A woman is found dead in North Carolina after vanishing in Philadelphia.

Smiling Judy Smith in a white shirt

Judy Smith

Judy’s remains were found 700 miles away


Someone holding a missing persons report for Judy smith that contains two photos of her

After arriving in Philadelphia, she vanished

In 1997, Judy Smith decided to accompany her husband, Jeff, to a work conference in Philadelphia. Before their flight was to depart, Judy realized she had forgotten her driver’s license and was forced to take a later flight. Jeff reluctantly agreed and the two met up in Philadelphia later that night. The next day Judy went sightseeing while Jeff attended his conference. According to Jeff, Judy was to meet him at their hotel at 5:00 PM:

“So I got back to the hotel room about 5:30, and she wasn’t there. And by about 6:30, I was starting to get worried.”

Jeff contacted the local hospitals and police. When nothing turned up, he searched Philadelphia by taxi. According to Jeff, he traced the path of the tour bus Judy had planned to ride that day:

“I was fearful that something had happened to her, but I actually believed that I would be able to find her. It was mind-boggling. I just couldn’t figure out what could’ve happened to her.”

Investigator in latex gloves rummaging through a blue and black backpack in the forrest

Investigators found a blue and black backpack

Months went by, but there was no trace of Judy Smith. The Philadelphia police were just as perplexed as her husband. They could find no evidence she had been murdered or abducted. But Judy’ daughter, Amy Hartford, was convinced her mother had an accident or worse, developed amnesia:

“I thought that my mom didn’t know who she was and was lost in the city, and that was horrible to think.”

On the day she vanished, Judy set out for her day of sightseeing at 9:00 AM. As always, she carried her belongings in her trademark red backpack. She had told Jeff she planned to visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Whatever caused Judy to vanish occurred during the next eight hours. After the Philadelphia police turned up no trace of Judy, Jeff had no choice but to return home to Boston. From his office, he faxed and mailed 9,000 flyers about Judy up and down the Eastern seaboard. He also hired three private investigators. But according to Jeff, they uncovered no significant clues.

Investigator in latex gloves holding a pair of expensive sunglasses

Expensive sunglasses were recovered

Then, five months after Judy had vanished, a father and son noticed something strange while hiking near Asheville, North Carolina. According to Lieutenant Sam Constance of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, they found a partially buried skeleton which animals had strewn over a 100 yard area:

“Our victim was a white female, probably in her late forties to mid-fifties. The pathologist report indicates that there were puncture wounds and cuts on the bra which could be consistent with stab wounds.”

Police requested Judy’s dental records after seeing Jeff’s “missing” flyers in the area. Forensics confirmed that they were the remains of Judy Smith. Judy’s daughter Amy was in a state of disbelief:

“I was shocked. I guess you always anticipate that your parent will die, but not early. We always talked about when I would have kids and looking forward to that day and I guess I just never thought that she wouldn’t be there for that.”

No one could understand how Judy ended up so far away from Philadelphia. Authorities found Judy’s diamond wedding ring and $167 in cash at the crime scene. They concluded that robbery was not the motive. But police had another clue. Four eyewitnesses in Asheville claimed to have seen Judy just days after she vanished. One of them was retail clerk, Joanne Stucker:

“She seemed very alert to me. She was very pleasant. I didn’t see anything about her that would indicate that she wasn’t right in any way. She told me her husband was an attorney and that they were from Boston. And that they had been in Pennsylvania and he was at a convention. And she had decided to come down here.”

But if Judy left Philadelphia of her own free will, the question was why. Judy’s friend, Carolyn Dickey, had her own theory for Judy’s disappearance:

“At the time this happened, Jeff and Judy’s marriage was very tenuous. I believe that something did happen that triggered her to want to have some time away from Jeff.”

According to Lieutenant Constance, investigators found two clues suggesting what might have happened to Judy:

“We found a blue and black backpack at the crime scene. I believe that it potentially belongs to our suspect. There was a pair of sunglasses there. We believe that these glasses did not belong to Judith and that they potentially belong to our suspect.”

What scenario resulted in Judy’s murder in an isolated area of North Carolina? Who stabbed her, then left her in a shallow grave? Was it a stranger, or someone she may have schemed to meet in Asheville? Unfortunately, North Carolina investigators still have no idea why Judy Smith was killed.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season twelve with Robert Stack and in season one with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.



  1. Tom

    Why is this in unexplained deaths and not unsolved murders?


  2. Ginger Spice


    It has been speculated that she might have been a victim of serial killer Gary Michael Hilton, who had left one of his victims in a similar condition near where Smith’s body was discovered.


  3. Maryellen

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  4. Bill Blaski

    One of the creepiest cases on unsolved mysteries. Judy was supposed to be in New York with her husband. Her body ends up in NC woods? A shop keeper talks to her and can confirm she was alone and not being held against her will. Did she meet a man in NC who ultimately killed her? I keep seeing reports about a guy who they called the national park Forrest killer. Could this be him? Surely she had DNA on the body etc. any updates???


  5. Jason

    Angie, what is the name of the other victim and when did it happen?


  6. Graham

    This one is so bizarre. I think Judy was in Ashville, but why? Tourist?


  7. Jason Malloy

    I don’t 100% think that the body found is hers.. for one thing, she supposedly had bad arthritis in one knee, so she’s going to just off and go..hiking.. 600 miles away?? Then be found wearing clothes more suited for winter weather in North Carolina.. and she wasn’t a little woman. And the ME first said that he/she thought the body had been there for maybe up to 2 years.. it just doesn’t make any sense, none of it does.. ugh, so frustrating, I want to know what happened to you Judy!!!!


  8. TM

    Hey cf, can you direct me to that podcast you heard about the Shuford murder?Thanks!


  9. thinkingoutloud

    need to know if judy really did go on the plane to philly. it’s weird he would make the comment they were to go together but then she wound up taking a later flight cause of her ID.
    can we confirm he actually had a conference? can we confirm she was really the one that got on the plane? yes there are several eye witnesses but they could be mistakes too. could he have hired someone who looked like judy to walk around philly after her disappearance with her signature red backpack? It seems odd they were the last ones to see each other and no other clues. i don’t think judy ever really made it to philly. maybe when she was grabbing her ID, she was killed while her husband was in philly. and however killed her moved her body to north carolina.
    too many missing clues from this story and all we have to go off it is her husband’s story.


    • thinkingoutloud

      i still think Judy was already dead and never even traveled with her husband. did they confirm with the flight that she actually got on?

      i think he made the story up about her not having to take a later flight. this way it shows he was waiting around in philly after his conference but she ‘never showed up’ cause she was already dead and didn’t even go.

      i think the witnesses are lying or were confused about seeing judy. i don’t think she ever made it to philly. and if her close friend mention that their marriage was draining, maybe he had her killed professionally.


    • Lizzie

      I just learned about this case. It reminds me of a 1967 movie introducing Det. Colombo. It’s called “Prescription: Murder”. A wealthy doctor kills his wife and his his younger actress girlfriend impersonates her on a plane flight to Mexico. They stage a fight and the girlfriend storms off the plane. The doctor comes back from Mexico to his dead wife. But he has a perfect alibi! I’d like to know more about the days leading up to this murder, and who saw or spoke to Judy Smith before the trip with her husband.


  10. Bill Blaski

    Truly one of the best unsolved mysteries. Any updates Unsolved?


  11. Alex

    Why would anyone want to buried an expensive sunglasses along with shirt that that still had money on the front pocket. And who put money on the front pocket anymore. Unless the suspect and victim were on the spot before sunset which explained the sunglasses. But why buried it when you can just throw it away.


  12. charlie

    I think her husband did it or got some one to kill her its funny they had a argument then she’s found murdered very suspicious why was nothing taken


    • Bill

      Her husband was morbidly obese and law enforcement deemed it impossible for him to have killed her himself. Do research before making comments.


  13. charlie

    Just watched this case today about Judy smith I think her husband did it or hired some one to kill her


  14. L

    If this happened at the camp ground at the foot of hwy 151 before going up the parkway I have suspension that James Voth might be a person of interest. Back in 1997 I was there with my friend Crystal Shuford and her mother Catherine. Her mother kept saying there were 2 spirits hanging out there waiting to be found. It wasn’t too long after that when Crystal was raped and murdered by Catherine s boy friend James Voth. He had a history of violence towards females and I find it odd that a body was found there after Catherine stated she thinks two body’s were there. I was just a young teenager so I never tried contacting anyone.


  15. Anonymous

    Now, I don’t think that any murders were connected to this specific one. But, Jeff and Judy were gone for a few hours, while she was supposedly sightseeing and he was at a conference. In that period of time, how much time was there? That’s all I need to know. At a steady speed rate in an average car, the distance from Philadelphia to Asheville is approximately 9 hours and 24 minutes. Jeff could’ve went to the conference, came back, killed her (during sightseeing or in the room), buried her body in Asheville, came back, and went home. He could’ve lied about the time they were going to meet. Are there records of the conference? Have they thorough checks of his car and room that they stayed in? When was he gone from the room? How much mileage does his car have? How much gas did he use during that trip? How much gas did he use on the way back from Philadelphia? If they have answered all of these questions, they can come up with various recollections of this story. If they haven’t, they need to speak with Jeff Smith once more and get these questions answered as soon as possible.


    • Mitchell

      Except that she was spotted by several witnesses in the area. This kind of witness statement is often unreliable but in this case at least one witness provided specific details learned through their interaction. The scenario you posit is impossible if we concede the witnesses are credible.


    • Sensible

      It does state in the story that they flew and he searched the area they were in by taxi, so how would there be gas mileage if he traveled by plane with his wife to Philadelphia?


  16. Charlie

    Why hasn’t this been solved already, and did he take a polygraph, and did he gain monetarily from her death?


    • kafkette

      he died.
      & it really does not look likely that he killed her & moved her all the way up in the middle of nowhere, with nobody seeing anything.

      he could’ve, i guess, i have at least one very large friend who’s in way better shape than am i. but he didn’t look like her: she looks like she could move mountains; he looked like a mountain of pastry. & his wife, ah, if she weighed 135, i weigh 72 pounds. put her closer to 160 [which is more honest, from photographic evidence], & nobody’s dragging her body up there after murdering the poor thing somewhere else.

      someone killed her there. for some reason, the heart of the information has obviously never been released to the public. even the brightest among us could not make an educated guess based on everything we know.



    • kafkette

      he’s dead. i dont think he profited, & my guess is he didn’t kill her. although, in truth, we dont know very much.

      i’m only gonna type that, because i’ve already submitted the rest of my comment, & i’m not sure whether or not it dissolved into ether, & i didn’t want the same thing to show up twice.


  17. Anonymous

    But did they find her red backpack? And what was in the black backpack. Something isn’t right with this whole story. If she met up with someone else I don’t believe for a minute this person if they murdered her would leave his backpack with her body. Does not make sense. Unless she met up with someone else and she was followed by someone jealous and killed two of them, would explain the extra backpack. It does not say she was raped so I think that usually rules out a serial killer. This poor woman deserves justice.


    • No Name

      If all they found was skeletal remains I don’t think they’d be able to tell if she was sexually assaulted or not.


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  18. niko

    maybe her husband is?


  19. sam

    I don’t think the husband did it common sense it had to been a stranger she had met while sight seeing or someone she had known but I believe it was a serial killer


  20. Jen

    Why are we taking Jeff’s story as true? There’s a reason she wasn’t on the flight with him…she never came to Philadelphia. She was already dead and buried. Jeff concocts a story, then acts it out, through his trip to Philly, onto hiring PIs to look innocent. He had little fear in hiring them because he was directing them to Philly, not Asheville. Th investigators need to focus on finding enough evidence to charge him and stop meandering around looking for someone on the grassy knoll.


  21. Anonymous

    First She was going back packing by herself, with out her husband, and second I see him packing her red back pack, and I see him take her to the public place, after he knifed her, at home, need to check with a dog, in front of and around where the car is parked, for blood, as I also, see him using a garden hose, to thin out the blood. Supernaturally.


  22. Caitie

    There’s something bizarre about this case, I agree that it’s weird that Judy would leave her ID behind knowing she and her husband would be flying. But did anyone at the hotel they were staying at see Judy talking to anyone? Did they even see her leave the hotel at all? Why did she go to North Carolina, did she know someone there? Too many unanswered questions.


    • May

      I am interested in that as well. Can they confirm that her husband was at the conference the whole time? Did he come back and meet her lunch? Did they see her check out the hotel and not come back? So many unanswered questions! lol


  23. Nadine

    What ever became of the information offered from the Psyche investigators? They mentioned it possibly being a local wandering in the woods. Also, he wore a signet with the letter “P” on it.
    Since this happened in PA why haven’t you contacted the Vidocq Society located in PA?


  24. Susan Rankin

    Terry Alvin Hyatt is on death row in Asheville NCM298R m from his arrest in 1999. He murdered and raped three women. This probably has nothing to do with this unsolved case but had to put it out there. Hyatt use to be the boyfriend of my sister in law in the early nineties.


  25. Caitie

    It seems strange to me that Judy would leave her driver’s license at home when she knew that she and her husband would be flying. So it seems like she was planning to run away. But that doesn’t seem right because it sounds like she and her daughter were very close. I feel like the whole story isn’t being told in the story


  26. Anonymous

    Professional hit. Husband was a lawyer, probably knew the law, knew how to get things done. Marriage tenuous.


    • Anon

      Way too assumptive. Number one, divorce is a prevalent thing in today’s society. A divorce would cost less than a professional hit man. And number 2, a professional hit man would not leave behind any traces, including that of a backpack and a pair of sunglasses.


  27. Angie

    There is another unsolved murder in the Asheville area at the same yr time frame could they be connected and is this murderer someone working for city and knows these women were alone The other victim was found with stab wounds too.


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