WOODLAND, Maine — Each year on Feb. 6, Barbara Smith gathers her closest family members and friends around her at her home in Woodland to share stories, both happy and heartbreaking, about her husband, Darrel Smith. There is love and laughter, food and photographs but always a sense of emptiness for who is missing: Darrel Smith himself.
That is because eight years ago, Feb. 6, 2008, the Woodland man was murdered when an unknown perpetrator or perpetrators shot him in his woodshop in Woodland.
The killer or killers of the 56-year-old sawmill owner, whom friends and family say had no enemies, escaped the grasp of police ever since.
On Thursday, Maine State Police Lt. Troy Gardiner said that although the investigation remains active and a detective continues to pursue the case, police have little new information to report.
“Not much has changed over the past year, but there are certainly things that we cannot release to the public,” Gardiner said. “We do not have any significant leads, but we continue to actively work the case.”
Darrel Smith was working alone early that afternoon inside the sawmill he operated adjacent to his home on the Thomas Road in Woodland when he was robbed and murdered. They left his body for his wife, Barbara, to find that evening.
Barbara Smith said Friday she remains in contact with the state police detective who is investigating the case and is hopeful the state’s first cold case squad that was formed last year will help solve the murder of her husband.
“The state police don’t tell you a lot, which I can understand,” she said. “My hope now is that the new cold case squad will help with my husband’s murder. So far, though, I have not heard anything from them.”
Police believe robbery was the motive since Darrel Smith’s wallet was taken and a safe was missing from the residence.
Otherwise, investigators have not released many details about the crime or said whether there were signs of a struggle. They have recovered the safe and the weapon used to kill Smith but would not comment on what kind of gun it was or where the items were found.
Since Darrel Smith had no signs advertising his sawmill and word of mouth was used to secure business, police believe his killer or killers had to be familiar with Smith’s Sawmill and Logging. From the road, the property looks like a private residence. Police believe the perpetrator or perpetrators also knew he was running a cash-only business and would have money on hand, because he did not accept credit or debit cards at his facility.
Investigators have looked at the family and those close to the victim and eliminated them as suspects.
After police conducted numerous interviews, one investigator in 2011 characterized Smith as a simple, hardworking man who was “well-liked, a well-respected family man.”
Barbara Smith said she believes her husband was killed so someone could get the cash to buy drugs.
“I think it all came down to drugs,” she said. “People will do anything for drugs.”
Gardiner said police continue to hear that the identity of the killer is an “open secret” in this community of about 1,200 that abuts Caribou in Aroostook County, but no one will come forward to law enforcement with the information.
“We certainly believe that there are people out there who know more information, but they are not coming forward,” he said.
Barbara Smith said she continues to hear the rumors, too, and believes them to some extent.
“I think I put some stock in them,” she said. “But I told the police that I don’t want them to go forward and make an arrest until they are absolutely sure, because I do not want to be put through an arrest or trial until they have the right person. I just can’t do it.”
She said she has gotten through the past eight years without her husband, “with the help of family and friends.’
“They have really helped me keep my sanity,” she said. “To me it is an open wound that has never healed. It tugs at you.”
Shortly after the four-year anniversary of the murder, a reward that has been gathered for information leading police to the killer of Darrel Smith hit $60,000. Barbara Smith is still hopeful it will entice someone to come forward with information to help detectives crack the case open.
Just recently, she said, a great nephew was born into the family and given the middle name Darrel.
“I think Darrel would have appreciated that an awful lot,” she said Friday.
Members of the public who have any information about the crime are encouraged to call the Maine State Police at 800-924-2261 or Crime Stoppers at 800-638-TIPS.