Five years later, family still hoping for break

Five years later, family still hoping for break

Five years after the death of a 59-year-old Champaign woman, sheriff's investigators are looking for an unidentified man who is linked to other crimes, and family members are looking for justice.

Linda Smith was found dead in her burning home at 302 Paul Ave. in Wilbur Heights by volunteers for the Eastern Prairie Fire Protection District the morning of Sept. 22, 2001.

A Champaign County coroner's jury ruled in December that year that the manner of death was "undetermined." Autopsy results showed she died from a heart attack.

Other evidence and circumstances have not been released. Authorities said at the time that limitations on information about the case were due to the continuing investigation.

That investigation is continuing, and investigators believe Mrs. Smith was murdered before her house caught fire, Champaign County sheriff's Lt. Ed Ogle said.

Ogle said investigators believe actions of the unidentified intruder causedMrs. Smith to have a heart attack, and the cause of the fire is suspicious.

He said investigators obtained a no-name warrant based on DNA evidence collected from the Smith home. That was done, he said, to avoid any problems with statutes of limitations.

If a person is arrested somewhere whose DNA produces a match with the DNA profile of the unknown person in the Smith case, then the Champaign County warrant could be used to arrest that person, Ogle said.

So far, the Smith case sample matches DNA recovered from crimes in Carbondale and Maryland, but that person has yet to be identified by any authorities.

"We just need to put a name with it," Ogle said.

In the past five years, sheriff's investigators have interviewed several suspects and obtained DNA samples from as far away as Missouri, Ogle said.

"There are no positive matches yet," Ogle said.

In addition, Ogle presented the Smith case at a conference of investigators for the Violent Offender Criminal Apprehension Program, which has a database of sex crime situations that can be used for comparison. Among things detectives can look for are similar methods of operation in crimes, suspect descriptions or other patterns of behavior.

Smith's son, Carl, said he and other family members have been frustrated that no one has been arrested for his mother's murder.

"Getting up every day and not seeing him arrested," he said. "Hopefully, it will be soon. To me, it seems like the older he gets, it might go away."

Carl Smith said he and the family are tired of answering questions from people who mean well, asking about their mother.

"Everybody knew her because she worked at Kmart for 29 years," he said. "It's hard, right from the start.

"You are really grieving, and you think they are going to catch him, but you don't think it's going to be five years."

Carl's wife, also named Linda, said her mother-in-law is missed but remembered.

"Our children have had special occasions that they could not share with their grandmother," the daughter-in-law said. "Our girls have missed her so much. They still talk to her, but it's not the same as doing it in person."

One of Mrs. Smith's daughters, Teresa Dilley, 47, of Urbana, said she has stayed in contact with the sheriff's department.

"They are doing what they can with what they've got," Dilley said. "They are not brushing it under the table. You've got to give it time. With all the technology, it's going to happen. I'm positive."

She said everyone who knew her mother loved her.

"She would probably give you the shirt off her back," Dilley said. "She was probably the strongest and best mother anybody could have.

"She was a heck of a woman. She raised four ornery kids by herself and had lots of fun on the way."

Two other daughters, Sheryl Dickhaut, and Tonya Smith, also survive.

Tonya, 34, of Champaign, said her hope is law enforcement officials find the person involved in her mother's death.

"It's hard enough to deal with the death of a parent," Tonya Smith said. "Every time you think about her, you have to think about her final minutes and what she went through. And the person responsible is still on the street."

She said family members want people to be aware of the case with the hope that someone will come forward with information.

"It's not going anywhere," Tonya Smith said of the investigation. "The more we let people know, there's a possibility that someone will say something.

"We don't want her to be forgotten."

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