Deathbed confession: Murder suspect dies before trial
Sharron Diane Crawford Smith, charged a month ago with the murders of two women at the High's Ice Cream store in Staunton in April 1967, died Monday, January 19, at around 6pm, according to Staunton police. The precise cause of death is not known, but Smith had been suffering from kidney failure and heart disease and required 24-hour medical care at the time of her arrest in December. She was 60 years old.
Smith had been scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday, January 7, to enter a plea to the charge that she murdered sisters-in-law Carolyn Perry and Connie Hevener, her co-workers at the High's Ice Cream store, but Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Robertson postponed that court date indefinitely due to Smith's failing health.
Robertson confirms that before she died, Smith did confess to the murders.
"It isn't going to hurt anything now to say that," he tells the Hook. "Now we're just trying to corroborate a few things she said in her confession."
Robertson declined to elaborate with any further details, but says all will become known on Friday, January 23 at 11am at Staunton City Hall, when he and Staunton police chief James Williams will hold a press conference to discuss the case.
Williams declined to discuss the case prior to the press conference, except to say that, "We're still chasing down a few things, but we'll answer all your questions at the press conference."
This promises to be the moment at which many of the burning questions about the case, including Smith's alleged motive, will be answered. At the December 10 press conference announcing Smith's arrest, Robertson said that if Smith were to die before trial, "I'll tell you everything I know."
Hevener's brother, Carroll Smootz, heard the news at around 9:30pm Monday and it leaves him with mixed feelings.
"I'm glad it's over with, because the trial would have been brutal," says Smootz, "but there are just so many unanswered questions."
Among Smootz's questions is why Staunton police failed to arrest and charge Smith at the time of the murders. As the Hook reported in a cover story earlier this month, Smith was acquainted with Staunton police investigator David Bocock, who was assigned the High's case, and some wonder if that affected Smith's quick dismissal as a suspect.
Bocock died in 2006. Last week, Smootz says he attempted to get the answer straight from Smith.
"I called up the home where she was staying, to see if I could have a conversation with her," he says, "but I never heard back."
Still, Smootz says he's not sure any information that could come out on Friday will help him to bring him any real answers about why Smith wasn't brought to justice in 1967.
"They might have solved that she did it," says Smootz, "but I'm afraid a lot of questions that will always go unanswered."
–updated on January 20 at 3:22pm