ALTON - A long-shot hunch and a GPS device helped Alton detectives unravel a homicide case that initially had them stymied.
Prosecutors filed first-degree murder charges Monday against three suspects in the early-morning robbery and slaying Wednesday of 54-year-old Frank J. Smith at his home in the 900 block of Brown Street.
The suspects are Johnnie L. Evans, 37, of St. Louis; Qirshton Diana Smith, 24, of Cottage Hills; and Damon T. Beach, 35, of St. Peters. All were in custody Monday and being held without bond. Evans and Smith were held in the Alton city jail; Beach was being held in the St. Louis County Jail in Clayton.
In addition to the murder charges, all three suspects were charged with home invasion, armed robbery and aggravated battery with a firearm. Frank Smith's nephew, Shannon Smith, 30, who lived with his uncle, was shot during the holdup but is expected to make a full recovery. A woman who lived in the home was unhurt. The surviving residents of the home could not identify the suspects.
Police had little to go on initially, only a report by witnesses of seeing a Hummer SUV leaving the area. Police Lt. David Hayes said the vehicle was not familiar to police or people they questioned early in the investigation, but Detective Michael Metzler recalled that a similar vehicle had been used in a crime in Alton several years ago. On a hunch, Metzler checked title records and learned the Hummer from the earlier case had been repossessed, then resold by a dealer in East St. Louis. Police contacted the dealer and learned that an after-market GPS (global positioning system) device had been installed in the vehicle.
Using GPS, detectives on Friday located the Hummer parked along Michigan Avenue in St. Louis and began surveillance. Soon, Evans drove up, accompanied by a woman. The woman took the wheel of the Hummer and followed Evans when he drove away. So did police.
Before they had gone far, Hayes said, the woman pulled into a gas station. The Hummer was almost out of fuel. She called Evans, who returned to the station, only to be greeted by the police officers.
Hayes said detectives questioned the pair and decided the woman had no knowledge of the crimes in Alton but Evans gave a statement that led to the charges against himself and the other two suspects. Hayes said Smith was arrested Friday night and Beach the next morning.
Hayes said police believe the crime was planned by Qirshton Smith, no relation to Frank Smith, but until recently, his live-in girlfriend. Hayes said Frank Smith broke off the relationship and ordered Qirshton Smith out of his home and another woman subsequently moved into the home.
Qirshton Smith apparently believed Frank Smith had a substantial amount of money but police believe she may have been motivated more by a desire for revenge for the breakup than a desire for money, Hayes said. Police believe the suspects obtained only a small sum of money.
Hayes, the Alton department's chief of detectives, credited the quick resolution of the case to "three days of non-stop work" by his detectives and valuable help from the Madison County Sheriff's Department and St. Louis city police.
Hayes said the current owner of the Hummer is not a suspect in the crimes. The owner, an East St. Louis resident, is hospitalized and had loaned the SUV to Evans, Hayes said.