“She blossomed on earth to bloom in heaven.”
– Engraving on Shari’s headstone
She collected stuffed koala bears.
She was voted “Wittiest” during her senior year of high school, and was the choir vice president for the jazz band. She invited outcasts to sit with her at lunch. She was the perfect mix of mischievous and well-mannered, being raised in a strict household with disciplinarian values.
Most importantly, she loved her Lord and her family.
Seventeen-year-old Sharon Faye “Shari” Smith was a beautiful girl with a sparkling smile who was much more than a victim of homicide. Born June 25, 1967 to Robert and Hilda Smith, she was the second of three children, and was the spitting image of her older sister, Dawn. The two girls were both blonde and beautiful, with angelic voices they used to worship God. They were known as the “Smith Sisters,” and sang in churches, nursing homes, and even prisons.
“We loved riding our horses together when we moved to the country,” says Dawn, “as well as swimming, and were later in the youth group at our church together.”
“She was the happy one,” Robert Smith described in an interview of Forensic Files. “She was the glue that held the family together.”
The Smiths were the epitome of an all-American, church-going southern family living in South Carolina, with a working father and stay-at-home mother, and children with their entire lives ahead of them.
All of this came to a screeching halt along with the tires at the Smiths’ mailbox on May 31, 1985.
The hot summer day was perfect for a pool party, which is where Shari had come from when she stopped at the mailbox, her swimming suit under her clothes. In just two days she was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at her graduation, and in the days after that a cruise was booked for the seniors’ graduating trip. Life was as bright as the South Carolina sun that afternoon.
Horrifically, Shari’s life would be cut short by a monster in Lexington County who kidnapped her from her own mailbox. However, this article is written not to remember the terrible way that Shari died, but the loving and Christ-like way she lived her life.
“A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”
– Marion C. Garretty
“Shari was an extreme extrovert,” describes her sister, Dawn Smith Jordan. “She was a life-loving, vivacious, funny person. Everyone loved her. She talked and laughed loud, and was the life of the party everywhere she went.”
Shari and Dawn were best friends growing up, remaining close even after Dawn left for college.
Dawn was only twenty-one when here sister went missing. She immediately went to be with her family as the clock ticked away, waiting anxiously for any word from their beloved sister and daughter or the person who took her. The family ultimately began receiving taunting phone calls from various payphones around the area – a voice altered on the other end, alternating between obscene comments and self-proclaimed revelations from God.
A letter addressed to the Smiths would arrive days later, and would change the course of South Carolina history as they knew it.
In the middle of the largest manhunt ever conducted in South Carolina, a plain white envelope in Shari’s handwriting arrived at the post office. Family, police officers, and volunteers had been wearing gloves and sifting through the mail after the person on the other end of the telephone had warned them of a letter coming.
Inside the envelope, written in Shari’s loopy cursive, was a letter titled “Last Will and Testament.” The upper right corner of the paper read “3:10AM.”
I love you Mommy, Daddy, Robert, Dawn, & Richard, and everyone else and all other friends and relatives. I’ll be with my Father now, so please, please don’t worry! Just remember my witty personality & great special times we all shared together. Please don’t even let this ruin your lives, just keep living one day at a time for Jesus. Some good will come out of this. My thoughts will always be with you & in you!
Following this – in print, not cursive, like the rest of the letter – were the words “(casket closed).”
I love you all so damn much. Sorry, Dad, I had to cuss for once! Jesus forgave me! Richard sweetie – I really did & always will love you & treasure our special moments. I ask one thing though – accept Jesus as your personal Savior. 🙂 My family has been the greatest influence on my life. Sorry about the cruise money. Somebody please go in my place. I am sorry if I ever disappointed you in any way. I only wanted to make you proud of me because I have always been proud of my family. Mom, Dad, Robert, & Dawn, there’s so much I want to say that I should have said before now. I love ya’ll! I know ya’ll love me and will miss me very much, but if ya’ll stick together like we always did – ya’ll can do it! Please do not become hard or upset. “Everything works out for the good for those that love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28)
All my love always,
Sharon (Shari) F. Smith
I love ya’ll w/all my heart!
P.S. Nana – I love you so much. I kind of always felt like your favorite. You were mine! I love you a lot.
It is astonishing the strength and courage Shari had when she wrote these words. Her humor, love for her family, and faith in God is evident in her letter, along with an aura of peace – although it is certain she knew of the impending doom before her. What did the kidnapper tell her? Did he describe her imminent death to torture her further?
Shari’s body was found a few days later. As she requested, her casket was closed – although due to the length of time her body was left to the elements, there was no other option. The family had to say goodbye to their beloved Shari through the confinement of a silver casket.
While Shari’s life had come to an unthinkable end, a Domino effect began to slowly fall for the goodness of the world as she’d predicted in her letter. The approximately 274 words written would soon be used to catch a serial killer in the making.
In the weeks following Shari’s funeral, another girl was kidnapped – this time, however, she was only nine years old. Pretty, blonde-haired Debra May Helmick was playing in her front yard with her baby brother when the man that killed Shari drove alongside and stole her just yards from her home.
Her little body, too, would eventually be found.
However, forensic testing on Shari’s letter found tiny indentations where someone had written on the page before it. Six digits of a phone number were discovered, and after calling number after number, the Dominos fell and the killer was caught before he could take another victim.
“To choose suffering makes no sense at all;
to choose God’s will in the midst of suffering makes all the sense in the world.”
– Oswald Chambers
Dawn speaks fondly of her Shari and her memory, and gives all the glory to God in carrying her family through the terrible ordeal of her sister’s murder.
“It was a traumatic, life-altering experience,” she says. “From it, however, I learned just how strong I am, and that my strength came from my faith in Jesus Christ. I learned that I truly can ‘do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ as Philippians 4:13 says. I have seen God take the worst experience one could imagine in life and turn it into something good in so many lives, including my own.”
The year following her murder, a scholarship fund was created in her name by the Lexington County Arts Association for students at Lexington High School to pursue a musical degree. As of the publication of this article, thirty-two students have been recipients of the scholarship. It is a wonderful way to keep Shari’s memory alive.
Shari’s sister, Dawn, won Miss Carolina in 1986 and went on to have a successful singing and public speaking career, sharing her testimony of her faith in God and writing a book about her sister’s death called Grace So Amazing.
“Though the circumstances of life are going to come that we would never choose, we always have a choice with how we respond,” Dawn says. “Shari chose faith, and I daily seek to do the same and and follow her example. It is my hope and prayer that every single time I am called upon to share my story whether it be in a church setting, a women’s conference, in an article like this one, on a national TV program, or to an individual, that they are challenged and inspired to choose faith in their own journeys, and find encouragement to do so.”
The story of Shari’s faith is remarkable, and her forethought to request one last letter to her adoring family undoubtedly helped save others from her same fate. When asked what she would say to her sister, this was Dawn’s reply:
“I would tell Shari how proud I am of her, and in that in the writing of her letter before her life was taken, she could never imagined the impact her choice and words of faith have made on countless people over the last 34 years. Her life and death were not in vain, and she continues to live on in the hearts of all who hear of her remarkable story of courage, faith, and love.”