Family was in legal battle over father's estate
By Garren Shipley -- firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Councilwoman Gail Smith may have known the person who killed her, according to search warrants filed in Clarke County Circuit Court this week.
Police discovered Smith, a member of the Berryville Town Council, dead in her home on July 30.
According to the documents filed late Wednesday, there was no sign of a struggle, robbery or forced entry into the home. She was killed by single shot to the temple from a small-caliber handgun.
If police have a suspect, they're not telling.
But the warrants filed Thursday state that Smith had told friends that she "feared for her well being" at the hands of a specific person.
"The subject had been to her residence unannounced in the week prior to her demise," investigator Tricia Putnam wrote in a statement requesting a search warrant.
Others confirmed that Smith had said the person in question "had contacted her by phone that same week," Putnam wrote.
Police did interview the person who allegedly came to Smith's home, but "the subject denied any recent contact by any form with the deceased."
Smith had just come through a contentious court proceeding that named her the guardian of her 92-year-old father, Timothy R. Smith Sr., of New Jersey, according to other court records.
After his hospitalization for Alzheimer's-related dementia, the councilwoman started civil court proceedings to have herself declared his legal guardian.
That also put the councilwoman in charge of her father's estate, valued at just over $200,000 -- something her two siblings, Deborah Smith and Timothy R. Smith Jr., both of Burkeville, objected to strenuously, according to the civil case file.
Both wrote to the judge, saying they were concerned that their father's money was missing. As such, they wanted a joint-custody arrangement, or, at a bare minimum, an audit of his finances.
But there was too much bad blood in the Smith family to make that practical, according to a report filed by a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the elder Smith during the proceedings.
"Suffice it to say Debbie believes Gail has ill motives and has taken her father's funds inappropriately," the guardian wrote.
The brother and sister were strongly concerned about what was happening to their father's savings and other investments, the guardian wrote.
"Primarily it seems that they are concerned about financial matters," the report states.
The guardian also had concerns about the elder Smith's son. "He has had some legal problems involving drug possession and has been incarcerated," the report states.
Timothy Smith Jr. declined to talk about his sister's death when reached by phone on Thursday afternoon.
"I have nothing to say about it," he said. "I spoke with the chief of police about this already."
He also said he "would have no idea" if Gail Smith's death had any connection to the civil suit.
"I'm reading the same things that you're seeing on the computer," he said.
Deborah Smith could not be located for comment.