The case of Madolyn Smink is a reminder that anyone can be a victim. She was a secretary who lived a nice quiet life in a Redondo Beach condo with her husband and spent weekends in Yucaipa caring for her elderly father and spending time with her two grandchildren.
One day, she said she was going shopping but she never came back. The 51-year-old Smink was found dead in the trunk of her car a few days before Christmas.
As the one-year anniversary of this unsolved murder nears, Smink's family is trying to make sense of the odd circumstances surrounding her death. They are canvassing the Hawthorne neighborhood where her blue Toyota Camry was found Dec. 19 in hopes of finding clues about the killer and renewing public interest in the case.
"People say I should be over it, but that's very hard for me," said Smink's daughter Samantha Hebbard. "How do you get over a family member who has died when the killer is still out there? I can't!"
Authorities describe the Smink murder as strange.
She reportedly told her husband that she was going to the Galleria at South Bay, but there is no evidence that she made it to the mall and none of her credit cards showed any activity that night. Her husband, Jeff Smink, was the last person to see his wife that night. Authorities have questioned him about the case and have not been able to rule him out as a suspect.
When she was found, Smink wasn't wearing shoes or the jacket that she had on earlier, and the bottoms of her thick, white socks were clean. In addition, Sheriff's Sgt. Doral Riggs said none of her money or credit cards were missing; only three rings, worth more than $6,000, had disappeared.
None of the items have been found. No arrests have been made.
An autopsy revealed that her stomach was full when she was killed, which Riggs has said indicates that she had just eaten. Strangulation and blunt trauma to the head were found to be the cause of death. Riggs said deputies have not been able to confirm that Smink went anywhere after last being seen about 8 p.m. Dec. 15.
The Smink tragedy has had a lasting effect on the beach city where she lived with her husband of six years and worked as a secretary at TRW Space and Electronics. Residents will hold a candlelight vigil at Anderson Park in Redondo Beach on Friday at 6 p.m. to commemorate her life and bring justice to her in death.
"What this has done to their family is devastating," said Robe Richester, founder of Citizens Against Crime, a Redondo Beach group that distributed fliers in the Smink case and held a public access television forum to announce that Smink was missing and coordinated last year's candlelight vigil. "They are neighbors and we are trying to assist them as much as we can."
Along with causing turmoil for residents in the community, where only five murders were reported in 1995 and where none has occurred this year, the killing has torn Hebbard apart. She says she separated from the father of her children because of the strain of not having closure and being consumed with finding the killer.
She has hired a private investigator to look at the case and calls authorities almost weekly, along with her sister Karla Hebbard, to see if they have found anything new. She has returned on several occasions to the neighborhood where her mother's body was found to hand out fliers in the hopes that it will jog someone's memory.
Samantha Hebbard is not the only one who has been affected by the strangulation murder.
According to Jeff Smink's attorney, Jeffrey Brodey, the authorities have not left him in peace since the murder.
"He is very upset that they haven't let him grieve in peace," Brodey said. "They won't leave him alone and they haven't branched out in their search."
Although Jeff Smink, who also worked at TRW Space and Electronics, has not been named as a suspect, Riggs said that he remains a possible suspect. In the days after Smink's death, Jeff Smink, 51, told investigators that he occasionally wrote murder plots as a "stress reduction technique" and a search warrant served to his ex-wife's attorney's office turned up several murder plots he had written about her.
Items seized from Jeff Smink's home and office were submitted for DNA testing but Riggs said the results have been inconclusive.
Brodey argues that authorities have had tunnel vision in their investigation, focusing only on Smink. He says they did not look at other clues in the beginning and have let other possibilities fall by the wayside.
Riggs, however, contends that they have received nearly 100 tips and have looked into all of them.
"[Smink] has not been the sole focus of this investigation," Riggs said. "This is an unsolved mystery and we're looking at every tip and we're looking in as many directions as possible."