Judy Smith

After vanishing from a conference in April of 1997, the disappearance of Judy Smith left the Philadelphia police force baffled. When her remains were located 600 miles away, discovering the truth seemed all the more elusive.

50-year-old Judy Smith had married her second husband just 8 months prior to her disappearance. Her new husband Jeffrey was a fellow divorcé, and both had adult children from their previous relationships. Their respective career paths were both closely intertwined, with Judy a home nurse and Jeffrey a lawyer in the healthcare sector. With this in mind, the pair planned to attend a Philadelphia business conference for their first trip together, before heading on to New Jersey to visit some friends.

On April 9th, the day they were due to travel, the couple had got to the airport when Judy realised she’d forgotten her ID. With regulations requiring the ID to fly, Judy had no choice but to return home, and joined her husband Jeffrey that evening after securing a later flight. Moderating the conference, Jeffrey had a fairly packed schedule the next day, and made plans to reunite with his wife at a cocktail party that was being held in the hotel at 6 in the evening. Judy was a first time visitor to the city, and had plans to visit some of Philadelphia’s main attractions. But as 6pm came and went, Judy Smith was nowhere to be found. Jeffrey searched the hotel, thinking that perhaps Judy had just got held up. After making calls to her children and local hospitals and even retracing her steps, Jeffrey contacted the Philadelphia police.

As is the case with many missing females, suspicions were immediately cast on Jeffrey himself, with authorities questioning whether Judy had ever even made it to the conference. His refusal to take a lie detector test only heightened their suspicions, despite the fact that the hotel receptionist, and later a fellow conference attendee, stated they had seen Judy in the lobby. Numerous sightings were called in following Judy's disappearance, from a Philadelphia bus to a clothes shop in New Jersey, though none of them could be verified as true. With police getting nowhere fast, Jeffrey hired a private investigator and began sending missing persons fliers to hospitals nationwide.

Over 600 miles away from Philadelphia, and 5 months after Judy was last seen, a father and son made a startling discovery in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. A shallow grave with a partially clothed skeleton; bones scattered by animals and personal effects nearby. The medical examiner determined the skeleton was female, with cut marks on her ribs and clothing suggesting she had been stabbed. Upon reading the story in the newspaper, an ER doctor in North Carolina who had seen one of Jeffrey's fliers faxed a copy of the article to the Philadelphia police. Dental records confirmed that the remains were those of Judy Smith.

Pisgah National Forest, where Judy's remains were found.

There is no indication as to how or why Judy ended up so far from her Philadelphia hotel, a distance that would take the best part of 10 hours to drive. Wearing hiking boots, jeans and thermal underwear, the clothes on her remains did not match what she had been wearing on the day she was last seen. Her wedding ring was still on her finger, and a backpack and shirt by her body contained close to $200. The backpack, however, was not Judy's usual red one, which along with her original clothing has never been found. Following the discovery of her body, several people from nearby Asheville reported speaking to Judy, but no substantive leads could be made.

Jeffrey was never officially cleared as a suspect, but it seems improbable that the morbidly obese man could have disposed of Judy's body where it was found. Having passed away in 2005, he died never knowing what truly became of his wife. Over 20 years have passed since the murder of Judy Smith, the passage of time affording more questions than answers. Tragically for Judy's children, it seems this particular murder may forever be unsolved.

How do you think Judy ended up in Pisgah National Forest? Discuss your theories in the comments below.