A 67-Year Old Murder Case Revisited – Part 4. The Crime Scene and Clues Grow Colder

by Roy Beckemeyer

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…

(To be continued)

Roy Beckemeyer December 15, 2022