Judy Smith caught my attention when she her remains were found in Asheville, North Carolina. Again it was the connection to an area I was familiar. Then I learned she was from the Boston area and disappeared in the Philadelphia area. How did she wind up on Mt Pisgah? It an odd case that has left everyone wondering since 1997.
Judy Smith was a 50 year old nurse from Newton, Massachusetts. She had just been married 8 months to Jeff Smith, a lawyer. Jeff had to go to Philadelphia for a business conference. Never having been to Philadelphia Judy took off work to with him. The plan was she’d sight see during the day and spend evenings with Jeff. When they got to the airport April 9, 1997 Judy realized she had forgotten her drivers license. Photo IDs to board a plane had only been required for 18 months at that time. Jeff had an important meeting he had to get to in Philadelphia. The plan was he’d go on and she’d go home, get her ID and then take the next flights. She’d meet him at the Double Tree Inn they had booked in Philadelphia for the evening. Jeff didn’t like going on without her but she reassured him she’d be fine. Sure enough she arrived on the next flight took a cab to the hotel with one stop to buy flowers, she met Jeff in the lobby and gave him the flowers as an apology and to beautify their room.
The next morning, April 10, Jeff got up earlier than her and went down to breakfast. When he got back she was just getting a shower. He teased her to hurry up before breakfast was over. She teased back about running down wet and naked to get there in time. The plan of the day was for her to get tickets on a bus for tourist where they can get on and off at various sites around Independence Hall. She expressed wanting to see the Liberty Bell and the Hall that day. She was to be back around 5:30 to get ready for cocktails with some clients of his at the conference then they’d be free for dinner together.
It got to be 6:15 and Jeff was worried. He did the cocktails but then came back to find Judy still had not returned. He told the concierge at the hotel he was concerned. He got the route of the bus she had expressed interest in and hailed a cab. He retraced the route stopping at the bus stops to get out and look for her calling for her. Getting back to the hotel he was more concerned. With the concierge’s assistance all local hospitals were called to no avail. The tour operator was called and checked with the day’s drivers still nothing. At this time they contacted the police. Despite days of searching, news conferences and such no trace was found.
September 7, 1997 a father and son were hiking a arduous trail in Mt. Pisgah National Park. They found a human skull and a few feet up the trail a blue blanket was visible sticking up from the ground. Police were summoned to find a shallow grave that had been disturbed by animal activity. A search of the area found a black and blue backpack and a pair of Bolle sunglasses. The body was mostly skeleton injuries to the bones and punctures through the bra indicated the woman had died of 36+ stab wounds. She was in her early 50s with extensive dental work and severe arthritis in one knee (one article said right the other article said left). She wore jewelry including a wedding set. She had $187 in cast on her indicating robbery is not a motive. She was dressed new but appropriate hiking gear. THe clothing had horse hair on it. She did not match any missing people notifications in the area. Police were working to find out who she was and who killed her.
Meanwhile heartbroken Jeff had to go home under suspicion by Philadelphia police. He felt they did not look beyond him for what happened to Judy. He agreed to take a polygraph under two requirements – the test was administered by trained FBI agent and if he passed the Philadelphia Police would formally request and accept the FBI’s assistance in looking for his wife. They would not agree. Once home he hired three Private Investigators – one at home, one in Philadelphia, and one in Boston. He made disappearance flyers of her and sent out 9,000 of them to Emergency Rooms, police departments, tourist welcome centers up and down the eastern seaboard.
Dr. Parker Davis an ER doctor in the Franklin, NC received one of the flyers Jeff had sent. Dr. Davis noticed the description matched the description of the woman found on Mt Pisgah. He called the number on the flyer for the Philly Police and spoke with Detective James Sweeny. Sweeny then called Sheriff Bobby Medford of Buncombe County North Carolina giving him Jeff’s home number. Sheriff Medford contacted Jeff who in turn contacted Judy’s dentist to send dental records to Medford. It was a match not wanting to tell Jeff over the phone Medford called the Newton Police department who sent a bereavement team to his home and informed Jeff his wife of 1 year and month at this point was dead.
Jeff was not under suspicion by Medford. Medford thought a ‘portly’ man who had trouble walking as Jeff was couldn’t have gotten Judy up the trail that far before the attack happened. Meanwhile the Philadelphia police publicly questions if Judy was ever in Philadelphia or at least at the hotel. A female detective noted there was no make-up in the room and no dirty women’s clothes which means Judy must have worn the clothes she arrived wearing. Her children confirmed this would not be odd . Judy did not wear make-up and often rewore clothes to save laundry. If she’d just been sitting in trains, planes, and cabs the day before she probably would wear them again. To further close down these theories attendees, Joseph Dobrenski and Carmen Catazone, at the conference who read the article questioning if Judy was there contacted Philadelphia police to say they had seen Judy the evening of the 9th.
In the meantime Medford and five of his detectives were trying to pick up Judy’s trail in Asheville area. Several store operators remembered chatty Judy from Boston. All said the woman was acting either slightly disoriented or ditzy not at all like the focused nurse Judy was known to be. Joanne Stucker a store clerk remember Judy saying she was from Boston and there sight seeing while her husband attended a conference. It was found Judy had stayed in a motel on April 10-12. She wasn’t seen with a vehicle but bought new clothes to wear as she had no luggage.
Records of transportation were searched. None for Judy from Philadelphia area to the Asheville area were found. No cab, no bus, no car rental, no train, no plane – nothing. Of those in Asheville that remembered her never saw her with any one. Her trademark red backpack was never found. Another woman was found in 2016 near the site of Judy’s shallow grave. This woman had been raped and murdered then tied to a tree naked. Other than location, no other commonalities were found to link the two. Serial killer Gary Michael Hilton who was active in the area at time was investigated and no links were found.
Carolyn Dickey a friend of Judy’s said the 8 month marriage to Jeff was troubled and Judy may have left to get away from him. Judy’s grown children from her first marriage disagree. But if that is true why catch the later flight to Philadelphia? Why not just call say you can’t find your ID and be home alone for the week? Or then travel to Asheville?
Heck how did she get to Asheville a 9 hour drive away? Then she told Stucker that she was out sight seeing while her husband was at a conference. Isn’t that a ways to go to sight see? Judy was said to be acting a bit disoriented, disorganized, or even ditzy – which wasn’t her normal state. So did she THINK she was in Philadelphia?
If she was of right mind why go to Asheville? She had no connection to the area. One of her grown children vaguely remembered once her mother had traveled with a hospice patient somewhere down south in the mountains but could have been Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, or North Carolina. It had been years ago and police could find no connection.
While Judy was in Asheville she was always seen alone. Suicide isn’t possible one doesn’t stab themselves 36+ times, wrap themselves in a blue blanket, then bury themselves in a shallow grave. So she had to have encountered someone who became her murderer. What about the horse hair?
My theory and it’s only a theory – Something snapped in Judy’s mind for some reason. She got a ride some way to Asheville and discombobulated as she was clung to the plan – sight see during the day got to a hotel room for Jeff at night. Along the way she met someone, went horseback riding and was attacked. Just what went wrong in her mind, why she didn’t notice Jeff gone, who the person was – I have no clue just trying to make a reasonable story from the facts.
Sadly Jeff died less than 10 years after Judy disappeared. Now it’s been almost 20 years and no one knows any more about how the Boston nurse sightseeing in Philly wound up in a shallow grave on Mt Pisgah.