Lyman & Charlene Smith murder revealed to be work of serial killer
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: October 13, 2000
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
There was no doubt that attorney Lyman Smith was an intense, ambitious man who was on the brink of being appointed a Ventura County Superior Court judge, an announcement expected within days of his murder.
When Lyman and his wife, Charlene, were battered to death in their bed over 20 years ago, the mystery of just who killed them included several suspects; one man, who had lost a small fortune in a failed business deal with Smith, was released after prosecutors started their case against him.
Police investigators were convinced the murders were committed by someone known to Lyman Smith, but the murder did not bear the marks of a grudge crime: after all, a known enemy isn’t prone to kill the spouse, in this case Charlene Smith. Furthermore, if an enemy had indeed committed the brutal crime, they would have brought a weapon, say a gun, to murder the couple at their ocean view Ventura home. Tying Charlene and Lyman together - they were found trussed with drapery cords - also smacked of something much more than a grudge killing, as well as her rape.
The Smiths were beaten to death with a log from their own fireplace, a murder that now has been linked by advanced DNA testing to an elusive serial killer, a man believed to be white, fair haired and who would bring his dog to the scene of the crime. A serial killer who might still be out there.
Lyman at one point was one of the close-knit “Young Turks” who as worked as attorneys for Justice Edwin Beach.
Beach met Smith when he was a deputy prosecutor. “I had some cases where I opposed him and after that he asked if he could come work for me,” said Beach. “Lyman moved to Santa Paula and started right in.”
Start right in he did: Lyman was President of the Rotary Club where he was known for a heavy hand on the gavel, leading to joshing about his becoming a judge in the future.
Heavily involved in Democratic politics, Smith’s life included scores of business deals, some quite controversial. He married, had children, divorced and remarried Charlene, a decade younger than Lyman. Although reportedly happy, they both had affairs; Charlene’s lover was briefly a suspect in their murder.
Charlene, 33, and Lyman, 43, were discovered bludgeoned to death in bed by his 12-year-old son on March 16, 1980.
When Joseph Alsip Jr., a former business partner who lost his shirt in a failed real estate deal, was arrested almost two years after the murder, many were convinced the case was closed. Alsip was released when prosecutors determined there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department started investigating a string of murders that DNA samples from the crimes were tied to the Smiths: now, they are believed to be the only Ventura County victims of the killer, who first struck in Goleta and then worked his way south and is responsible for six killings, perhaps half a dozen more.
The suspect often was accompanied by his dog, which police believe was used as a cover for lurking in neighborhoods, stalking and spying on his victims.
Victims like the Smiths, except in other cases there wasn’t the abundance of those with a motive to kill.
“Lyman was a little bit intense,” said Beach haltingly. “Very intelligent, very able and knowledgeable, but a little intense like a lot of people who want to be a millionaire,” at a young age.
Lyman never met a business deal he didn’t like, whether it be gold and jewelry import or livestock export to Iran; real estate, whatever, if there was a possibility of riches there was Lyman.
“He had a desire to make money quickly,” said Beach, “and was a little aggressive, doing too much and getting in over his head,” which turned former partners into vocal enemies. “Lyman was smart but he should have taken it easier. . . he could have done great things if had taken it a little easier.”
Beach had his own suspect, but “It never crossed my mind it could have been a serial killer. I kept thinking who finally got mad enough at him to kill Lyman and his wife like that. . .but never did I think a serial killer. Now, I guess it makes some sick sense.”