The judicial process seemed to be proceeding rapidly on Fillmore Young’s case. From the Jan. 5, 1956 Southern Illinoisan, p. 2: “A Clinton County coroner’s jury in Carlyle has ruled that Mr. and Mrs. Hrold Smith…were killed by a .22 caliber pistol linked by testimony at the inquest to Fillmore Young, their confessed slayer. The jury deliberated 43 minutes late Wednesday before returning a verdict…Clinton County Sheriff Dan Parker testified that Young…led officers to the ‘exact place’ where the bodies…were found in widely separated wells in Clinton County… Young didn’t testify on advice of his counsel, Public Defender R. C. Brady.”
Was Young’s counsel giving him good advice? Or was he, too just trying to get the case through the system?
In a short two-inch announcement on the front page of the Belleville News Democrat for January 14th, 1956, we learn that Fillmore Young “waived preliminary hearing before Justice of the Peace…on two murder charges…Young…was bound over to the grand jury which meets January 23.”
Wednesday February 8th, 1956: Young’s trial is placed on the circuit court docket for Monday, March 23. “Young’s trial was among a total of 58 cases announced ready for trial by State’s Attorney Richard T. Carter during a two-weeks criminal session which will open March 5.”
But Chief Deputy Flood was still investigating, still following his strong intuition that there had been an accomplice to the murder. On Tuesday he and Deputy Joseph Koch took into custody a 55 year old Carlyle man “in connection with further investigations of the Young case. The officers said they have information that this man left home and was seen with Young the night of last Nov. 27…He was undergoing a lie detector this afternoon.”
Belleville Daily Advocate, Thursday, March 8, 1956. The circuit court judge and Young’s defense finally slow things down a bit. “Fillmore Young…was arraigned before Judge Quinten Spivey in circuit court for continuance of his trial for the murders of Mr. and Mrs. Harold A. Smith…set for Monday, until after psychiatrists report on his mental responsibility.
Judge Spivey, on application of Public Defender C. Robert Brady and Attorney Eugene H. Widman, court-appointed co-defense counsel, today signed the formal order for the appointment of two psychiatrists, who are to examine Young at county jail next Tuesday and submit their report to the court prior to March 30.”
The Belleville Daily Advocate Wednesday, March 14, 1956: “…psychiatrists—Dr. Francis M. Barnes, Jr., St. Louis, Dr. Groves B. Smith, Godfrey, and Dr. E. R. May, Chester—spent two hours questioning Young. They withheld comment prior to a study of their findings and report to the court…”
On March 19, 1956, the case was back to front page feature story in the Daily Advocate” “Filmore Young, 35, of Carlyle, scheduled to be placed on trial for his life next Monday in Circuit Judge Rolla W. Griffith’s court for the Nov. 27 murders of Mr. and Mrs. Harold A. Smith…in a surprise move today entered a plea of guilty.
Young was brought to court to enter the plea at 10:50 this morning, after which Judge Griffith recessed court until 1:15 this afternoon to hear summations of state and defense evidence to guide him in fixing the penalty. Young pleaded guilty only to the murder of Mr. Smith.
Judge Griffith indicated that he would not pronounce sentence immediately after hearing the facts in the case. But take it under advisement ‘so that the court might give fair and intelligent judgement.’
When [Young’s attorneys] Brady and Widman announced that Young wanted to withdraw his previously not guilty plea and enter a plea of guilty, they informed the court that he had been fully advised of his rights.
Judge Griffith, however, advised him of his rights again and told him that the penalty for murder could either be death by electrocution, imprisonment for life, or any number of years not less than 14 years.
Young said he had a full understanding of the consequences of his plea. He was not asked this morning about his guilt or plea in the case charging him with the murder of Mrs. Smith.”
And with these brief comments about how Fillmore Young was settling into daily life in Menard State Penitentiary, the newspapers lost all interest in him. A search of newspapers.com turned up no further articles about him, and I found no obituary.
The case ends with nearly as much mystery remaining as there was from the beginning. Young’s denial there was an accomplice, then his statement that there was but he couldn’t remember his name. His sudden decision to plead guilty rather than go through the trial. The judge’s decision to dismiss the case against Young for Mrs. Smith’s murder, thus eliminating any chance of Deputy Chief Flood from continuing his investigations into who Young’s accomplice might be.
I believe that Young was at least one of the perpetrators of the murders. But was he the only one? Was justice really served for the Smiths?
This 67-year-old mystery is still shrouded in mist and uncertainty, and will always be.
Photos from the December 9 1955 issue of The Belleville Daily Advocate, p. 6 are AP Wirephotos unless otherwise noted:
The capture of Fillmore Young was headline news across the state.
From the Mt. Vernon (Illinois) Register News, Friday, December 9, 1955: “A husky poultry worker’s confession today of a double slaying solved the mysterious disappearance 13 days ago of a Lebanon, Ill. Couple but the riddle of why they were killed remained unanswered.”
“Fillmore Young, 34, an impassive 200-pound Negro of Carlyle, Ill. Led authorities to separate rural wells which yielded the bodies of two victims…Young, found asleep when he was arrested Thursday night at his home in Carlyle, admitted the slayings…[but] insisted he did not know why he killed the couple. He denied that he raped Mrs. Smith and Coroner Kane said the autopsy did not establish whether she had been raped.”
“One riddle still unsolved is where a broken tooth and denture found in the Smith’s home came from. Kane said the autopsy showed they were not from Smith’s mouth or that of his wife. Officers said Young had no such tooth or bridgework missing.”
The capture of Young remained front page news—on Saturday, Dec. 10, 1955, The Belleville News-Democrat reported:
“Fillmore Newton Young, confessed slayer of Mr. and Mrs. Harold A. Smith…refused to take a lie detector test yesterday afternoon at the sheriff’s office..[The] photo shows Young seated with Thomas Howerton, an investigator for the State Bureau of Criminal Identification. Standing is William Abernathy, chief polygraph operator for the State Bureau of Criminal Identification, left, and Sheriff Leonard O. Reinhardt. Young, Carlyle Negro, freely admitted killing Mr. and Mrs. Smith…but refused to take lie detector tests about the double murder as well as the unsolved killing of Edgar Allen Schaefer…in 1954.”
The Belleville Daily Advocate for Sunday, Dec. 12, continued coverage of the case, and of Saturday’s funeral for the Smiths. In the second crime re-enactment since Saturday afternoon, the paper reported, Fillmore Young successfully moved the concrete slab on a Clinton County well in which he disposed of the body of Mrs. Smith and then replaced it without help. “The demonstration…was witnessed by Sheriff Clifford C. Flood, who said he still was not satisfied that Young did not have an accomplice.”
“State’s Attorney Richard T. Carter …said that ‘Young didn’t tell us any more than he had before.’” Two male friends of Young, one from Carlyle, another from East St. Louis, were taken into custody but subsequently released. Authorities were searching for a girl with whom Young said he had been drinking with in East St. Louis Sunday afternoon of the day of the murder.
An 11-year-old boy identified Young Saturday afternoon as “the gun-toting prowler who tried to break into the boy’s home shortly before the time Young apparently invaded the Smith home. The boy said he was alone with a 13-year-old sister when Young peered in a window and tried to shove open a door, Flood reported. He fled when the lock held, the boy said.”
“Mrs. Smith did not die of bullet wounds, an autopsy showed. The autopsy was performed by Omar E. Hagebush, St. Louis county pathologist. Hagebush said Mrs. Smith probably either was choked to death or died of strangulation…[she] was shot once in the shoulder and once just below the nose. A third shot scratched her left cheek. She had bruises on her back, legs, and left cheek.”
“Harold Smith died almost instantly, according to the pathologist. He was shot in the middle of the neck, through the tip of his nose, and in the forehead above the right eye. All of the bullet wounds extended in an upward direction.”
Numerous friends and associates of Young including his father, have attempted to convince him to tell authorities the whole story of the case, but he still refuses.
Saturday’s funeral services for the Smiths were attended by a large crowd. Groups also toured the Smith home that day, a seemingly odd thing to do but perhaps predicting the tendency for crowds to visit murder locations these days to honor the deceased.
Photo by Belleville Daily-Advocate.
Photos immediately above and below appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.
The Two-Week-Old Case Seems Stalled – The Darkness Before the Storm:
In the Thursday, December 8, 1955 issue of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, a short article on the Smith murder case was almost buried in the middle of page 3A. It’s headline, “Hair Caked With Blood Found In Lebanon Home,” was in the smallest type size, with tight spacing, no italics. It reported “A few strands of hair, found caked in a spot of blood in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Smith near Lebanon, Ill. Was the latest clue today in the search for the missing pair…They have been missing for 11 days.”
Chief of Police Reese G. Dobson of Belleville and another officer had found the hair in a painstaking hands-and-knees inspection of the blood stained walls and floors. “The blood-stained hair, along with strands taken from Mrs. Smith’s hairbrush, were turned over to the Illinois State Police for comparison. The stain, one of many in the bullet-riddled home, was on a wall about eight inches off the floor.”
The article went on to report that Scott Air Force Base had turned down a request from chief deputy sheriff Clifford Flood for the loan of 500 men for a search of the Lebanon area. Brig. General Wentworth Goss, the base commander, announced that he was ready to help in emergencies, but the base “does not wish to become involved in routine active civil law enforcement.” Things were looking grim, as if the urgency, at least the newsworthiness, of the case was waning.
On That Darkest Day in St. Clair County, Lightning Had Struck to the East in Clinton County:
Meanwhile, on Thursday, December 8th, the case was moving swiftly, but this progress was unknown to St. Clair County and State officials. Lightning struck on Friday, December 9th, 1955, 12 days after Harold and Arline Smith had been murdered in their home, when the case was once again a front page, story of the day, Headline News topic:
“Fillmore Young, a Carlyle, Ill., poultry dealer, admitted today that he killed Mr. and Mrs. Harold A. Smith of Lebanon, Ill., early the morning of Nov. 28 and placed their bodies in rural wells about 15 miles apart.” Said the lead story for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “He led authorities to the wells, one about three miles southeast and the other 13 miles northeast of Carlyle, and the bodies were found as he said he had left them. Both had bullet wounds in the head. The bodies were removed from the wells.”
“Carlyle is 20 miles east of Lebanon. Young, a Negro, maintained under several hours of questioning that he could not explain why he had killed the Smiths.”
Young would continue to maintain his story of not recalling the actual murder of the Smiths, claiming he also had no motive for the killings. He also denied having an accomplice, an idea that had been put forward by investigators.
The Post-Dispatch article also attributed closing the case to Clinton County officers: “Clinton county authorities solved the case with the help of farmers’ volunteered information that Young’s automobile was stuck in a ditch near Carlyle the morning after the Smiths disappeared.” Apparently St. Clair County and State officials were finally brought into the developments once Clinton County police had made the arrest and questioned Young for hours, eliciting his confession.
“Young, 34 years old, was charged with murder in two warrants issued at Belleville today. He signed a statement and authorities continues to question him.”
Young’s account of the killing to authorities and a Post-Dispatch reporter was hazy and omitted many details. He said he could not remember anything about going to the Smith home that night.”
“‘The first thing I remember,’ he told a reporter, ‘was waking up in the Smith house with a gun in my hand and two bodies on the floor. I didn’t know the people, but knew the area there because I had often hunted rabbits there. First I carried the man outside and put him in the trunk of my car. Then I came back in and dragged the woman out and put her in the rear seat.’ ”
“I drove to the old Kollmeyer farm, about three miles southeast of Carlyle—I knew that area too, from hunting rabbits—and went to a well with a concrete slab on it. I moved the slab and put her body down…Then I drove around with the man’s body in the trunk, looking for a place to put it, but got stuck in a ditch. A man named Elmer Higgins came along in an automobile but couldn’t get me out. He went and got a farmer named Emil Brinkmann and they pulled me out. Then I went to another farm, about 13 miles northeast of Carlyle. There I dropped the man’s body in a dry well and put some debris over it.”
When asked how he got into the Smith’s house, he claimed that he couldn’t remember. “I used my father’s gun,” he said, “a .22 caliber target pistol…This all happened early Monday morning (Nov. 28), I had been drinking all day Sunday with a girl in East St. Louis and Carlyle.”
Young was arrested about 8:30 o’clock Thursday night by Clinton County sheriff Dan R. Parker at Young’s home in Carlyle. “The sheriff said he suspected Young when he learned that someone had seen a blue automobile near the Smith home the Sunday before the pair disappeared because he knew the man owned a blue car, an old-model Oldsmobile. Last Sunday [Dec. 4, 1955] Willard Brinkmann, son of Emil, told the sheriff of helping pull Young’s machine out of a ditch near the Brinkmann’s farm home the morning of Nov. 28. Sheriff Parker and his chief deputy, Douglas Keith, went to the scene and found a bloody hand towel. They sent the towel to the St. Louis police crime laboratory, and yesterday a test showed that the blood was of the same type as that which had been found in the Smith home. Then the sheriff decided to arrest Young.”
[So it appeared the case might have been closed almost a week earlier, if the Clinton County officers had made contact with the St. Clair and Illinois State Police investigators in charge of the case when the towel was first found.]
A group of officers, including Carlyle Chief of Police Earl Robert, questioned Young for about two hours without him admitting any connection to the case. But then Parker and Keith, who had known Young all his life, took him into a room without anyone else and continued talking with him. “In a friendly, man-to-man fashion, Parker said, the officers told Young they were convinced he had killed the Smiths, and before long he was telling his story.
“Young was cool and showed no emotion as he told his story, which he did with little prompting. Asked if the Smiths fought with him before the shooting, he replied ‘No.’ His father, Newton Young, said the son was a heavy drinker and that sometimes his behavior was odd even when he was sober. For example, he said, he would stare into space for a long time, or look at the father fiercely.”
Officers also took custody of Young’s automobile and found bloodstains in the trunk and rear seat.
In a separate interview with Newton Young, Fillmore Young’s father, he said “I can’t figure it out, I just can’t figure it out. If he had to kill someone I wish he’d have killed me. Fillmore never was a bad boy. He made good grades in school. He left high school after one year to join the army in 1941. He served in World War II and then went back into service, this time in the Air Force, for the Korean war. When he came out of the Air Force the last time, he started drinking. He hasn’t been able to get a job on the outside and I have been paying him a salary to work for me in the poultry and egg business. I told him just awhile back that he’d have to stop drinking or I’d cut off his salary.”
His father pointed out that Fillmore was a powerful man, 5 feet, 11 inches tall, and weighing 205 pounds. “He was still good at fixing things, but I guess his mind wasn’t just right,” he said.
Fillmore Young had married in 1948, but about six months into the marriage his wife drowned while they were on a fishing trip. He had been tried for murder at that time but was acquitted.
The article also reported on the results of the St. Clair County coroner, Dr. C. C. Kane, whose examination “showed that Smith was shot in the forehead, cheek and neck, and Mrs. Smith in the cheek and left shoulder. The coroner said Smith was probably killed instantly, but that his wife might have lived for some time. In his judgement, he added, she was finally smothered or strangled. The shots were fired from a distance.”
A Preliminary hearing was set for Friday December 16th.
The Belleville Daily Advocate’s coverage included news that a “ballistics report received at the sheriff’s office today disclosed that the weapon with which the Smiths were killed was not the same as the gun of the same caliber that [had] killed Edgar Allen Schaefer, 27, of Lebanon, recreation director of Mascoutah schools. Schaefer was killed while he was in a parked car with a girl friend in a picnic area near Lebanon early on the morning of New Year’s Day 1954.” Young denied killing Schaefer, denied having an accomplice, and denied raping Arline Smith.
Young had been brought to the St. Clair county jail at 5:30 Friday morning. He was now being “held for the circuit court grand jury, which State’s Attorney Richard T. Carter said is to hear evidence in the case during a session beginning Jan. 16.”
The Daily Advocate took a generous, diplomatic approach to the news of the solving of the case: “Sharing honors in the actual solution, although many deputy sheriffs and officers aided, were Sheriff Leonard O. Reinhardt, Chief Deputy Flood, Acting Night Chief Deputy James A. Schoonover, State Highway Patrol Lieut. Walter Sauerwein, Highway Patrol Sgt. Emil Toffant, Clinton County Sheriff Parker and Deputy Sheriff Douglas Keith of Clinton County.
The first break in the case came late yesterday when the St. Louis police crime laboratory reported that blood found on the towel and another piece of cloth from a sack was type O-M, the same type as that found in the Smith home…The investigating officers then went to the Smith home…where they met Jacob Dressel, father of Mrs. Smith…Mrs. Dressel and a sister of the dead woman identified the towel and the piece of cloth as of a kind they had seen at the Smith home.”
The story noted that “Volunteer firemen from the area aided the officers in the recovery of the bodies from the wells. In the case of Mr. Smith, dumped into the dry well, his body was covered with debris which Young said he dropped in.”
Young said he had brought Mrs. Smith’s body to a covered well. He used a crowbar to force off a slab of concrete, threw her in head first, then shoved the slab back on top of the well. Her body was recovered clother only in a “checkered house dress” but underclothes and shoes were missing.
A double funeral for Harold Albert Smith and his wife, Mrs. Arline Louise Smith, will be held at 2 p. m. Sunday at the Meyer Funeral Home, Lebanon.”
By the time the St. Clair County Sheriff, Belleville Illinois Police, and Illinois State Police officers had arrived at the Smith home on the afternoon and evening of November 30, the killer(s)’s trail was already almost 48 hours old. The baffling, seemingly motiveless crime was yielding few clues.
An AP-attributed story that appeared in the Thursday, December 1, 1955 issue of the Beatrice Daily Sun (Beatrice, Nebraska), p. 2), started off: “Officers followed several leads today in the baffling disappearance of a carpenter and his attractive wife from their bloodied home but none changed the theory that both were victims of a maniac killer.”
Nothing was found during Wednesday’s search by a 100-man search party over nearby creeks, ravines, and wooded areas within a 15-20 mile radius of the Smith home.
A brown leather belt that was found in a pool of dried blood “just a foot from an outside wall of the house” was the first tangible trace of a possible killer.
And it had been reported that a man, “gun in hand, had tried to force his way into a farm home three miles from the Smith home Sunday night, shortly before” the Smiths were believed to have vanished. The prowler had left after rattling a locked door. Could this have been the killer?
There were still more questions Friday. The Belvidere Daily Republican (Belvidere, Illinois) for Dec. 2, 1955 headlined an AP report “Bodies, Motive Missing In Mystery At Lebanon.” There was now a report “of a blue car seen in the vicinity of the couple’s home Sunday night with two men in it.” The unidentified witness told officers the car “nearly forced him off U. S. Highway 50, and that later he saw it by the house. Lights in the house were on.” When officers first got to the house on Wednesday, all lights but the one on Mrs. Smith’s sewing machine were out, and there were blood stains on some light switches.
Saturday, December 3rd’s issue of the Belleville Daily Advocate included the front-page headline “Officers Study What To Do Next In Probe Of Lebanon Mystery.” Belleville Chief Deputy Sheriff Clifford C. Flood and State Highway Patrol Lieutenant Walter Sauerwein met that day to confer “on what course to pursue in the stymied investigation of the apparent murder.” Nearly a week after the murder, and they still had no bodies, no motive. The officers “pointed out that enough time had elapsed from the time the Smiths were last heard from Sunday night until the tragic scene was discovered Tuesday afternoon to take a motorist more than 1,000 miles away, or across the nation’s border.” They revealed that they had been unable to locate a “two-toned blue Ford” a witness had reported parked by the Smith home Sunday night “with clothing hanging out the windows.” They were also searching for a “two-tone Buick” which a hunter said he saw parked in the Smith driveway Sunday morning. Blood-stained “rugs, furnishings and other household articles” were at the Police Crime Laboratory awaiting tests on blood typing that were expected to take several days to complete.
Additional details of the scene were reported in the Sunday, December 4, 1955 issue of the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Prints of a bare left foot, apparently that of a woman, were in the house and on the front sidewalk, but there were no signs of a fight and all of the furniture was in order. Only a bedspread and some throw rugs were missing. Eighty-five dollars was left in a drawer…The only clues so far are tire tracks from an automobile at the back of the house, a man’s belt, a woman’s underpants, a tooth and a broken piece of dental bridgework, all found in the vicinity.”
Photo from St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sunday December 4, 1955 issue, p. 6.
By Monday, December 5, 1955, the story had been relegated to page 17 (3C) of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The news that day was not good, reporting that “A tooth and a broken piece of dental work found in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Smith…following their disappearance last week, did not come from the mouth of either of the Smiths, their dentist reported today.”
Then, on Wednesday, December 7, the case was once more headline news in the Belleville Daily Advocate: “Blood Stained Towel And Woman’s Blouse New Mystery Clues,” literally shouted from page 1. “A small blood stained towel and a torn and bloody woman’s blouse are the latest possible clues that may have a bearing on the investigation of the disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Smith…Sheriff Dan Parker of Clinton County reported the towel found in a field southwest of Carlyle, about 20 miles from the Smith home. State Highway patrolmen found the blouse yesterday afternoon along New Dutch Hollow road, halfway between Belleville and French Village.”
The story continued: “The towel and blouse were sent to the St. Louis police crime laboratory last night for analysis of the blood stains. Chief Deputy Sheriff Clifford C. Flood said that two towels are missing from the Smith home, but this had not been previously disclosed.
The towel is of a type among those the Smiths had but of a kind that is found in many other homes, so that it could have been used by the killer, or not. The blouse appears to be too large a size to fit Mrs. Smith…”
The Illinois state crime lab also reported that blood found on panties identified as having belonged to Mrs. Smith was human blood, and that bullet particles found in the Smith home were from a 22 caliber weapon.
Were things heating up a bit? Chief Deputy Flood remained cautious in his public persona, but perhaps he was sensing there might be hope after all…
On Sunday, November 27, 1955, Harold and Arline Smith had a mid-afternoon family dinner at her parent’s farm home north of Lebanon, then a late afternoon snack with friends in Trenton, leaving there about 5:25 p.m. Harold’s employer, building contractor Ralph Mueller, called Harold about 7:30 p.m. to tell him they would not be working Monday because of the cold weather moving in. Arline’s mother tried to telephone her about 8:30 that night, but got no answer. She tried again Monday morning, but again got no answer, and thought perhaps the phone lines were down.
On Tuesday morning Rolland Hoolihan delivered a bottle of propane gas to the Smith home on one of his regularly scheduled calls, and noticed holes in the Smith’s picture window. Rabbit season had opened Saturday, and he thought that perhaps a hunter had shot at the house accidentally. That same morning a friend of the Smith’s, Leland Reimann, dropped by but found no one home. He did not see the holes, but when he returned in the afternoon, he noticed them. Alarmed, he phoned Ariline’s parents, and they came and together went in the house and found bloodstains. They called the sheriff’s office.
The scene was soon bustling with law officers, newsmen, and relatives of the couple. Sheriff’s officers and state police found five bullet holes in the house, three in the living room picture window, one in the front storm door, and one in a rear window. Inside, there were blood stains in every room of the house— the living room, bedroom, kitchen, utility room off the kitchen, and the bathroom. There were no bodies, but judging by the stains, it appeared the Smith’s had been dragged out the rear door of the house. Tire tracks were found in the grass outside the bedroom window, apparently made before the ground had frozen Sunday night. Congealed blood was found where it appeared bodies had been loaded into an automobile.
Photos from Belleville Daily Advocate, November 30, 1955, p. 8, unless noted otherwise.
The investigating officers theorized the couple had been fatally shot through the windows from outside the house and their bodies wrapped in a missing bedspread and white throw rug from the house, taken away in a car.
Arline had been mending a pair of Harold’s coveralls at her sewing machine in from of a kitchen window when she was slain, presumably shortly after 8:00 p.m. Sunday night. The sewing machine was still turned on and Mrs. Smith’s partial denture was lying on the machine.
It appeared that Harold had been fatally wounded when he opened the front storm door. There were powder burns on the door frame, indicating the shot was fired at close range.
There were no signs of struggle in the house, but it appeared that both Harold and Arline ran through the house after being shot, leaving trails of blood as they frantically tried to escape the gunshots coming through the windows.
Police and state troopers worked the case all night and continued Wednesday. The community at large was shocked and frightened by the suddenness, senselessness, and brutality of the attack. There was no indication of a robbery; the Smith’s were not well-to-do, but some money, jewelry, and other valuables were found undisturbed in the house.
Photo from St. Louis Post Dispatch, November 30, 1955, p. 1.
Harold and Arline Smith “had always led the quiet and simple life that is typical of an Illinois town … [St. Louis Post Dispatch, Dec. 4, 1955, p. 6]. Yet they suddenly disappeared last Sunday [November 27th] night from their modest home near Lebanon, leaving behind them blood stains in every room and five bullet holes in the house.”
The Smiths had no children. They lived in a small four-room house Harold (a carpenter and “master cabinet maker” who worked for a building contractor) had built himself. The house was located “on Emerald Grange Road about 100 yards off U. S. Highway 50” [St. Louis Post Dispatch, November 30, 1955, p. 1] within “50 feet of Emerald Mound Grange Hall, a mile east of Lebanon” [Belleville Daily Advocate, November 30, 1955, p. 1].
His employer said that Harold was dependable, and “always on time.” The couple was not known to have any debt, they were not heavy drinkers. Harold was proud of the large picture window he had built into the living room, and the neighbors who live about 150 yards away across the road “could see them whiling the evenings away at complete peace.”
“The Smiths moved here about three years ago,” the neighbors reported, “…We thought a lot of them. They were very fond of our children, and were always lending a hand. We last saw them Sunday morning when my husband and his brother saw Harold out in the corn field picking up corn to feed his hogs. They never talked of anyone they might have been afraid of.”
Arline Smith’s parents, the Dressel’s, lived on their farm two miles north of Lebanon. They had farmed this land for 40 years, and their daughter was raised there. She was born August 26, 1920 at Lebanon, and had two sisters and a brother. She had attended Ridgewood country school, finished the eighth grade, then left to do housework jobs in the area. She married her first husband in 1940 when she was 20 years old, but there were domestic troubles, and she was divorced in 1942, when she took a job at a small arms plant in St. Louis. She was a member of the Scott Air Base fire department during the war, and at times drove a fire truck.
Harold was born December 11, 1925. His mother, Mrs. William Beck, lived in Belleville. “My Harold was born in Belleville and went to Jefferson School, then two years to Belleville High School,” she said. “When he was 14 he quit and did odd jobs around farms. For a while he drove a taxicab in Belleville. From 1942 to 1948 he was in the Navy. He always was a good boy. You couldn’t find a better one.”
Arline met Harold Smith in 1949, and they were married after knowing each other for six months. “They met at a dance at O’Fallon. They are just like kids, very happy. One wouldn’t go anywhere unless the other went too. After they were married they stayed at home pretty much,” her mother told reporters. She said “Arline never wanted for anything,” and recalled that when Arline and Harold had had dinner with them the previous Sunday, “they seemed happier than ever.”
Sixty-seven years ago this month, I had just turned 14 years old. I was a naive kid who had almost never traveled more than 50 miles from home and had lived his entire life in a truly tiny southwest-central Illinois village (population somewhat less than a thousand people), most of whose inhabitants depended on either farming or coal mining to make their living. Our father worked as a fireman (he shoveled coal into a furnace) at the local zinc smelter, which had originally been sited there because of the local coal mine. Beckemeyer, Illinois (named for my paternal great-grandfather, who immigrated to the US as a six-year-old from Minden, Prussia, in 1857) is located in Clinton County, Illinois, fifty-some miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. In late 1955, our locality was home to a brutal murder that rocked our world and led to folks who ordinarily left their houses unlocked to take precautions they never dreamed they would have to resort to.
In brief, on November 29, 1955, a young couple, Harold Smith, who would have turned 30 on December 11th, and his wife Arline, 35, were discovered missing from their home, a house just off Highway 50 a few miles east of Lebanon, Illinois, in St. Clair County, by a neighboring farmer. There were disturbing signs of foul play: bullet holes in the house and windows, blood stains, and signs their bodies had been dragged away. On December 10th, tips from farmers who had helped to get a car unstuck near their farms on the night of the murders led police to two wells nearly 15 miles apart north and south of Carlyle, Illinois, where the bodies had been dumped, and led them to arrest and charge Fillmore Young, a resident of Carlyle, with the murders.
Above: Map showing crime scene location and body dump sites of the Smith murders. Chicago Tribune, December 10th, 1955.
I was delivering the two St. Louis papers as my before and after school job back then, and between reading them and hearing regular updates on the news on radio and tv, the murders were on my mind, just as on the minds of most residents of our mostly rural county.
I had just begun my first year of high school at St. Joseph’s in Breese, Illinois, five miles west of my hometown, that September. Christmas was still a couple of weeks away, and it was on one of those mild December days, a Saturday, as I was walking to a friend’s house thinking about nothing in particular, when a car came behind me, screeching to a halt just a few yards away. It was full of older guys, probably high school juniors or seniors, none of whom I recognized. My mouth fell open, and I suppose I looked surprised and a bit scared.
“Hey, kid!” yelled the one hanging out the front passenger window. “You ought to be more careful where you go walking around alone. Don’t you know Fillmore Young is looking to fill more wells?” They all laughed, howled, and the car left a streak of rubber as it peeled off. I noticed it had Missouri plates.
That short encounter was my only real memory of much of what was then and may still be the most horrendous murder case to touch our lives in small-town Illinois. Evidently, it had also grabbed the attention of these big-city teenagers as well, and they had taken a joy ride out to see the sites and sights where it had taken place. Highway 50, a two-lane macadam road, our local lifeline, the road we took to St. Louis on our occasional trips to visit my mother’s sister or brother or to Cardinal’s games, was the road the murderer had traveled as he perpetrated his crime.
Above: Illinois Highway Map for 1955 showing portions of St. Clair and Clinton counties, Illinois pertinent to this story.
That brief encounter stuck with me over the years, long after I had forgotten many of the particulars of the murder. I recently did some digging using newspapers.com, and looked up the news coverage from back then. In the episodes that follow, I will recount the story of the murders of Harold and Arline Smith, and the story of how justice was eventually meted out to their killer.