Postmarked For Murder

<b>48 Hours Mystery</b>: A Son Learns His Dad's 'Suicide' Was Murder

By fall 2003, Herb had far more questions than answers. So he turned to the town of Gainesville for help. He decided to take out an ad in the paper and offer a $10,000 reward for anybody who had information concerning Buddy's death.

A lifelong entrepreneur, Herb owns True.com, a successful online dating service. That success has afforded him a team of his own investigators and a $10,000 reward that may have led to their best lead yet. But he says he would trade his own financial success in a minute to know his father.

"We received a three-page single-space letter from a woman who identified herself as M. Smith," says Herb. "It's an extraordinary letter."

The letter they received in October 2003 reads like an eyewitness account to murder.

"M. Smith is a woman who, in my opinion, is trying to clear her conscience, who was involved in Buddy's death," says Williams, who has had the difficult job of finding Smith. "She states that she loved to drink, dance and party. So she decided she wanted to have an affair with Buddy."

M. Smith said she knew Buddy was married, but didn't care: "I enjoyed flirting with him."

Apparently, Buddy wasn't the only person she was interested in, says Williams. Smith was also dating a police officer, and she knew he was married with children.

That married police officer, whom Smith refers to as "Jim," (these are not real names) and his two friends, "Tom" and "Charlie," followed her to the cabinet shop that night.

"I had been in the cabinet shop talking to Buddy for about 20 minutes when Jim, Tom, and Charlie entered," wrote Smith. "Jim went berserk. He pulled a gun and said he was going to kill both of us. I knew he was jealous, but I had never seen him that crazy."

"Buddy's trying to explain he's never been out with her," said Williams. "Jim decides that they're having an affair. He said, 'I know you have been. We're gonna watch y'all have sex.'"

At this point, Smith said, Jim and his friends made her strip naked and then proceeded to put her underwear on Buddy: "He asked Buddy how it felt to finally get into my panties."

According to Smith, the humiliation did not end there. Jim sexually assaulted her as Tom and Charlie set upon Buddy. "I could hear hammering in the restroom, and I saw Charlie remove a rubber belt from a saw," she said. "I did not see what they did to Buddy."

Her description of the scene matches exactly how Buddy's 13-year-old apprentice, Reece Lance, remembers it, too. He showed up for work the next day to learn his boss had committed suicide.

"Being that young and visiting the scene where someone had died really stuck in my mind," said Lance, about Buddy's suicide. "Why would you go to that much trouble [if you're going to commit suicide?]"

That's the same question that Judge Dorothy Lewis has. She thinks it's a cover-up. Lewis is justice of the peace for Cook County, and also serves as the coroner and determines the cause of death.

She said that Buddy's death inquest looks like it had been tampered with: "The signature line is torn off. There should be a long page and it's ripped out. It wasn't even the right name. They've got 'Richard.'"

Lewis thinks this is all part of what could be a police cover-up. "If you do inquests, you read that, you know that something's not right here."

She's also troubled by some of the language used: "There are some details in there, like the tightly fitting door. Nobody puts that in an inquest report. That's not the way you write them."

While the door was locked from the inside, at least two witnesses from 1946 disagree that it fit tightly. Lance recalled that "when we were in the toilet, we could see through the cracks."

Ruth also remembers the door being loose the night she and the man discovered Buddy. "He got that corner up there, tore it back and just looked in," she said.

The crack, Ruth said, was wide enough for the man to see Buddy hanging, which led investigators to believe that the opening was also wide enough for the perpetrators standing outside the door to fit their hands through the crack to latch the door.

Lewis' conclusion? "The policeman lied. It's obvious that he lied. He covered up," said Lewis. "He got other people to cover up for him, and there's someone out there who knows that."

For the authorities in Gainesville, however, foul play is looking more and more likely. "Based on what I know right now ... someone has gotten away with murder," said Lewis, who along with the Cook County prosecutor's office, has given their permission to exhume Buddy Vest's body.