A case like this from Myrtle M. Sayers Smith, this old, is hard to solve. All people involved in the case have passed away.
We would need preserved evidence hoping that nothing has deteriorated beyond what can be tested for DNA. Or, we need documented confessions, witnessed on deathbeds, or written in journals, wills, etc.
Another issue that makes a case from the 30s hard to solve is simply the time period. How they conducted the evidence gathering, autopsy, and investigation then differs from what we do and know now.
Where does that leave us in 2021?
We make this the Case of the Month for July as Myrtle M. Sayers Smith (35) was found in July. In doing so we give her a better digital footprint so her case is easier to find online. Then, we share it on social media to alert people that this case, was never solved. Let’s start at the beginning.
Myrtle (Feb 5, 1895 – found July 24, 1930) vanished on June 16 and was found on July 23, 1930. So, 37 days later.
According to her husband, on June 16, Myrtle went for a ride in the family car that was found back later on June 18, undamaged, near a cemetery in Bedford, Ohio. Exactly at what time she went for that ride is unclear however, she was seen alive on that day according to the papers.
We know her remains were found by a child (13) who went berry-picking. When he told at home what he saw in the field, his parents did not believe him. Later that night, the father went to take a look and indeed found Myrtle’s remains exactly where his son had said that he saw them.
In the Akron Beacon Journal of July 24, 1930 Myrtle’s husband, North Randall Marshall Clyde C. Smith, is quoted saying that they had been happily married “since she was 16 years of age.” However, their marriage application lists Myrtle’s age at 19. That marriage license was issued on Feb 28, 1914 under number #92307. There were no children.
When was Myrtle reported missing?
Clyde said that he immediately reported his wife missing when he did not find her at home on June 17 however, the official records have that date down as June 19. I have not read anything about police and/or community-led search parties which is something you would expect especially when the Marshall’s wife goes missing. So, I don’t know what was done to search for Myrtle since she was reported missing and the time that her remains were found.
Found roughly 5 weeks after she went missing, and assuming that the whole time she had been out in that field exposed to the elements and wildlife, it should not surprise you that her remains were found in parts. Her head and one of her extremities were found detached from her torso. (The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio July 24, 1930) Needles to say, her facial features were badly damaged making facial recognition almost impossible. (New Philadelphia, Ohio July 25, 1930) The News-Journal from July 24 speaks about beheaded but to me that means execution. As Myrtle was killed by a single bullet, I feel it is more appropriate to say that her head was found detached from her torso. Also, I did not find anything to confirm trauma to the neck that would be consistent with beheading.
How was Myrtle identified?
Her husband took a quick look at the remains and identified her by her amethyst ring and a string of pearls. This suggests that robbery was most likely not the motive for her murder.
The long time that Myrtle’s body was in the field makes me wonder if she really had been there all this time. Decomposition leans that way but, I have not read anything about insects found in and around her body. If a dead body lies outside, flies are the first to appear.
I also didn’t see anything about the soil around Myrtle’s body. “Active decay is characterized by the period of greatest mass loss. This loss occurs as a result of both the voracious feeding of maggots and the purging of decomposition fluids into the surrounding environment. The purged fluids accumulate around the body and create a CDI or cadaver decomposition island.”
When a body is “on soil, the area surrounding it will show evidence of vegetation death.” The CDI around the remains show an increase in soil carbon and nutrients e.g. new growth, see here.
Myrtle could have been held and/or killed elsewhere and later brought to the field where she was exposed to the elements and wildlife to damage her remains. I am leaning towards the latter despite the fact that this would complicate the case further as it means we would have multiple crime scenes.
Rumours went around that Myrtle had an affair with carpenter Orie Nolan of Solon. In some papers his name is Arie Nolan. Nolan was killed in an accident with a truck on the evening that Myrtle disappeared. The truck driver said that Nolan was alone in front of the car but witnesses claim that they saw a woman inside the car.
“Marshal Smith had investigated the Nolan affair and learned that Mrs. Smith and Nolan were seen in a Cleveland speakeasy the evening of June 16, the day Mrs. Smith disappeared.” Was there an affair or friendship? The rumour mill said that Myrtle took a trip to Virginia with Orie and his wife. I have not found anything in the papers about Mrs. Nolan and I am not convinced this is the angle to pursue.
Coroner D. M. Crafts did not have a easy job. He and the authorities made it harder for themselves by not controlling the narrative in this case. The press had a field day. If you search for this case online a lot was posted that later was disputed by Crafts. So, let’s only focus on what he declared as facts after a reconstruction of the crime.
According to the Daily Times of July 25, 1930 Coroner M.B. Crafts of Summit County declared:
1: there were ‘no trace of quicklime on the dismembered body.’ A bag had been found and people feared that quicklime was used to disfigure Myrtle hindering her identification and the investigation into her murder.
2: rectification of the bullet trajectory: during a cursory examination a large caliber bullet was suspected to have penetrated the skull at the crown and exiting through the face near the nose. To achieve such a shot, you can imagine that people thought Myrtle was on her knees with the killer standing behind her.
After consideration, Crafts corrected himself. He said that Myrtle had been shot through the back of the skull, midway between the apex and the base of the skull, and slightly to the left of the middle. The bullet then exited through the forehead. This placement of the entry wound makes for a different scenario.
Now, it could have been a well aimed shot from a certain distance. In the first scenario, Myrtle was aware of her impending death. In the second scenario, she might not even have known that she was in any danger. As her body was badly decomposed we cannot tell what the skin around the entry wound (gunpowder residu) looked like.
3: Crafts noted that this was not a suicide. He pointed out that neither gun not the bullet had been found.
4: He rectified details that previously circulated in the press. Myrtle’s coat, dress, hose, and undergarments were intact. Some papers had mentioned that all her clothing fabric had been in shreds which would be consistent with being out in the elements exposed to wildlife. However, an intact coat and undergarments make me think again about a second crime scene where Myrtle could have been held or killed before she was placed in that berry field.
5: According to Crafts, Myrtle’s skin was dried, seared, and decomposed (The Daily Times of July 25, 1930) but her remains did not show sign of having been doused with chemicals or quicklime as was previously suggested. The quicklime was most likely used in the berry field to treat fungus. How long exactly Myrtle was outside was never determined.
While in shock about finding Myrtle’s remains, all kinds of things were considered to possibly be part of the story or the crime. I am not sure if they are connected but am listing a few points here:
A: The father who confirmed his son’s finding of Myrtle later on told police that he had seen a car near the berry field (not sure how significant that is), an oil spot was found (not sure exactly where and how far from Myrtle’s remains), and there were traces of someone walking through the patch. However, I don’t think any prints were casted in plaster.
B: The Akron Beacon Journal of July 24, 1930 reported that another body had been found. This one was from a man. He was found a few miles away from Myrtle in Twinsbury Woods, but despite being dead for about four weeks, his remains were unmarked and showed no signs of violence. Any connection? Identity? Four weeks out and nobody noticed?
C: Authorities found out that Myrtle was seen arguing with a man nearby the Bedford Cemetery where her car was found. This man might be the other dead body that was found (see above) or the man is one who is completely unrelated to the case. We do know that neither could have been Orie Nolan. The man found dead in the berry field was free of trauma and Nolan was run over by a truck.
D: Stains in Nolan’s car were speculated to be blood, e.g. Myrtle’s however a chemist ruled out blood, as per the Evening Independent.
E: Whether Myrtle and Orie (also found the spelling Arie) were just friends or not, could be a factor. However, I did not read anywhere that the truck driver who caused the accident that killed Orie, was a suspect and charged in either matter. Also, in some papers Clyde Smith mentioned that the Smith and the Nolan families had been friends for a long time. Despite that, he never accompanied Myrtle when she went out with the Nolans.
F: Last, after Myrtle was found there was an enormous amount of activity to investigate and check people’s alibis. And then it stopped. I will keep looking in newpaper archives if I can find more details about this case from August 1930 onwards.
So, can this case be solved? Maybe not however by posting Myrtle’s case on my website we expand her digital footprint. She is now more easily searchable and I will share her case information on several social media platforms. This is right now the best that I can do for Myrtle: make sure that everyone knows that the case is unsolved and to make ensure, that she is not forgotten.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, more information can be found online and in newspaper archives.
We need to get these cases back in the mainstream media, to get people talking again, and if anything, to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are unsolved does not mean that we can forget about them.
I encourage you to share this post on your own social media platforms. By sharing these posts, the cases reach new networks, new connections, and new news feeds. Maybe one day these updates will pop up in the right person’s news feed. This may be someone who can actually help advance the case and that is my goal.
Rest in peace, Myrtle M. Sayers Smith.