Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Within the Walls

"I've Done Some Hideous Things."

Lemuel Warren Smith was born in the city of Amsterdam in central New York in 1941. Before his birth, his parents had another son, John, who died at the age of 11 months. This issue would be raised later in Lemuel's life when court psychiatrists said this event had a traumatic impact on Smith's psychological development. He was raised by a strict mother who did not tolerate misbehavior and a father who was a minister for a local church. By the time he was 17, Lemuel was 6-foot-4 and played basketball for Amsterdam High. He was considered a local hero for the team and there was talk of a promising future in sports. But in 1958, the family decided to move to Maryland. Shortly after the move, Lemuel was arrested and later convicted of beating a woman with a lead pipe in a Baltimore dry cleaning store. It was the first of the many serious crimes committed by Lemuel Smith.

Lemuel Smith
Lemuel Smith

On Thanksgiving Eve in 1976, Robert Hedderman, the owner of a religious store in downtown Albany and his assistant, Margaret Byron were found stabbed to death. Both of the victims had their throats cut.  A month later, on December 23, 1976, Joan Richburg, 42, was abducted from the Colonie Shopping Mall in New York. She was taken to a deserted area of a parking lot where she was sexually assaulted and killed. Her throat had been slit and her body was savagely mutilated. Both of these horrendous crimes remained unsolved for months.

Marilee Wilson
Marilee Wilson (Dr. Neal

In July 1977, a woman named Marilee Wilson, 30, was abducted from downtown Schenectady. Smith, who was in custody for the Albany murders, confessed this crime in 1978 to state police and described in detail what he had done to the victim. After he raped her, he said he took her to a wooded area where he stomped her to death. He said he flung her body into trees and rammed sticks into her mouth and other parts of her body causing massive internal injuries. He burned her with cigarettes and bit her on the nose and face. Smith also bit the victim's nipples. During an interview with investigators, he later told police that Ms. Wilson was evil and that she was laughing at him. But the bites on Ms. Wilson's body left definitive impressions, which were of evidentiary value.

Smith was later examined by Dr. Zvi Klopott, a court appointed psychiatrist. who testified at the Hedderman-Byron murders trial. He said that Smith had a conflict in his mind that focused upon his dead brother, John. Klopott said that Smith believed John was a messenger from the devil and whenever Smith committed a rape or murder, he thought John would protect him from punishment. Somehow, Dr. Klopott concluded, this rage generated from Smith's upbringing and a strong resentment to his mother. "Women he attacked are projections of his mother," he told the court in 1978, "The rage he feels automatically flows into John because Smith cannot accept the rage as belonging to him." But a prosecution psychiatrist later testified that Smith was a manipulator and played the court system well. He said Smith fabricated mental illness because he knew he would get a lighter sentence. "I've done some terrible things," he later told the court, "some hideous things, things I have to face everyday in the mirror." Smith was convicted of the Hedderman-Byron murders and received two 25 to life sentences.

Schenectady detectives, who were still working on the Wilson case, then requested a forensic odontologist, Dr. Lowell Levine, to examine the bite marks on the victim's body. Dr. Levine determined that the bite impressions on the victim's body matched the teeth of Lemuel Smith. Based on that evidence, he was indicted for the murder of Ms. Wilson. Smith was also indicted for the Joan Richburg murder in Schenectady to which he also confessed. But by then, Smith was already serving multiple life prison terms. There was no chance he could be released. As a result, the District Attorney decided that there would be no benefit to yet another murder conviction of Lemuel Smith. As a result, both indictments were dismissed.  But images of the bite injuries on Ms. Wilson's body were preserved. They were the only known samples of Lemuel Smith's bite impression on human skin.

Cast of Lemuel Smith's lower teeth
Cast of Lemuel Smith's lower teeth (Dr. Neal Riesner)