A 67-Year Old Murder Case Revisited – Part 7. Justice Served?

by Roy Beckemeyer

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.

Roy Beckemeyer, 12-22-2022