Date of Crime
|Dauphin County, PA||Jay Smith||June 24, 1979|
Dr. Jay Charles Smith was sentenced to death in 1985 for the 1979 murders of Susan Gallagher Reinert and her two children. Smith was the principal of Upper Merion Senior High School (in Montgomery County) from 1966 until 1978 and Reinert was a teacher there. He had a PhD and was also an Army Reserve colonel. In 1978, he was promoted from his principal's position to work directly for the Upper Merion Area School District.
Smith had a heroin addicted daughter, Stephanie Smith Hunsberger, who in Aug. 1978 robbed his home. To find her and his stolen possessions, Smith drove to the nearby Gateway Shopping Center in Wayne, PA and hiding his well-known face from passers-by, peered in a parked van of a known associate of his daughter. Shortly after he left the shopping center, he was stopped by police for his suspicious behavior. His car contained guns that Smith brought with him in case he ran into trouble with Stephanie's friends. It also contained many items that were accumulated in the car over time but never cleaned out. Police found bolt cutters, a screwdriver, and a hammer which they alleged were burglary tools. The bolt cutters were used for opening abandoned student lockers. There were also maps with locations marked on them where Smith gave lectures. These maps were thought by police to show burglary locations. In addition there were used syringes of a heroin substitute that Stephanie got from a treatment center. There were attempts to construe other items found in the car as suspicious, including metal cans dubbed "silencers," but all items found had a plausible explanation.
Smith may have been guilty of one or more technical violations, but, given his background, it is highly unlikely that he was a career burglar or a blue collar type thief. The implication that Smith was a respected principal by day, but a thief by night, garnered more press attention than skepticism. The district attorneys in four suburban Philadelphia counties began reviewing unsolved theft related crimes for Smith's involvement. In 1977, a man had robbed or attempted to rob three Sears stores in St. Davids, Bensalem, and Abington, PA. The robber wore the uniform of an armored car driver and collected or tried to collect the day's receipts. In the Abington robbery a Sears security guard was fatally shot.
In light of all the publicity surrounding Smith's arrest, the director of Sears security, Paul Brown, went to all the Sears clerks who had been robbed, showed them Smith's newspaper photo, and got them to agree that Smith was the robber. However, the FBI determined that the physical evidence from the crimes did not point to Smith. The robber signed Sears receipt books during the crimes, but neither the fingerprints nor the handwriting on the books matched Smith's. Smith was initially charged with all three crimes, although charges against him were dropped for the Abington robbery. Smith was convicted of the St. Davids robbery and the Bensalem attempted robbery. There were serious irregularities with the police confirmation of the clerks' identifications. The witnesses were hypnotized, but this information was withheld from Smith's defense. In Dec. 1979, another man, David Rucker, shot and robbed an armored car driver at a Wyomissing Sears store in Berks County. Rucker was caught because his getaway driver fled the scene without him. Rucker subsequently gave corroborated confessions to the Sears robberies for which Smith was charged and was convicted of the Abington robbery and murder.
Since the initial charges against Smith had originated from Chester County, and the Sears charges originated from Delaware, Montgomery, and Bucks Counties, the charges against him were consolidated under the authority of Montgomery County and he was granted a change of venue to Dauphin County. Smith was out on bail, but had a sentencing hearing at the Dauphin County Courthouse, in Harrisburg, on Monday, June 25, 1979 at 9 a.m.
While all the publicity regarding Smith was ongoing, Reinert and another teacher, William Sidney Bradfield, had gotten engaged. Both worked in the English Department of the high school of which Smith had been principal. Bradfield was also president of the school district's teacher's union. During his engagement to Reinert, Bradfield lived with another woman (a teacher) and appeared to be having a relationship with two others. Reinert divorced her husband, Ken Reinert, due to her relationship with Bradfield which began in 1974. Bradfield hung out with several teacher friends, and according to them, he never told them of his engagement to Reinert. He did tell them that Smith and Reinert had been lovers, that Reinert had jilted Smith, and that Smith planned to kill Reinert. Bradfield said they could not report him to the police because Smith was a Mafia hit man and the police were corrupt. By the time of her murder, Reinert had a substantial amount of life insurance on herself, listing her future husband, Bradfield, as the beneficiary.
Reinert was last seen alive driving away from her Ardmore home with her two children at 9:20 p.m. on Friday, June 22, 1979. Her dead body was found in her car in a Harrisburg parking lot the following Monday morning. Her two missing children, Karen, 11, and Michael, 10, have never been found and are presumed dead. An autopsy revealed Reinert was badly beaten 24 to 36 hours before her death and that she died early Sunday morning from an injection of morphine. It also revealed that she had sand between her toes implying she could have visited a beach area like Cape May, NJ. In addition, she had written directions on her to an area just north of Cape May. Cape May is approximately 100 miles southeast of Reinert's home, while Harrisburg is approximately 100 miles west.
Bradfield had an alibi from 11:15 p.m. Friday on, when he got together with three friends, reputable high school teachers, and left with them, spending the weekend in Cape May, NJ. The prosecution did not believe that he could have traveled to Harrisburg during this period and it was alleged that Bradfield had employed Smith as Reinert's killer.
At first the investigation into the Reinert murders gathered no hard evidence. Police, however, were able to charge Bradfield after he attempted to collect on Reinert's life insurance. They succeeded in getting Bradfield's friends to testify against him, and in 1983, Bradfield was convicted of conspiring to murder Reinert and her two children.
Bradfield's prior implication of Smith as Reinert's would-be murderer could be viewed as an attempt to throw suspicion away from himself and onto Smith. The timing and location of the deposition of Reinert's body strongly suggested an attempt to frame Smith. It indicated Reinert's killer wanted police to believe that Smith drove Reinert's car to Harrisburg, with her dead body inside, then walked to his sentencing hearing. Smith was supposed to get a ride from his home to Harrisburg with one of his sentencing hearing witnesses, but at the last minute ended up driving himself in his own car. The unusual killing of Reinert with an injection of morphine also suggested an attempt to connect Smith to her murder as morphine is a heroin substitute similar to that used in the empty syringes found in Smith's car at his original arrest.
Smith was convicted of murdering Reinert and her two children in 1985. At trial, the prosecutor did not call Bradfield as a witness, but instead called Bradfield's friends who recounted their recollections of what Bradfield said. The judge allowed this hearsay testimony after the prosecutor assured him that the state attorney general found that such testimony was allowed under the law. A jailhouse informant, Raymond Martray, who had been imprisoned for perjury, claimed that Smith had confessed to the crime. This informant was wired with a hidden recording device, but on every recording in which the informant brought up the subject with Smith, Smith stated that he had nothing to do with the Reinert murders.
The PA Supreme Court overturned Smith's conviction in 1992 because the trial judge permitted hearsay testimony, the police withheld evidence that sand was found between Reinert's toes, and five state troopers perjured themselves on this point. The troopers did not want Smith's jury to hear about the sand as it allowed the defense to argue that Reinert had been in Cape May and that Bradfield had personally killed her. The Court found the prosecution's conduct so egregious that it broke new legal ground and barred a retrial.
The chief case investigator, Trooper John J. Holtz, was later found to have accepted $50,000 from author Joseph Wambaugh for information on the Reinert investigation. The money was provided on the condition that suspect Jay Smith be arrested.
Bradfield died in prison in 1998. Smith died in 2009. The case is the subject of four books, Echoes in the Darkness by Joseph Wambaugh (1987), Engaged to Murder by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor (1988), Principal Suspect by William Costopoulos, Smith's trial and appeal attorney (1996), and Joseph Wambaugh and the Jay Smith Case, by Jay Charles Smith (2008). The case was also the subject of a TV mini-series based on Wambaugh's book and sharing the same title. (Sources) [6/09]