GARDINER, Maine — Employees of downtown Gardiner businesses said Wednesday that they were nervous when Leroy Smith III applied for part-time work this winter. But they were shocked Tuesday when they saw his photo in media reports and read that he had been charged with murdering his father.
“There was something weird about that guy,” said Linda Porter of Gardiner, a clerk at a local shop, who said she waited on Smith several times. “When he came in the store, I thought it was someone who lived under the bridge. He stood outside with his backpack, and when I went to leave and walked down to my car, I thought, ‘Do I dare walk by him?’”
Smith, 24, was charged Tuesday with the murder of his father, 56-year-old Leroy Smith II, with whom he shared an apartment at 16 Cannard St. in South Gardiner. He was arrested early Monday morning in Westbrook and held at Cumberland County Jail on a fugitive-from-justice warrant from Westborough, Massachusetts.
Westborough police said he violated a protection-from-harassment order obtained by his landlord. At the time of his arrest in Westbrook, Smith provided police with information that led to the discovery of his father’s remains in a wooded area off Lincoln Street in Richmond.
Steve Marson, owner of River Road Variety near the end of Cannard Street, said Wednesday that the elder Smith visited his store every weekday morning between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to buy coffee and a breakfast sandwich.
“He was a real nice guy, a hardworking guy,” Marson said. “He was from the old school where every day you go to work.”
Marson said word spread in the neighborhood on Friday that Smith was missing and then state police were at the house Saturday morning.
“I didn’t think anything more about it,” he said, until state police arrived at the store on Monday.
Marson recalled that the son had been in the store five times Saturday night, so he searched store videotape, which Marson said showed Smith purchasing Lestoil, ammonia, bleach and garbage bags.
In recent months, the young man had trekked in large muck boots from his South Gardiner home to Water Street, where he applied for work at a local shop and at a restaurant whose owners asked that they not be named.
An employee of the restaurant said Wednesday that Smith would come in on occasion to warm up, and that she was “uncomfortable” when he was in the eatery.
“He’d buy chips — they were a dollar — and he would preach the Bible,” she said. “He’d hang out for a long time. He said he went down the wrong path and found God to try to help himself.”
Alan Gordon, police chief in Westborough, Massachusetts, said Tuesday that Smith was well-known in that community and had become involved in a fistfight in September after claiming he was God. He later was found pouring gasoline on a fire he allegedly ignited to burn a guitar and amplifier.
“He claimed he was burning evil music,” Gordon said Tuesday.
According to a handwritten resume Smith left at a downtown Gardiner business, the 24-year-old graduated from high school in Massachusetts in 2008 and then attended college on and off until 2011.
He held a variety of jobs in Massachusetts until January of that year. But things apparently changed for the worse in 2011.
“A bad car accident in 2011 put me on disability,” he wrote on the resume. “I’m looking for part-time work.”
Smith’s cousin Devin Smith, who works at The Red Barn in Augusta, told restaurant owner Laura Benedict that his cousin had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but had not received adequate treatment.
Benedict said Wednesday that she also learned the family cannot afford a memorial service for Leroy Smith II. Another employee, Alicia Barnes, organized a fundraiser to help pay for a service. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly $2,400 had been raised.
“The family is just devastated,” Benedict said.
Leroy Smith III is scheduled to make an initial appearance in Kennebec County Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.