This series is something that’s been a long time coming,
an idea I’ve had for years, and over the last year at AudioChuck
we’ve been putting together the right team of people
to make this show a reality.
Those of you who are deep in the true crime community
might know about cold case playing card decks.
Some law enforcement agencies have replaced the faces
of traditional playing cards with images of missing
and murdered people.
Each card represents a victim who’s gone without justice.
The goal was to get these out to the public and into jails and prisons,
hoping that they might finally find their way into the hands
of someone with answers.
And now, it’s time to bring these cases to a bigger audience,
hoping each of these stories will finally hit the right ears.
Our card this week is Linda Smith, the Nine of Hearts from Idaho.
In 1981, in her hometown of Pocatello, Idaho,
14-year-old Linda Smith was abducted from her family’s home.
Whoever took her all those decades ago snuck past her sleeping brother
and into her bedroom, and to this day that person remains unidentified.
To help tell us Linda’s story, our team interviewed Linda’s brother Ben
on the 40th anniversary of his sister’s kidnapping.
What he remembers about this gripping story will leave you shook.
I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.
It’s obvious that the photo of Linda Smith on her playing card
is her middle school picture from 1981.
According to her younger brother Ben, it’s exactly how she looked
when she vanished from their home.
In the picture, she’s got a little smile across her face
and is sort of looking off to the side.
You know, the typical middle school girl,
I don’t get my picture taken a lot, pose.
Her short, wavy brown hair is parted down the middle,
and underneath the photo are the words, homicide victim.
This is how the Pocatello Police Department categorizes Linda,
and sadly, it has been that way for four decades.
On the night of June 14th, 1981, school was out for the summer,
and Linda and her younger siblings, nine-year-old Ben and 13-year-old Lori,
were having a typical Sunday evening.
Linda, who was 14, was babysitting Ben at home
while their mother, Noreen, was having a night out with some friends,
and Lori was spending the night at their grandparents’ house
about 45 minutes north in the town of Basalt, Idaho.
According to Ben, he and Linda’s evening at home that night
was uneventful for the most part.
The pair watched some TV together in the living room,
then Ben dozed off.
When he stirred awake, it was late, and the house was completely dark.
Their mom still wasn’t home yet, and when he looked over next to him,
he didn’t see Linda.
At that point, he figured his sister had just gone into her bedroom
and fallen asleep too.
But right as he was thinking that,
something happened that changed his family’s life forever.
-“Sometime during the night, I felt a bump against the recliner.
I look up, and there’s this guy with Linda in his arms.
And it takes me a few minutes to get fully awake.
By that time, he’s out of the house.”
For a split second, Ben thought he was dreaming,
but quickly realized he wasn’t.
An actual stranger, a man Ben did not know,
had Linda fighting for her life in his arms.
She was kicking, struggling, and trying to scream.
-“He had one arm around her mouth like this,
and the other one around her waist.
And he used the one that he used around his waist as the one that it was,
because she was trying to scream, and it was muffled, and nobody heard.”
Before Ben could even really process what was going on,
the man with a death grip on Linda
rushed toward the home’s back door, toward an alleyway.
Ben says everything happened so fast,
he barely had time to get his little body out of the recliner
and start running after his sister and her abductor.
-“I chased him to the back of the house
and tried to pull him away from her.
And I got pushed down into some, we had some weeds,
not weeds, but bushes along the side of the house there.
And I got pushed down into the bushes.
Basically, I was told to get away or I was going to get hurt.
And by the time I got up out of the bushes,
they had gotten into the vehicle in the alleyway, and they were gone.”
Ben says back in 1981, and in his nine-year-old mind,
he couldn’t really make sense of things,
and he didn’t have a good grasp
on what time the abduction actually happened.
But there was one detail he remembers without a doubt.
The van he saw the strange man stuff Linda into was black
and had flames down the side of it.
As soon as the van took off,
Ben says he immediately ran to a neighbor’s house
across the street to call 911,
because at the time, the Smiths didn’t have a phone in their home.
In fact, the family was way more into CB radios than telephones.
Noreen, their mom, was really into the hobby.
She was a member of the Southeast Idaho CB Radio Club,
and the whole family had their own radio handles.
Noreen was White Angel,
Lori was Dark Angel,
Ben was Littlest Angel,
and Linda was Teen Angel.
They jokingly called their house
the Honky Tonk Angel Base.
We were so redneck, it’s not even funny.
The reason Ben was so quick to go over to a neighbor’s
and call 911 after Linda’s abduction
was that he’d heard in school,
if something bad happens, you always call 911.
It’s the golden rule we teach pretty much every kid,
but Ben never imagined what would happen
and how investigators would treat him
after he dialed those famous three numbers.
According to the Pocatello Police Department,
when Ben placed the 911 call to report Linda’s abduction,
it was just after two o’clock in the morning.
By this time, Noreen was on her way home
when she got a page on her car’s CB radio.
It was the police, and they were looking for White Angel.
Ben doesn’t remember his mom going out all the time.
He said she worked hard to provide for her three kids
as a single mom.
Their dad was never in the picture.
Patrol officers responded to the Smiths’ house
with less than enthusiastic attitudes
that Ben’s report of an abduction was in fact legit.
Ben says the officer’s initial response to his panic
was to calm him down and suggest
that his sister likely voluntarily left with someone
and ran away.
He said when he protested against that theory,
the police immediately accused him of making up the story
about Linda being kidnapped.
They suggested that Ben’s nine-year-old imagination
was getting the best of him
and that he was just covering up for Linda
taking off on her own.
They thought this because some other reports
had come into the department earlier that night
that indicated a party was going on in the neighborhood
a few streets over.
The police, according to Ben,
suggested that most likely Linda would have wanted
to sneak off to the party.
They had two very inexperienced patrolmen
investigating a possible kidnapping
they thought was a runaway.
They even went down to,
there was a party going up on Clark Street
a few blocks away from where we were living,
and they went there to go look for Linda.
Not once did they believe that
I saw somebody take my sister.
Ben said officers doubted him so much
that by the time his mom arrived on scene,
he even started to doubt himself.
His mind kept racing over the scene he’d experienced
inside the house and in the alley.
And he questioned if it was real.
Even when I told them what I witnessed that night,
what I seen, and I was in shock.
So I would forget things and then I would remember things.
So of course that to them looked like it was lying.
So I was covering up for her.
But Ben knew that what he saw was real.
When it came to dealing with law enforcement,
he never retracted his initial statement.
What didn’t help the situation was the fact
that Ben had very little helpful information
to give the police about the identity
of the man who he said took Linda.
He had no idea who this man was.
He’d never seen him before in his life.
All he remembered was that for a split second,
he was able to look into the guy’s eyes,
though he couldn’t be descriptive about them.
He knew that the man had a beard
and he described the suspect
as wearing a hooded sweatshirt or jacket
with the hood pulled up around his face.
And there was a smell that he can still recall
to this very day.
And anymore, I honestly can’t remember a whole lot
of what I recognized from that.
Kind of the eyes and the smell of beer alcohol
and body odor, sweat.
Will send me into a PTSD trigger,
I mean, downward spiral.
Those two combinations together
sends me into a downward spiral
because I’m that nine-year-old kid again.
I think one of the reasons police
might’ve initially doubted Ben’s story
about Linda being kidnapped
is the fact that she was independent enough
to leave the Smiths’ house if she wanted to.
She was clearly the eldest
and most responsible of the three kids.
I mean, enough so that Noreen felt comfortable
leaving her to watch over Ben that night.
There was also the fact that back in 1981,
Pocatello, Idaho didn’t have an extensive track record
of violent crimes.
The city is located in Southeast Idaho,
about two and a half hours north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
More than half the population is Mormon.
And for the most part,
Pocatello had had a fairly low crime rate over the years.
Linda herself was a devout Mormon.
Ben says she was shy
and loved spending her time in the church
and with her school friends
who also shared her same beliefs.
Something else Linda was devoted to,
though it was short-lived,
was keeping a diary of her life.
Ben brought one of her journals with him
to his interview for this episode.
The pages are covered with Linda’s writing
about school, her friends,
and boys she had crushes on at church.
Her first journal entry was in October of 1979.
“‘I went to church today and had a great time.
I met the girls in my class
and they treated me pretty nice.’”
In January, 1981, Linda wrote,
“‘I woke up about nine and Disco Duck was on.
And about 9.30, my little brother woke up
and we went roller skating.’”
Oh my gosh, that’s so funny.
According to the diary,
Linda made her last journal entry in late April of 1981,
less than two months before she was kidnapped.
She wrote that she was looking forward
to her 14th birthday.
Every page after that date is blank.
And 10 days before she was abducted, Linda turned 14.
There’s limited information out there
about what exactly happened in the police investigation
immediately after Linda was abducted on June 14th, 1981.
After talking with Ben on record
and Lori, who didn’t want to be recorded,
it doesn’t seem like police did a whole lot to find Linda
in those initial 48 hours of her being gone.
The Pocatello Police Department declined to participate
in an interview with us for this episode,
likely because Linda’s case
is still considered open and active.
But here’s what we do know.
In the days immediately after Linda was reported
as being dragged from her home and stuffed into a van,
police and many community members
just kept thinking that wasn’t the truth
and were hopeful she would just turn back up.
Ben remembers people making up stories
about having seen Linda in other towns.
Ben even said they saw her in Las Vegas,
but later they admitted that was a lie.
Ben says the family’s church bishop also told police
he thought based on everything he knew about the family,
it was more than likely that Linda probably ran away.
One week after her abduction report was taken
and no one except the family was really taking it seriously,
the entire case changed in a major way.
Clothing showed up and it belonged to Linda.
Ben found several pieces of young girl’s clothing
scattered off a highway exit in Pocatello.
At the time, the man didn’t know what to make of the clothing
and waited a day or so before he called police
to tell detectives about what he’d found.
When police did finally get ahold of the clothing,
officers asked the Smith family to confirm
if any of the items belonged to Linda.
And Noreen, her mother, positively ID’d the articles
as belonging to her daughter.
What’s bananas is that even then,
when the cops had Linda’s own mother saying,
yes, this belonged to my daughter,
Ben says police in Pocatello
still wouldn’t call the case a kidnapping.
The details are slim,
but I guess whatever state the clothing was in
didn’t make it apparent to the police
that something violent had happened to Linda.
To them, it was just clothing on the side of a highway
that her family said was hers.
So for an entire year after the clothing was found,
not a lot happened with the case
until the start of summer in 1982 when tragic news came in.
In May, three young girls were out playing
near a Pocatello subdivision called Sagewood Hills
when they came across several bones.
Now, bones in the Idaho woods
don’t always cause concern right away
because there are large animals like bears
that roam that part of the country.
But something about these bones really stood out.
In the pile was the upper part
of what looked like a human skull.
The girls took the bones home
and showed one of their mothers
and that woman called the police to report the find.
Police quickly got out to the subdivision
where the girls had been playing
and conducted a more thorough search.
And you probably guessed it,
they found more remains scattered throughout the area.
The medical examiner’s best estimate
was that the bones had been there
for several months to a year.
The teeth from the skull were compared to dental records
of recent missing people from Pocatello.
And eventually, police announced
that the partial skeleton belonged to Linda Smith.
Officers also found human hairs
and remnants of three pairs of pants with the remains.
Whether or not any of those pants
belonged to Linda is unclear.
And even Ben doesn’t know that information.
But I have to think that since some of Linda’s clothing
had already been found by the highway a few months earlier,
the pants probably didn’t belong to Linda.
Anyway, according to reporting by the Idaho State Journal
at a press conference on the day police announced
the bones were Linda’s,
the police department confirmed
they believed foul play was likely involved,
but no cause of death could be determined.
The bone fragments and skull that were found
were just too deteriorated.
In the ground around several spots
where remains were recovered,
police said they found bullet casings,
but the department made sure to note in a public statement
that the wooded area was a popular place
for target practice.
There was no way that they could know for sure
if any of those casings were relevant to Linda’s remains
or a potential cause of death.
On the day authorities held their press conference,
Ben was just days away from turning 10 years old.
He remembers coming home from school
and learning the terrible news.
His grandpa was waiting for him in his bedroom
to tell him that police had finally found his big sister.
I remember more about that night
and I remember more about the day
that they found her remains than I can remember before.
Finding Linda’s remains
was a big turning point in the case.
Finally, the Pocatello police reclassified the case
as a kidnapping and murder,
but by then it was sort of too little too late
to process the crime scene or collect any evidence
that might’ve been left behind
by the suspect in the Smith’s house.
You see, shortly after Linda was taken,
Noreen, Ben and Lori moved close to Noreen’s parents
in Bay Salt, Idaho.
They never went back to the Pocatello house after that
and other people moved in.
For Noreen and the kids,
the memories of Linda in that house were just too painful
and staying in Pocatello became unbearable.
So any chance that investigators
were going to find something useful
to the investigation in the old house
a year after Linda was kidnapped was low.
Today, the house is still there, but sits empty.
It hasn’t changed much.
The alley is still there
and so is the back door where the man dragged Linda from.
One of our reporters, Emily,
actually went there in person to get images for us
and you can see those in the blog post for this episode
on our website, thedeckpodcast.com.
Before the abduction,
Ben says the Smith’s house was never locked.
He says the Smith’s had a sort of open door policy
for family and neighborhood friends.
Noreen was raising the kids as a single mother
and she was on welfare at the time.
Ben says that his mom worked really hard to make ends meet
and that often meant that she wasn’t around a lot.
People were always coming and going from the Smith house
and it wasn’t unusual for adults to come and go
and visit with the kids while Noreen was working.
As he’s grown older, Ben has come to believe
the family’s open door policy
may be how the suspect got in that fateful night.
After 40 years of always thinking about his sister’s case,
Ben doesn’t think it was a complete stranger
who took Linda.
Whoever had taken my sister,
I think, had been in the house before.
Honestly, they knew where to go to get her.
Honestly, that theory makes sense.
Statistically, a true stranger abduction is very rare,
especially if you’re talking someone coming into the home.
But those cases do happen.
And while I agree with Ben
and think her abductor had some familiarity with the family,
you might disagree when you learn that Linda Smith
was not the only young girl to be kidnapped and killed
in Southeast Idaho in the early 1980s.
We had one of our investigators do a little digging
to gather more information about the greater Pocatello area
around the time of Linda Smith’s abduction and murder.
According to several Pocatello news outlets,
Linda Smith’s bones were actually one of three sets
of remains found in Southeast Idaho
during the span of just seven months in 1982.
The other sets belonged to two young girls
who went missing in the mid-1970s
from other towns in the area several years before Linda.
There isn’t a whole lot of information out there
on those cases,
but here’s some general information we did find out.
Disappearances of preteen girls from Southeastern Idaho
started happening in 1975,
when 12-year-old Lynette Culver vanished
after leaving Alameda Junior High in Pocatello.
Three years later, in 1978, 12-year-old Tina Anderson
and 15-year-old Patricia Campbell went missing
after attending a Pioneer Day celebration at Alameda Park,
just a mile from the school.
Police later said the other two sets of remains
found near Linda’s belonged to Tina and Patricia.
Then we know Linda Smith is abducted from her home
and likely killed shortly after that in 1981 in Pocatello.
The last girl to go missing was 14-year-old Cindy Brighurst,
who was abducted in 1983 while babysitting
a two-year-old at their family home.
In that case, Cindy vanished,
and the baby she was watching was left unharmed,
just like Ben.
Cindy’s body was found south of Pocatello
a month after she vanished.
That’s five cases of preteen or teenage girls
in the span of eight years who all vanished
or were reported missing from similar areas
in towns very close to one another in Southeast Idaho.
Despite most of the girls having gone
to the same junior high school in the same town,
police have never been able to say
if the cases are connected.
Even more bizarre is that in 1989,
one of the most notorious serial killers
in American history confessed to committing
one of the Pocatello murders.
Just before he was executed,
Ted Bundy told police he abducted the first girl,
Lynette Culver, near Alameda Junior High School.
He said he took her to a local hotel,
drowned her in the bathtub,
and threw her body in the nearby Snake River.
According to reporting by the Idaho State Journal,
former Idaho Attorney General Jim Jones
said Bundy knew personal details about Lynette’s life
that only she would know.
So he believed Bundy’s confession.
But Lynette’s body has never been found.
As a lot of you probably know,
Ted Bundy was proven to have committed several murders
throughout the American West in the mid and late 70s.
He was eventually arrested and locked up officially by 1978.
So because we know he was in prison by 1978,
Ted Bundy couldn’t have killed Linda,
Tina, Patricia, or Cindy.
So the question becomes,
did Pocatello, Idaho have more than one serial killer
roaming the streets targeting young girls?
I think the answer is probably yes.
Our team tried for weeks to get in touch
with the Pocatello Police Department
to figure out if all of these years later
detectives have made any connections
between the cases, but they were uncooperative.
A public information officer told our investigator
that he would ask a detective
if he wanted to at least talk about Linda’s case
and where it stands now,
but the department never called back.
Ben said there’s been a revolving door of detectives
assigned to Linda’s case.
He can name at least six different detectives
who’ve worked on it over the last 40 years.
In 2007, he said the department
took another look at the case,
and that at the time they told him
they had at least two people of interest,
but nothing came of that information.
And here we are in it’s 2022 with nothing new.
Ben’s not sure who is working on Leeds today.
It’s still considered an open case,
but it’s cold, it’s cold as hell,
but they won’t investigate it anymore.
Now that he’s pushing 50 years old,
Ben has tried to move on from the police
accusing him of lying when he was a child.
Over the decades,
he’s continued to cooperate with investigators
and even gone back in a few times for interviews
and to look through photo lineups.
He says the one thing he’ll never get over
is the fact that his sister might still be alive today
if only those two responding police officers in June 1981
had believed him when he said Linda was abducted.
When I turned 26,
I had a full mental breakdown because of everything.
I had all the guilt,
I had all the, you know,
from not being able to do more to save my sister.
To this day, Ben struggles to remember
exactly what Linda’s face looks like,
and he has a hard time remembering the sound of her voice.
Time has faded so much of his memory.
Different rumors circulated over the years
about who killed Linda,
and Ben says those are hard to listen to.
For a while, the family sort of suspected an 18-year-old
who’d taken a liking to Linda
during her time working a paper route.
They thought he could have been involved.
Apparently, this guy would write Linda letters,
but Linda never reciprocated the feelings,
and as far as Ben knows,
that man had never been to their house in 1981.
Knowing the Smith home at that time, Ben thinks is critical.
He’s certain Linda’s kidnapper
knew his way around their house
and knew to park his van in the alleyway
that led right up to the back door.
There’s no indication from our research material
or discussions with Lori or Ben
that the mystery older guy who wrote letters to Linda
was ever questioned by police.
Law enforcement isn’t an open book on this case,
so who knows exactly who they spoke to or didn’t.
Ben says at one point, the police suggested Noreen,
their mother, might have known something or been involved,
but he’s never believed that.
What he said was,
do I think my mom,
is it possible that my mom was lured away that night
so that my sister could be taken?
What I heard was, do you think your mom’s involved?
The popular theory on this whole situation is,
they think that my mom might have known something
and they killed my sister to shut my mom up.
Noreen died in 2000 and is buried right next to Linda
at a cemetery in Idaho Falls.
Ben says she lived her life feeling guilty
for not being home the night Linda was kidnapped,
not because she had anything to do with what happened.
It hasn’t really been resolved
and we’re still just waiting for something to happen
and I think I will go to our graves
and wait for something to happen like my mom did.
When I see or hear about a missing person,
missing child, when it’s even ran away,
I’m hopeful that they get some sort of quick closure
to whatever is going on in their lives.
Before her death, Noreen told local reporters
at a news conference that she wasn’t sure,
even if she was home that night,
that it would have mattered.
She was quoted as saying that whoever snuck
into the family’s house was there to get Linda
and they were going to do whatever it took.
Ben says going all these years
not knowing exactly how his sister died
has been hard to bear.
He hopes that whatever happened
after she was shoved into that van in the alley
was swift and painless.
We tend to think of her death as,
the date of her death as being that night.
I mean, there’s no way for sure to know,
but we’d rather think of her not suffering.
Ben says he’ll always miss Linda
and he remembers her as a mama’s girl.
Growing up, if he or Lori wanted to stay the night
at their grandparents’ house,
Linda always wanted to stay home with Noreen.
A neighbor told the Idaho State Journal in 1982
that she remembered Linda as a polite, quiet girl.
And she often saw her and Noreen
sitting in their front yard in lawn chairs,
chatting like girlfriends.
Now Noreen and Linda are resting right next to each other
in a spot where Ben and Lori can visit their grave sites.
Seeing his sister’s face on a deck of playing cards
that gets passed out to inmates and in the community
to hopefully generate new leads is encouraging to Ben.
The fact that Linda was assigned
to be the nine of hearts in the deck
strikes him as especially meaningful.
I looked at it and I’m like,
oh, the nine of hearts, that’s pretty cool.
I was nine when it happened and I love my sister.
To see that, I bawled.
Ben and his younger sister, Lori,
have both watched over the years
as other cold cases in Idaho have been solved.
He hopes one day he’ll get to know what closure feels like
before it’s too late.
I think it’s more of now prevalent
because I sit there and I watch
all these other cases get solved.
And I’m happy for the families, don’t get me wrong.
I’m happy for the families.
But I’m thinking all this time, when’s it gonna be our turn?
If Amanda is still alive, that’s a hard one.
That’s a difficult question.
If you did it, come forward.
If you know who did it, come forward.
Let us have a chance for our families.
Give us the chance to have closure too.
If you have any information
about the abduction and murder of Linda Smith,
please contact the Idaho Cold Case tip line
or the Pocatello Police Department
The Deck is an AudioChuck production
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