Killed by arrow in deer hunting stronghold, but in mid-town
STEELTON, Pennsylvania––Imagine an avid archery deer hunter, a poacher actually, who spots a big buck in rut just before dawn on Chambers Hill, overlooking Steelton, Pennsylvania.
Leaving his pickup truck, the archer follows the buck down into town through several cemeteries and/or the Dauphin Highlands Golf Course, south to the bank of the Susquehanna River, looking for a safe place to shoot, field-dress the carcass, and retrieve the remains without being seen.
Spring Creek to the Susquehanna River
The most likely route to the river for a big buck in rut, old enough to be wary of being shot at, and looking for a doe to mate with, might be to meander west first, along Spring Creek in the Capital Area Greenbelt, south of the Pennsylvania statehouse in Harrisburg.
Spring Creek eventually turns south toward the Susquehanna. The buck will feel safe there, because even though the Capital Area Greenbelt is barely 200 feet across in places, and is no wider than 1,000 feet anywhere, the creek banks, vegetation, and backyard fences mean deer have cover most of the way to the river.
Especially if the big buck scents that a doe went that way first, he would head in that direction.
It is approximately 6:00 a.m. on September 6, 2021. Sunrise will be at 6:12.
Archery deer season is 11 days away
Eleven days will pass before deer can be legally shot in Pennsylvania.
But even if the archery season had already opened, there would be no legal hunting within the Steelton city limits, including in the Capital Area Greenbelt.
Walking with a compound bow would attract attention, should the archer be seen, but along the south side of Spring Creek, in an industrial neighborhood, the archer knows he likely will not be seen.
Remaining far enough behind the big buck to avoid startling him, the archer stalks the buck for more than a mile. This is not just hunting, but scouting.
Perhaps the buck will swim 1,000 feet to Redbuds Island, Sheesly Island, or Hess Island, or any of the other nearby Susquehanna River islands, and remain there with a doe or two, accessible only to a hunter with a boat, until archery season opens.
Hard left turn
Instead, the big buck turns hard left at Phoenix Park, loping southeast along the Susquehanna riverbank.
The archer follows for another half mile, looking for the buck’s white tail flag.
The buck might yet swim the river to one of the islands.
But by now the sun is fully up. It is just after 7:00 a.m. The buck is out of sight.
Giving up his pursuit, the archer turns north between the Steelton Borough Sewage Treatment Plant and Gasmark tank farm, or perhaps where Christian Street turns into Franklin Street, to take a shortcut back to his pickup truck, half as far away as he stalked the buck.
The archer will have to cross a railway embankment. As the archer mounts the embankment, the thick brush on the far side rustles and a glimpse of white appears momentarily, near a pile of old railroad ties.
Taking a chance that the buck can be field-dressed behind the ties, dragged over the tracks, and retrieved by pickup truck from the lightly traveled Gasmark access road, the archer lets go a hasty arrow.
Perhaps he thinks he missed. Or perhaps the archer sees what he really hit.
Either way, the archer stashes his bow beneath his camouflage jacket and quickly leaves the scene, hoping he has not been observed by anyone at the used car lots in the 800 block of North Front Street, beyond the tracks.
Fictitious scenario & simpler possibility
The above is, of course, a wholly fictitious scenario.
Yet something similar might explain what happened to Goldie Smith, 38, an African-American male with a troubled life.
There might even be a simpler explanation. Perhaps a bowhunter wanting to practice archery in advance of opening day, who knew there were piles of railroad ties there on both sides of the track, stopped on his way to work to take a few shots at the ties.
But one arrow, maybe the first, flew slightly wide of the target, before the bowhunter saw the African-American man in a white hoodie and black vest who had stopped, perhaps to urinate, out of sight from North Front Street among the brush and ties.
How Goldie Smith disappeared
Goldie Smith’s family, already worried for days about his disappearance, reported him missing on September 9, 2021, the first day that the Steelton police would take a “missing person” report.
That was three days after Smith was last seen, leaving a friend’s house on the 500 block of North Second Street in Steelton, about five blocks from the North Front Street used car lots.
Smith lived in the 300 block of Swatara Street, just a short walk farther from the car lots.
A security video caught Smith stepping out onto North Second Street, cell phone in hand, wearing a white hoodie and a black vest, from which arms of the white hoodie stuck out.
“Penetrating arrow to the head”
Skeletal remains identified months later as those of Smith were discovered on July 27, 2022, behind Dimmitri Auto Sales at 814 North Front Street, Steelton.
The body might not have been found earlier because the odor of decomposition might have been masked by odors from the Steelton Borough Sewage Treatment Plant and Gasmark tank farm.
Smith “died from a penetrating arrow to the head,” on or about September 6, 2021, the day he disappeared, Dauphin County Coroner’s Office spokesperson Brett Hambright told Jenna Wise of PennLive.com.
“Hambright said the coroner’s office was unable to determine whether Smith died in the same place he was found,” Wise added, but Smith was a big man, and his remains would not have been easily carried or dumped where they were found.
One person almost certainly could not have done it; but Smith, mortally wounded, might have staggered behind the pile of old railroad ties, trying to avoid being shot again.
Coroner’s officer never saw a similar case
Continued Wise, “Representatives from the Dauphin County Coroner’s Office couldn’t recall ever seeing another death caused by an arrow to the head, according to Hambright.”
Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo told Wise that no bow was found at the scene.
Mentioned Wise, “A Smith family member told PennLive in November 2021 that she feared a friend of Smith’s set him up to take the fall for an incident the two were involved in before Smith went missing. She said Smith told her about people following and threatening him, or shining lights in his windows.”
Smith had enemies, or at least said he did on Facebook. On Facebook video Smith dared his supposed enemies, whom he never named, to “come and get me.”
But this was two to three months before Smith vanished.
A 23-year-old son, who would have been born when Smith was just 15, reportedly had a court date just a few days after Smith disappeared, that Smith meant to attend.
But Steelton police reiterated several times before Smith’s remains were found that foul play was not suspected.
“We don’t have any indication of someone wishing to do him harm,” district attorney Chardo said.
Smith played an online video game called “Triple Kill,” featuring archery killing in a quasi-Dark Ages war scenario, but otherwise had no known involvement with either archery or hunting.
Could Smith’s death have been a “hit”?
Local speculation appears to have focused on that possibility, but it seems relatively unlikely.
“Homicide by Bow and Arrow”
Either a compound bow or a crossbow would have been an exceedingly unusual murder weapon, so rare that the FBI does not even keep records specific to murder-by-archery.
Swedish researcher Anders Erikkson, of Umea University, in an August 2000 Journal of Forensic Sciences article entitled “Workplace Homicide by Bow and Arrow,” detailed the many reasons why archery, though commonly used in warfare for thousands of years, is not commonly used to commit murder.
First and foremost, using archery equipment successfully requires considerable expertise, gained only through practice and developing arm strength.
Second, shooting arrows accurately requires relative proximity to the victim.
Historically, warfare was waged almost entirely at close range, with swords and spears. Longbows and crossbows, shooting from at most a few hundred feet from the enemy, were almost the only weapons that a soldier could use without actually being within arm’s length of another soldier who was trying to kill him.
Murder by firearm, by contrast, can be done––and done safely––from many times farther away.
Murder is most often done by stealth or from ambush. Archery equipment is bulkier and more conspicuous than firearms.
Finally, arrows tend to wound without killing their victim as often as they kill a victim outright. That leaves a high probability of the killer being identified by a wounded witness.
Further, Erikkson wrote, while a successful head shot would usually kill, his research discovered only one case in which a murderer using a compound bow managed to penetrate the victim’s skull.
This would suggest that Smith was shot with a crossbow. At that, Erikkson reported, archery fatalities almost always result from shots––usually multiple shots––to the torso.
Nearly half of Pennsylvania deer hunters use archery
Though seldom used as a murder weapon, compound bows and crossbows have both gained favor among Pennsylvania hunters at the rate of about 1% per year since 2010.
The total number of licensed deer hunters in Pennsylvania has declined from around 900,000 per year circa 1980, to 663,000 in 2022. But more than 300,000 of those 663,000 deer hunters now hold archery licenses as well as licenses to hunt with firearms.
Could a large African-American like Goldie Smith have been mistaken for a deer and shot dead through the head with an arrow in broad daylight, in the middle of a city, albeit in proximity to urban deer habitat?
Such cases are unfortunately not unheard of. Most notoriously, on November 15, 1988, Maine hunter Donald Rogerson disregarded or didn’t notice posting signs in Hermon, Maine, a heavily developed area just outside of Bangor.
When Rogerson mistook homeowner Karen Wood’s white mittens for a deer’s rump, he fired into her yard and killed her, as her year-old twins wailed inside the house.
Indicted by grand jury a year later, Rogerson stood trial a year later, but was acquitted of all charges.
Nationally, fatal hunting accidents have declined from more than 150 per year when Karen Wood was killed to about 75 per year now, perhaps mostly because only half as many people hunt now, and tend to hunt for fewer days.
About 4% of all murders by firearm, about 550 per year, are committed with hunting weapons, compared to 59% using handguns.
Rudolph the red-handed trophy hunter
But hunting and homicide remain closely associated.
For instance, dentist and former Safari Club International president Larry Rudolph is due for sentencing on February 1, 2023.
Rudolph and his girlfriend Lori Millron were convicted on August 1, 2022 of murdering Rudolph’s wife Bianca.
Anthony & Roger Bilodeau
As recently as January 6, 2022, Anthony Bilodeau, 34, of Glendon, Alberta, Canada, was sentenced to serve life in prison with no chance of parole before 2036
Bilodeau and his father, Roger Bilodeau, were in May 2022 convicted of the March 27, 2020 murders of Metis hunters Jacob Sansom, 39, and his uncle, Maurice Cardinal, 57, after a four-mile pickup truck chase.
Sansom and Cardinal, having killed a moose earlier in the day, were distributing the meat to friends and relatives.
Roger Bilodeau was in August 2022 sentenced to serve ten years, “reduced to six years because he gets credit of more than 1,600 days spent in custody during harsh conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Canadian Press reported.
Pickup truck chase
“A jury found Roger guilty of manslaughter in both men’s deaths, while Anthony was convicted of second-degree murder and manslaughter for killing Cardinal and Sansom, respectively,” summarized Jonny Wakefield of the Edmonton Sun.
“The chase began,” Wakefield recounted, “after Sansom briefly slowed his truck near Roger’s Glendon-area farm after 9 p.m. on the day of the killing,” an action which might have been mistaken for that of a poacher trying to jacklight deer, elk, or moose.
“Roger and Joseph [a son not charged] saw the headlights and sped after the unknown vehicle,” Wakefield continued. “During the chase, Roger called Anthony, who lived on a nearby farm, and told him they were chasing ‘thieves’ and that he needed to bring a gun.
“When Roger caught up to Sansom’s truck,” Wakefield said, “he aggressively pulled in front to cut it off. He later admitted to trying to run Sansom over after he exited his vehicle, but became stuck in a ditch.
Killings caught on security camera
“Seconds after narrowly avoiding the Bilodeau truck, Sansom struck the passenger side window with his fist, causing it to break. Anthony and Joseph Bilodeau claimed he tried to strangle both Joseph and Roger, yelling at Cardinal to bring a knife so he could ‘skin’ them.
“Anthony then arrived and shot Sansom as he approached. He fired two shots at Cardinal, then paused and shot him a third time while he was still moving on the ground. Anthony claimed Cardinal had a gun, though evidence at trial showed Cardinal’s weapon was found in the backseat of his truck with the magazine removed.
“The killings were captured on the security camera of a nearby natural gas plant,” Wakefield finished.
Cha Vang & Chai Soua Vang
The Bilodeau/Sansom-&-Cardinal case was reminiscent of the January 2007 murder of Laotian immigrant hunter Cha Vang, 30, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, at the Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area, also in Wisconsin.
Peshtigo hunter James Nichols, also 30, was convicted in November 2007 of second-degree intentional homicide, hiding a corpse, and being a felon in possession of a firearm for shotgunning Cha Vang and stabbing him five times in a dispute over a tree stand while both men were hunting squirrels.
Cha Vang was murdered just over three years after Hmong immigrant hunter Chai Soua Vang, 36, of Minneapolis, no relation but of similar name, massacred six fellow deer hunters and wounded two others, after Vang was told to leave private property in Sawyer County, Wisconsin.
Convicted of all six murders, Chai Soua Vang, 37, was sentenced to serve six consecutive life prison terms.
Chai Soua Vang in April 2001 had been fined $328 for possessing 93 more wild-caught fish than the legal limit; on Christmas Eve 2001 was jailed for allegedly threatening his wife with a handgun; and in April 2002 failed to pay a $244 fine for hunting on posted land.
In the interim police visited his home five times to investigate complaints about domestic disturbances and alleged theft.