Edward Lai Harner, Edward Harner
Andrea Harner
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May 14, 2007

A Death in Belmont by Sebastien Junger

Finished this book last week by a fellow Wesleyan alum and while I am glad to have read it I can't help but agree with an Amazon reviewer that the book could have used more editing. Something about the tone and pace wasn't quite right. Nevertheless I enjoyed learning about the times and places surrounding the Boston Strangler cases, Roy Smith who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of a Boston Strangler crime and Al DeSalvo a convicted rapist who insisted he was the Boston Strangler but was never tried for those crimes. Did you know that as the jury finished hearing the judge's instructions and was released to begin deliberations on the guilt of Roy Smith they were told that JFK has just been shot and killed? Just a little intense!

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Comments

Dear Ms. Harner,

As the daughter of the victim in Sebastian Junger's "A Death in Belmont" I want people to know that the book is dishonest, misleading and
inaccurate.By manipulating the reader with incomplete facts and false statements Junger creates a scenario in which a black man, Roy Smith, is railroaded to conviction by a racist police force and an all white jury. Lacking a scintilla of evidence Junger leads the reader to believe Albert DeSalvo, who once confessed and later recanted to the role of “The Boston Strangler” is the probable culprit.
The true story of my mother’s death is documented in a 1966 Opinion by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as it upheld Smith’s conviction after appeal. Mr. Junger never mentions this important information in his book.
We actually lived across town from each other- between us were fifteen intersecting streets and the busy commercial center of town.
Junger, when interviewed, has often blamed Smith’s twelve hour interrogation by the police as an excuse for Smith’s lies “mistakes” to the authorities. However, after having been read his rights, according to court testimony Smith lied to the Cambridge police soon after being arrested telling them he left our home at 3:45 pm and he been paid $6.80 for his work.
DOCUMENTED

On March 11, 1963 Roy Smith was sent to our home at my mother’s request by the Division of Employment Security, a state employment agency, as a day worker to clean our house. The interviewer at the agency, Mrs. Martin, later testified that she thought she had smelled liquor on Smith’s breath. When she asked him if he had been drinking, he replied, “No” and took a step back. Smith was given an identification card and instructions to 14 Scott Rd., Belmont. Although three witnesses testified that Smith arrived at our home between 12:45 and 1:00 p.m. Smith told police he had arrived before noon. Smith told police he knew he had left our home at about 3:45 because the clock at the nearby pharmacy where he stopped to buy cigarettes read “quarter to four”. Neighborhood children coming home from school at 3:05 p.m. saw Smith walking quickly away from Scott Road. Witnesses at the pharmacy testified that Smith made his purchase shortly after 3:00. Smith told police he had finished the cleaning, left the house in order and had been paid $6.30 ($1.50 per hour for four hours plus 30 cents for transportation).

When my father arrived home at 3:50 he found my mother’s body and quickly called the police. The house was in disarray. Only one room (the sunroom) of the three rooms Smith claimed to have cleaned was actually in good order. The police found that the living room was in the process of being cleaned, as most of the furniture was in the middle of the room, the couch was pushed to one corner, living room ornaments were on the dining room table and the vacuum cleaner, with attachments was in the center of the room. Alfred King of the Belmont Police Department stated, “A broom with a cloth over the broom end was at the entrance.”

On page 54 Junger states, “Smith was refusing to admit to the murder, but neither could the police catch him in a significant lie.”

On page 256 Junger says, “The cops wanted to know what time he left the Goldberg house, and he told them the truth.” “The fact is he never lied about what he did that day.”

1. Smith lied about his time of arrival at 14 Scott Road

2. Smith lied on two occasions about his time of departure from 14 Scott Road.
He spent two hours at our home instead of the four he had claimed. (Smith lied on this point immediately after his arrest in Cambridge and again when interrogated
in Belmont)

3. Smith lied when he told police the house had been cleaned and everything was in order.

4. Smith told police he had been paid $6.30 at a rate of $1.50 per hour. Had my mother been alive when he left he would have been paid for only two hours. (Smith lied on this point immediately after his arrest in Cambridge and again when interrogated in Belmont.)

5. Smith’s handprints were found on the vacuum cleaner, the living room
mirror and the mantel over the fireplace. Smith said he never touched the mirror
or the mantel.

Before my father left for work he gave my mother a ten dollar bill and five singles to pay the cleaning man. The day before, March 10th, he had left my mother $7.00, but she had not spent all of it.

Smith told police he had $2.00 with him when he arrived in Belmont and he had been paid $6.30. When Smith was arrested on March 12th he had in his possession $3.20. Using Smith’s statements to the police and the testimony of his friends during the trial it was clear that Smith spent approximately $15.00 between the time he left Belmont and the next day when he was arrested. Smith could not account for the source of the money he spent. A salesman at a liquor store testified he saw Smith with a ten dollar bill, a five dollar bill and some singles on March 11th. Smith could not account for the $15.00 he spent plus the $3.20 found on his person.

Smith spent the evening of March 11th drinking with friends in Cambridge. Smith’s friends offered to drive him to his home in Boston. As the car slowed down in front of Smith’s apartment house Smith noticed two plainclothesmen. Smith told the driver to “speed up”. After some drinks at a nearby bar Smith’s friends once again attempted to drive him home. They all returned to Cambridge after Smith told them, “Go faster, they are still here.”

Smith spent the night in Cambridge with his friends. He was arrested in Cambridge on March 12, 1963.

Smith was tried for 1st degree murder, rape and larceny in November, 1963. He was convicted of murder and robbery, but acquitted of rape. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated the day before the jury retired to reach a verdict.

Junger’s Version

Smith’s appeal is obliquely mentioned, but nowhere does Junger reveal to the reader that Smith’s conviction was upheld.

Junger never fully describes the complete disarray of the living room. He does not make it obvious that furniture was pushed to the center of the room. Nowhere does he explain that the living room ornaments were on the dining room table or that a bottle of glass wax remained on the mantel - indications that the house had yet to be cleaned.

Smith’s claim to have left the house in order after having finished the cleaning is omitted from Junger’s story.

Nowhere in his story does Junger admit that Smith arrived at our home shortly before 1:00 p.m. instead of at noon which Smith had told police. Junger never makes it clear that Smith was in our home for only two hours.

Junger speaks of the $6.30 ($1.50 per hour) which Smith claimed to have been paid; nowhere does he tell the reader that after two hours of work Smith would have been due $3.00 plus .30 for transportation.

Smith was never thought to be the Boston Strangler as Junger claims.

Not only were police officials aware of Smith’s record they knew he had been in prison during many of the murders by strangulation that had recently occurred in the Boston area. They shared that information with my father and me on the night of my mother’s death. Junger was aware the police told me of Smith’s incarceration record. At no time did the State Police or anyone in the office of the District Attorney believe Roy Smith to be the Boston Strangler. We were told immediately it was a robbery covered up by a copy cat murder.

Junger’s recitation of the trial testimony is spotty and incomplete. As an example, the testimony of Mrs. Martin, the dispatcher at the employment agency, was abruptly cut off before she states that Smith left her office on Huntington Ave. in Boston for Belmont at 11:45 in the morning. Smith told police he arrived at our home before noon. The trip from the employment agency to Belmont by public transportation would have taken approximately an hour.

Junger concludes that eight dollars was missing from our home had Smith been paid. Junger’s math is incorrect. If Smith had received payment from my mother he could not account for approximately $12.00.

The story is told of an elderly neighbor of ours being approached by a white
man looking for work on the afternoon of my mother’s death. After seeing police
cars in front of our home the elderly neighbor called the Belmont authorities tipping them to his information. Junger never gives us the name and address of this neighbor. The police have no record of any such call.

Stated here is Junger’s totally fictional claim as Smith’s guilty verdict is delivered. “Leah Goldberg thought he looked utterly impassive, as though he expected this and didn’t much care.” I wasn’t there. My father wasn’t there. I never said anything like that to Junger. I did say that when I testified at his trial two weeks before the verdict Smith looked disinterested.

Absent from Junger’s tale is common sense. My mother was alone in the house from 3:05 to 3:50 p.m. (45 minutes). Most of the time children were playing in the street in front of our home but at times they did cross our back lawn. The children saw no one on the street after Smith left at 3:05. The police were called immediately
after my father found my mother’s body. If Smith was to be believed someone would have had to enter our house unseen, kill my mother, find her money, push all the furniture that Smith said was left in order into the middle of the living room, move all the living room ornaments on to the dining room table, leaving Smith’s fingerprints on the mirror and mantel. The mysterious murderer would have also taken the vacuum cleaner from the closet where it was kept and move it to the living
room carefully keeping Smith’s fingerprints from smudging. Lastly he would have left Smith’s fingerprints on the mirror still covered with cleaner. Junger continues on, leading the reader with false statements, self serving arguments and omission of the facts.
I can be reached at lemargold at yahoo.
Available is the complete Supreme Court Opinion signed by 5 justices.
Following is an excerpt from that opinion which
states the trial evidence omitted or obfuscated in Junger's book.
[350 Mass. 600]
COMMONWEALTH vs. ROY SMITH.
DATES, JUSTICES:
Middlesex. February 7, 1966. -- April 15, 1966.
Present: WILKINS, C.
J., SPALDING, WHITTEMORE, SPIEGEL, & REARDON, JJ.
2. There was no error in the denial of the motion for a directed verdict. The evidence was circumstantial. The jury could have found as follows: On the morning of March 11, 1963, the defendant walked from his apartment at 175 Northampton Street, Boston, to the district office of the Division of Employment Security on Huntington Avenue. Between 11:45 A.M. and 12 noon he left that office with an identification card introducing him to Mrs. Goldberg at 14 Scott Road, Belmont, and a slip directing him to that address. The interviewer at the employment office, thinking that she detected liquor on the defendant's breath, had asked if he had been drinking. He had "leaned a little backwards . . . [and] said no" and the interviewer, then thinking he had not been drinking, had sent him out. The defendant arrived at the Goldberg house about 12:45 or 1 P.M. He later told the police that he arrived before noon and left at exactly 3:45 P.M. The jury could have found, however, from the testimony of several other witnesses, that he left the house at about 3:05 P.M. Israel Goldberg the murdered woman's husband, telephoning from his place of business in Chelsea, spoke with his wife at about 2:20 P.M. Goldberg arrived home at about 3:50 P.M., found his wife's body in the living room and telephoned the police. They arrived in a few minutes and found Goldberg excited, nervous and hysterical. Mrs. Goldberg had been strangled with one of her stockings; the disarray of her garments and the bodily exposure (with the later report of a microscopic examination and related testimony of Goldberg) tended to show rape. The living room was in disorder, most of the furniture was in the middle of the room, the divan was pushed to one corner, living room ornaments were on the dining room table, and the vacuum cleaner, with attachments, was in the center of the living room.
Page *605
Palm or fingerprints, later identified as the defendant's, were, in due course, found on the mantel in the living room, on the mirror hanging above it, and on the vacuum cleaner. After his arrest, the defendant told the police that he cleaned several rooms, got all through with his work and left the rooms in order; also that he did not clean the mirror, that he "didn't have anything to do" with it and he did not recall seeing a mantel.
Children coming home from school about 3 P.M. and soon thereafter playing ball in the street saw the defendant on the street near the Goldberg house and saw Goldberg come home; they did not observe anyone else in the street near the house in the interval. Their opportunity for observation extended over a good part though not all of the time between the defendant's departure and Goldberg’s return. A practical nurse employed in the house next to the Goldberg residence was watching the children in the street from about 3:25 P.M. until about 3:45 P.M. She saw no one around the Goldberg house other than the children. She saw Goldberg come home.
The defendant spent the night of March 11-12 in the apartment of Mrs. Dorothy Hunt, in Cambridge, drinking with friends. When he arrived Mrs. Hunt observed that "he had had something to drink." She was then cooking supper; she has supper "between five and six." The defendant had most recently been with Mrs. Hunt in late October, 1962. On March 11 he brought liquor and beer with him and went out twice in the evening to buy more liquor. Later, at a time placed by one witness as between 12 midnight and 1 A.M., William Cartwright, one of the companions of the evening, drove the defendant, another man, and Mrs. Hunt to Boston in Cartwright's car intending to go to the defendant's house at 175 Northhampton Street. They did not stop at the house. In Northhampton Street the defendant directed Cartwright to "slow down" and then to "go faster, they are still here." Cartwright saw two men standing in front of the building that the defendant pointed out. Police officers were watching that building from
Page *606
11:30 P.M. on March 11, or midnight, to 5 or 5:30 A.M. on March 12. The defendant was with Mrs. Hunt on March 12, 1963, until arrested in the afternoon, going out with her and her daughter to an optometrist's and to a coffee shop in the morning.
The defendant told the police that he had $2 with him when he went to Belmont on March 11 and that he was paid $6.30 for his work at the Goldberg house. He had $3.20 with him when arrested. Goldberg had left bills (one in the amount of $10, five in the amount of $1) on the night table in the bedroom before leaving home in the morning, after having a conversation with his wife. This was for her use in paying the expected cleaning man. He had given his wife $7 on March 10 for some purchases; she had not spent it all. In the afternoon of March 11 her pocketbook was found open on top of a bureau with the wallet missing. The money was gone from the night table. The defendant on the evening of March 11 was seen with a ten, a five and some one dollar bills when he purchased whiskey. He made other purchases and expenditures between 3:05 P.M. on March 11 and the time of his arrest on March 12. The total of these was in the range of $15.
This evidence was sufficient to take the case to the jury. (FN 5) Commonwealth v. Richmond, 207 Mass. 240 , 243-245, 246-247. Commonwealth v. Smith, 342 Mass. 180 , 182-184. Commonwealth v. Swartz, 343 Mass. 709 . Commonwealth v. Connors, 345 Mass. 102 . See Commonwealth v. Bonomi, 335 Mass. 327, 356, and cases cited. "Reasonable and possible" inferences were enough. Commonwealth v. Merrick, 255 Mass. 510 , 514. The jury could have found unusual opportunity, motive, possession after the crime of unexplained funds, incriminating action in leaving the house in disorder and the work unfinished, and subsequent conduct and false statements showing consciousness of
Page *607
guilt. Evidence of consciousness of guilt, while not conclusive, may with other evidence be sufficient to prove guilt.
Commonwealth v. Curry, 341 Mass. 50, 55, and cases cited. Commonwealth v. Swartz, 343 Mass. 709 , 713.
This is not a case on which the guilt of the defendant is left to conjecture and surmise with no solid basis in fact, such as Commonwealth v. Fancy, 349 Mass. 196 , 200.

Posted by: Leah Goldberg Scheuerman at June 6, 2007 7:01 PM
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