Carolyn Killaby Disappearance: What Happened to Dennis Smith?

Image Credit: A. P. Reed/Find A Grave

In November 1995, when Carolyn Killaby’s husband returned home after a night out with friends, he noticed she was also not home and still hadn’t returned. At first, he waited for her, but he grew worried as hours passed with no contact from her. Her car was found outside a restaurant in Vancouver, Washington, but she was never seen again. The Crime Junkie podcast episode titled ‘Missing: Carolyn Killaby’ delves into the details of the events that unfolded after she went missing and the clues that eventually led to the apprehension of her killer.

Carolyn Killaby Was a Single Mother When She Fell For Dan

Carolyn Ruth Lieb Killaby was born on October 2, 1961, in Portland, Oregon, to Delmar Charles Lieb and Nancy Lou Smith Lorenz. She was known for bringing joy to those around her and always caring for her parents. After finishing school and having a daughter, Carolyn faced the challenges of single motherhood when her relationship ended. However, her life changed for the better in the late 1980s when she met Dan Killaby. They had an immediate and profound connection, and love blossomed quickly, bringing new hope and happiness into Carolyn’s life.

Image Credit: The Charley Project

Dan also had a daughter of his own and was raising her alone. In 1990, Carolyn and Dan got married in the presence of their loved ones, including their respective daughters. After their wedding, they settled down as a happy family in Vancouver, Washington. On the morning of November 11, 1995, the couple made plans to go out for dinner, attempting to reconcile after a minor argument. However, Dan’s brother called and asked him to swing by his house. As a result, Dan ended up canceling their dinner plans. Around 1 am, he called home, left a message apologizing, and informed Carolyn that he would be home in the morning.

Carolyn Killaby Was Last Seen at a Restuarant

When Dan returned home the following day, he noticed that no one had seen the message he had left. Initially, he thought Carolyn might have been upset about him canceling their plans at the last minute and gone out with her friends. Though their daughters reportedly weren’t home at the time, too, they returned soon. As hours passed without any sign of her return, Dan grew increasingly worried. None of her friends had heard from her, prompting him to inform the police.

Image Credit: The Charley Project

On the evening of November 12, Carolyn’s car was found outside Omar’s Steakhouse and Lounge, a restaurant near the couple’s home, but she was nowhere to be found. The staff reported seeing her the previous night but had no information about where she went afterward. Her body has still not been found, and the cause of her disappearance and death remains unknown, but she was declared legally dead in 1997.

Carolyn Killaby’s Killer Was Shot During His Arrest

The first people the police wanted to investigate were those at Omar’s Steakhouse and Lounge. Several witnesses reported that Carolyn was very intoxicated on the night she was last seen and was even crying over some things. Many of them mentioned seeing her leaving with a man named Dennis Smith, who was helping her to her car. The police’s interest in him grew, and upon looking into his background, they discovered something unfavorable. Dennis was a convicted killer who had been in and out of prison since 1980. In October 1982, Dennis confessed to the second-degree murder of his sister, Patricia Johnson, and had been released on parole since June 23, 1993.

A few months after his release, his wife, Leemon Smith, alerted his parole officer that he was violating his parole conditions and should be tested for drug use. However, her concerns were allegedly downplayed. In 1994, Dennis moved to Vancouver, Washington, just a few miles from Carolyn’s home. He became a regular at Omar’s Steakhouse and Lounge and allegedly dealt drugs from the area when he got the chance. While living in Vancouver, he stayed with his parents and his sister’s son, whom he was prohibited from having any contact with but who also remained in the same house.

In the months preceding Carolyn’s disappearance, Dennis was under no parole supervision. The police brought Dennis in for questioning, and he claimed he had seen Carolyn struggling to get home, so he helped her into her car. He reported seeing another man approach her but said that he decided to leave at that point. The police seized his vehicle and checked it for DNA traces. Before the report came back, the police attempted to bring him in for questioning again, but he had fled from his parole officer. On July 12, 1996, after forensic results proved that traces of Carolyn’s blood were found in his car, an arrest warrant was issued against him, but he remained missing.

Dennis Smith Died in Prison

On January 31, 1997, ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ aired Dennis Smith’s profile, and not long after that, a tip came in that he was living in Florida. During the arrest on February 4, 1997, he tried to escape and even attempted to grab an officer’s gun but was shot and subdued. When his trial began in May 1998, Dennis claimed that he had consensual sex with Carolyn in his car, after which a man approached them and beat him with a stick. He identified the man as Carolyn’s husband and alleged that it was he who took her away. However, the police had other witnesses; some had seen Dennis covered in blood smears on the night of her disappearance. Two people had even called 911 after hearing a woman’s cries near the Steakhouse.

Dennis was found guilty of aggravated murder and one count of first-degree murder, receiving a life sentence. In September 1998, his parole for his sister’s murder case was revoked, adding another 99 years to his sentence. In April 2001, an appellate court reduced his sentence in Carolyn’s murder case to 70 years. In 2004, he even told the authorities that he would lead them to her body, but the search led nowhere. On November 17, 2004, Dennis Smith was found dead in his prison cell. The cause of his death was determined to be suicide, with no evidence of foul play.

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