The newspapers didn’t cover it well. To read them is to find no link whatsoever to the events in Goleta. The papers said the coroner was confused as to when the couple was even bound. Were they tied after death? There was no struggle, readers were told. The couple merely lay peacefully in bed under the covers. The killer had taken a log from the pile outside the bedroom on the patio, entered and stood over them. Then he hit the man, Lyman Smith, once on the head and killed him. Then he hit his young wife, Charlene, on the head and killed her. Ronald Kornblum, the coroner, even checked their adrenal glands in the autopsy. They were normal. The theory was if they were under stress before they died their adrenals would have poured out their hormones and shrunk. But adrenals vary in size, person to person, Kornblum reminded us, so it was hard to say. So what was it then? Did someone merely walk in and bludgeon them as they slept and then tie them up afterward?
The sheriffs and everybody else thus wondered: could their murderer have known them? Charlene was a vivacious, slightly femme fatale, figure. Less charitably, perhaps, a cut rate gold digger. The papers noted that she was Lyman Smith’s “attractive wife.” No one who saw her would not think that. She was indeed a lovely woman. She went from being Lyman’s secretary to his second wife. She was on the fringes of Bohemia and wanted much more. She sold jewelry at fashionable Tupperware type parties. Her own personal jewelry was far superior. She was also an interior decorator. Their High Point house was immaculate and elegant, though the furniture was imitation.
No detective therefore could ignore the symbolism in her death. Her wrists had been tied with an elaborate knot known as a lanyard by sailors and as a Diamond or Chinese Decorator Knot by landlubbers. It is an uncommon and quite complex knot. What odd symbolism. Seeing this is always disturbing to investigators. Seeing a fashionable and socially active interior decorator tied with a decorative knot says much. It’s like finding a stripper choked with her own G-string. The symbolism is obvious. This symbolism says much.
EAR never did this. He liked to drag out the terror in his victims, feeding off their fear, breathing it in like it was oxygen to him. He didn’t kill quickly. He didn’t leave symbolism. He didn’t know his victims. Few had reasons to connect this crime to Goleta and all of them to EAR, the northern California rapist.
Then there was the fact that Lyman Smith was a very well-known attorney in Santa Paula. He was now being considered for an appointment to the Superior Court as a judge. Attorneys make enemies and one soon to be a judge, for he was quite favored for the position, might incite an old enemy to even the score. Lyman also liked oddball investments. They were in their way get-rich schemes. He had been a principle in a land development company named GAP, the letters coming from the three principle holders. The A came from Lyman’s old buddy, Joe Alsip. Lyman was later part owner of some Maverick International Airlines that shipped pregnant cows to the Shah of Iran. These type of businesses bring one in contact with lots of unsavory characters. Added to the other clues and it seemed the Smiths’ killer knew them.
And indeed Ventura County finally settled on his former business partner, Joe Alsip. Lyman had parted with the company at the right time, getting as payoff a nice piece of property that was accruing in value. GAP was ruined and Alsip’s remaining holdings were quaking the U-joint. At the pre-trial the details of the murder came out. It shocked people to know the truth about this socially popular couple.
Let’s start at the beginning.
It was March 16, 1980. Lyman and Charlene Smith’s High Point Drive home was normal, middle class in appearance, but it was situated on the hills overlooking Ventura and the Pacific Ocean. This gave it a lofty value along with the other homes in this otherwise average development. It was an up-and-coming subdivision. It was still peaceful and country around, with long fields and vineyards leading to the distant Santa Paula Freeway. The Smith’s home overlooked a huge post modern church. It was Steve McQueen’s church, to boot. Ventura isn’t exactly at the core of Los Angeles society, but it rubbed shoulders with it occasionally. Beyond the church were those eyesore “CATs”— those huge power pylons we have become so used to. I’m sure the Smiths preferred to look the other way— over fields and vineyards and then through the haze to the Pacific Ocean.
The CAT corridor was at an angle, passing along the edge of the fields and vineyards and crossing in the distance the Santa Paula Freeway. Little specks rushed along, a glint of the sun off their windshields. It was the typical morning traffic on a distant artery of travel.
The gardeners were at work in the Smiths’ yard. The place was kept immaculate. Charlene insisted on it. Appearance in this, the age of the “New Morality,” was everything. Both she and Lyman drove big Thunderbirds. Both were parked out front. They were for 1980 huge status symbols. Charlene liked status symbols. One friend said that her quest for status “was all sails and no anchor.” This was her third marriage and her most advantageous. Neighbors knew, however, it had been on the rocks for a while. In fact, when the announcement was made that Charlene and Lyman were dead, some of the neighbors thought they had killed each other.
Lyman was quite different. He was ambitious, but a silent type. He was 10 years older than Charlene, divorced, with a few kids that didn’t live too far away with their mom. He was also well liked. Charlene was captivating, gorgeous, vivacious, and tasteful. But Lyman was truly liked. He came up the hard way. His family moved to Sacramento from Pocatello, Idaho, and he grew up hustling his way through high school and then college, the latter with the help of his first wife, his former high school sweetheart, Majorie, who worked and helped pay his way. He had been married to Charlene for about 5 years now. At 28 she had already dumped her first 2 husbands. Lyman was a lifelong Democrat, and was active in political groups and committees. Charlene’s taste and gregarious personality made her a good consort in public affairs, but more so Lyman’s respectability made Charlene appear far more cultural than she truly was. Lyman was, basically, a good guy who was
dumb about his young wife.
The neighbors knew more was afoot. They had heard the fights. Charlene had played the field, not long after the marriage. She had made a former deputy sheriff now turned polygrapher, Richard Atwood, into her lover. She had dated him without telling him she was married. Months went by and he finally found out. He wrote Charlene a harsh letter and delivered it personally to their High Point house. Lyman intercepted him. Atwood would not believe that this older, staid man, was the husband of such a young, gregarious woman. Lyman pulled him into the house and showed him his things just to prove it was his house.
Lyman’s interest in that odd air-cargo business kept him away quite a bit in 1977. Charlene apparently kept up the relationship with Atwood. It was considered an open scandal. In 1978, she finally left Lyman and filed for divorce. For someone so status minded it was quite surprising— a successful attorney swapped out for a hunky former deputy sheriff. Lyman was in his chops over it. He wasn’t the same man. He moped and was depressed. Finally, he won her back. He promised he would seek a judgeship. Two were coming do and Lyman would be a favored contender.
Maybe Lyman really didn’t want the post. Being a judge is limiting and not as profitable as being a good attorney. There were also those schemes. Honest, of course. But some of them really were in left field. That Maverick International Airlines was one. It too was in ruins now. Revolutions in Iran. Seizure of its cow-hauling jets. No more Shah. No more need to ship him cattle. The company was a shambles of debt, and according to one English auditor, Will Bartfield, Lyman had been skimming off the profits from the payroll withholding without the other partners knowing it. When Bartfield confronted Lyman, he had merely pouted about it and hung his head. He and his wife were living outside their means.
Lyman had gotten the air-cargo going a couple of years before with the investment of an old friend of his, Bud Sloan, an ex heavy weight turned prosperous rancher. Sloan was now losing his investment. But he would not accept that Lyman was dishonest. He believed Lyman had fallen victim to crooks himself. In any case, Maverick was over. Lyman still had that former GAP property that was accruing in value. But there was contention there. Alsip viewed Lyman as having ruined him by wanting out. Lyman had used the excuse it was because of the judgeship coming. He needed to consolidate. His cut was still growing in value. Joe Alsip’s was still tanking. Alsip could no
longer afford to drive his fancy Bentley.
Aside from Maverick in a nose dive, the Smiths’ life seemed to be moving onward. Charlene had come back to Lyman. He was sure they had it all worked out now and the future was bright. The judgeship seemed assured. There seemed to be no stigma attached to the Smiths. This was, after all, the end of the Swingin’ 70s when free sex, open mindedness, wife swapping, had all been done by what perhaps most people would call the “not-so-grand grandees.” Soon the 1980s and Yuppism with its unbridled lust for cheap status, brand name, materials and excessive living would be overwhelming the culture.
A different time indeed. The standard of grandeur was set by those who brought it down to their level of shallow living. Love, well, if it did exist in such a crowd, suborned itself to desire and the love of cheap ambition. Charlene had abandoned her passionate relationship with Atwood and came back, eager for the status of being a judge’s wife, and Smith, much older, much more genuine, rejoiced. He was truly besotted by her.
But there was surprise this March 16. Lyman’s 12 year old son Gary arrived on his bicycle to mow the lawns. Lyman came up the hard way, so he insisted his son must earn his allowance. The 12 year old went to the door Charlene left open for the gardeners and found it, strangely, to be locked. Had she not opened it for them? They were working about. Gary went to the front door. Surprise again. Newspapers were accumulating. For several days they had not been picked up. He opened the door. It was unlocked. Another surprise. He went inside. Another surprise. The sofa cushions looked as if the couch had been rifled. Charlene kept things immaculate. The house was decorated “Old World Style.” It was imitation. These weren’t antiques. They were modern copies. It looked old. It looked tasteful. But it was veneer.
Gary went down the hall and looked in the master bedroom. There were two people under the covers. He was disturbed. He had an innocent thought. He didn’t want to wake his dad because “what if the woman with him wasn’t Charlene?” In any case, he did. He pulled the sheets back, exposing his father’s head and shoulders. His father lay on his stomach. Even in the dark room it was obvious his head had been bashed in.
Gary stumbled out of the room and dialed the new emergency number 9-1-1. Soon the police came and found Gary sitting on the porch. The detective went in. He too noticed the sofa had been rifled through. He went down the hall. The mattress in a spare bedroom was skewed as if someone had been jumping up and down on the bed. In the master bedroom, there was the shocking evidence. The popular couple was dead. He pulled the sheets back. Lyman was naked and lying on his stomach, his wrists and ankles bound with drapery cord. Charlene was lying on her back next to him, wearing only a T-shirt. Both had been hit in the head. The bludgeon was a wood log. It was bloody and lying between them on the foot of the bed. The wall above them was splattered with blood.
Investigation would prove that the log had been taken from the pile outside the bedroom window. The master bedroom had been rummaged through. The dresser drawers had been pulled out with such force some decorative rocks which had been inside were on the floor. When Charlene had been rolled over by Dr. Peter Speth, the assistant coroner, to be examined for evidence, the knot on her wrists immediately caught the eye. It was quite elaborate. It turned out to be a Diamond Knot, a
rare knot used at sea or in interior decorating with drapery or other cord. Investigation would uncover that Charlene was bound with different drapery cord than that with which Lyman had been secured. It had copper strands in the center. Much nicer. How exotic. Charlene, the vivacious if not somewhat unscrupulous interior decorator, had been bound in what could be viewed as symbolism. Lyman wasn’t bound this way. Nor were Charlene’s ankles. Only her wrists.
Investigation would uncover there were fibers of an unknown origin on Lyman’s ankles.
Investigation would also uncover that the couple had to have been killed on Thursday night, March 13, and their bodies lay undisturbed until young Gary found them Sunday. This fit with what neighbors claimed. The milk had remained on the back porch. The papers had accumulated on the front porch. How did the killer enter? There was no sign. He must have come in the unlocked front door. But the Smiths always locked the door.
When Lyman’s brother Don Smith was finally allowed to enter the house days later to take possession, he entered and found a house with walls stained with purple fingerprints and purple liquid dripping down to the floors— the leftover of the forensic people trying to lift fingerprints. The kitchen was a shambles with charcoal dusting powder over all the pots and pans. The master bedroom wall over the bed had been cut out. The sheriffs took the piece to an out-of-town expert to see if he could determine by the blood spatters who was hit first.
Months passed. As far as the public was now concerned, everything sounded like someone who knew the Smiths had sought revenge. Not much illuminating came out in the papers to counter this theory. Lyman was well-loved, this is for true; Charlene had been captivating, this is undeniable. Articles were mostly about Lyman and his soon-to-be expected appointment. As far as the newspapers were told this murder was an incredible mystery.
Behind the scenes, the detectives were investigating Bud Sloan. He had the physical strength to do this. He had lost lots of money. Charlene’s boyfriend Atwood was also suspected. He claimed Charlene had come to see him just hours before she was murdered. She said she was going to leave Lyman for him anyway. He stressed they were still lovers. He said she took some clothes she had left there after they had come back from their recent San Diego get-away together. Atwood never saw her after that, he said. But he did try to see her. He admitted he watched the house with binoculars that evening from his office (in the tallest building in Ventura on Esplanade Avenue). Lovely. Atwood didn’t hide how he pined for Charlene. He admitted he drove by the house Saturday night, and then he tried to call Sunday morning. Quite bold. He didn’t seem to fear Lyman would answer the phone.
Atwood’s claims seemed at odds with Charlene’s attitude and with her quest for status. Charlene came back to Lyman because she wanted to be a judge’s wife. The former deputy sheriff seems to pale by comparison. The lover indeed looked like a good candidate.
But the lot would fall on Joe Alsip. He was broke now because his business ventures went under and Lyman’s half of the pie had only gotten better. His fingerprint was also found on a drinking glass. He said he had been there the night before and had some Michelob. It didn’t help. He had lost too much money, and the investigators knew he had been blaming Lyman.
But there was no arrest. It wasn’t enough. They had to find more. It had to be Alsip.
Ventura County investigators would not accept there was a connection with the Goleta murder. No one can blame them. This Smith case was right out of The Rockford Files. No random wacko looked responsible. Offerman/Manning had been bound, yes, but they had also been shot. The Smiths had not been. Behind the scenes the Ventura County sheriffs also knew that Charlene had had rough sex or had been raped before she was murdered. Debra Manning had not been. The cases didn’t seems connected. Even when another bedroom bludgeon double murder occurred far south at Dana Point, Ventura still didn’t accept it was by the same nut job. All Ventura investigators knew was that some Sacramento Country sheriff named Bevins believed they were all linked.
Jim Bevins was alone now in pursuit of EAR. He had looked at the Offerman case and the Queen Ann Lane case. Queen Ann had EAR written all over it. Yes, Offerman/Manning were shot, but the detailed facts also said that Offerman had challenged his attacker. The witnesses to the gunshots made it clear in what sequence they were fired. There was no rape because EAR, if it was him, had to quickly flee. But the bindings, the thermostat in the off-position, etc. all pointed to EAR.
True, the Smith case seemed unique of them all. EAR had never used a decorative knot. Nor had he known his victims. He certainly never left any symbolism behind. That diamond knot stood out like “a tarantula on angel food,” to quote Philip Marlowe. Ventura probably thought the same, and no one can blame them.
Joe Alsip was finally tagged by the DA’s office. He had a motive, and there was that fingerprint. The pre-trial was lengthy. But it was fortuitous. The details came out.
What utter nonsense in the papers! The Smiths’ skin under their bindings did, in fact, show that they had struggled. Charlene’s wrists showed the most. Only her wrists were tied with the decorative knot. Neighbors had heard a shriek (apparently between 2 and 3 a.m.). Then a muffled scream. Then it was silent. The murder must have happened then. The coroner, Speth, testified that Charlene had rough sex or rape before she had died. The details of her sex life and high living came out, including Lyman’s Smith less than successful business junkets and their living outside of their means.
But the DA had nothing on Alsip. As it finally wound down, the longest pre-trial in the county’s history, it was clear that the DA had jumped the gun. They had Alsip’s fingerprint on a glass, the fact he was bitter about Lyman, and the report of a minister who was psychologically unbalanced. The case against Alsip was dismissed.
The Harrington Murder had not yet been linked. Ventura Co. sheriffs had been blinded, with some good reason, that the Smith double murder wasn’t random but premeditated by a friend. Yet aside from both double murders being done with a bludgeon (it was never found in the Harrington Murder) there were 2 identical pieces of evidence found. A cord, never tied, had been found outstretched on the foot of the bed. At the Smith Murder it was 28 inches long. It had never been used and the killer left it where he had laid it. In the case of the Harrington’s, their bindings had been cut from their wrists and some taken, but the unused cord had been left behind. Curious.
What to make of this case? Yes, time has told the remarkable truth: it was EAR. He was then merely The Night Stalker. DNA proved Charlene had been raped before she was murdered. DNA linked this to the Harrington Murder, and to two others yet to be discussed. More importantly it linked it to The EAR crimes of East Sacramento and Contra Costa County. By the time this link was made in the late 1990s, Richard Ramirez had achieved fame as The Night Stalker. But for these carefully planned and clueless murders (until DNA) these were the crimes of The Night Stalker. After the DNA link was made and the case reemerged into public light EAR was then dubbed Original Night Stalker. Not a handy name, but let’s continue.
Once again, what to make of this? Up to a point, the clues lead us in an obvious progression. EAR must have awakened them in his standard way. He ordered Charlene to tie Lyman’s wrists behind his back. He probably had the cord on the bed already. She did so. He then tied her wrists with that highly decorate and elaborate diamond knot. He then tied Lyman’s ankles, leaving fiber on his ankles from the gloves he was wearing.
In his usual routine he took Charlene to the spare bedroom and raped her. This time, however, it was quite aggressive, leaving the bed quite disheveled. This would explain why her wrists showed the most bruising as she struggled. After he was done, he took her back to the master bedroom and put her on the bed on her back. He never took her t-shirt off. EAR never showed much interest in breasts. He tied her ankles.
EAR probably went outside now and got the log. He came back in.
Whatever terror he now inflicted on them was short-lived. But there were probably no “ifs” again. He stood on Charlene’s side of the bed. The bark from the log was mostly on that side. One other thing tells us he stood over her. She let out a clear shriek and then a second scream that was then muffled. He must have been close enough to put his gloved hand over her mouth quickly. She must have shrieked when he raised the log and with one deadly stroke bashed Lyman’s head in and blood splattered her and the wall. He muffled her mouth and told her to be quiet. He hit her more than once and with more force than needed to kill. Perhaps once to knock her out. The others to kill her. EAR pulled the sheets and bedspread up, a macabre sense of order. This was his one last bit of terror. He knew whoever pulled the sheets down would get the scare of the lives.
EAR didn’t ransack. That probably didn’t inflict enough terror anymore.
EAR then left. But how did he enter? When did he enter? Was it by a back gate? Joan Taylor, a neighbor, was awakened by her Great Dane, Saxon, at 2.a.m.. He led her to the gate that leads to the Smiths’ property. He did not bark. She heard nothing. She had never experienced this before.
That diamond knot. I don’t like it. EAR never showed any symbolism. Nor would he. This alone remains the only time. A vivacious if not somewhat superficial interior decorator was left dead, tied with a decorator’s knot. Tied with drapery cord. None of the others were tied with this. It seems quite intentional. The rifled sofa cushions suggest that EAR had planted the drapery cord the day or days before underneath and then retrieved it after he entered. He went to a lot of trouble here. I would like to say that this knot is the ultimate clue; that it tells us EAR had some acquaintance with her, close or from some distance, and knew she was a free living interior decorator with status quest.
But there are those damn CATs. If EAR had any acquaintanceship he would not have needed to follow those CATs from the Santa Paula Freeway and then expand to the nearest community to prowl it. Yet he did. The community seems one he picked by his usual methods of long distant roaming. The killing thus seems random. She was lovely, had long hair, which he liked, and the house was in perfect position to be struck.
Then why the knot? Why only here? Why the symbolism? Had it merely been from seeing the decor of the house? From reading her mail or something? But how would he know that a lanyard is also decorator’s knot? So he knew how to tie a lanyard. That doesn’t tell us who he is. But he also knew it was a decorator’s knot. That’s a little more arcane information. He also saw fit to use it, along with exotic drapery cord, to use it only on her, symbols of her profession. Gilding the Lilly. This is like leaving 30 pieces of silver. Boiling her in her own pudding.