Finally solved? Woman arrested for 1967 double murder
For decades, it was Staunton's unsolved crime of the century. Two sisters-in-law, one just married, had been brutally shot and killed working at High's Ice Cream on Augusta Street. On the morning of Friday, December 12, more than 41 years later, Staunton police arrested and charged Sharron Diane Crawford Smith, age 61, with two counts of first-degree murder. Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Robertson says the arrest could not have come a minute too soon.
"We had to move on this pretty quickly," he said at a Friday, December 12 press conference. "She is gravely ill and there was some concern that she may not last through the weekend," due to complications from end-stage heart failure and chronic kidney disease.
As of Tuesday morning, Smith is still alive, but Robertson tells the Hook that, "She is nearing the end."
Following her arrest Friday, Staunton police released Smith on a personal recognizance bond.
Smith worked with Constance Hevener, age 19, and her newlywed sister Carolyn Hevener Perry, age 20, at High's Ice Cream at the time of the crime. Just after the murder she moved to North Carolina and stayed there for 19 years until 1986, when she moved back to the Staunton area.
Several Shenandoah Valley newspapers report that the arrest is the result of an alleged deathbed confession from Smith. Robertson would neither confirm nor deny this, declining to discuss specific evidence before trial.
Approximately 50 Stauntonians in addition to about a dozen members of the media turned out to Staunton City Hall to learn the details of the arrest. Staunton police chief James Williams said that while Smith was one of the original suspects in the case, she had slipped through investigators' fingers until "a few months ago" when they began tracking down a lead that he says cannot be discussed until Smith's trial.
The break in the case came when Joyce Bradshaw, 74, came to Staunton police and said Smith had talked about committing the crime and producing a gun with which to do it days before the murders. She had originally come to Staunton police with her account back in the days immediately following the shooting, yet Staunton police allegedly dismissed her account after Smith allegedly passed a polygraph test.
Robertson would not comment on Bradshaw's allegation, but says that he himself has never spoken with Bradshaw.
Originally police had charged a local man named Bill Thomas who had allegedly told several Staunton residents that he was the killer. Thomas was acquitted at trial.
"Bill Thomas called me this morning," said Robertson. "He was very gentlemanly."
Robertson defended his late predecessor's decision to prosecute Thomas.
"If you read the [Staunton] News Leader account of the things, he'd said you can see why the evidence pointed to him to begin with," said Robertson.
Robertson also answered critics that say his office and Staunton police dragged their feet in resolving the case once Thomas won his acquittal.
"I haven't heard anybody say that," said Robertson, "but if they did, I'd tell them they're nuts. They did the best they could with the evidence they had."
For Perry's husband Danny Perry, the event brings closure to what has been decades of uncertainty about how his young bride died.
Neither Perry nor his daughter Ada would take questions from the media, but friends turned out for the press conference and offered tearful embraces what appears to be the end of their nightmare.
"My daughter and I will be able to finally close the book," Perry said in a statement, "on this selfish, horrible tragedy."
Smith is due in Staunton General District Court on Wednesday, January 7. Should she die before that date, Robertson says he will disclose all the evidence he would have introduced at her trial.
–last updated Monday, December 15 at 4:01pm. The original version of this story misstated that Hevener and Perry were sisters, rather than sisters-in-law. The error has been corrected above.