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Camping Trip Turns Into Night Of Terror After 2 Teen Couples Torture And Kill Friend
Lora Sinner had grown close with her ex-boyfriend's siblings Paul and Lori Smith, accompanying them on a California camping trip. She would never return from it.
The murder of 20-year-old Lora Sinner wasn’t the result of one killer, but four. How could such a horrible crime have happened?
Born in 1977, Sinner grew up on a dairy farm in Yakima, Washington, the youngest of three siblings.
“Lora as a young girl, she was fun, she was cute. She was always smiling and seemed happy,” brother Ryan Sinner told “Snapped: Killer Couples,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Following her freshman year in college, Lora volunteered at a Christian mission in Aberdeen, Washington. There, she met Timothy Smith, who she dated through the summer.
In the fall of 1997, Lora's mother fell ill with leukemia and died soon after. To cope with her grief, Lora reconnected with Timothy. The couple moved to his hometown of Redding, California in March 1998.
“She said that they love each other, they’re going to go down, meet his family, get married, start a life there,” said Ryan.
But that dream life never took off for Lora. On the morning of April 18, 1998, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office investigated a derelict campsite in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Preserve in northern California.
“There was debris everywhere, there were empty liquor bottles. There were signs of possibly a struggle or something that had taken place,” Shasta County Sheriff’s Office Detective Steven Berg told “Snapped: Killer Couples.”
After finding blood on the ground, officers brought in a cadaver dog. Underneath the ashes and burned logs of a fire pit, they discovered a dead body.
“The victim was naked. She had a black plastic garbage bag tied around her head. It definitely appeared that she’d been struck several times in the back of the head. She had bruising all over her body, there were cuts on her arms,” Berg said.
Investigators found a purse in a nearby tent that contained a driver’s license belonging to Lora Sinner. Dental records later confirmed her as the victim.
“We did ultimately find a family-size large can of chili beans that had hair blood evidence and it was dented,” explained Berg.
Investigators believed the can was used as a weapon.
An autopsy determined the cause of death to be blunt force head injuries, with asphyxiation a possible contributing factor, according to court documents. There were at least nine lacerations on her left wrist and she had a near fatal blood alcohol level of .88.
“It’s terribly shocking. She obviously wasn’t killed right away. She was tortured,” Shasta County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Terrisa Clemens told “Snapped: Killer Couples.”
Investigators notified Lora's father who said he had been worried about his daughter ever since she moved to California. She had only called him once, on April 1, to say that she and Timothy Smith had broken up.
“The offer was made by her father to give her money for gas so she could return to Salem. She declined those offers and said that she did want to stay in Redding,” Berg recalled.
Timothy Smith was brought in for questioning, where he was shocked to learn of Sinner’s death. He hadn’t seen her since March 30, saying she had been living at his father’s home in Redding where she had befriended Tim’s younger siblings, Paul and Lori Smith.
Timothy kept his distance after Lora fell in with his family. When he and his brother were children, their father confessed to sodomizing them, for which he served time in prison, according to court documents. As a result, the Smith children grew up in the foster care system.
Timothy’s brother, Paul Gordon Smith Jr., known as “PJ,” had attacked staffers and fellow residents while living in a group home and was suspected of sexual assault. In February 1998, he was arrested for robbing a prostitute at gunpoint, according to court documents.
Lori Smith had also grown up in foster care and had spent time in juvenile hall. In 1997, the family were living together for the first time in years at their father’s house in Redding. PJ and Lori became close and she began dating his friend, Eric Rubio. Paul, meanwhile, began dating 14-year-old Amy Stevens, who he had convinced to run away from her foster home.
Amy Stevens later walked into the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office saying was afraid for her safety and had information on the murder of Lora Sinner.
Stevens said in early April, she had gone on a camping trip with Paul and Lori Smith, Eric Rubio, and Lora Sinner. During the trip, Lora began flirting with Paul, angering Stevens.
"I just went up and hit her in the face and said, 'That's for flirting with P.J.,'” she told sheriff's officials, according to the Associated Press.
Stevens and Lora began fighting. According to Stevens, Paul then intervened, hitting Lora in the head with the can of chili beans and then beating her to death with an automotive dent puller, essentially a metal pipe with a weight at the end.
Detectives brought Lori Smith in for questioning, who confirmed certain aspects of Stevens’ story but not others. She claimed that on the camping trip Paul had pressured everyone into getting drunk and then attacked Lora.
“He started beating up on Lora … put a rope around her neck, tied her legs and tied her arms, and threw her on the wrestling mat by the tent and he said, ‘I’m gonna slice your wrists open. I’m gonna make it look like you tried to kill yourself,' and he made us watch that,” Lori says in her videotaped statement to police, which was obtained by “Snapped: Killer Couples.”
Lori claimed Paul put a garbage bag over Lora’s head and beat her with the dent puller until she was dead. Afterward, he forced Rubio to help him bury the body and said he’d kill anyone who said anything.
Lori and Amy’s accounts differed enough that detectives believed neither one entirely. Eager to speak to Paul and Rubio, they learned both men were both already in custody.
“What eventually put Paul Smith and Eric Rubio into jail was they got caught with a stolen Jeep,” said Clemens.
Detectives interviewed Rubio, who told them the camping trip included lots of drinking and drug use and that Lora got on everyone’s nerves. He said Stevens started a fistfight with Lora and that when Lora gained the upper hand, Lori intervened.
“Amy went over, retrieved this two-pound can of chili beans and then came over and struck Lora in the back of the head two times,” said Berg. “Lori then stepped in, took the can from her … and then Lori struck her multiple times in the head.”
Lora fell to the ground, unconscious. Lori and Amy led her down to a creek to wash the blood out of her hair and saw that her skull was cracked. According to Rubio, Paul Smith then produced a razor blade.
“He tied her up and then asked her out of the blue from nowhere … ’Do you wanna cut your wrists or do you want me to do it?'" Rubio told Detective Berg in his videotaped statement, which was obtained by “Snapped: Killer Couples.”
Lora tried slitting her own wrists but the wounds weren’t deep enough. Paul then cut her wrist, poured alcohol on the wounds, forced her to drink whisky, and kicked her in the head, according to court documents.
“She wasn’t passing away fast enough for him … Lori proceeded to get out and hit her with the dent puller, but, I guess, to PJ, she wasn’t hitting her hard enough so he took it away from her and told her to get in the tent and he did it,” Rubio told Berg.
“Then he said, ‘Man, come help me f--king bury her,’ and I was like, ‘No man, f--k that,’ and then he said, ‘Man, if you don’t f--king help me bury her man, I’m gonna kill you too.'"
Detectives spoke with Paul Smith Jr., who corroborated Rubio’s account, saying what started as a fight between the three girls ended with him killing Lora. In his mind, Lora was not going to live as her skull was crushed. He claimed he decided he didn’t really want her to suffer.
Paul Smith, 20, Lori Smith, 19, Eric Rubio, 18, and Amy Stevens, 14, were indicated for the murder of Lora Sinner.
Eric Rubio and Lori Smith pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Paul Smith. They were sentenced to life with parole, according to local newspaper the Redding Record Searchlight. Rubio was paroled in 2015, Lori Smith in 2021.
“Amy being a juvenile, she went to juvenile court but she was sentenced to the maximum for a juvenile, which means she would be in custody until she was 25,” said Berg. Stevens was released from custody in 2009.
In 2002, Paul Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. In 2004, he received an additional life sentence for the attempted murder of a prison guard in a failed prison escape, according to the Redding Record Searchlight.
Paul Smith’s death sentence was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 2015 and was later commuted to life without the possibility of parole, according to Redding ABC-affiliate KRCR.