Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Susan Smith: Child Murderer or Victim?

The Big Lie

The fall of 1994 had been full of activity for Susan. She worked full time at Conso, managed a part time college course load at the University of South Carolina, had custody of her two toddler sons and was sexually involved with three men: Bev Russell, Tom Findlay and her estranged husband, David. Increasingly, Susan was filled with anxiety and when she was alone, she became deeply depressed. During this period of time, Susan had begun to take days off from work to drink. This was unusual behavior for her.

Tuesday, October 25, 1994 began like any other day for Susan Smith. Susan dressed and fed her children breakfast and then drove them to daycare. Susan went to work and at lunch joined a group of Conso employees, one of whom was Tom Findlay, at a restaurant in Buffalo. While the group laughed and talked, Susan sat quietly. At around 1:30 p.m., Susan asked her supervisor, Sandy Williams, if she could leave work early. Sandy asked Susan if something was wrong and Susan confided in Sandy that she was upset because she was "in love whith someone who doesnt love me." Sandy asked Susan who that person was and Susan replied, "Tom Findlay, but it can never be because of my children." Rather than go home, Susan remained at her desk.

Tom Findlay (AP)
Tom Findlay (AP)
At around 2:30 p.m., Susan called Tom in his office to ask him to meet her outside of the building to talk. Susan told Tom that David was threatening to expose and make public some embarrassing information about her in their divorce proceedings. Tom asked her to explain what the information was and Susan told Tom that David would accuse her of cheating the IRS and of having an affair with your father. After recovering from the shock of hearing about this alleged affair, Tom told Susan that their friendship would remain intact, but that our intimate relationship will have to stop forever.

At 4:30 p.m., Susan sought out Tom again in the Conso photography studio. Susan attempted to return Toms Auburn University sweatshirt that she had borrowed, but Tom refused to accept it. Tom told Susan to hold on to it.

After collecting her sons at day care, Susan headed in her car to Hickory Nuts, while she was driving there she spotted Sue Brown, the marketing manager at Conso, in her car. Both Sue and Susan pulled into the Hickory Nuts parking lot. Susan talked to Sue and convinced her to return to Conso with her so that she could apologize to Tom for lying to him about sleeping with his father. Susan had concocted the story in order to see Toms reaction to it. The woman arrived at Conso around 5:30 p.m. Susan wanted Sue to watch her children while she spoke to Tom. Tom was not happy to see Susan and quickly led her out of his office. Susan told Sue Brown that she was upset after talking to Tom and that she may just end it. Sandy Williams was leaving Conso for the day when she spotted Susan Smith and Sue Brown in the parking lot. Sandy felt manipulated and deceived by Susan who had insisted that she could not stay at work and had to go home because she was so upset by her boyfriends rejection. Susan dropped Sue Brown off at Hickory Nuts and drove home, it was about 6:00 p.m.

Later in the evening, Sue Brown was eating dinner at Hickory Nuts with several friends, including Tom Findlay. During the meal, a waiter brought a cordless telephone to Sue. Susan Smith was calling to ask Sue if Tom Findlay had asked about her. Sue told Susan that he had not.

At 8:00 p.m., Susan dressed her sons, placed them in their car seats in her car and began driving around Union. Susan later described her reaction to Toms rejection by saying that she had never felt so lonely and sad in my entire life.

Around 9:00 p.m., Shirley McCloud was relaxing in the living room of her home, located about one quarter mile from John D. Long Lake. Shirley was just finishing Tuesdays Union Daily Times when she heard a wailing sound coming from her front porch. Shirley switched on the porch light and saw a young woman sobbing hysterically. The young woman cried, Please help me! Hes got my kids and hes got my car. Shirley lead Susan Smith into her home and Susan told her, A black man has got my kids and my car. Shirleys husband, Rick told his son Rick, Jr. to call 911.

At 9:12 p.m., the 911 dispatcher called the Union County sheriffs office to direct them to respond to the Rick McClouds 911 call. Once Susan had calmed down, Shirley asked Susan to tell her what happened. Susan told her the following story: I was stopped at the red light at Monarch Mills and a black man jumped in and told me to drive. I asked him why was he doing this and he said shut up and drive or Ill kill you. Susan continued and told Shirley that, at the abductors direction, she drove northeast of Union for about four miles until, he made me stop right past the sign. Shirley confirmed that the sign was for the John D. Long Lake, which was located several hundred yards outside of Shirleys front door. He told me to get out. He made me stop in the middle of the road. Nobody was coming, not a single car. Susan continued, I asked him, why cant I take my kids? Susan told Shirley that the man said, I dont have time. Susan said that the man pushed her out of her car while he was pointing a gun at her side. Susan continued by telling Shirley that When he finally got me out he said, Dont worry, Im not going to hurt your kids. Susan described how she had laid on the ground as the man drove away as both of her sons cried out for their mother. After awhile, Susan wasnt sure how long, she began to run and stopped when she reached Shirley McClouds porch. Susan asked Shirley if she could use the bathroom and if she could call her mother. When Susan was unable to reach her mother, she called her stepfather and then her husband, David at Winn-Dixie. By the time Susan reached David by phone, the Union County Sheriff, Howard Wells had driven to the McClouds home and was directing the search for the Smith children.

David comforts Susan (AP)
David comforts Susan (AP)
Sheriff Wells knew Susan through his friendship with Susans brother, Scotty and Scottys wife, Wendy. Wells and his wife Wanda considered themselves close friends of Scotty and Wendy Vaughn. Wells asked Susan to repeat her story, although he had heard it from the 911 dispatcher and from Shirley McCloud. Wells took notes and asked Susan questions. Wells noted that Susan was wearing a gray sweatshirt with orange lettering spelling out Auburn University. Susans face was red and puffy and her hands rested in her lap. Susan described the clothes that her sons were wearing. Michael was wearing a white jogging suit and Alex was wearing a red and white-stripped outfit. After Susan finished, Wells realized that the carjacking was not going to be solved quickly nor would the Union County sheriffs office have all the resources necessary to find the Smith children. Wells called Chief Robert Stewart, the head of South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known by the initials, SLED, for additional assistance.

Wells did not question the information Susan had provided to him or her story. Wells was concerned with collecting all the available information and following whatever leads developed. As time passed and more scrutiny could be applied to the information he had collected, Wells could begin to sort out fact from fiction.


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