The Murder of Susan Reinert

            It was June 22, 1979, when the Reinert’s disappeared. Susan Reinert, 36, was due to give a speech at Parents Without Partners in Allentown, PA, 50 miles north of her home town of Ardmore, PA. She left that morning with her two children, Karen, 11, and Michael, 10, likely in hopes of turning the trip up north into a weekend away for the family. According to a neighbor who saw them leave, they were all dressed casually. They are never seen again (Barry).

            Susan Reinert was found nude, badly beaten, chained, and stuffed into the trunk of her own car on June 25, 1979 (O’Loughlin 2011) (Barry).  A man found her when he was cutting through the parking lot in Harrisburg, PA, nearly 90 miles from Allenstown and nearly 100 miles from her home. He saw her car, an orange Plymouth Horrizon Hatchback, which he thought looked abandoned. The back was open and he looked inside, where he discovered her remains (Barry). Her children were nowhere to be found (O’Loughlin 2011).

 Six years late, on June 25, 1985, Jay Smith was arrested and charged with her death. He was convicted and sentenced to three death sentences (Leask & Shellem 1992). Jay Smith was the principal at the school Susan was a teacher at and dubbed “The Prince of Darkness” by her colleagues after her disappearance. Rumors began to circulate, including insinuations that there were swing parties happening between the faculty of the school, devil worship, and that Smith had burned the bodies of the Reinert’s in the school’s incinerator (Barry).

Year later, Reinert’s fiancé, William Bradfield, was convicted of conspiracy to commit three murders, even though the bodies of her children had not been recovered. Not only were the bodies of the Reinert children not recovered, but Smith’s daughter and son-in-law, Stephanie and Edward Hunsberger, had gone missing a year prior to his arrest; both may have been heroin addicts. There were many rumors going around about their disappearance – people were saying they thought Smith had killed them and the children while others thought the Hunsbergers were in hiding and raising the Reinert children (O’Loughlin 2011).

            As of 2011, both the Hunsbergers and the Reinert children remain missing and are likely dead. William Bradfield and Jay Smith have both since passed, taking with them to the grave the information on where the Hunsbergers and Reinert children could be found (O’Loughlin 2011).

            After getting divorced from her first husband, Ken, Reinert began dating William Bradfield, a fellow English teacher at Upper Merion Area High School. From the beginning of their relationship, Bradfield vocally denied there was one to other teachers at the school and the woman he was living with at the time, Susan Myers, who was also a teacher at the school. It was well known as well that Bradfield had other lovers (Barry). Reinert’s infatuation with Bradfield eventually got to the point that she changed the beneficiary of her life insurance from her brother and children to Bradfield, whom she referred to as her “intended husband” on the forms. From the beginning of the investigation, police suspected that this change may have been motive (O’Loughlin 2011).

            On the weekend that the Reinert’s disappeared, Bradfield was in Cape May, New Jersey with several other male and female friends. It was supposedly known that Bradfield, as well as other members of the school’s faculty, were involved in swinging sex parties. It is worth noting that during the autopsy, it was found that Reinert had sand between her toes (Barry).

            While Bradfield couldn’t be charged for the murders for years, he was arrested and charged with theft by deception. Before Reinert’s death, Bradfield convinced her to withdraw $25,000 from her bank account that he could invest. The investment, however, was fake, and Bradfield was arrested. While he was in jail awaiting trial for this theft, he filed suit for the insurance money from her death in an extremely bold move. He was set to go to trial in 72 hours (O’Loughlin 2011). Arrested in connection with the theft was another one of Bradfield’s lovers, Wendy Ziegler. According to police, Ziegler hid the money in a safe-deposit box and took it out the day the Reinert’s disappeared. While she was arrested, police were apparently more interested scaring her into cooperating on their case against Bradfield than actually charge her. She ended up being one of the witnesses who testified against him in 1981, where he was sentenced to two years in prison (O’Loughlin 2011).

            Smith had had previous issues with the police before Reinert’s disappearance. In 1978, Smith was arrested at a shopping center after being called due to suspicious activity. Police found loaded handguns, a syringe filled with morphine, a hooded mask, and several other items described as burglar’s tools in his car (O’Loughlin 2011). It is worth noting at this point that the official cause of death for Susan Reinert was a lethal dose of morphine (Barry). Smith claimed he needed the guns to scare off people harassing him and the syringe must have belonged to his son-in-law, whom he said was a drug addict (O’Loughlin 2011). Police searched Smith’s home, revealing more drugs and guns, as well as uniforms for security guards, badges, and pornography that largely dealt with bestiality. Along with the drugs and guns, police also found four gallons of nitric acid and office supplies reportedly stolen from the school. As the investigation continued, police linked Smith to two armed robberies at Sears stores. Bradfield was one of the witnesses at his trial in 1979, providing an alibi for Smith, but was apparently not convincing enough. Smith was found guilty, but let out on bail while appealing the conviction (O’Loughlin 2011).

            On April 6, 1983, Bradfield was arrested and charged with the murders of Susan Reinert and her children, Karen and Michael. During the trial, there was testimony about the changes to Reinert’s will and life insurance and testimony claiming that Bradfield had been telling friends that he was concerned Smith was going to hurt Reinert, but never told Reinert herself or police about his concerns. Smith was not yet on trial for the murders at this point, but much of the testimony presented by the state connected Smith to Reinert. Among other things, there was a hair from Reinert that matched one found at Smith’s house and a comb from the Air Force Unit Smith belonged to found under Reinert’s body. It is worth noting, however, that it was found that there had been an event where the combs had been given out (O’Loughlin 2011). A very small amount of evidence actually linked Bradfield to the murder – instead, investigators were attempting to connect Bradfield to Smith to try to prove that the two had conspired together to kill Reinert. Bradfield was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in October 1983 and sentenced to three life sentences (O’Loughlin 2011).

            In March 1992, new evidence in the case was found in a box kept in the attic of the lead investigator that could have possibly cleared Smith of the murders. One of Smither’s lawyer’s filed to have the evidence put into the care of a court-appointed custodian and requested that the judge order the prosecution to explain why the evidence was never handed over to them during the initial trial. The evidence from the 1986 trial was sealed in boxes and left in the Attorney General’s office. According to the Chief Deputy Attorney General, the sealed boxes would be opened once the new box and the evidence inside was turned in (Leask & Shellem 1992).

            Smith’s attorney argued that the second trial of the murders constituted double jeopardy and strengthened the argument using evidence found in the box. Among the pieces of evidence in the box was a comb identical to the one used as evidence in the original trial; however, according to the attorney, this comb found in the box is not the comb originally presented at the trial. The comb found in the box was not tagged as trial exhibit, while the one used in the trial was, according to Smith’s attorney, and the comb used in the original trial should have been sealed away with the rest of the evidence in the Attorney General’s office (Leask & Shellem 1992). Smith’s attorney also argued that the officers may have been paid off by as much as $50,000 before any arrests were made for information, by Joseph Wambaugh, author of “Echoes in the Darkness”, a best-selling book about this case (Leask & Shellem 1992).

            The box found also contained notebooks numbered through 23, with the exception of 13 which seemed to be missing. Smith’s attorney theorized that the missing notebook was from a time when the officer was dealing with a jailhouse informant who claimed that Smith had told him that he had committed the murders of the Reinert’s. Smith’s attorney alleged that in another notebook, the officer noted that the informant said Smith told he did not commit the murder, and has been suspicious that there may have been a deal with the informant (Leask & Shellem 1992). Smith was released after being on death row for six years, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the prosecution was guilty of misconduct including hiding evidence and making deals. Smith died a free man in 2009, after spending the rest of his life trying to clear his name (Arias 2013).

            In 1998, Bradfield died of heart failure and a photograph that was likely developed in 1986 was found. The photograph shows a small statue of a hooded figure, possibly in a wooded area. Police believe this photograph may hold the key to finding the remains of Karen and Michael Reinert. Searches have been conducted, yet there have been no remains found as of yet. Police continue to take tips as to where this statue may be. If the statue could be found, it would hopefully lead to the recovery of the children’s remains (O’Neill). Along with the photograph, which was found among several boxes, police also found letters that appeared to be written in code. Some theorize that somewhere out in the world, another person involved in the murders exists and could tell them where the Reinert children are (O’Neill).

            While the murder of Susan Reinert may be solved, there are still questions haunting people today. Where are her children? Was Jay Smith truly innocent, or was he actually involved? What is that photograph found in Bradfield’s belongings? Where was it taken? Perhaps some day we will have answers to these questions, but for now they will remain unanswered.

O’Loughlin, Kathy. “True Crime: The Reinert Murder Rocked Our Area.” Main Line Media News, 23 June 2011, http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/mainlinetimes/life/true-crime-the-reinert-murder-rocked-our-area/article_17ab2d1d-521b-5d4d-878c-d5b8f8ad734c.html.

Leask , Laird, and Pete Shellem. “Evidence Surfaces in Reinert Case.” Death Penalty Information Center, The Patriot News, 29 Mar. 1992, deathpenaltyinfo.org/stories/evidence-surfaces-in-reinert-case.

Arias, Jeremy. “Susan Reinert, Teacher and Kids Killed by Ex-Principal Jay Smith: Notorious Murders.” Pennlive, 28 May 2013, http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/2013/05/notorious_murder_susan_reinert.html.

O’Neill, Ann. “Does Photo Found in Cell Show Children’s Grave?” CNN, Cable News Network, http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/07/02/pennsylvania.reinert.murders.police/index.html.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Victim.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-victim/.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Killer.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-killer/.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Story.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-story/.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Bribery.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-bribery/.

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