Real Name: Joseph Weldon Smith
Wanted For: Murder, Attempted Murder, Fraud
Missing Since: October 6, 1990
Details: During the 1980s, dry climate and limitless entertainment began to attract a large retirement community to Las Vegas, Nevada. Los Angeles businessman Frank Allen was one of them; he bought his dream retirement home in 1986. It was located in an elegant gated community ten miles from downtown Las Vegas. In 1990, he temporarily rented it to the Smith family: fifty-year-old Joe Smith, his wife, Judith, and her two daughters from a previous marriage, twenty-year-old Wendy and twelve-year-old Kristy. Wendy was engaged and planning to get married in November. Frank also maintained a room for himself for his frequent business trips to Nevada. He had no idea that Joe had an unsavory past. He had a long history as a con man; on at least one occasion, he was convicted of attempted grand theft.
On the night of October 6, 1990, Frank expected an empty house because Joe claimed that he and his family were going on a weekend vacation. As Frank entered his bedroom, he felt as if something was wrong. He decided to walk through the house when suddenly, Joe jumped out of a closet and attacked him with a hammer. Joe chased him throughout the house, back to the bottom floor. He ran around the foyer into the living room/dining room, and Joe ran toward the kitchen, planning to catch and attack him there. However, he turned around and ran back toward the front door. Realizing that he would not have enough time to unlock it (which he had double-locked earlier), he jumped through the glass. He drove to the guard gate and had the guard call the police.
When the police arrived ten minutes later, they searched the house for Joe. In the downstairs bedroom, they thought they cornered him hiding under a blanket. However, when they lifted it up, they discovered Kristy's body; she had been bludgeoned and strangled. In the next bedroom, Wendy's body was found; she had also been bludgeoned and strangled. She had multiple wounds to her head, along with defensive ones on her hands. Finally, in the master bedroom, they found Judith's body in her bed. She, too, had been bludgeoned. It was later determined that they had been dead for approximately eighteen hours.
Two hours after the bodies were discovered, Joe called Judith's daughter-in-law. He declared his innocence and said that he knew who "really" committed the murders. He claimed that he had even killed one of the murderers; of course, this was false. It is believed that he made this call in order to get sympathy and support from Judith's family. He vanished soon after being charged with three counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He fled town in a gold Lincoln Continental with vanity license plates reading "SMITTY2".
Police are puzzled by this seemingly motiveless crime. By all accounts, the Smith marriage was a happy one. Although Joe did have financial problems, he was not named in Judith's will. Also, he did not have life insurance policies for her, Kristy, or Wendy.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 23, 1991 episode. It is not to be confused with that of Judith Smith who was found in North Carolina in 1997.
Results: Captured. A viewer reported that Joe was hiding in a motel near Los Angeles. However, he escaped before the police arrived. After receiving information about his brother who lived in the area, authorities tracked him to another motel, where he was arrested soon afterward. He had been living there under an assumed name. He later told detectives that he was in the process of creating a new identity. He also told them that he had seen the broadcast and knew that he would most likely be captured soon. He was later convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. He remains on death row.
- Nevada Man Arrested in Slaying of His Family
- New Death Sentence in Murder of Family
- One of two death sentences against murderer upheld
- Smith vs. State (1994)
- Smith vs. State (1998)
- Smith vs. Baker (2014)
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Joe Smith
- Judith, Wendy, and Kristy on Find a Grave