The Main Line Murders
The Courier Con
It was Saturday, August 27, 1977, at a Sears store in St. David's. A cashier was at the Ticketron counter selling tickets and money orders.
When a courier showed up, she handed over that day's receipts to him. As Wambaugh wrote in Echoes in the Darkness, "There was a deposit slip for a large amount in checks and there was another for $34,073 in cash. The young woman brought the bags as well as the Brink's logbook for the courier to sign. The courier signed the name 'Carl S. Williams' and received the bag of checks and money.
"Five minutes later, the young woman was interrupted by yet another Brink's courier who insisted that he had come for the day's deposits.
"'But you were already here,' the confused cashier informed him." It is likely a sick feeling grew in the pit of the cashier's stomach as the truth slowly dawned on her."
On another Saturday in another Sears store, one in the Neshaminy Mall near Bensalem, another puzzling courier incident took place.
It was December 17, 1977, and a clerk turned a courier's identification card over to the assistant head cashier. The latter took the ID to an office to compare it to a list of couriers. The name, Albert J. Wharton, checked out. Then she compared the signature on the card to that of Wharton's signature. They were alarmingly dissimilar.
The wary woman went to the now suspect uniformed courier and asked, "Did you bring our money? We ordered coins and one-dollar bills to carry us over a few days."
"Had a very heavy demand today," he calmly replied. "Had to put it on another truck."
The assistant head cashier tried to keep her cool. She did not want this man to know that she suspected he was a phony. "Just a few minutes," she told him before scurrying back to her office. From there she made an announcement over the Sears store's public address system. It was in a code that she hoped the "courier" would not understand. "Eight hundred call for operator thirty-nine," she said.
The fake courier sensed danger and headed for her office as another cashier shouted, "You can't go in there!" Walking fast, he knocked another clerk down just before he burst into that office.
"I want my card!" he screamed in a menacing manner. "I don't have to take this type of treatment! I'll just go back downstairs and send somebody else up! But I want my card!"
He grabbed it out of her hand and made a hurried exit, running through the store and down the escalator.
In February 1978, Jay Smith's daughter, Stephanie Hunsberger, and her husband Eddie, paid a visit to the home of his parents, Pete and Dorothy Hunsberger. It was Eddie's custom to visit his parents regularly. But several weeks later, the elder Hunsbergers heard nothing from their son. Dorothy Hunsberger contacted Smith, who told her that he had seen the couple recently. They had told him that they were going to California because Pennsylvania had a warrant out for Eddie's arrest. Dorothy checked with authorities and there was no warrant out. Later she discussed the baffling disappearance with Jay's wife who was very sick and dying from cancer at the time. "Oh my God!" Stephanie moaned, "I hope Jay didn't do them in!" Dorothy was chilled by the remark. She hoped it was said out of a drug- or illness-induced fog.
The last Upper Merion faculty meeting was the scene of news that many welcomed: Dr. Jay Smith was leaving their institution. He said he was getting another job in administration.
School was out on the evening of August 19, 1978, when a young couple on a date in Tredyffrin Township went to the Gateway Shopping Center to enjoy some pizza. They were sitting on a curb when they noticed a brown Ford Granada stopping next to a Chevrolet van. A tall man got out of the Ford and looked through the window of the van.
The young man and woman looked at each other, sensing something wrong. Without a word, they hurried to a nearby phone. The young man called the police.
Within a few minutes of their report, two police officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant, spotted a Ford Granada resembling the one described on a radio broadcast. The driver was steering recklessly and the police pulled him over.
"May I see your driver's license, sir?" the sergeant requested.
"It's in the car," the man replied.
"Drop it!" the lieutenant shouted. He had seen the Ruger in the driver's hand. "Drop it now!"
"Oh, my goodness!" the driver said and let go of his gun.
The incident was especially frightening to the lieutenant because, as quoted in Echoes in the Darkness, "I couldn't fire even after the first command. I was carrying a hot load in my gun and sergeant was right behind the guy. I was scared I'd blast through him and blow away my partner."
The gunman they arrested was 55-year-old Dr. Jay Smith. A variety of items were found in his car, including four loaded handguns, a hood mask, a bolt cutter and a syringe filled with a tranquilizing drug. He had explanations. He needed guns to scare some people who had harassed him. The syringe must belong to his drug-addicted son-in-law, he said.
Many other items of interest to law enforcement were found in the suspect's home. Several packets of marijuana were there, keeping company with a few illegal pills. Four gallons of nitric acid, which authorities determined had been stolen from his school, and office equipment that had been reported missing from the Upper Merion school district were found in Smith's house. He also had badges and uniforms like those worn by Brink's security guards and stolen army I.D. cards. Several firearm silencers were there. Smith also hoarded pornography with a heavy preference for bestiality.