Trailer park tragedy: A closer look at beheading victim, suspect
In a mobile home park the size of a typical city block, Brett Smith and William Perry became acquaintances, if not friends.
Probably not because they shared much in common, but because their trailers sit end-to-end. That’s the way it is in places such as Evergreen Mobile Home Park. Beneath the towering shade trees on Pine, Cedar, Balsam, Spruce and Hemlock streets, no matter which way you turn, you are close to a neighbor.
Smith and Perry would seem an unlikely pair.
The 41-year-old, twice-divorced Perry is an ex-Marine turned hairdresser, who’d spent more than four years in a Florida prison and been arrested at least five times before. The 34-year-old Smith, known by some as “Bubba,” wasn’t nearly as worldly. He’d never married and spent most of his life in this area after graduating from Lake High School in 1993.
About two months ago, they became neighbors. Smith in lot 81 on Balsam, Perry behind him in lot 94 on Cedar.
Last weekend, the park on the west side of North Main Street, just south of Applegrove Street NW, became the scene of a heinous crime.
Smith’s mother, Judy, and neighbor Chris Conley found Brett Smith’s beheaded body Oct. 4 in the bathroom of the trailer Smith had worked morning and night to renovate.
Two days later, Perry was arrested, accused only of vandalizing Smith’s electric meter in the days before the death.
But investigators searched his trailer shortly after the discovery of Smith’s body. Police and county prosecutors have refused to say if there’s a connection between Perry’s arrest and Smith’s murder.
Following Perry’s court appearance Wednesday, Canton City Prosecutor Frank Forchione said Perry is a suspect in the murder. No charges tied to Smith’s death have been filed.
On Tuesday, authorities returned to the park to search the particle-board shed between the two trailers. They were looking for “clothing, shoes, paint droplets, knives and other sharp instruments which are evidence of the commission of ... murder,” according to the warrant. They removed no evidence.
William Douglas Perry was born in Warren on July 14, 1967, to Clayton and Julie Perry. Already sporting a mustache by his sophomore year in high school, Perry played football at Canton McKinley. He did not, however, appear with the rest of the Class of 1986 in his yearbook.
Less than a year later, on Feb. 13, 1987, he married a Timken High girl, Laura Seccombe, in Niagara Falls. The couple had no children and few possessions when they divorced in 1989.
His take from the marriage: a 1984 Chevrolet Chevette and two Rottweiler dogs, divorce records show.
Around that time, Perry was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. It was the first in an ongoing pattern of run-ins with the law, court records show.
He forfeited his gun and agreed to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to avoid a jail sentence.
His girlfriend, Susan Lockard of Canton, has said Perry was in the Marines Military Police and served in Operation Desert Storm, which started in 1991.
By December 1992, Perry lived in Green when Akron police arrested him on drug abuse and attempted aggravated burglary charges. He avoided prison and was placed on probation, records show.
Brett W. Smith was born June 10, 1974, in Akron. His mother, Judy, taught for Stark County’s mental retardation board. His father, Ronald, worked for an aerospace company. He had a brother and a sister.
Judy Smith has declined most interview requests. In limited public statements, Smith’s family has described him as man who enjoyed music, fishing and working on his computer. His weekly highlight was taking his 4-year-old niece to the park or McDonald’s.
His mother also has said he was epileptic and had bipolar disorder, a mental illness, according to police records.
Mark Phillips, who graduated from Lake two years before Smith, remembers playing with him in the school band’s percussion section.
“He was just a nice guy. A gentle person,” Phillips said. “He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
But other kids picked on Smith because of his disabilities, Phillips said. He was “kind of a loner, in a way.”
Smith’s father died in 1994. Eight years later, Smith’s brother died.
In his mid-20s, Perry married a second time on June 19, 1993, to Lesley Phillips, records show. By that time he went by the first name “Jez,” using it on legal documents. The couple had two children together and moved from Stark County to Newnan, Ga., for at least a few years.
His criminal history turned violent.
In 1997, after being told to leave a bar called The Curve in Panama City Beach, Fla., Perry returned with a gun. He fired several shots at the manager and into a drive-through window, though the bullets did not strike anyone.
Perry was sent to prison on Oct. 7 that year.
When he and Lesley divorced in 1999, he still was in prison and ultimately wasn’t released until May 2001.
Along the way, he borrowed $5,000 from the parents of his first wife, Laura, to help care for and move second wife, Lesley, and their children back to Ohio to be closer to family. “Mr. and Mrs. Seccombe, who are the father and mother of my first wife, assured me that they would see to Lesley’s and my children’s needs while I was gone, which they have done, and will continue to do,” Perry wrote in his divorce papers.
Though the couple had only the two children together, in divorce papers Perry listed a third child whom he had fathered. Perry held a cosmetology license in Florida and said he also was a professional carpenter.
After his release from prison, he returned to Ohio where he worked a smattering of jobs as a hairdresser and maintenance man at local salons.
Perry’s trouble with the law also continued. In January 2003, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated. On Nov. 11, 2004, he got into an argument with employees and management in the Belden Village-area Sprint phone store. Perry picked up an accessory stand and threw it. The stand struck a man in the right eye area.
Later that night, in the Holiday Inn bar on Everhard Road NW, Perry was drunk and punched a fellow patron in the face, sending the man to the hospital, court records show.
Perry served 30 days in jail, combined, for the two incidents.
After graduation, Smith lived at his mother’s Lake Township home for several years before getting a place of his own.
On the MySpace Web site, a page bearing Smith’s picture and the name “Brett” describes him as a single guy looking for “Miss Right.”
He likes to ride horses, camp, work in his garden and get his hands messy. His hero is Tom Cruise’s character in the movie “Top Gun.” He is a college student and business owner, claiming to make more than $250,000 a year.
He wants to find a “good looking woman” who would “love to have my kids for me some day soon.”
Neighbors said they knew of no job Smith held. A bundle of empty currency bands and a ledger still sit in the front seat of his Chevrolet Celebrity parked outside of his trailer.
Conley, the neighbor, said he thought Smith received disability income. Les and Mary Louise Erb, who also live in the park, recalled Smith saying he did computer work on the side.
Neighbors remembered Smith claiming he expected to come into money, possibly through a court case, but he wasn’t specific.
A link from the MySpace page connects with a Web site for a business that recruits and offers strippers for hire.
Brett W. Smith is listed as the management contact. The business address matches an address of Smith’s in public records. It’s unclear whether the business existed beyond what appears on the Web site. The site is rife with misspellings and appears amateur.
But Conley said women who appeared to be prostitutes came and went from Smith’s home, and Smith had claimed “he had like a new girlfriend every day” and had offered to get Conley a girl, too.
‘The guy was strong’
Perry arrived at Evergreen Mobile Home Park two months ago, said Conley, who befriended Smith and Perry.
Conley described Perry as a heavy drinker, usually Bud Ice and often from morning to night, who enjoyed a good dip of Copenhagen chewing tobacco.
The trio helped each other fix up their trailers. Conley, though, said he usually parted company when Perry started drinking too much.
“He’d get angry,” Conley said.
Perry worked part time styling hair for seven months this year at Dimensions III hair salon. Although described as soft-spoken and willing to lend a hand, he was fired on Sept. 6, according to the owner.
Most recently, on Sept. 26, Perry was repairing a door in the rear of European Tan & Spa in a North Canton shopping plaza near the mobile home park.
He had been hired a week before to do odd jobs around the salon.
Police were called to the plaza after Perry was accused of chasing and threatening an employee of LA Office Solutions. No charges were filed.
Conley said Perry liked martial arts and kept items such as throwing knives in his trailer. Perry, he said, once showed him a handgun. Another time, Conley said he saw what looked like a cane but actually was a sword in Perry’s trailer.
“Brett told us that Perry ... loved to collect swords,” said Les Erb, who once gave Perry some cement slabs for a patio. Perry put the slabs in a wheelbarrow with a bad bearing and a flat tire, then pushed the load uphill, without stopping for a breath.
“He had muscles,” Erb recalled. “The guy was strong.”
Lockard, Perry’s girlfriend, has defended him, saying he’s not capable of such a crime. Those who may know Perry best, including an ex-wife and brother, declined to be interviewed.
One of Perry’s attorneys on the meter vandalism case, Anthony Koukoutas, also declined to comment.
Falling out in August
Smith moved into the park three months ago. He told the Erbs he had been living with his mother, but that “he didn’t want to be a mama’s boy all the time,” Les Erb said.
Still, she was at his trailer nearly every day.
From their porch, the Erbs can see his former home, still marked by yellow crime-scene tape.
“We’re gonna miss him,” Les Erb said.
Smith was 5-foot-9, with a belly. A speech impediment led some neighbors to conclude he was mentally slow.
He smoked cigarettes, but he wasn’t a drinker. And he worked constantly at remodeling his trailer, sometimes using power tools late at night.
When Smith moved into Evergreen, the Erbs made a point to meet him. He was very friendly, they said, and spent a lot of summer days sitting on their porch and talking.
His family was a regular topic of conversation, especially his niece.
“She was just a doll baby,” Les Erb said. “He loved her.”
Smith also talked about Perry and Conley. Something happened in August that caused Smith and Perry to have a falling out.
Mary Louise Erb sighed heavily, recalling the incident. Smith came to her home and asked to use the phone. He called police, reporting that Perry had beaten him. City prosecutors reviewed the incident, and no charges were filed.
It was the first run-in between Smith and Perry that Les Erb could remember.
After that, Smith wouldn’t talk to Perry.
“If he saw Perry outside, he’d go in,” Les Erb said.
On Sept. 30, Smith told police someone had smashed his electric meter. Perry has been charged with vandalism in connection with the incident. That same week, unfamiliar cars and visitors were seen at Smith’s trailer, Conley said.
Perry remains in jail, awaiting a court hearing next week on the vandalism case.