Echoes of Echoes in the Darkness

For several days in 1987 the buildings of the old Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital were turned into nursery schools, police stations, classrooms, and hospital spaces for the filming of the miniseries Echoes in the Darkness.

Our copy of the book was signed by the author, Joseph Wambaugh, and given to a Toronto location scout who now works as a counselor at Humber.

But before the series, and before the book, there was a story behind the story.

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Wambaugh spent 14 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. His first novel was published in 1971, while he was still a police officer, but he soon turned to writing full time. He based Echoes in the Darkness on the real story of the sordid murder of Susan Reinert and her two children Karen and Michael in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Reinert, William Bradfield, and Jay Smith were all staff at the Upper Merion Area High School. Reinert and Bradfield worked in the English department and Smith was the principal of the school.

Bradfield was variously described as charismatic and cultured, or full of himself and egotistical by those who knew him. He was in a relationship with Reinert and was the sole beneficiary of her $730 000 in life insurance. When her body was found and her children went missing, he was considered the primary suspect, and was convicted of the murders in 1983.

In court, he claimed that it was Smith who had planned to kill Reinert.

A former colonel in the army reserve with a PhD from Temple University, Smith was seen as an erratic and antisocial person. He was already in prison in 1986 when he was later convicted of conspiring with Bradfield to kill the Reinerts. He was serving five years for robbing a Sears dressed as a security guard, and for several firearm and drug related offences.

The prosecution argued that Reinert had been drugged and murdered in Smith’s basement and he was sentenced to death by the electric chair.

In 1992 Smith was still on death row when an antique dealer, Mark Hughes, was hired to clean out John J. Holtz’s attic. Holtz, a police officer, had been the primary investigator in the Reinert case.

His attic contained an identical copy of a comb used as evidence in the trial, police notes that contradicted the testimony of the prosecution, and a letter from Wambaugh offering to pay Holtz’s partner Joe Van Nort $50 000 for information about the case before Smith had even been charged with it.

Hughes delivered the evidence to Smith’s defence attorney, believing it to be part of a police cover up. Because of the number of irregularities and conflicts of interest in the original trial Smith’s conviction was later overturned.

In a legal deposition given in the 90s, Wambaugh testified that he had a financial interest in Smith’s conviction, admitting:

“I didn’t think the book would work until something happened to Smith.”

Eventually Holtz admitted to accepting $50 000 from Wambaugh in return for Smith’s arrest.

Despite this, Wambaugh remains convinced of Smith’s guilt and of his own fair dealings in the case. Upon Smith’s death in 2009 he commented that:

“I do not celebrate the death of any man, but Satan does” and when later asked by The New York Times he reaffirmed this by saying that “A No. 1 draft pick has finally arrived.”