Montgomery County police make arrest in decades-old homicide

For 50 years, the murder of a Maryland sheriff’s deputy has remained a mystery. Last year, two detectives looked at the James Tappen Hall case with fresh eyes. Inside an evidence box, they found an old reel-to-reel tape.

And after listening to this recording, things started to take a turn.

The long-forgotten audio, police say, was part of a series of clues that led them to a 70-year-old man living in a high-rise apartment building in upstate New York.

“He seems to have lived a quiet life,” said Sgt. Chris Homrock, head of the Montgomery County Police Department Cold Case Unit.

Officials identified the suspect on Wednesday as Larry David Smith of Little Falls. In court papers, police accused him of shooting Hall on the night of October 23, 1971, in a parking lot at the Manor Country Club in Rockville. At the time, Hall was working a part-time security job and, according to investigators, he ran into Smith – who was just 19 at the time – who had just broken into a nearby house. and was trying to get to his parked getaway car in the dark. plot.

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Hall was taken to hospital and died three days later, leaving behind a wife and two children.

“Dad was a wonderful man,” Hall’s daughter, Carolyn Philo, said this week. “When he put on his sheriff’s uniform, he shone.”

In the early 1970s, detectives thought Smith was someone who might have known what happened to Hall, but they didn’t suspect him of being the actual perpetrator, according to court records.

But in the recording – of Smith speaking to detectives in 1973 – he knew details about the shooting that police had never released to the public, including the number of times Hall had been shot.

Investigators who relaunched the investigation last year did some research on Smith. Several things caught their attention.

He grew up near the country club. He had a criminal history, they now claim, of burglary, assault, shoplifting and escape. And he had changed his name – from Larry David Becker in the 1970s to his current name of Larry David Smith.

“Investigators believe this was done on purpose to avoid further investigation into his involvement in this offence,” the detectives wrote in court documents.

Last week, Montgomery County Police Detectives Lisa Killen and Katie Leggett traveled to Little Falls, New York, and interviewed Smith. He “admitted to accidentally shooting the sheriff [Deputy] Hall after Hall confronted him while leading the burglary property on Beverly Road back to a waiting getaway vehicle,” the detectives claimed.

“He was just over there doing his job,” Leggett said, noting that Hall wasn’t even supposed to be working that night. “He was replacing another guy who couldn’t come in.”

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Smith remained in custody Wednesday in the Herkimer County Jail, according to online reports. He is expected to be transferred to Montgomery County to face legal proceedings.

It’s unclear whether Smith has retained an attorney in the case. His family members were not immediately reachable via the phone numbers linked to them.

Hall had grown up in a large family in Virginia, according to his daughter, Philo, and granddaughter, Carrie Crutcher.

Many of Hall’s family members worked as police officers or firefighters, Philo and Crutcher said. Hall chose a deputy in the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland. Hall and his wife, Anna Louise, had two children, Carolyn and Melvin.

Philo remembers that his father was not only a caring father and grandfather; he was also the one who showed up with gallons of milk during snowstorms.

On October 23, 1971, a Saturday, Philo, then 28 years old, and her young family went to her parents’ home in Wheaton, Maryland, for a spaghetti dinner. After he arrived, the phone rang. It was a co-worker of his father’s who said he couldn’t do a part-time job as a security guard that night at the Manor Country Club. He asked Hall if he could replace him.

“Oh sure. Oh sure,” Hall said Philo remembers hearing.

Hall went to work. The spaghetti dinner continued. Philo and her husband returned to their home in Damascus, Maryland. Their children, Carrie and Eddie, stayed for a planned sleepover at their grandparents’ house.

Later that night, Philo and her husband received a phone call. His father had been shot and was in hospital. They ran there. The prognosis they heard was grim. When they came back the next morning it was worse.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Philo recalls, telling them one of the doctors. Her father died a few days later.

Immediately after Hall’s death, Philo and his family received many calls, visitors and help. But with time, attention from others has diminished.

“The second year was just terrible,” Philo said, recalling always wondering, “Where is everyone?”

At the Montgomery County Police Department, which was handling the case, progress has stalled.

Philo and his family moved to Texas. She called the Montgomery Department’s Investigations Division every six months or so – checking to see if there had been any progress.

Beyond that, Philo tried to remember his father in life. Every morning when she walked past his picture in her lobby, she kissed his fingers and touched his picture. “Hello, Dad,” she would say with a smile. “I’m still here.”

Over time, Philo’s photo greetings to his father were joined by greetings to his mother, who died in 2005, and to his son, who died in 2007.

She remained hopeful that investigators would learn who had killed her father. And she hoped the suspect was still alive, so he could be arrested and face at least some measure of justice before his own death.

“I kept thinking, if I’m still alive at 79, maybe he is too,” Philo said.

About a year ago, the sergeant leading the department’s cold case team, Homrock, told him that he had assigned the case to two detectives with instructions to get back into the investigation seriously. Philo has started receiving monthly updates. It was clear that the detectives were withholding certain details even though they appeared to have active activities. Philo’s hopes grew.

Last week, Philo was at her adult community Del Webb in McKinney, Texas, playing a dice game – Bunco – with her friends when she received a call from Homrock.

“Can you talk?” He asked.

Philo entered a hallway. Homrock told him they had arrested a suspect.

“I can’t believe it,” she told him. “Thanks thanks.”

Philo started crying, a reaction his friends could see through the glass. They came out to watch her.

“These are tears of happiness!” she told them.

“How could I not be emotional?” Philo later explained in an interview.

Crutcher, Hall’s granddaughter, said she wonders what the suspect’s life has been like over the past five decades. She said her feelings didn’t quite add up to full sympathy. But her Christian faith, she says, has brought her to at least some level of understanding.

“I can’t imagine his life was easy,” Crutcher said.

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