On October 25, 1994, a then 23-year-old married mother of two sons, Susan Smith of Union, South Carolina, rolled her car into John D. Long Lake with her boys strapped inside, drowning them both. Initially, Smith told authorities a black man had carjacked her and kidnapped the boys. Nine days later, she confessed and, eventually, it was revealed her motive was to pursue a relationship with a wealthy local man who did not want children. The story gained national attention with the images of 3-year-old Michael and 1-year-old Alex flashed on television screens across the country, including images of Smith and her grieving husband, David. So, where are all of the key players now, including the woman at the center of it all?
Susan’s then husband David Smith is now remarried and a father again. After initially standing by Susan’s side until he learned the truth and then grieving over the small caskets of his boys at their funeral while Susan was in jail, it now appears David has been able to move on. However, he said in an interview last year that there are still hard days, particularly on his boys’ birthdays and around the anniversary of their death. Yet, he said “Life is much better now,” and noted that he is doing well. At the time of the murders, Susan and David were separated and David was working at the Winn-Dixie in Union where he met his now wife, Tiffany. In the years since the murders, David has switched to a career as a commercial truck driver, moved 25 miles away from Union to the town of Moore, S.C., married Tiffany in 2003 and became the father to a girl and a boy, Savannah and Nicolas. During his ex-wife’s trial, he visited her once in jail to get answers as to why she did what she did but got nothing.
Susan’s mother, Linda Russell, continued to support her daughter, claiming as recently as five years ago that Susan “simply lost touch with reality” at the moment she murdered her sons. Russell published a book in 2000 titled My Daughter Susan Smith where she detailed her daughter’s rocky childhood and background in an attempt to understand and explain why she did what she did. During the 1995 trial, Linda’s then husband Beverly Russell, Susan’s stepfather, admitted to molesting Susan when she was 15 and continuing to have sex with her after she was married with the last time being in August of 1994, two months before the murders. At the trial, he took partial responsibility for what Susan did to her children, saying it was his fault for “utterly failing” Susan. Susan’s biological father committed suicide when she was six. Beverly Russell, a leader of the Christian Coalition at one time, and Linda Russell split up before the trial.
Susan’s lover Tom Findlay does not appear to have an online presence now. He was considered twenty years ago to be the “most eligible bachelor” in Union, as the son of a wealthy mill owner. Before the murders, he wrote her a “Dear John” letter to Susan explaining why they could never be together, stating that he did not want children. He noted that as good as Smith’s children may be, the fact was he did not want any children. The letter is dated Oct. 17, 1994.
Other key figures in the case have gone on to both fame and failure. Prosecutor Tommy Pope went into private practice in 2006 and is now a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Sheriff Howard Wells served time for public corruption in 2010.
Susan herself is now in prison after being found guilty of the murders of her children in July 1995. Although prosecutors sought the death penalty, Susan was sentenced to life in prison. However, although she was sentenced to life in prison, she is up for parole in 2024. Whether Smith is granted parole remains to be seen as she has not exactly been a model prisoner after being found guilty of sexual misconduct in 2000 with two prison guards.
Since that day twenty years ago, the town of Union, S.C. has also moved on. However, some feel it will never be forgotten. Current Mayor Harold Thompson said while it is something the people of Union try to forget, “it’s a part of history now.”
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay
Photo by Mike Krzeszak – Flickr License