The long-unsolved 1967 murders of two employees at the High’s Ice Cream shop in Staunton are featured in the series premiere of “Catch My Killer” on Investigation Discovery Sunday at 9 p.m.
AugustaFreePress.com covered the case in this Jan. 25, 2009 story.
Part I. Answers
Carolyn Perry, 20, and her sister-in-law, Connie Hevener, 19, were doing what they needed to do to close the High’s Ice Cream in Terry Court in Staunton the night of April 11, 1967. They’d had some late customers, including a man later described as “in need of a haircut” and “in bad need of a shave,” and a mystery woman who was apparently at the counter when a coworker not on duty that night entered through a back door ostensibly to tell Hevener that she couldn’t work her shift on Wednesday night.
The coworker, Diane Crawford, 18, carried with her a chip on her shoulder from having been made the subject of some uncomfortable teasing from her coworkers and a .25-caliber automatic handgun that she had purchased a couple of weeks earlier for protection, generally, though she had some specific ideas in mind as to how to use it. She had told a friend after buying the gun at the Montgomery Ward’s downtown that she had two bullets in the gun – one for her stepfather, who had abused her sexually as a young teen, and for “the girl that lived on Grubert,” Hevener, who in Crawford’s mind was the person behind the teasing about her sexuality, which, though Crawford had yet to act on her thoughts regarding her sexual orientation, were apparently obvious to Hevener, if not others, who called her a lesbian.
Crawford wasn’t going to be able to cover for Hevener the next night because she had just been hired at Western State Hospital and was going to be working the night shift there. It’s not clear whether she relayed that part of the story, but what happened next is clear. An argument between Crawford and Hevener ensued and escalated into a full-blown shoving match involving all three.
And then it turned deadly. The details of why Perry ended up as the first victim are lost to history, but she was the first to be shot, at near-point-blank range, about 12 to 18 inches away from the gun, according to the autopsy report. Hevener rushed to her aid and was “hunkered down” over her when Crawford turned the gun on her and shot her from just a couple of inches away behind her left ear, the bullet exiting through the left side of her neck.
She was dead instantly. Perry was barely clinging to life, and would die later that night, technically early the next morning, at the University of Virginia Hospital.
Crawford fled out the back door, leaving behind the bank deposit that Perry and Hevener had put together as part of their efforts to close the store, though $138 from that deposit would end up being reported missing later. She drove around aimlessly for a little while, “scared,” she said, we have to assume scared that she would be found out. She ended up, she said more than 41 years later, in what a prosecutor called her “deathbed confession,” at the farm of the person who would be assigned the duty of lead investigator in the case, Davie Bocock, who was also among the first people at the scene of the crime.
The incident report that Bocock filed the next day provided bare details about the murders and more about what he did that night both before and after the shootings that you might want to file in the strange coincidence bin for the moment. Bocock wrote that he had driven by the store on a routine check a little while before the shootings, and among the things he had made mental notes about was the presence of a white male, who later turned out to be Bill Thomas, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech graduate whose life was also altered forever by his presence at the ice-cream store that night, in a nearby phone booth.
When Bocock returned upon getting the call about something having happened at High’s, he came across a Larry Robertson in a car in the parking lot sobbing; Robertson was the person who had reported the shootings. Thomas was still in the phone booth, and he talked with Bocock and told the investigator that as he was coming from Fraser Lane to College Circle he saw two men, a white man and a black man, running in the direction of College Circle, and that the black man had something in his hand that appeared to be a piece of pipe. Those statements and another in which Thomas claimed to see a dog running down the street with bloody trousers in its mouth would give Bocock the opportunity to pin the blame for the murders on him later on.
He would know in short order what had actually happened. Crawford, who would later be known to the world as Sharron Smith, said she told Bocock the next day that she had killed Perry and Hevener and that he had helped her dispose of the murder weapon, initially burying it in a metal box on his farm and later giving it, we’ve learned recently, to a friend on the police force in Staunton. Crawford, meanwhile, checked herself into King’s Daughter’s Hospital in Staunton, after going to the funeral of one of her victims, Hevener, and noticing that the exit wound where the bullet that had killed her had been retrieved was still visible on her neck.
Chilling stuff there, and here – Crawford continued to work part-time at High’s for several months after the murders, though she eventually married and relocated to Durham, N.C., before her marriage ended and she moved back to Virginia. And here – she was aware that Thomas was being tried for the murders, and that he was innocent of any involvement in the crimes. He would end up being acquitted on the charge of murder involving Hevener, though the indictment for the murder of Perry would stand for another 40 years, ironically up to the day that Sharron Diane Crawford Smith would offer her deathbed confession.
Part II. Questions
Did Bocock lead a coverup, and if so, why? The answer to that one is unclear right now, and may never be known. Bocock died in 2006, and to now had been regarded as a stellar policeman by his peers.
“I worked many times with Capt. Bocock, and always found him to be a genuinely good, responsible and competent police detective. So, that being said, I just want to make sure that you all know that, that I worked with him on many cases, including murder cases, and always found him to do an excellent job,” Staunton Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Robertson said Friday at a news conference held to discuss the High’s case.
Bocock’s actions in the High’s case have turned that view on its face. Joyce Bradshaw, a relative and coworker of Crawford Smith, told police investigators that she had contacted Bocock after the shootings to tell her about an awkward encounter that she’d had with Crawford Smith before the murders. Crawford Smith had picked her up to go out to eat at a local burger joint when she started talking about “her baby,” a .25-caliber handgun that she had in her glove compartment and that she said had two bullets in it, one for her stepfather and one for Connie Hevener.
Did Bocock tell Crawford Smith about the meeting with Bradshaw? One has to wonder. Bradshaw said she got a call from Crawford Smith the week of the murders in which Crawford Smith asked her to go to Lone Fountain in Western Augusta County with her. She refused, and Crawford Smith replied that she had better keep her mouth shut. When she asked why, Crawford Smith told her, “You know what about.” And then later in a followup interview with Bocock, the detective revealed to her that he had target-practiced shooting guns with Crawford Smith, and that she is a “crack shot,” which Bradshaw took, because of the context of the way it came up in their conversation, as a threat.
Whatever the case, it would seem clear that Bocock as lead investigator had enough evidence at hand to put more attention on Crawford Smith as a prime suspect, but according to Crawford Smith, she was never formally interviewed with respect to the case, though she was subjected to a polygraph test that she said she was told by Bocock that she had passed. Curiously, Bocock also did not interview other employees and family members in relation to the case, which would seem to be the dumbest of dumb mistakes for even a rookie investigator to make.
Which brings to question – was there any oversight of Bocock at the Staunton PD? That is a question more about competence than coverup at the outset, but both issues could very well be at play. Didn’t anybody notice that the lead investigator in this highest-profile case was not interviewing key witnesses? And how did it escape everyone’s attention that he had had some kind of personal relationship with a potential suspect? And how is it that when it was eventually noticed that the name of Crawford Smith didn’t end up surfacing as a suspect until she was found dying in a rehabilitation center 41 years after the fact?
One answer pops out – the presence of Bill Thomas as a diversion in the form of someone who was at the scene before the shootings and after who had offered contradictory and outright odd statements to investigators. The media accounts of his 1968 trial describe an almost Trial of the Century-type atmosphere to the proceedings, and, well, the guy just looked the part back then, messy hair, a beard, broad shoulders, straight from central casting for a 1960s murder suspect.
The strategy of trying him for one murder was meant to give prosecutors a chance for a do-over in the event of a mistrial or not guilty declaration by the trial jury, and when the latter came back as the verdict in that April 1968 trial, the decision was made to keep the second indictment active even as the trail seemed to grow cold. There were flareups down the road – in the late 1980s investigators followed up on a tip from an inmate at the Staunton Correctional Center that pointed to a former Staunton police officer who had later been convicted of murdering his wife as the triggerman in the High’s murders, and though he turned out to have been on duty on the night shift on the night of the murders, and apparently also on his lunch break at the time that the shootings took place, it was decided that he had not had anything to do with the High’s shootings. Then investigators checked out reports that had the murders aimed at a High’s employee who ended up taking the night off with the implication that Hevener and Perry were victims of mistaken identity, and it was learned in the process of checking this lead out that one of the employees had taken the night off to attend her son’s graduation from Marine boot camp, but that was the extent of that.
It wasn’t until former Staunton police officer Roy Hartless, now a private investigator, was contacted by a relative of one of the victims who mentioned Crawford Smith as a possible suspect that what had become a mystery began to unravel.
Which gets us back to the question of why. Why would Bocock lead a coverup of the crimes and send a man that he had to know had nothing to do with them to the wolves with two first-degree murder charges? All we know is that he and Crawford Smith knew each other enough to target-practice together and for Crawford Smith to show up at his farm after having committed the murders. Was he just being protective of a troubled teen that he had come to know? Was there more to their relationship that might otherwise meet the eye?
The ultimate question of why is why did Sharron Diane Crawford Smith shoot Connie Hevener and Carolyn Perry? The explanation that Hevener had been teasing her about her sexuality doesn’t hold much water. Crawford Smith admitted in talking with investigators in the months leading up to her death that she had not yet had any sexual experiences and that Hevener had to have been just “stereotyping” her based on her appearance. There had to be something more to have her walk in the back door of the store near closing time with a gun than that.
Justice wasn’t done here. A rogue cop and a bumbling police department pinned the blame on an innocent man, left two families without answers and let a cold-blooded woman get away with murder.
One more question – how do we keep this kind of thing from ever happening again?
– Story by Chris Graham