A 67-Year Old Murder Case Revisited – Part 5. The Bloody Towel Breakthrough
by Roy Beckemeyer
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.”
(To Be Continued)
Roy Beckemeyer, December 16-17, 2022.