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FBI Announces Arrest In 1994 Cold Case Of Widow Raped, Strangled To Death In Indiana Home

Family members initially believed 69-year-old Gloria Hansell died of natural causes until funeral home employees found an electrical cord wrapped around her neck. 

5 Infamous Cold Cases of Murder

A Kentucky man has been charged with the brutal rape and murder of an elderly woman nearly 30 years ago.

Gerald Lynn Smith, 60, was charged by Lake County prosecutors in Indiana for the murder of Gloria Hansell, 69, who was killed in her Gary, Indiana home in 1994, the FBI announced in a release on Tuesday. Jail records reviewed by Oxygen.com show Smith, of Madisonville, Kentucky, was arrested by Hopkins County officials in Kentucky on fugitive charges Sept. 30 before he was released Monday and returned to Lake County.

On top of murder charges, Smith is also charged with murder while committing a rape.

Gloria Hansell was a widow who lived alone at her 3966 Buchanan Street residence when someone entered her home on June 17, 1994, before raping the 69-year-old and strangling her to death, according to the FBI. The murder was all the more shocking because Hansell was vulnerable, having to rely on an in-home oxygen machine “due to poor health.”

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A family member found Hansell’s body, and relatives initially believed Hansell died of natural causes, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana. It wasn't until funeral home employees found an electrical cord from a box fan tied around the victim’s neck, prompting them to call authorities, who swiftly began a homicide investigation.

For years, Hansell’s case went unsolved. But during a new look in 2020, the FBI’s Gang Response Investigative Team (GRIT) enlisted the help of the Indiana State Police Lowell Regional Laboratory in analyzing the suspect’s DNA collected from Hansell’s rape kit, which ultimately led them to Smith.

An FBI handout of Gerald Smith

DNA found on the electrical cord was also submitted to the FBI’s database, though the tests yielded no results.

GRIT investigators were also able to place Smith in Gary, Indiana shortly before Hansell’s murder, according to the release.

Feds discovered Smith was one of two men whose fingerprints were previously compared to latent prints found on a soda can and credit card found at the 1994 crime scene, according to court records cited by the Times. However, both men weren’t matches.

At some point in the investigation, a witness claimed Smith visited Hansell on at least two occasions in the weeks leading up to the murder, according to the FBI. Smith — who was then 32 years old — had recently returned to the area after moving out of state.

“The witness stated on one occasion, Smith asked Hansell if he could cut her grass for money, but she declined his offer,” the FBI stated. “The witness stated on another occasion, Hansell said Smith made an unwanted advance towards her inside her house that made her uncomfortable when he tried to kiss her neck.”

Hansell had been widowed for about two years and told a relative that Smith allegedly leaned her back on a rocking chair and placed his hands or head by her neck, according to court records cited by the Times.

Feds interviewed Hansell at a Madisonville, Kentucky rehabilitation center in 2020, where he denied ever knowing the victim or her family, according to the Times. Hansell eventually admitted he knew the family but denied knowing where they lived, before subsequently lawyering up.

Smith has yet to enter a plea to the charges, according to the Times.

The FBI acknowledged the work of several law enforcement agencies, including the Gary Police Department, the Lake County Police Department Crime Scene Unit and officials in Hopkins County, Kentucky. They ask that anyone with information call GRIT investigators at 1-219-942-4899.

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