(WCCO) – It was a mystery that seemed to fit a movie plot.
Diana Smith and Scott Jones were found murdered in Scott’s St. Paul apartment in March 1981. Her dad had reported her missing when she failed to meet him for church services and called police. Police thought the crime scene seemed staged because of the way the bodies of the victims were positioned.
The cause of death turned out to be chloroform — a rare method for murder that was much more common in movie scripts than in actual homicides. St. Paul Police hope DNA tests on old crime scene evidence may finally give them what they need to arrest a longtime suspect for the couple’s murder.
Investigators say the prime suspect is a former boyfriend of Diana’s who lives in the Twin Cities. He is now married and has a child.
I-TEAM: New Technology Could Help Solve Old Case
Nearly 25 years ago, a young couple, just starting their lives together, were found dead.
Their deaths seamed like the perfect crime, the kind of murders that mystery novels and movies are made of.
Investigators are now confident they about to make a break in the case.
“The motive’s been identified,” said Sgt. Janet Dunnom.
In early 1981, Diana Smith, 23, and Scott Jones, 29, were found dead in Jones’s St. Paul apartment.
The couple had just decided to get married. Smith was going to direct a play at Hamline University where she graduated the year before and Jones was planning a career as a landscape architect.
Jones’s body was found by the front door and Smith’s body was found in the bedroom. The crime scene appeared staged and well-planned, police said. There was no sign of struggle or a forced entry.
Photos show the sheets had been taken from the bed and Smith’s hand was holding a clock cord. The time stopped at 10:12 p.m.
The couple had been forced to inhale chloroform.
“It’s a highly unusual way to kill someone,” said Investigator Tom Bergen.
Bergen and Dunnom are reviewing the case and are taking a fresh look at old evidence.
Chloroform was once used as an anesthetic, but was more common as a murder weapon in movies than in real life.
Because it is such a rare method to kill and there was no sign of the chemical left at the scene, it took a month for the medical examiner to determine chloroform was the cause of death.
“It’s almost like they, they started off as a cold case,” Dunnom said. “They hadn’t determined it was murder.”
Almost 25 years later, new CSI technology could play an important role in finally solving the cold case.
“So some of this stuff will be re-fingerprinted for the first time as with DNA,” Dunnom said. “They didn’t have those tools in their toolbox at that time.”
“We have a lot of information to go on,” Bergen said. “It’s just that we need that one piece of evidence to crack the case wide open.”
In addition to testing old evidence, investigators want to talk to people who knew the couple. One person at the top of their list: a former boyfriend of Smith.
The man was a dental student at the University of Minnesota with easy access to chloroform at the time of the murders. He even mentioned chloroform before the cause had been publicly released.
He surfaced as the prime suspect after he kidnapped and raped another former girlfriend, just over a year after the chloroform murders. He was found guilty and went to prison for the rape and kidnapping.
Investigators note both crimes were well-planned and involved women he used to date. WCCO-TV is not naming him because he has not been charged with the chloroform murders.
He denies having anything to do with the couple’s murders and said he has always cooperated with police. He is convinced DNA evidence will not implicate him.
Smith’s parents, Jim and Jeanne Smith, are grateful the case is being actively investigated again.
They hope new forensic technology will bring to light the person responsible for their daughter’s death.
“I say to myself, they’re working on it Diana,” Jim Smith said. “That’s about it.”
Dunnom keeps a photo of the couple on her desk, to remind her to work on the case every day.
“I can’t believe there might be an ending to this,” Jim Smith said.
State crime investigators are running DNA tests on the old evidence. Results are not expected until March.