In 1995 and 1996 Smithers made an agreement with Marion Whitehurst, who he had met through church, to maintain the lawn at her vacant Plant City house, which sat on 27 acres of land. Whitehurst gave Smithers a key to the gate but not one to the house.
On May 28, 1996, Whitehurst stopped by the Plant City house and found Smithers cleaning an axe on the carport, which he said he had been using to cut down tree limbs. She also noticed a pool of blood on the carport. Whitehurst was disturbed by the blood and contacted the local Sheriff’s Department.
Later that evening, a deputy visited the Whitehurst’s property. The deputy found the body of Cristy Cowan floating in a pond on the property. A dive team was called in and found the body of Denise Roach in the same pond.
Investigators determined that both Cowan and Roach were prostitutes who worked the same area, and Bonnie Kruse, another prostitute who worked that area, recognized Smithers as a previous customer.
Two detectives visited Smithers’ home. Smithers agreed to go with them to the sheriff’s office for questioning and requested that his wife join them. Smithers consented to take a polygraph test the next day.
According to the polygraph test results, Smithers was not telling the truth. A detective explained this to Smithers and then Smithers made incriminating remarks about his involvement in the murders. Smithers subsequently confessed to the killings of both Cristy Cowan and Denise Roach.
According to the medical examiner, Roach’s body was very decomposed and had probably been in the water for seven to ten days. She had 16 puncture wounds to her skull, fractures to her face and skull and injuries consistent with manual strangulation. The medical examiner also noted two large slits in Roach’s clothing caused by a sharp instrument. The medical examiner determined that Roach died from the combination of strangulation, puncture wounds and blunt trauma to the head.
The medical examiner determined that Cowan died from the combination of strangulation and chop wounds.
During the trial, Smithers testified that he witnessed the unidentified man kill Cowan and Roach.