642 Miles Away | What Happened to Judy Smith?

Judith Eldredge was born December 15, 1946, in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

She was a 50 year old woman when this all happened back in 1997.  She worked as a home health nurse in Newton, MA which is a suburb of Boston.  

Judy had been married twice before these events took place – her first marriage ended when her husband ran away to Sweden to avoid being drafted in the Vietnam War.

I don’t know much about her second marriage, other than she ended up having two kids with that husband – Craig and Amy.

Judy met her third husband Jeffrey Smith in 1986 when she had been caring for his father as a nurse.  They had both been married before and ended up dating for 10 years, before marrying in 1996.

Jeffrey and Judy

Jeffrey has said that Judy was devoted to her work – she had used a window curtain rod to hold an IV bag that his father needed dripped into him, in the absence of a proper holder.

Jeffrey worked as an attorney, and in  April 1997 he had been due to speak at a conference at the Northeast Pharmaceutical Conference at the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia.  Judy and Jeffrey planned to travel together to the conference and head to New Jersey to see friends after they were finished with work.  

By all accounts, Judy loved travelling and was excited to visit Philadelphia for the first time.

Their trip began on April 9, 1997 and the couple arrived at Logan Airport in Boston to board their 1.30pm flight to Philadelphia.  Judy realised that she had left her driver’s license at home and that she would not be allowed to board the plane without ID.

New FAA regulations at the time required that airlines verify passengers’ identities before allowing them to fly.

Jeffrey had been booked to speak at the conference later that day so he had to board their originally booked flight, while Judy went home to get her ID.  She planned to travel out on a later flight. 

Relatives said the two took public transportation to the airport and Judy apparently took the bus back home to get her ID.

Jeffrey has said that Judy took a 7.30pm flight the same day and bought him flowers as an apology for screwing up their travel plans.  They had room service at the hotel and got ready for the following full day.

April 10, 1997 was the day that would change Judy’s and Jeffrey’s lives.  Jeffrey woke up before Judy and he went downstairs for breakfast at the hotel.    When he came back up, Judy was in the shower, getting ready for the day.

He suggested she try the complimentary breakfast, and she playfully joked about heading down just as she was, naked and dripping wet.

They planned that Judy would explore the city while Jeffrey worked at the conference and that she would meet him back at the hotel at 5pm.  They were expected to attend a cocktail party at 6pm at the hotel.  

Jeffrey headed downstairs to the conference.  It is not known what Judy did for the day.  (Damn less technology back then)

He arrived back at 5pm as planned and was surprised that Judy did not show up.  He assumed she was running late and he got ready for the cocktail party.  During that evening, he kept going between the event and the hotel room to check if she was back.   

“I was a little concerned,” he told the Philadelphia City Paper. “But I thought maybe we had mixed signals, and that she thought she was supposed to proceed to the cocktail party (which was due to begin at 6pm).

“So I went down to the room where the cocktail party was, and I kind of floated back and forth between the room where the cocktail party was and our room for the next, oh, half or three-quarters of an hour.”

Hours later, when she hadn’t shown up, he began to panic.

He knew that Judy had planned to take a PHLASH tour bus around the town that day.

He flagged down a cab and asked the driver to take him around the tour bus route, just in case he could find Judy somewhere that way.  He also went to the police station that night at around midnight to report her missing. They apparently told him it was too soon to file a report, and that if she did not show up that night, he should come back the following day.   

Jeffrey noticed that only one of Judy’s outfits seemed to be missing – it was the same one she had travelled in the day before.  Her kids have said that it would not be unusual for Judy to wear the same outfit twice in a row. 

Jeffrey contacted Judy’s children to see if they had heard from her – they had not.  

He asked his daughter back home to goto the couple’s house and see if Judy had left a message on their home phone answering machine.  There was nothing.

Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell and Pennsylvania House Rep. John Perzel were both attending the same conference as Jeffrey, and when they found out that Judy was missing, they got things moving, investigation wise.  Police suddenly became very cooperative and Jeffrey was able to file a report. 

There were some reported sightings of Judy around the city at the time she went missing.  Some people reported seeing a woman who was disoriented. This, however, is confusing because there was a homeless woman in the Penn Landing area of the city who resembled Judy very closely. 

Judy’s children flew in to help with the search.  Her son Craig saw the homeless woman during his search, and he actually thought it was Judy.  

It is hard to know if the sightings were actually of Judy, or if they were the woman who resembled her.

Judy was said to have travelled with a red backpack instead of a handbag, and some of the sightings did report the woman had a red bag so ??

Judy and her red backpack

Judy’s children searched long and hard around the city – they went to hospitals, morgues, and even rented bikes so they could act quickly (without traffic) if they had a lead on Judy’s whereabouts.

A homeless man named David provided a possible clue into the case.  He said he had slept on a park bench next to Judy.  He also knew the homeless woman we spoke about earlier, and said he knew that this woman was not her.  Judy’s family went back to reinterview David on April 15 and he told them all that they had just missed Judy.

Jeffrey believed this sighting is credible as David id’ed Judy by an actual photo of her.

There were some other unusual reported sightings.  Employees at the Society Hill Hotel believed that Judy was their “weirdo of the week” when she stayed there between April 13 and 15, signing in as “H.K. Rich/Collins”. While there she masturbated in front of an open window, spoke to herself in tongues, and then loudly claimed “the emperor” would wire her money when she needed it to extend her stay.

The investigators began to narrow down and confirm some of Judy’s movements during the day she disappeared.  They determined that she did in fact get on the PHLASH bus.  A hotel employee at the Doubletree said Judy asked them where she could catch the bus. A bus driver said he picked her up at Front & South Streets and let her off near the hotel around 3 pm.

She was also allegedly seen near a Greyhound Bus Terminal on the 10th, but her family think that she may have just been using the bathroom.

The investigation uncovered something very odd.  It is believed that Judy left Philadelphia for New Jersey the day after she was last seen.  There were reported sightings of her at the Deptford Mall, shopping for dresses.  The mall is only a 15 minute drive from Philadelphia and there was a bus that ran hourly at the time between the two locations. People who reported seeing her in NJ have said that she seemed disoriented.

A salesperson and customer at Macy’s gave an account of the actions of a woman there who may have been Judy, saying she had said she was shopping for her daughter even though her daughter often disliked what she bought her—which rang true to her family—and giving a description that included the distinctive red backpack she carried almost everywhere, especially when traveling. As the woman left, they recalled, she had tried to get a younger woman, whom they assumed at the time was the woman’s daughter, to leave with her.

There were also reports that she had been seen in Easton, 55 miles (89 km) north of Philadelphia, a few days after going missing.

Jeffrey hired a PI.  The PI found a man who told Jeffrey he had been leaving a Wawa near Rittenhouse Square on his way to work just before 6 a.m. when he saw “a well-dressed white woman” sitting outside a nearby gourmet grocery store, a sight he found unusual for that time of day. Later he saw a newspaper article on the case and realized the woman looked a lot like Judy.

Judy’s family stayed in Philadelphia for weeks looking for her.  They put up posters in an effort to raise awareness.  They eventually had to return home empty-handed.

Jeffrey ended up scaling back his law practice to focus on the search for Judy.   The reason why was that a good portion of it was criminal defense work and in his words: “and now that I feel that I’m a victim, I couldn’t in good conscience continue to represent criminal defendants”.

Jeffrey criticised how LE handled his wife’s case. He has said he was told that her details were entered into the NCIC (National Crime Info Center) database.  He discovered weeks later that this was not true.  This meant that Judy would not have been matched with any Jane Does that had been entered into the system since she went missing.


Some theories suggest that Judy never made it to Philadelphia, and that Jeffrey did something to her in their home and he travelled to cover it up.  The hotel at the time did not have a guest register, and only one employee has said that they saw Judy at the hotel, on the night she arrived.

The investigators learned that the plane tickets had been used, and based on the FAA requirements that we spoke about earlier, it does appear that Judy was the one to fly to Philadelphia on the 7.30pm flight.

Some suggested that Jeffrey take a polygraph. He said he would take one on the condition that the FBI administer it and when he passed it the Philadelphia PD would formally request the FBI to assist in his wife’s case. The police claim that Jeffrey, being an attorney, would know the FBI would not get involved in the case so his conditions were the same as a refusal in their opinion.

The search for Judy went on for months.  Jeffrey hired two other PI’s and copies of Judy’s missing flyer were sent to hospitals and morgues all over the country. 

On September 7, 1997 (5 months after she disappeared), a father and son were out hiking in North Carolina’s Mount Pisgah National Forest.  This forest is in the Appalachian Mountains and it covers over 500,000 acres.   

The pair stumbled across what they thought to be human bones near the Stoney Fork Picnic Area in the park, around 30 miles from Asheville, NC.

Mount Pisgah National Forest

Some of the bones had been scattered by animals in an area of around 300 feet.  The bones that did remain had been found wrapped in a blue blanket in a shallow grave.  Personal effects were also found with the remains.  

The state medical examiner determined that the bones belonged to a white woman between the ages of 40 and 55. She had had extensive dental work and suffered from severe arthritis in her left knee. There were cutting marks on her ribs, and among the clothing recovered from the scene was her bra, which also had cuts and punctures. Animal hair was also found on the clothing at the scene.The investigation concluded that she been fatally stabbed, and her death was officially classified as a homicide.

An emergency room physician in Franklin, North Carolina, 65 miles west of Asheville, saw an article about the discovery of the bones in the newspaper. He connected it to one of the fliers Jeffrey had sent out, and faxed a copy of the article to the Philadelphia police. A detective there asked Jeffrey for his wife’s dental records, which he provided; they were then sent to the medical examiner in Asheville. The records matched the dental work on the bones discovered earlier in the month, and by the end of September the remains were positively identified as those of Judy Smith.

So, wtf!!?  How did Judy get from Philadelphia, to a forest in Asheville, around 600 miles away?

Judy had apparently been wearing jeans, thermal underwear and hiking boots when she died.  

Her family did not recognize any of this clothing.  

A blue and black vinyl backpack was found with the body; in it were winter clothes and $80 in cash. A shirt buried nearby also had $87 in the pockets. The combined $167 is consistent with the $200 Jeffrey believed Judy to have had on her at the time of her disappearance.  She was also found to still be wearing her wedding ring.  The fact that police found both money and jewellery led them to believe that robbery was not the motive for her murder.

However, her red backpack was not found, nor other clothes she was wearing when last seen. Judy’s family also said that an expensive pair of Bolle sunglasses found near the bones were not hers as far as they knew.

After her body was discovered, several people in Asheville have said they remember speaking to Judy, but none of these encounters could ever be confirmed.  

A clerk at a local retailer said: “She seemed very alert to me. She was very pleasant. I didn’t see anything about her that would indicate that she wasn’t right in any way”. The woman she talked to said her husband was an attorney from Boston, attending a conference in Philadelphia, and during that time she had just decided to go to the Asheville area.

An employee at the Biltmore Estate also recalls seeing Judy. At a campground near where her body was found, the owner recalls that she drove up in a gray sedan filled with boxes and bags, asked if she could spend the night there in her car, and drove away after learning she could not. A deli owner in the same area told the Philadelphia City Paper that Judy came up to her store in a gray sedan and bought $30 worth of sandwiches and a toy truck. Local investigators consider these sightings credible.

One hotel clerk has said that Judy stayed at their establishment from April 10-12 and that she seemed fine, with nothing being amiss.

Judy’s family have said they had no idea why she ended up in Asheville.  She had been to NC twice before, but never to the area she was found in.  Once she had visited Jeffrey for a week when he was at a weight loss clinic in Raleigh–Durham; on another occasion she had accompanied a patient on a drive south as he visited family that either lived closer in North Carolina to Asheville or in a neighboring area of Virginia or Tennessee (the family’s memories differ).

When she was found deceased, Judy still had most of the money that she took from Philadelphia with her.  None of her bank cards or her phone cards had been used.   If the sightings with the car were her, where did she get a car with no money and without using a credit card?

So, we are now at August 2021 and nobody has ever been arrested for the murder of Judy Smith. 

Theories about this case:

Did Judy have a medical condition? Why did Jeffrey think Judy might be confused about their meeting time?  And would she be confused enough to not remember the hotel?  Why did she buy a toy truck? Who were the $30 worth of sandwiches for?

Is amnesia possibly the cause of Judy’s unusual actions?

Did menopause contribute to Judy’s frame of mind at the time?

Could she have suffered a stroke?

Did Jeffrey harm Judy and cover it up?  Some articles refer to Jeffrey as ‘morbidly obese’.  It is not believed he would have physically been able to carry Judy’s body to where it was found to dump it.  

Jeffrey died at age 59 in 2005.  His obit reads:

Age 59 of Newton, died January 25, 2005. Son of the late Paul & Frances Smith. Adoring father of Judy and her husband Daniel Smith of Watertown. Loving step-father of Craig and his wife Kelley of Boston and Amy and her husband Jay of Milton. Grandfather of Owen Hartford. Dear nephew of Fritzie Manuel and the late Frank Manuel of Boston. Beloved husband of the late Judith (Bradford) and former husband of Beverly Smith of Watertown. Distinguished attorney and educator dedicated to the improvement and teaching of pharmaceutical and healthcare law. A Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, Jan. 30th at 2 PM in the Stanetsky Memorial Chapel, 1668 Beacon St., BROOKLINE. Relatives and friends are invited to the home of Judy and Daniel Smith immediately following the service. Visitors are welcome until 8 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Jeff’s memory may be made to the American Heart Assoc, 20 Speen St, Framingham, MA 01701 Stanetsky Memorial Chapels 617-232-9300

Sam Constance, the Buncombe detective who investigated the case, believes that Judy came across her murderer while hiking and that prior, she had travelled to the Asheville area voluntarily.

Some have insinuated that Judy may even have planned to disappear for a while, or perhaps even permanently. While Jeffrey and her children did not say there had been any problems in the marriage, one of her friends said otherwise. “At the time this happened, Jeff and Judy’s marriage was very tenuous”, Carolyn Dickey told Unsolved Mysteries in 2001. “I believe that something did happen that triggered her to want to have some time away from Jeff”.

One additional theory is that Judy somehow crossed paths with serial killer Gary Michael Hilton.

ID Photo of Gary Michael Hilton

Hilton murdered an elderly couple 10 years after Judy’s murder. The couple was hiking in the Mount Pisgah National Forest and the female victim’s (Irene Bryant) body was found only about a mile from where Judy’s remains were. It was reported that around this time Hilton was living in his white Chevy Astro van when he encountered the couple.

Hilton was eventually convicted of several murders on hiking trails in national forests in the southern Appalachian Mountains during the 2000s – including the case of Meredith Emerson.  Hilton has never been tied to Judy’s case. 

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