In 1997, Judy Smith was a 50-year-old mother of two from Newton, Massachusetts. She had recently gotten married to her attorney husband, Jeffrey, and decided to fly to Philadelphia to join him on a business trip.
When she forgot her ID at Boston’s Logan International Airport on April 9, 1997, the couple then decided to travel separately and meet later that night. When they met up, they went to their hotel room and made plans for the next day. On April 10, Judy went sightseeing while Jeff went to the conference, and that morning was the last time that he saw his wife alive.
At 5:30pm, Jeff came back to their hotel when he discovered that Judy was nowhere to be found. When she didn’t come back that night, he began searching the route that Judy had taken that day while sightseeing. He soon notified the Philadelphia police and Judy’s children and they all began searching for her, but to no avail. Then, on September 7, 1997, a man and his son hiking in the woods near Asheville, North Carolina discovered the skeletal remains of a woman who had been stabbed to death. The remains were soon identified as Judy’s, but a pair of Bolle’s sunglasses and a blue backpack found with her body was not hers. At first, nobody could not understand how Judy ended up in North Carolina, but some began to suggest that Judy may have left Philadelphia voluntarily and went to North Carolina. What makes this story truly baffling is that Judy’s remains were found 600 miles away from her hotel.
Authorities found that the clothing Judy was wearing suggested that she was hiking in the area at the time, not that she had been dumped there. Several shop owners reported talking to a “Judy from Boston” in Asheville after she vanished and a hotel clerk even remembered her staying at the hotel from April 10-12. Since she still had her wedding ring and $167 in her possession, robbery did not seem to be a motive. Even though she normally carried her belongings in a red backpack, a blue backpack was found at the scene. Police do not suspect Jeff Smith in the disappearance and death of his wife, but despite his insistence that he and his wife were in good terms with their marriage and that his wife met with foul play in Philadelphia, police believe that Judy may have planned her disappearance, and met with foul play while hiking neat Asheville. Investigators believe that the killer is not native to North Carolina, but may have ties to the area. Judy’s killer has never been identified and the case remains unsolved.
Authorities believe that the owner of the Bolle’s sunglasses and blue backpack found with Judy’s backpack is her killer, and that he has ties to the area where she was found.
Among the theories Philadelphia police pursued were that Judith Smith ran off to establish a new life – or that she was murdered. It now looks possible that both may have happened. Smith, a nurse, was a hiker and lover of the outdoors, so the area where she was found – national forest land in Buncombe County, about 18 miles from Asheville – would seem like just the sort of place she might go if she had run away. Smith’s decomposed body was found Sept. 7, but only positively identified Monday through dental records. Authorities in North Carolina requested the records after a doctor spotted a story in a local newspaper about an unidentified body being found – and remembered that he had seen a flier about Judith Smith.
Buncombe County Sheriff Bob Medford said Smith had been dead since the spring, probably not long after she was reported missing. She was dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, but had warmer clothes with her. The clothes were in a blue backpack – not the red backpack that was her signature – indicating that at some point after April 10 she bought a new backpack. She had $80 in a pocket of her jeans and $87 in the pocket of a winter jacket. About 20 feet from her body was a paperback she apparently had been reading, a medical murder mystery, Flashback by Michael Palmer.
“It didn’t appear she was dragged out there,” Medford said. “The indications are she wanted to be there.”
North Carolina authorities have classified the case a murder mainly because because the body was buried. There are also indications Smith’s body may have been dragged a short distance to the grave. Medford said animals may have dug Smith’s body up, but could not have buried it.
All indications pointed to Judy being in a good mood, and a witness who spoke with her said she mentioned her husband was an attorney. If the woman that witness spoke to was indeed Judy Smith, no one knows why she felt compelled to run off without telling her family. And if Judy chose to disappear on her own, how did she wind up dead on a remote mountain?