Terror At The Morgue

Did A Medical Examiner Strap A Bomb To His Own Neck?

This story originally aired on April 23, 2005.

Memphis, Tenn., is best known as the birthplace of blues. But it has long harbored a dark secret. It has one of the highest murder rates in the country.

Dr. O.C. Smith, who was the city's medical examiner, knows the secrets of these streets better than just about anyone else.

Smith, 52, was dedicated to a job most people would find too grim to handle, even on a good day. But he says he loves his profession: "I got a blue-collar background and was taught to work for a living, and my father always taught us to leave the wood pile a little higher than what you found it."

Crime scene cops like Maj. Mike Willis and Lt. Jerry Blum knew they could always count on Smith to uncover even the smallest of clues.

"He didn't care if it was in the middle of the night, he didn't care if it was on weekends," says Willis. "He didn't care if it was down in the mud or we were out in the field or if the body had been there a number of days, weeks"

After Smith helped solve a mystery, his job was to testify in court, often in high-profile cases. And the cameras were always there. "You might think it gives you a swelled head, but actually, it just makes you want to hide," says Smith.

So it was front-page news when Smith was brutally attacked by a phantom assailant as he was leaving work in June 2002. Now, as Correspondent Troy Roberts reports, the medical examiner is at the center of a bizarre mystery that would puzzle Memphis for years.

Smith's ordeal began as he was leaving the forensics center shortly after 10 p.m. on the night he was attacked. "He came out of my right front," says Smith. "I got a glimpse of a man, maybe 6 feet. I just saw something got up into my face, and it just burned. And I put my hands up in my eyes and I got a second splash."

After his assailant blinded him with lye, Smith says he was punched in his side, and then dragged down a flight of stairs and thrown to the ground: "I'm down, face down, belly down. And then he starts to tie me up with the barbed wire."