A man on a road trip is found bludgeoned to death near Twin Falls, Idaho.
Composite drawing of the murder suspect
On May 16, 1987, at two in the morning, two vehicles collided on a downtown street in Denver, Colorado. One driver fled the scene, leaving his pickup truck. A few minutes later, police arrived. When they searched the truck, they found a room key from a local motel and a bloody jack handle. At the motel, police discovered the room was registered to Larry Monroe. In his room, they found a pair of pants and a sweatshirt, both covered in blood.
Don’s body was found near a road
It turned out the truck belonged to a man named Donald Smith, from Hemet, California. Donald’s wife had not heard from him for 12 days. What started out as a simple accident then turned into a bizarre case of murder.
On May 11, 1987, Don left Hemet towing a trailer. He was headed to Idaho to visit his daughter, Brenda Walker. Except for his two dogs, Don was traveling alone. Brenda was the only child from Don’s first marriage. For most of her life, she and her father had been kept apart:
“My mother kept me away from my father. They didn’t get along real well after the divorce. I think I only saw him once, up until the time my mother died and then I started searching for him. He was searching for me as well.”
When Brenda was 26 years-old, she and her father were finally reunited:
“He was very protective of me. And if I ever had a problem, he said, ‘Just let me know. I’ll take care of it for you.’ He was kind of a macho man. Basically, it was a good relationship, with the exception of when he was drinking, which he didn’t do very often, thank God. He turned into kind of a different person when he was drunk.”
After the accident, the suspect fled
The day after Don Smith left home, he and another man pulled up in front of the hospital where Brenda worked as a nurse. Don stayed in the truck while his companion went in.
The receptionist referred the man to Brenda’s supervisor, a hospital administrator named John Slane. Slane went outside to talk to Don:
“He had obviously been drinking. And he said, ‘You know where Brenda is?’ And I said, ‘Well she’s fishing with her girlfriends.’”
Fifteen miles away, Brenda and her two friends had given up fishing and stopped by a tavern near the lake. According to Brenda:
“We’re sitting there at the bar, by the front door. The door opened and everyone in the bar turned around. There was a black man with sunglasses on. He took the sunglasses off and walked into the restroom. About a minute later this man came in with wild hair and his shirt was untucked. It took me a minute to really realize who it was, but it was my father. When he hugged me and sat at the bar with me for a minute, I realized he was drunk. I was a little upset because he had shown up this way. He embarrassed me in front of my friends, and I went to the restroom.”
When Brenda returned, her father broke down:
“He started crying immediately and was babbling about how he doesn’t want to be alive anymore, how he’s got cancer and how he was going to be with my mother in heaven. Then his companion, the black man, came out of the restroom. He looked over at my father and just kept walking, kind of ignored him. He went out and got into the driver’s seat of my father’s truck. I don’t know, he looked really impatient and disgusted at being there.”
When her father became belligerent, Brenda walked out of the saloon. After a few minutes, Don followed Brenda outside, but she left without speaking to him:
“I wish that I would have had more patience with him. I wish I would’ve understood the situation. I wish I would have tried to be more compassionate with him. That was the last time I saw him. He opened up the camper to let the dogs run around and I just drove away.”
Two weeks later, in the high desert outside Twin Falls, a couple out for their morning walk made a horrifying discovery. Twin Falls Sheriff’s Department Corporal Bill Tilson was first on the scene:
“We observed a body that appeared to have been thrown over the guard rail. The body had been decaying for approximately two weeks. We could not recognize him at that point. There was no identification found around him or on him. At this time we had no idea who we had, just another John Doe. An autopsy was done and we found bludgeon marks on the back of the head indicating that this was the cause of death. Also, outside of the guard rail, where possibly the victim was thrown from, we found a sack with a bottle of wine in it. It was taken as evidence.”
The Twin Falls Sheriff’s Department had no idea who the body was until they heard about a truck that had been abandoned about 700 miles away in Denver. Corporal Tilson thought there might be a connection:
“Denver police had sent out a teletype indicating that they had a vehicle involved in an accident that possibly was involved in a homicide. So I called them and they gave me the name of a subject, Donald Smith.”
Fingerprints positively identified the dead man as Donald Smith. Police began to piece together the events that led up to Don’s murder.
On May 11, the day Smith left home, he ran into trouble with the trailer he was towing. Just outside Las Vegas, he arranged to leave it with a local man. One theory is that soon after Don left Las Vegas, he picked up a hitchhiker. At some point along the way, they started drinking. The day after he saw his daughter, Don turned up in Park City, Utah. He called his sister in Vancouver, asking her to wire him $200. When Don picked up the money, he was with someone who looked exactly like the man Brenda had seen with her father in the bar.
Police believe that the hitchhiker murdered Don for the money when he stopped to let his dogs out for a run. The murder weapon was probably the jack handle, grabbed from the rear of the truck. Brenda hopes someone will come forward with information:
“I want to know why he killed my father. I want to know why he took my father away from me and away from my children. My father was the only family I had.”
The composite of Don Smith’s mysterious companion was made from various eyewitness accounts. He is black, but with relatively light skin. He’s about six feet tall and weighs around 180 pounds. Today he would probably be in his fifties. He may use the name Larry Monroe and might have once lived in Blackfoot, Idaho.
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season one with Robert Stack in season six with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.
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