Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
May 6, 1992
THE REINERT CURSE CONVICTED KILLER JAY SMITH GETS ANOTHER DAY IN COURT TODAY? WILL HE GO FREE? \ JAY SMITH'S DAY OF RECKONING WITH HIS 3 MURDER CONVICTIONS OVERTURNED AND WITH THE STATE'S CASE AGAINST HIM APPARENTLY UNRAVELING, SOME BELIEVE WHAT THE ACCUSED KILLER HAS BEEN SAYING ALL ALONG: THAT HE WAS FRAMED
Author: Kurt Heine, Daily News Staff Writer
It was 9:20 in the evening on Friday, June 22, 1979, when Susan Reinert hurriedly loaded her two children into her red Plymouth Horizon and sped away
from her home on Woodcrest Avenue in suburban Ardmore.
The destination of the Upper Merion High School English teacher would never be known, but what awaited her there was unspeakably horrible.
The mild-mannered 36-year-old divorcee and her children, Karen, 11, and Michael, 10, were probably greeted by more than one executioner. That much seems obvious to the FBI and state police assigned to probe the murders.
It would have taken more than one person to subdue the hysterical mother and two flailing children.
Susan Reinert was pummeled repeatedly, either with a blunt instrument or with fists. Her mouth was taped. She was stripped and her skin was marked by a chain, either from a chain-whipping or from being tightly bound.
During the next day-and-a-half, while she was helplessly trapped, she may well have seen - or perhaps she just heard - the killings of her children, the spirited little Cub Scout and the quiet, studious young girl whom everyone liked so much.
It was three days later, early on the morning of June 25, that the body of Susan Reinert turned up, her grotesquely distorted form squeezed into the wheel well of the Horizon, which was found outside a motel near Harrisburg. She was dead of a massive injection of morphine.
No trace of Karen or Michael was ever found.
Former Upper Merion High School principal Jay C. Smith is imprisoned for the murders - three of the most investigated and atrocious killings that Pennsylvania has ever seen.
For now, anyway.
SOME NOW BELIEVE SMITH
The Curse of the Reinert Case is still with us.
The shaky-from-the-start case against Smith appears to have come unhinged. As he has whiled away the years in Huntingdon state prison, human foible and bad luck have come to his defense, perhaps fatally crippling the powers of the state to keep him behind bars.
It is to the point now - two books, a television mini-series and six years of continuing denials after he was given three death sentences for the murders - that some people actually believe what Smith has been saying all along: that he was framed. And that the real killer is another Upper Merion English teacher, William S. Bradfield Jr., who is serving three life sentences for masterminding the killings.
Key physical evidence has been called into question, crucial trial testimony has been thrown out, the lead state police investigator is in trouble for taking money for helping with a best-selling book about the case, and the lead prosecutor, who cared so much about solving the Reinert Riddle that he taped pictures of the slain children inside his briefcase, has been sentenced to jail on a cocaine-peddling charge.
The melange of frailties in the Smith prosecution was to come to a head today in a Harrisburg courtroom. With his three death sentences already overturned and a new murder trial ordered because of errors in the first one, Smith's lawyer goes before the state Supreme Court to argue that his client should simply walk free.
The evidence against Smith, says his lawyer, William C. Costopoulos, is worse than flimsy - it constitutes an out-and-out frame-up manufactured by dishonest cops and prosecutors. A new trial, according to the defense, would violate Smith's rights against double jeopardy.
The Supreme Court likely won't rule for several months.
For Smith, the worst that can happen is that he gets a new trial, without some of the evidence that already has sent him to Death Row once.
SMITH STILL HAS SHADY PAST
In photographs and from a distance, Smith looks almost ordinary - a saggy- jowled, 63-year-old weak-chinned father of two.
But when he looks you straight in the eye, you know. This is not a wholesome fellow. Unholy, in fact.
Smith, after all, was arrested at a suburban shopping center in August 1978, after police found guns and silencers, a homemade mask, a syringe and bolt cutters in his van.
He later was charged and convicted for drug possession and for the theft of $53,000 from a Sears store a year earlier while posing as a Brink's guard.
And then there is the mysterious disappearance of Smith's daughter and son- in-law.
The people who saw to it that the world was safe from Jay C. Smith are either horrified at the prospect of his going free or are out of the picture.
The original lead investigator, state police Sgt. Joseph Van Nort, died two years after the murders. Trooper Jack Holtz, who then became lead investigator, now admits taking $50,000 from Los Angeles cop-turned-famous- author Joseph Wambaugh for helping with Wambaugh's book on the Reinert killings. Holtz finds his career dashed and his credibility damaged.
Richard Guida, the chief deputy attorney general who turned a pile of seemingly disconnected evidence against Smith into three death sentences, reports to jail soon for a nine-month term for cocaine distribution. He admits snorting coke during Smith's trial.
Other matters to keep in perspective:
* Bradfield, convicted in 1983 of masterminding the murders, remains tucked away under three life sentences. He was found guilty of scheming to inherit Reinert's $1 million estate and plotted with Smith to kill her, while secretly plotting to make it appear as though Smith alone had been responsible. Smith, on the other hand, has always contended that Bradfield alone was responsible.
* Smith's oldest daughter and her husband, Stephanie and Eddie Hunsberger, dropped off the face of the Earth in February 1978. Cops have concluded they were murdered and have pointed to Jay Smith. But there has never been enough evidence to bring charges.
Eddie Hunsberger's parents have followed the case for 13 years, convinced that Smith murdered their son and daughter-in-law - his own daughter - and that he wouldn't think twice about bumping them off if he is released.
They are old now. Byron Hunsberger is ill. But Dorothy Hunsberger, 73, is sharp as a tack. And angry.
"Thirteen years of this stress," she complained recently after a day of fretting about her husband's health and Jay Smith. "We have to put up with this, 'Is Smith going to get out?' or 'When's Smith going to get out?' There's never an end to it. You'd think that old people would have some peace at last. But there's no peace.
"When he's out, I'll have to be looking over my shoulder, like when I go to the grocery store . . . I could be a victim, that's for sure. I'm sure not on his Mother's Day list.
"That's one of the things that hurts me this time of year. My Eddie never missed sending me a Mother's Day card since he was 3 years old. Until they disappeared. It's as if they never existed.
"They're just gone."
Notice that Dorothy Hunsberger, who remains one of the staunchest supporters of Richard Guida and Jack Holtz and the rest of the investigators, now uses this phrase: "When he's out . . . "
Costopoulos, Smith's lawyer, won't give odds on Smith's walking out of Huntingdon a free man. But the lawyer is clearly upbeat about how fate has changed the cards that Smith has been dealt to defend himself.
"There's no smoking gun out there that they can put into Smith's hand," says Costopoulos. "It's always been circumstantial, but the circumstances were generated with a lot of misconduct."
Costopoulos adds, "Never in the history of Pennsylvania law enforcement has a case been so mishandled."
PROBE SEEMED JINXED
In the 13 years since the murders, it has been as though a powerful force has shielded the murderers from the investigative powers of the FBI, the state police and local cops. Investigators, faced with the rare opportunity to solve a puzzling crime committed by sophisticated schemers, seemed to be foiled by fate, almost from the start.
Consider these early investigative calamities:
* The tape of a telephone tip reporting where Reinert's body could be found was accidentally erased.
* A coroner wrongly concluded initially that Reinert had been strangled; she actually died of a massive morphine overdose.
* Reinert's corpse was mistakenly released by a hospital to an undertaker before authorities had finished examining it. The undertaker promptly cremated the remains.
The authorities nevertheless mounted successful cases against Bradfield and Smith.
During Smith's trial, prosecutor Guida called each shred of evidence another pebble piled onto the scales of justice. Each piece of evidence against Smith was another little stone, not weighing much on its own, but, added to all the others, enough to make a difference.
Through his extraordinary skill as a prosecutor and his devotion to the case, Guida steadfastly wove these disconnected little threads into a tapestry of guilt. Jurors later said there had been nothing in particular that made them convict Smith. It was everything.
Over the years, the tapestry has come unravelled. Some of the threads have been lost. And Guida, the master weaver, possibly the only person who could hold the threads together, is out of the picture with his own legal woes.
At its best, the evidence was purely circumstantial. Its chief ingredients: a strand of hair, some tiny rug fibers, a comb and a pin. And a convicted perjurer, an ex-cop who testified that Smith had confessed to him when they shared a prison cell.
Smith had a dozen combs in his King of Prussia house just like the one found under Reinert's corpse: cheap, plastic combs that bore the inscription of the Army Reserve unit in which Smith had once served as a colonel.
Microscopic rug fibers found in Reinert's hair and car matched those found in a red carpet in Smith's house - a place Smith insisted Reinert had never been. A single brown hair found in sweepings from Smith's basement matched Reinert's hair. A green Philadelphia Art Museum pin found in Smith's car was identical to the pin 11-year-old Karen Reinert was wearing when she was last seen alive.
STATE'S CASE WEAKENED
Partly through the perseverance of defense lawyer Costopoulos - but mostly
because of prosecutorial misfortune - much of the starch has been wrung from the prosecution of Jay Smith. The problems:
* Two grains of sand found between Susan Reinert's toes during an autopsy were lost, supposedly depriving Smith of evidence to buttress his claim that Bradfield and his cronies had killed Reinert at the New Jersey shore. Cops discovered the sand in an evidence drawer during Smith's trial, but failed to tell Smith's lawyer.
* Prosecutors steadfastly maintained that the jailbird ex-cop who testified that Smith had confessed to the murders received no special deals in exchange for his cooperation. But Raymond Martray was freed from jail soon after testifying - in what an appeals judge later called an apparent pay-back.
* The Smith trial judge allowed witnesses to testify about what Bradfield had said about Smith. This is hearsay and the state Supreme Court took a dim view of it on appeal.
* The comb found under Reinert's corpse, an enigmatic piece of evidence that Smith trial jurors said they discounted because of so much conflicting testimony, was recently found by a junkman hired to clean the home of trooper Holtz, the lead investigator in the case. The comb shown to the jury was a duplicate.
* The Chester County apartment house where William Bradfield was living with fellow teacher Susan Myers when Reinert and her children were murdered was a potential goldmine of evidence, but it has been converted into a convent.
The man now assigned to keep Smith behind bars, Deputy Attorney General M.L. Ebert Jr., the third prosecutor assigned to the case, acknowledges an uphill struggle.
"This is a murder case," he says. "It's about the murder of a young woman and her two children. What the police did wrong has nothing to do with whether Smith committed the crimes. In our society, it's up to a jury to decide those kinds of questions."
In spite of what the prosecution now acknowledges were errors during Smith's trial, the ex-principal remains a murderer, Ebert says. Nothing that the police did or did not do, he said, suggests that Smith is innocent.
Nevertheless, Ebert is concerned about his assignment and the bizarre calamities that continue to plague the prosecution of Smith.
Said Ebert: "People have come to me and said, 'Don't get involved in this case. It's cursed.' "
1. Jay Smith: Ex-principal says case against him was badly bungled
2. Susan, Michael and Karen Reinert in Puerto Rico in 1988
3-4. The last known photographs of the Reinert children, Karen (above) and
Michael, from 1979
5-7. Smith's lawyer, William C. Costopoulos (center), insists that William
Bradfield (left) alone killed Susan Reinert and her children, Karen and
THE REINERT CURSE
Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
May 1, 1986
DEATH SENTENCE PA MURDER MULTIPLE
DEATH SENTENCE FOR SMITH IN THREE REINERT MURDERS
Author: KURT HEINE, Daily News Staff Writer
As the 12 Dauphin County jurors each repeated "death . . . death . . . death" to Jay C. Smith last night, the former Upper Merion High School principal blankly scanned the legal forms that spelled out his punishment for murdering teacher Susan Reinert and her two children.
Not once did he look up at those who had condemned him.
Earlier, when the same jury found him guilty of the June 1979 Reinert murders, Smith never blinked, sitting motionless at a table with his attorneys and private investigator, his eyes focused on the floor and his hands clasped so tightly that his knuckles whitened.
When he appealed for his life yesterday afternoon at a hearing to determine his punishment, Smith, 57, who has been jailed since June 25, 1979 - the day Susan Reinert's body was found - for stealing $53,000 from a Sears store in Delaware County, maintained his innocence.
But he said he accepted the verdict.
"They're honest people and they made an honest decision and I'll accept that," he said matter-of-factly, gesturing with his hands. "That's the way it goes."
The only tears for Smith were from his attorney, William C. Costopoulos, who sobbed and wiped his face as he pleaded with the jury to let Smith spend his life in prison. Smith testified almost proudly that he had carved a niche for himself, counseling other inmates and writing a "criminal justice dictionary."
Referring to Smith's response to the three death sentences, Costopoulos said, "His reaction, I think, is predictable . . . He seems stable, no matter what his history has been."
Smith will appeal the verdict and sentences, the lawyer said.
As Smith was taken back to the Dallas state prison in Luzerne County last night, his ebullient prosecutor, Chief Deputy Attorney General Richard L. Guida, said, "The case is over" and the search for the Reinert children, who have never been found, is "inactive."
"I sure hope so," Guida told reporters outside the county courthouse who asked if he thought the children would ever be found, "but I don't think so."
"I'm not going to stand here and say I'm pleased. I'm never pleased when somebody is sentenced to die," said Guida. "But it was the right verdict."
Guida, a bachelor, calls Karen Reinert, 11, and her brother, Michael, 10, ''my kids" and has their pictures on his office wall. His strongest appeals to the jurors during the three-week trial was for sympathy for the slain children.
Yesterday, when arguing that Smith should get the electric chair, Guida alleged that the children "were brutally murdered because they were there when their mother was abducted and murdered" and that Susan Reinert, 37, was tortured.
"What greater torture could there be than to see your two children killed?" he asked. "Can there be any murder greater than the murder of children? Can there be any crime more despicable than the theft of innocence? Can there be any crime against our society greater than a crime that steals our collective future, our children?"
He also charged that the murders were a contract conspiracy between Smith and Upper Merion High teacher William S. Bradfield so they could split Reinert's $730,000 in life insurance benefits.
Bradfield was convicted in 1983 of masterminding the murders and is serving three life sentences. Guida said Bradfield had convinced Reinert to name him as beneficiary to her insurance and heir to her estate, worth a total of nearly $1 million. But at the same time he was plotting with Smith to kill her, he was secretly scheming to make it appear as though Smith alone was responsible for the crime so Bradfield could collect the insurance money for
himself, Guida contended.
Smith's only appeals for mercy were his protestations of innocence and his desire to stay in prison "and kind of go on as I have, try to help other inmates as much as I can, try to help my family get over the disgrace, finish the criminal justice dictionary."
In 35 minutes of calm but often rambling testimony, Smith looked at the jurors and said, "I did not kill Susan Reinert. I never had anything to do with Susan Reinert whatsoever. I never saw her off the school property. I never saw her children at any time."
In the end, after deliberating Smith's fate for five hours, the jury accepted the prosecution's arguments that Susan Reinert had been killed in a contract murder and that her children were slain because they would have been witnesses to their mother's death. Investigators determined the cause of Reinert's death was a massive overdose of morphine.
The jury found nothing in Smith's favor to mitigate the killings.
"There was not one of us in that jury room who wanted to send someone to die," said Kenneth Leitzell, the only one of five jurors contacted last night who would discuss the deliberations. "But we had to weigh everything out. We had to put our personal feelings aside and base it on the law. That's what took us so long.
"We could have easily walked out of there and said, 'life,' but not one of us could have lived with themselves after that. There was only one possible conclusion. He had to die."
Leitzell, a mechanic, also discussed the panel's six hours of deliberations over two days that led to the guilty verdicts against Smith.
"We didn't base it on the attorneys or just what the prosecutor said or how we felt about the children," he said. "We based it on the evidence and it wasn't any one piece of evidence that made it for us. It was all of the evidence."
The hair that matched Susan Reinert's found in Smith's basement, the rug fibers that matched Smith's carpet found in Reinert's hair, the pin like Karen Reinert's that was found in Smith's car and the two jail inmates who said Smith implicated himself in the slayings all supported the conviction, Leitzell said.
"All through the trial, you hoped that something would come up to find the man innocent," he said. "But when 12 people decide the same thing, it must be right."
Curiously, Leitzell said the jury rejected one of the prosecution's most crucial pieces of circumstantial evidence against Smith - a blue comb found under Reinert's battered body, a comb just like a dozen combs Smith had in his Valley Forge house.
"We didn't think a guy like that would ever be stupid enough or careless enough to drop that thing there," said Leitzell, adding that jurors figured someone else - someone never charged in the murders - had planted the comb in the trunk of Reinert's car.
"It's hard to believe there were only two people involved," he said. "We do feel that there was somebody else, but Smith was the only one on trial so we didn't talk too much about who it was."
Bradfield and three of his cronies, all teachers at the time, were at the New Jersey shore at the time of the murders and didn't return until after Reinert's body had been found, according to testimony.
But Joanne Aitken, an architect who was one of Bradfield's four girlfriends at the time, couldn't account for her whereabouts on the weekend of the slayings.
Guida said in his closing argument on Tuesday that Aitken may have helped Smith dump Reinert's body and may have driven the killer back to his house. But he said there's no evidence on which to prosecute Aitken, who testified earlier that she still has a romantic relationship with the jailed Bradfield.
As Costopoulos observed, "I don't think the truth will ever be known in this case unless the commonwealth asks the right people the right questions."
The commonwealth, said Guida, won't be asking any more questions unless Smith or Bradfield decides to confess.
Other unanswered questions remain about Smith's oldest daughter, Stephanie, who disappeared with her husband, Edward Hunsberger, in February 1978. The two were living with Smith at the time and have since been presumed dead by Montgomery County authorities, who have said they have "a strong suspicion" Smith is responsible.
Edward Hunsberger's parents, Byron and Dorothy Hunsberger, of North Wales, Montgomery County, have attended every court hearing involving Smith or the Reinert case for nearly eight years, hoping to glean something about what happened to their son and daughter-in-law.
After the verdict, they said they now feel safe from the man they fear, the man they blame for what they feel certain are the murders of Edward and Stephanie Hunsberger.
"We're glad the prosecution succeeded after this long investigation," said Byron Hunsberger. "But it's not really the end of any road. It's just the end of another series of distasteful events."
Mrs. Hunsberger said Smith deserves "the electric chair."
1. Susan Reinert
2. Michael Reinert
3. Karen Reinert
4. Deputy escorts Smith back to prison after sentencing yesterday (Associated