BEDFORD, VA–John Smith's April 25 murder of local teens Amy and Emily Dutler has sent shockwaves through this tight-knit community in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, its 6,000 residents struggling to comprehend how the man was capable of a crime so severe.
"I've known John Smith since grade school," said Deborah Sykes, 38, Smith's next-door neighbor. "I'd never have suspected for a second that he had it in him to murder two innocent girls. Rape them, sure. But murder? No way."
"When I heard about how John shot those girls in cold blood, all I could think was, 'This can't be,'" said Rodney Wilshire, owner of the grocery store Smith frequented. "I could see John taking them out to the woods, tying them up, and having his way with them–he always seemed like the type–but killing them? That's not the man I thought I knew."
According to his confession to police, the 39-year-old Smith broke into the Dutler home at 1 p.m. on the day in question and discovered Amy, 17, and Emily, 15, in the kitchen. Holding the girls at gunpoint, he led them to the basement, where he shot each of them once in the back of the head with a .38-caliber revolver. Smith was seen exiting the rear of the house by a neighbor, who called the police. He was arrested several hours later at his home three blocks away.
"Living in a small town, you feel like you know the people around you and what they're capable of," said Father Randolph Logan, who has set up a grief-counseling center in the basement of St. Michael's Church. "And from the sick things John would tell me during confession, I definitely felt he was capable of rape–we're talking about some seriously impure thoughts here. But at no point did I ever pick up on any homicidal impulses from him."
"With John around, you always expected some girl to eventually turn up, bruised and naked, in the janitor's closet at school," Logan continued. "But then something like this happens, and all your preconceptions are shattered."
While Smith's neighbors said they had always felt there was "something definitely wrong in the head" with the quiet bachelor, they now realize that they underestimated his mental problems.
"When you have someone living right near you and see them every day, you never think, 'That person is a killer,'" neighbor Randy Weber said. "Once in a while you think to yourself, 'I bet he's diddling little boys.' But cold-blooded murder? It just goes to show, you can never predict the human capacity for evil."