors also put a jailhouse snitch on the stand who said that while behind bars awaiting trial Clifford made a reference to killing his wife while watching a soap opera in which a similar plot unfolded. However, in a bombshell twist they didn’t see coming, the witness was caught in a lie. Clifford never told him any such thing — and had never even watched the soap with him. The jury was instructed to disregard the snitch’s testimony.
Prosecutors were concerned that Gold wasn’t a 24-carat witness either. But in the end, the jury returned with a verdict and found Clifford Friend guilty of second-degree murder.
Speaking directly to 58-year-old Clifford Friend, the judge berated him for his “unspeakable cruelty. The evidence showed you committed a monstrous act. You dumped her in the ocean like a sack of trash.” He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
Christian Friend, the couple's son, addressed the court and said he never questioned his dad’s innocence.
To learn more about the case, watch “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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