CARIBOU, Maine — State police are certain that someone in the tiny town of Woodland knows who gunned down 56-year-old Darrel Smith inside his sawmill at the family home last year.
On Tuesday, investigators with Maine State Police Criminal Investigation Division III announced that the reward being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the death has increased to $40,000.
Police are confident that just a bit more information from the public will help them put Smith’s killer in handcuffs.
Smith was found shot to death in his shop at his residence on the Thomas Road in Woodland on Feb. 6, 2008. The Smith family initially provided a $30,000 reward for information and increased it today to $40,000, a record amount for any state police case.
State police Detective Sgt. John Cote announced the reward increase and spoke in depth about the crime during a press conference Tuesday. He was joined by state police Detective Dale Keegan.
Smith owned and operated Smith’s Sawmill and Logging, which was next to his home on Thomas Road. He was found dead inside his workshop in the evening.
State police said Smith was shot to death in the early afternoon and they believe robbery may have been the motive. Smith’s wallet was taken and a safe was missing from the residence.
Cote stressed that police believe the killer was familiar with the sawmill, which looks like a private residence. He pointed out Tuesday that the perpetrator likely knew that Smith ran a cash-only business with no credit or debit card machines on site.
Investigators continue to seek the public’s help to locate the driver of a small, dark-colored pickup truck that was seen on Thomas Road around noon the day of the shooting. The vehicle had its hazard lights on and the hood was up, indicating the truck may have been having mechanical trouble.
The vehicle could have been driven by the killer or someone who transported the killer to the sawmill.
Cote added that investigators continue to work the case on a regular basis and have followed up on countless leads.
“Numerous interviews have taken place and several hundred hours of work have been logged in the investigation,” he said. “Multiple items of evidence related to the crime have been recovered and submitted to the State Police Crime Lab in Augusta for examination during the last 18 months. Evidence recovered includes the safe taken from the Smith residence the day of the murder, as well as the murder weapon itself. DNA evidence is also being examined by forensics experts at the crime lab.”
No further details about the evidence were released.
Police have characterized Smith as a simple, hardworking man who was well-liked. No one has come forward to give police the name of any enemy that he might have had. Investigators have looked at the family and those close to the victim and eliminated them as suspects.
Cote and Keegan acknowledged that investigators are frustrated because the name of the person responsible for the crime is apparently “common knowledge” among a segment of the Greater Woodland community.
“Although some members of the public will speak openly about who is responsible [for the crime], no one has come forward with solid, direct, credible information to assist investigators,” said Cote.
Cote would not say whether the dark-colored pickup truck seen on Thomas Road the day of the murder is owned by the person that some community members are claiming is responsible for Smith’s death.
He speculated that some Woodland residents may be afraid to come forward with key pieces of information, but stressed that laws and protective services are in place to safeguard a witness to a crime.
Cote said police also are working with an FBI profiler to obtain an outline of what type of person the killer might be.
For the first time since the murder took place, Smith’s family spoke in a statement relayed through investigators Tuesday.
Barbara Smith, the wife of Darrel Smith, expressed the hurt and sadness that has enveloped her since her husband was killed.
“His death was so senseless,” she said. “He never hurt anyone and was a friend to all. Our dream of retirement and spending time at camp fishing and traveling has been robbed from me.”
“For me and our entire family we have to live everyday with this weighing on us because of no closure,” she continued. “I hope if the murderers read this they can see how many lives have been ruined, not just Darrel’s. I am very determined that Darrel’s memory lives on and that the person or persons responsible will be prosecuted fully.”
Smith’s parents also urged anyone who knows anything about the case to come forward.
Both Cote and Keegan said that police want to find the killer as much as the family does.
“You do take this personally,” said Cote. “You have a vested interest in this.”
Keegan spoke of the difficulty of meeting with Smith’s parents and telling them that police do not yet know who killed their son.
“We have made significant progress and we are close to the tipping point in this case,” Cote said Tuesday.
“We are so close,” maintained Keegan. “We just need someone to give us that last piece of information that will push us over the edge.”
State police are once again asking for the public’s assistance in moving the case forward. Cote said that, even if someone suspects police are already aware of the information they have, they are encouraged to call and provide that information to investigators.
Police remain optimistic that arrests will result from their investigative work.
Cote believes the increased reward would help prompt more people to talk.
“If $40,000 isn’t enough to bring someone forward, I don’t know what will,” he said Tuesday.
State police detectives continue to work closely with other area law enforcement agencies seeking information and leads in the case. Members of the public are encouraged to call the Maine State Police at 800-924-2261 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-638-TIPS.