Advertisement

Victim’s Sister Haunted by Slaying a Year After FBI Agent Confessed : Crime: Susan Smith’s family, believing her death was motivated by more than an unwanted pregnancy, is pursuing further investigation.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

One year into his 16-year sentence, the only FBI agent ever charged with a homicide is coming to grips with life in prison.

Mark Putnam reads, exercises, works in the prison hospice and chapel, and is talkative during calls to his family. He is adjusting.

But the sister of Susan Daniels Smith--the woman Putnam strangled, the woman whose body he hid for 12 months while her family agonized over her disappearance--is not.

Because of Shelby Ward’s persistence--and the wrongful-death suit the family has filed against Putnam--Susan Daniels Smith’s body was exhumed in May and the autopsy on her resumed, two years after she was killed.

Advertisement

“It seems like it won’t go away,” Ward said of the case.

The 28-year-old woman, Putnam’s informant and lover, was reported to have been four months pregnant when she was strangled on June 8, 1989, but medical examiner’s officials say they have yet to find any trace of a fetus.

In his written confession, Putnam said he strangled Smith in a fit of rage because she was threatening to tell his wife and superiors that she was carrying his child. Putnam, who already had been transferred to Miami, dumped the body off a coal mine road in the eastern Kentucky hills and returned to his wife and two children.

A year later, apparently racked by guilt, he offered to lead authorities to her body. In exchange, he was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter.

Advertisement

Ward, whose clamorings about her sister’s disappearance first brought the case to light, still insists that there was more than an unwanted pregnancy behind the killing--and she believes that the autopsy, halted two years ago at the request of the family, might prove that.

Ward said FBI Agent Ron Poole, who was Putnam’s superior and knew about the pregnancy, had talked with her about Putnam.

“He said he knew some things on Mark Putnam that was awful . . . furnishing informants with guns and drugs--Susan, too,” she said. “There’s a lot of things I’ve not told the press . . . things that my sister told me.”

Poole, who was transferred to Lexington, Ky., shortly before Putnam’s conviction, declined to comment on the case.

Advertisement

Throughout all this, Putnam, 31, also has remained silent. He declined a recent written request for an interview.

Some people have suggested that he confessed to the slaying to hide something worse from authorities, but his younger brother, Tim Putnam, said he believes that Mark just could not bear the guilt.

“That’s exactly it. He couldn’t handle it,” the brother said.

Tim Putnam, an employee for the Connecticut Legislature, said that his mother talks to Mark about every two weeks, but that he has not heard from him since Christmas.

Advertisement

“I think the reason he doesn’t call me, I think he’s embarrassed,” said Tim, 30. “He’s doing OK, considering.”

Mark Putnam’s wife, Kathy, has moved to Minnesota to be near her husband. His attorney, Pat Molloy of Lexington, said she and the children visit him regularly at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn.

The family rarely talks about the case publicly, Tim Putnam said.

“We don’t want to make a secret about it, but we prefer not to bring it out,” he said. “I just wish it would all die down. The family’s been through a lot this past year.”

Advertisement

It is unlikely it will die down soon. At least one book and a television movie about the case are in the works.

Aphrodite Jones, an assistant professor of English at Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky., who is writing the book, said she believes that Putnam returned to Pikeville knowing he probably would have to kill Smith.

“He flew into West Virginia when he had business in Lexington,” Jones said. “He rented a car when he could have used an FBI vehicle. Why?”

She said she did not think Putnam wanted to kill Smith, but rather that he “was pushed to it. But the bottom line is he’s a killer.”

Advertisement

Several of Smith’s survivors, including ex-husband Kenneth Smith, have received money from Jones’ advance, and she said half the royalties also would go to the family.

Ward said she would be paid $50,000 for helping with the movie.

“I’ve thought about it and I feel sort of bad collecting money off it, but I went through a lot of hell for it,” she said. Some of the money will be put into a trust fund for Smith’s children--Meranda Lynn, 8, and Brady, 5--she said.

Neighbors in Freeburn, Ky., say the children appear to be living happily with their father. But Katheryn Sizemore, Kenneth Smith’s landlady and a neighbor, said it is obvious they miss their mother.

Advertisement

“The girl is kind of forlorn sometimes,” she said. “Her father said she told him, ‘I sure wish my mommy had lived.’ ”

Since her sister’s death, Ward has been taking sedatives and seeing an analyst once a month.

“I dream that I go and see her at a hospital and she’s still alive and I’m talking to her,” she said. “I see her in heaven with the baby. She’s telling me in the dream not to worry about her, that she was doing fine.”


Advertisement
Advertisement