Cold-Blooded Killer Edgar Smith Conned His Way Out Of A Conviction With An Unlikely Source's Help

The halls of justice through which many a criminal is doomed to march are vast. Sadly, there happens to be a lot of red tape lining those hallways, and as much as we wouldn't like to believe it, it isn't unheard of for somebody with blood on their hands to go free. Take for instance Edgar Smith who, in 1971, managed to convince the world at large — or a good part of it, at least — that he was legitimately innocent of killing 15-year-old Victoria Zielinski in 1957. According to the New York Post, Zielinski was found by authorities on March 5 after she failed to return home the previous evening. Her head and face had been caved in by two large rocks and bits of her brain were strewn across the ground of the sandy quarry in which she lay. She also had a large bite mark on one of her breasts. 

Investigative sights quickly turned upon Smith who, as the New York Post reports, returned a friend's vehicle after borrowing it for the evening. Its upholstery was stained with blood in various spots, as was the baseball bat in the car's back seat. Smith was arrested just a few hours later and charged with murder in the first degree after evidence — including drops of blood that matched Victoria's blood type discovered on his clothing — seemed to link him to the crime. He was later tried and convicted, though that was far from the end of his shocking and exploitative story. 

William Buckley helps to exonerate Edgar Smith

Despite being delivered the death penalty, Edgar Smith's pursuit of his claimed innocence was far from over. According to A&E, he spent 14 years in prison waging his own personal war against the conviction and even went so far as to write a book in his own defense from behind bars. He also wrote 19 separate appeals. 

After a time, Smith's efforts caught the eye of William F. Buckley Jr., a revered journalist for The National Review and a political commentator who joined efforts with the convict to achieve his exoneration. The two started exchanging letters and reportedly developed a close friendship, and after setting up a defense fund for the man who he believed was wrongly accused of killing Victoria Zielinski, Buckley wrote a lengthy piece in Esquire speaking to his innocence. 

"Doesn't it strain the bounds of credibility that an essentially phlegmatic young man, of nonviolent habits, would so far lose control of himself, in the space of a minute or two, as to murder under such circumstances a 15-year-old girl he hardly knew?" Buckley wrote in the Esquire piece (via Los Angeles Times). In 1971, Smith was given a second trial and pleaded "no contest," which ultimately led to his subsequent release and the eradication of any further jail time. Against all odds, the once-convicted killer of a 15-year-old girl was back on the streets and living amongst the general public once again as if nothing had ever happened (per A&E). 

Smith attacks again and goes back to prison

After being a free man for no more than five years, Edgar Smith struck again. According to A&E, Smith moved to San Diego following his release and, despite all of his efforts, failed to resurrect a manageable life for himself. His wife divorced him while he was in prison and took their daughter away, though he did get remarried upon arriving in his new city. Then, in 1976, Lefteriya Lisa Ozbun narrowly evaded death after Smith kidnapped and stabbed her. She managed to escape and reached police aid in a frenzied terror. Ozbun reported the near-fatal assault and Smith was arrested once again, and this time, there would be no such story of redemption to follow in the wake of his shame.

At the trial, Ozbun took the stand and explained in detail what happened to her. A&E reports that Smith put up no fight against the accusations, and he also admitted to the court that he did in fact kill Victoria Zielinski in 1957. 

"For the first time in my life, I recognized that the devil I had been looking at the last 43 years was me," he later shared. "I recognized what I am, and I admitted it." Buckley, who contacted the FBI and told them of Smith's whereabouts after he attacked Ozbun, admitted to having been sucked in by the killer's seductive and manipulative words. Edgar smith died in prison in 2017 (via The New York Times).