A 67-Year Old Murder Case Revisited – Part 6. The Bloody Towel Breakthrough and Unanswered Questions

by Roy Beckemeyer

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.

(To Be Continued)

Roy Beckemeyer Dec. 17, 2022