- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

RICHMOND | A woman charged last month in the 1967 slayings of two young co-workers at a western Virginia ice cream shop has died, police said Tuesday.

Sharron Diane Crawford Smith, 61, died Monday night, Staunton police spokeswoman Lisa Klein said. An official cause of death was not released, but prosecutors had said Mrs. Smith, who was living in an undisclosed terminal care facility, was suffering from kidney and heart disease.

She was charged Dec. 12 with first-degree murder in the deaths of Constance Smootz Hevener, 19, and Ms. Hevener’s sister-in-law, Carolyn Hevener Perry, 20.

Both victims were shot in the back of the head. Their bodies were found April 11, 1967, in a back room at High’s Ice Cream shop in Staunton, a city of around 24,000 people about 100 miles west of Richmond.

The investigation is ongoing and a news conference will be held later this week to release further details in the case, Ms. Klein said.

Mrs. Smith had not yet entered a plea and a court appearance earlier this month was continued.

“In a way I’m glad it’s over with and it doesn’t have to go to trial,” said Carroll Smootz, the twin brother of Ms. Hevener. “But there’s still a lot of questions that’s not answered, why it took 41, almost 42 years to come to this.”

Police began investigating new leads after a tip was passed along by relatives of the victims last summer.

Mrs. Smith’s name was found in the original case file, but nothing linked her to the slayings at the time of the initial investigation, Staunton Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond C. Robertson had said. He declined to elaborate on a motive, but said it wasn’t robbery. About $138 was stolen the night of the slayings.

Mr. Robertson did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday.

Police said Mrs. Smith moved to North Carolina shortly after the killings and returned to Staunton 22 years ago.

In 1968, William W. Thomas Jr., 24, of Staunton, was acquitted in Mrs. Hevener’s slaying. A murder indictment against Mr. Thomas in Mrs. Perry’s death stood for four decades, although it was never pursued. The indictment was dropped Dec. 30.

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