In the small town of Berryville, Virginia, Councilwoman Gail Smith, 59, loomed large. She was known throughout her community for her dedication to public service as well as for her personal flair and style. She was active, friendly, and always there for her loved ones.
So when an aunt’s phone calls to Gail went unanswered for several days, the relative contacted local authorities. On Thursday, July 30, 2009, Gregory Frenzel, a now-retired investigator with the Berryville Police Department, made a welfare check on Gail, who he knew personally.
From outside her home, the official could see Gail lying on her back in her entranceway, he told “Mastermind of Murder,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. He made his way into the house.
“She showed signs of decomposition,” Frenzel said.
Gail appeared to have a bullet wound in her head, but there was no gun, shell casings, or bullets at the scene. There were no signs of a burglary. Strangely, there was a bouquet of fake flowers in the room — Gail was known for her impressive backyard garden, and phony flowers were not her thing. Frenzel suspected the councilwoman had been targeted.
An autopsy revealed that Gail had been shot by a .22-caliber gun. Detective Patricia Putnam, of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, referred to the firearm to producers as “the assassin’s weapon.”
Frenzel canvassed the community to look for leads. One of her neighbors claimed Gail had made an ominous statement just weeks before she died. She’d said that if anything bad happened to her then they should seek out her brother, Timothy Smith Jr.
Investigators discovered a rift had occurred in the Smith family. Gail was close to her father, who was battling Alzheimer’s. Gail’s siblings, Timothy and Deborah, had been closer with their mother. They decided to question the siblings.
Timothy told detectives that he’d been home at the time of his sister’s murder, and the alibi checked out. Still, the divide in the family was enough to make Timothy a person of interest. When Timothy, unlike Deborah, didn’t show up for his sister’s funeral, the suspicion deepened, according to investigators.
Detectives pulled Timothy’s phone records and found a dozen calls to a throwaway phone on the day Gail died. Using phone towers, the calls could be tracked as they moved from southern Virginia, near Timothy’s home, toward Berryville.
Investigators determined that the calls were made to Tony Sharpe, whose previous minor scrapes with the law didn’t suggest that he was capable of murder. They then learned that he had a pregnant girlfriend and a strong relationship with Timothy, who had thrown under-the-table odd jobs Sharpe’s way when possible.
Questioned by police, Sharpe denied any knowledge of Gail’s murder, sticking to his story even as authorities turned up the heat during questioning. They lacked the evidence needed to make any arrests — but officials got traction when the case led them to Edward Poley, who’d rented a room from Timothy Smith.
He told authorities that in 2008, Timothy told him that he wanted Gail “to disappear.” That led to a conspiracy plot using snake venom to kill the councilwoman. The scheme never materialized, and the revelation led to Timothy Smith being sentenced in August 2009 to two years in prison for soliciting the murder. Poley was charged with acting as an accessory.
Investigators also recognized a possible reason for murdering Gail. The Smith siblings’ father had an estate worth $750,000. Timothy and Deborah were slated to get just $1 apiece. Gail was set to receive the rest of the fortune.
While detectives had a motive and a strong suspicion that Sharpe was involved, they didn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest. They needed more than cell phone records that put Sharpe in Berryville when Gail was killed.
It took another two years for investigators to get fresh momentum, which came from Sharpe’s girlfriend. She eventually told authorities that Sharpe had killed Gail and that Timothy paid him $3,000 to do it. Authorities now had enough to charge Timothy and Sharpe for Gail’s murder.
Putnam told producers that it was clear that Timothy had manipulated Sharpe to get him to commit the crime. And investigators eventually discovered that Timothy wasn’t the only manipulator. Kevin Brinson, a Smith family friend, told detectives that Deborah had acknowledged that she played a role in the murder. He told Frenzel that she said, “I bought the bullets and the flowers.”
While Timothy used his powers over Sharpe, Deborah was the actual mastermind, investigators theorized. She was the bug in her brother’s ear and convinced him that Gail needed to be out of the picture.
Sharpe corroborated Brinson’s story. He told detectives, “All she would just say is that, ‘I can’t wait until you kill that bitch. I can’t wait until that bitch is dead.”
In March 2013, Timothy Smith Jr., 53, and Tony Sharpe, 26, were arrested. Timothy pleaded guilty and as a facilitator of the crime, he received a sentence of 23 years. Hitman Tony Sharpe got 25 years while Deborah, 62, was found guilty of perjury and received an eight-year sentence.
After Timothy Smith Sr. died on February 23, 2010, he was laid to rest next to his daughter Gail. His estate was awarded to his sister in South Carolina, according to “Mastermind of Murder.” Timothy and Deborah Smith were each given $1.
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