Joseph Smedley’s Death: How Did He Die? Was He Killed?

A young student at Indiana University suddenly went missing after leaving mysterious text messages on his sister’s phone. His body was fished out of a local lake just days later, leading to more questions than answers. The first half of Investigation Discovery’s ‘Still a Mystery: Indiana Unsolved’ focuses on Joseph Smedley’s puzzling death and the events leading up to that. So, if you’re curious about the same, we’ve got you covered.

How Did Joseph Smedley Die?

Joseph Smedley II grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was a bright, funny, and upbeat kid. After his parents divorced when he was young, he remained estranged from them. But Joseph was close to his sister, Vivianne Bernas, and spoke to her almost daily. By 2015, the 20-year-old was a sophomore at Indiana University. He was pursuing biochemistry and lived off-campus with some fraternity brothers.

Vivianne reported Joseph missing on September 28, 2015, after she failed to reach him through phone or messages. The last time she spoke to her brother was on the night before. The family learned that Joseph was last seen by his roommates at around 11:30 PM on September 27, 2015. Then, on October 2, 2015, a fisherman at Griffy Lake, Indiana, found Joseph’s body in the water. He had been fully clothed with binoculars around his neck. The coroner ruled that Joseph died by drowning and stated that the manner of death was suicide. The report indicated that Joseph had a backpack strapped to him with around 66 pounds of rocks.

Was Joseph Smedley Killed?

As per the show, about a week before Joseph Smedley’s disappearance, Vivianne had gotten a call from his former landlord regarding some balance that he owed, and he had until September 28, 2015, to clear it. Vivianne spoke with Joseph on the night of September 27, when he said he would drop off the check the following day. However, that never happened. At around 4 AM on September 28, Vivianne received a troubling message from Joseph’s phone.

The message said, “Viv I love you. I’m leaving the country. By not telling you why I’m keeping you safe and protected. Please don’t try to contact me at this number; it won’t work. I’ll contact you once I’m set up overseas. Thank you for everything viv, I love you. And I’m sorry.” Vivianne initially thought it was a joke because he didn’t even have a passport. But she began worrying when she couldn’t reach the young student the following day.

The family then learned that Joseph hadn’t attended classes on September 28, and the roommates reported seeing him before going to bed the previous night. A note on Joseph’s bed also mentioned him leaving the country and was signed Smedley. However, Vivianne was adamant that it was not her brother who wrote it. The handwriting didn’t match, and she asserted that Joseph didn’t like using his last name.

Then, in a tragic development, Joseph’s body was found in Griffy Lake, ending the search but leading to more questions. About two months after the body was located, the coroner ruled the death a suicide. However, the family had an independent forensic pathologist conduct an autopsy. The findings were startling. Joseph had hemorrhaging on his back, and as per the show, the doctor leaned towards an accidental or undetermined death. Vivianne also stated that the authorities refused to share information with the pathologist, causing hindrance to their quest for answers. Furthermore, the family felt it was unlikely that Joseph weighed himself down with rocks to kill himself.

Joseph’s cellphone data suggested that he was moving around in a vehicle. According to Vivianne, he didn’t have a working car, which meant he might have been with someone before his death. The data also showed only outgoing communication on Joseph’s phone between 11 pm on September 27 and 4 AM on September 28. Vivianne added, “Now, for you guys that like to use your cell phone, that’s a long time to not say anything.”

The authorities have maintained that Joseph killed himself, but the family is not convinced. They have pushed for the investigation to be reopened, with a petition calling for the same having more than 100,000 signatures. Vivianne said in July 2020, “We still care about Joseph. We haven’t moved on, and we’re still seeking justice for him because we just don’t feel like it got the attention it deserved.”

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