Friday, December 24, 2021

The Macabre Christmas Eve Death of Jacqueline Smith

Jacqueline "Jackie" Smith
Over the years, many details of the Jacqueline Smith case have been lost, and the remaining story often is dismissed as an urban legend. But strange and macabre as the story is, it was all too true.

Jackie Smith, age 20, was a slender, brown-eyed blond from Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Over the protests of her father, 41-year-old Chester Smith, and her mother, Josephine, Jackie moved to New York and took an apartment with two other women early in 1955. She wanted to pursue a career as a fashion designer.

That June, friends introduced the soft-spoken, demure Jacqueline to Thomas G. Daniel, an urbane young salesman of 24. Daniel was well-read, multi-lingual, a poet and gourmet cook. Young man had come to New York from Warren, Ohio, three years earlier. He worked at an upscale shop selling riding equipment. With his good looks and sophistication, he was able to win over the small-town girl. She spent more and more time at his apartment, all but moving in with him.

Tom Daniel

Jackie's hometown paper, the Lebanon Daily News, looked into the background of the young man whose attentions turned fatal for their local girl. They sent reporters to Warren, Ohio, to speak to people who knew him.

Warren was a small city of about 50,000, but it outstripped tiny Lebanon, PA, with it's 1950 population just topping 28,000.

Daniel was the only child of Greek immigrants. His parents moved from Weirton, West Virginia, to Warren in 1937. His father committed suicide in 1953. Tom appeared to be quite devoted to his widowed mother, Catherine. He was described as quiet and studious. He graduated from Warren High School in 1948 and attended Kent State University. He was expelled for poor grades but returned with a renewed focus and was able to graduate. He took up weight lifting and body building in college. During summer vacations he worked at a Warren steel fabricating plant, though he did not stand out there in any way. 

Daniel joined the Army in 1952 and served two years with the occupation forces in Germany. Shortly after returning from his stint in the Army he decided to head to New York.

Though Catherine Daniel had not been officially notified that her son was in trouble, she learned about it through news coverage. She left Warren on January 11 and traveled to Baltimore, where relatives joined her for the journey to New York. 

"He's a good boy," Catherine Daniel told reporters. "He wouldn't hurt anybody."

In December, Jacqueline told Daniel that she was pregnant. Daniels did not want to marry Jacqueline. He preferred the company of his girlfriend back in Ohio. Instead he arranged for a 46-year-old scrub nurse, Leobaldo Pejuan, to perform an abortion at Daniel's apartment on Christmas Eve. After performing the abortion, Pejuan became alarmed at the young woman's condition, and summoned Dr. Ramiro Morales, who told him that Jackie was dead.

Daniel and Pejuan cut Jacqueline's body into pieces and took it to Pejuan's home, where over the next several days they cut into as many as 50 pieces, which they wrapped in Christmas paper and disposed of in trash cans along side streets off Broadway, from 72nd to 80th.

When Chester Smith arrived for a visit on December 30, he got Daniel and together they went to the police to report Jackie missing. The police were quickly suspicious of Daniel and began to question him more closely. Daniel finally told police that Jacqueline had gone into the bathroom and stabbed herself to death due to his refusal to marry her, and that he had dumped her body in the Hudson River.

Police investigated, and found over 800 stolen medical instruments in Pejuan's apartment. The entire story eventually came out, with Pejuan pleading guilty and testifying against Daniel. 

Trying the pair would be tricky. Though prosecutors had not body of a victim, they had the corpus delicti -- the body of the crime. Witnesses' accounts, the abortion instruments, Jackie's possessions, and the confessions of the two principles added up to significant proof of Jackie's death for prosecutors to proceed.

Daniel's widowed mother attended the entire trial. Chester Smith, too, was there, but left the courtroom when testimony came to describing the dismemberment of his daughter's body.

Pejuan was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison, and Daniel was sentenced to 8 years. His mother went into hysterics upon hearing the verdict, screaming, "God help me. They have taken my life, my savings, my son."

Nobody recorded the words of Jacqueline's father as he faced a life without his daughter.

The newspaper in Jackie's home town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, covered Jackie's life and death, and the trial, extensively. Those photos and the information they share are available here.


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