The abductor, wearing a mechanic's
uniform complete with a name tag, had heavily tattooed
arms. He appeared to be about 5-foot-8 with a sturdy
build and dark hair.
NASA and the FBI helped enhance the
images, and investigators asked the public for tips.
They got 800 of them, including
several with precisely the same message, according to
police investigative notes.
"The person's name is Joe Smith,"
said one tipster, a friend who said he recognized Smith
from the haircut and his gait.
A second "stated emphatically that (the)
guy on video was definitely Joe Smith."
A third, a woman, said she was "100
percent sure (the) suspect is Joe Smith."
(It later came to light that the
callers included Smith's former business partner, a
former employer and a housemate.)
Police visited Smith's former home
and spoke with his estranged wife, Luz Castrillon. She
directed detectives to the place where he was staying.
Police found drug paraphernalia there and arrested Smith
as a probation violator.
Smith didn't have much to say.
But his hosts, Jeff and Naomi Pincus,
were able to fill in a few blanks.
Jeff Pincus said Smith borrowed their
yellow Buick station wagon on Sunday afternoon, a couple
of hours before the Super Bowl. He said he would be back
in 15 minutes. But he didn't show up until Monday
morning, 16 hours later.
Pincus had checked the mileage before
Smith left and when he returned. His pal had driven the
car 382 miles.
"Like he had a good night sleep or
he's real happy," Pincus told detectives. "He just
looked like he had a wonderful night."
Nothing in particular seemed to weigh
Later that same day, Smith had paid a
cordial visit to his wife and their three young
Castrillon said he seemed normal—the
same old Joe.
The search for Carlie Brucia was an
American crime tableau that has become all too familiar.
Dozens of investigators worked the
case while scores of volunteers scoured her neighborhood
and stapled missing-girl posters far and wide.
City officials put up a $50,000
reward, saying the surveillance camera footage of the
abduction had made it seem more personal. The mayor
called Carlie "Sarasota's child."
Carlie's mother, Susan Schorpen,
stood before news cameras and pleaded for the girl's
"I want to address my Carlie," she
said. "I love you. I have this phone on at all times...I'm
begging and pleading, please help me bring my daughter
"Carlie, if you can hear this, your
mom's at home waiting for you," said the girl's father,
Even the police chimed in with
personal messages to the girl. One lieutenant said, "Most
of all, Carlie, do not give up."
TV news crews set up camp near the
car wash, which was soon festooned with signs of support:
"We miss you," "Come home soon," "We wish u were here"
and "Our thoughts and prayers are with you."
But all the attention, all the tears,
all the good wishes, all the reward money—it was all too
late for Carlie Brucia.
She was dead by the time the Amber
Alert was issued—dead, it seems likely, before the Super
Bowl game had ended.
Late on the morning of Thursday, Feb.
5, brother John Smith and Patricia Davis, their mother,
paid a visit to Joe at Sarasota County Jail for a family
Joe Smith had not yet been charged
with the murder, but John and the mother pressed him to
Over and over again, Patricia Davis
looked her son in the eye and demanded, "Tell me where
the girl is."
After repeated denials, he finally
"I really f——— up," Joe Smith
whispered. He explained he had had a "far out" cocaine
trip and didn't remember much of what had happened.
He admitted that he had "rough sex"
with the child—using precisely the same phrase as Robert
Chambers in the infamous Preppy Murder case in New York
20 years ago—and that he may have killed her.
He said he could direct his mother
and brother to the body, concealed at a spot not far
from the site of the abduction.
But he warned them not to go to the
authorities, hoping he could use the location of the
body as a bargaining chip. The brothers resurrected a
childhood code to use over the phone, with "Station C"
used to mean the location of Carlie's body.
This all led to one of the more
peculiar amateur investigations in the recent annals of
John Smith later said he decided to
conduct the search because "I was curious to see if
anything he said was accurate."
Following Joe Smith's directions,
John Smith and their mother, Patricia Davis, drove that
same afternoon to the Central Church of Christ, at 6221
Proctor Road, just off I-75 and within 2 miles of the
John Smith, who at the time weighed
nearly 300 pounds, and his mother tried to look
inconspicuous as they strolled the church property for
signs of an adolescent corpse—"Station C."
When they failed to find anything,
John and Joe Smith exchanged a series of phone calls
that evening. During one conversation, Joe Smith
suggested that John might be in line for the $50,000
reward if he found the body.
For a few crazy minutes, the brothers
mulled over whether John could grab the money then
designate it to benefit the killer's daughters.
But John Smith began to panic,
believing that his phone conversations with his brother
were being monitored. Remarkably, they weren't.
Fearing criminal culpability, John
Smith dropped a dime on his brother, calling the FBI.
At 9 p.m. that evening, Smith, Mrs.
Davis, Sarasota Detective Toby Davis and FBI agents
David Street and Leo Martinez returned to the church
property for another search.
Still speaking with his brother, Joe
Smith guided the group by phone from his jail cell. He
said he remembered placing the body between two trees.
The odd entourage focused on a small grove of Brazilian
pepper trees not far from the church.
Finally, at near midnight, the body
of Carlie Brucia revealed itself, in the grove beyond a
chain-link fence. Patricia Davis wept so loudly that her
son could hear her through the phone.
"John, tell mom I'm sorry," Joe Smith
said. "I was not thinking right."
Smith may have been sorry, but
forensic examination of the body indicated that had been
merciless toward the child.
She had been raped vaginally and
orally and was strangled by ligature—a garrote twisted
tight around her neck. As a final insult, the body had
then been dragged over scarring surfaces—blacktop,
crushed rock, palmetto shrubs—to its makeshift resting
Coroners reckoned that she had been
killed on the night of her abduction.
Carlie Brucia had been the archetype
child victim of a stranger abduction: an adolescent
female who was raped then soon murdered.
Dr. Russell Vega, the medical
examiner, said Carlie fought for her life. He found cuts
and bruises on her arms, legs and left heel. She had
struggled mightily in a losing battle with her attacker.
An Addict's Story
Joe Smith said drugs made him do it—that
he hadn't been himself on Feb. 1 after shooting up a
pure, potent strain of cocaine.
But then, Smith hadn't been himself
for most of his adult life.
He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on
March 17, 1966. Drugs and depression took hold early.
Smith said he was a heroin addict by
age 19, but he was catholic in his narcotics habits—cocaine,
crack, prescription opiate painkillers, speed.
He was a passable auto mechanic and
was employed as often as not. But he had no self-control
when it came to narcotics, and drug benders ended one
job and one relationship after another.
Depression became his foil, the
convenient enemy he could blame for his drug problem.
But which came first, the addiction or the depression?
In either case, his life entered a well-worn rut and
After struggling with crack in New
York in the 1980s, he tried to get a fresh start by
moving to Florida in 1991. It didn't work.
He narrowly survived an overdose in
1993, and he spent most of the following decade in jail,
on probation or in drug rehab, according to a profile by
Brian Haas of the Bradenton, Fla., Herald. Between
lockups, he managed to marry Castrillon and father three
In many ways, Smith embodied the
American criminal justice dilemma over narcotics.
He was arrested more than a dozen
times in Florida, mostly for felony drug violations.
Under the law, he could have been locked up for long
stretches. But again and again, he was allowed to plead
no contest in exchange for probation, community
supervision, house arrest or mandatory drug rehab.
At times, Smith was a functioning
member of society, with a home, a family and a job.
Probation officers seemed to like him; they wrote
hopeful reports on his progress. And when he fell off
the wagon, Smith often managed to convince a judge that
he deserved another shot.
And he got plenty of them.
The final series of events in Joe
Smith's long criminal history began when he was
sentenced to six months of house arrest in March 2000
for a narcotics violation involving Oxycontin, an
addictive prescription opiate used to treat chronic pain.
He attended rehab at Phoenix House
that May as part of his sentence, but a month later his
wife tipped his probation officer that Smith was again
strung out on Oxycontin. She had 20 bottles of the pills
A judge opted to extend Smith's
probation rather than lock him up, and a probation
officer gave him glowing reports over the ensuing six
Smith opened then expanded his own
car repair shop and was in "connubial bliss," as the
officer put it, over the birth of a daughter.
"Definite improvement," the officer
wrote about Smith in February 2001. "Coming up in the
But he was arrested and jailed that
September after trying to pass a fraudulent prescription
for Dilaudid, another addictive opiate.
Smith sat in jail for nearly 13
months, from Dec. 13, 2001, until Jan. 1, 2003. But just
nine days after Smith was freed, police found him so
high on cocaine that he had passed out in his car on a
Rather than send Smith back to jail,
Sarasota Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin extended his
probation by three years. That August, Smith grabbed a
knife and threatened to kill himself during an argument
with his wife, and he was committed to a mental health
Both his wife and his mother told
authorities that Smith needed long-term psychiatric
commitment. But he was out in less than a month.
Jobless and homeless, he flopped with
the Pincuses and did odd jobs around the neighborhood to
fund his boundless drug habit.
Smith frittered away one chance after
another handed to him by the justice system. In the end,
those second chances left him free to cross paths with
poor Carlie Brucia on that Super Bowl Sunday in
Florida criminal justice authorities
have salved their guilt over Smith's charitable
treatment by insisting that he exhibited no signs of
being a violent sexual predator.
In fact, he had.
On July 1, 1997, Smith approached a
32-year-old woman outside a Sarasota convenience store
to ask for help with a car that wouldn't start. She
agreed, but someone in the store called police because
he noticed a knife concealed in Smith's shorts.
Cops raced to the scene and
interceded, finding both the knife and a can of pepper
spray on Smith. His car was perfectly functional. He was
leading her to a vehicle he did not own that was parked
in a dark, remote spot.
A police lieutenant reported that
Smith "intended to do great harm" by using "a ploy to
get a young woman alone in her vehicle."
Once again, Smith got off easy—a year
Just four months later, he was
accused of wielding a knife against a Bradenton woman,
but he was acquitted by a jury in that case.
The verdict was never seriously in
doubt during Joe Smith's murder trial, held in the fall
The car wash surveillance videotape,
evidence from and about the borrowed car used in the
abduction and the testimony extracted from his brother
John about Joe's jailhouse confession all but sealed his
After the two weeks of testimony, the
jury of eight women and four men convicted of him of
murder, kidnapping and sexual battery.
Most courtroom histrionics occurred
during the penalty phase, when each side presented
evidence as to whether Smith should live or die.
"Carlie's future and life have been
stolen from her and from her family," her paternal
grandmother, Andrea Brucia, said in a written statement
that was read aloud. "We will never know her as a
teenager. Our family is forever broken. Our nightmares
about what you've done to her — our hearts will never
"I can no longer watch her grow,"
said the girl's mother, Susan Schorpen. "I can only
imagine her in a wedding gown walking down the aisle."
Jurors wept along with Schorpen.
The prosecutors, assistant state
attorneys Craig Schaeffer and Debra Johnes Riva,
presented a long list of aggravating factors as weighing
in favor of execution—not least that Smith was merciless
in strangling the child.
Dr. Vega, the medical examiner,
estimated that Smith choked Carlie for several minutes
to kill her. This gave him time for a "substantial level
of reflection" during the murder.
Smith's three attorneys, all court-appointed
public defenders, tried to portray him as a sympathetic
"Joe is a man with many good
qualities," said attorney Carolyn DaSilva, "but he was
unable to control his drug addiction."
"Wanted to Die"
Thirteen friends and acquaintances (but
no immediate family members) spoke on behalf of Smith.
There were no revelations about Mother Teresa moments in
He loved animals. He once helped a
girlfriend learn to drive. He gave gasoline to a biker
whose tank was dry. He was nice to his niece. He worked
cheap on cars.
Another of his lawyers, Adam Tebrugge,
tried to cast Smith as something of a victim of lenient
treatment and ineffective rehab commitments dating to
Tebrugge said, "The defendant
repeatedly sought help for his problems, but was either
denied help or received ineffective assistance for his
In the end, the jury voted 10-2 in
favor of execution after what jurors described as
Judge Andrew Owens was charged with
making the final decision about Smith's fate, but under
Florida law he was compelled to give the recommendation
Joe Smith, who had gained
considerable weight since his arrest, was given a chance
to stand before Judge Owens and make his case for life.
"I do not ask for mercy for myself,"
said Smith, weeping. "The only thing I can see to give
me a life sentence is for my family. I do not want to
see them hurt any further."
Smith said he was trying to kill
himself on that Super Bowl Sunday after a lifetime of
"I just wanted to die that day," he
No Shouts of Joy
Judge Owens granted his wish.
On March 16, 2006, the day before
Carlie's birthday, he condemned Smith to death by
"Her death was conscienceless and
pitiless and undoubtedly unnecessarily torturous," Owens
said. "The scales of life and death tilt unequivocally
on the side of death."
Smith, in a prison jumpsuit, stared
straight ahead and belied little emotion. Carlie's kin
also were subdued.
There were no shouts of joy.
"A lot of people probably want to ask
me am I happy with the verdict," the girl's aunt, Laurie
Brucia, later said. "I don't think you are ever happy.
Happy would be having Carlie right beside me. And giving
her a hug and a kiss, watching her grow up and
celebrating her 13th birthday tomorrow, which will never
happen. That would be happiness."
Smith, one of 374 men on Death Row in
Florida, is biding his time at Union Correctional
Institution in Raiford, Fla.
He must be eating well. His weight
has ballooned even further to 219 pounds, more than 40
pounds heavier than the day of his arrest. His most
recent prison mug shot shows him with hog-jowl cheeks.
On average, a condemned Florida
convict waits nearly 13 years to die.
Smith shouldn't expect visits from
his wife and daughters in the interim.
Five months after Smith was sentenced,
Luz Castrillon won a divorce decree that barred him from
having any contact with his daughters. Castrillon sold
their house and dropped out of sight.
Few of the players in the Carlie
Brucia murder drama emerged as sympathetic figures.
John Smith, the snitch and brother of
the killer, also admitted to a long battle with drug
addiction. Even Connie Arnold, whose house Carlie was
walking home from when abducted, has since been arrested
for trying to buy cocaine in her neighborhood.
But perhaps most unseemly was Susan
Schorpen, the victim's mother.
She had had a troubled life even
before the murder, including a drug arrest in 1995, when
Carlie was 3, and a domestic violence collar in 1999.
Just months before the girl was
killed, Schorpen was reported missing by her husband,
Steven Kansler. When she finally turned up, she told
authorities she had had a relapse of her drug problem.
Things only got worse after the
murder—beginning with gaudy gaffes.
Schorpen showed up at a somber
Valentine's Day 2004 memorial service for daughter—an
event attended by hundreds of Sarasotans—in a white
She then neglected to attend the
first week of Smith's trial. When she did briefly show
up, she said she did so to deny that she had known Joe
Smith through drug circles—a rumor that had been going
She had two film producers at her
side—she met them at a Sarasota hotel karaoke night—and
treated the brief court appearance as a marketing tool
for their movie project.
Schorpen was also showing off a new
figure; she said she lost 70 pounds after her daughter
She was asked by reporters to talk
about Carlie but brushed them off.
"You'll have to watch the movie," she
Schorpen's life has continued to play
out in the newspapers in the years since Carlie's murder.
In August 2004, her son, Leif, 7, was
taken from her when the state determined that Schorpen's
chronic drug use made her an unfit mother. Weeks later,
Steven Kansler was arrested for domestic violence after
a fight with Schorpen.
In July 2005, Schorpen's mother,
Eileen, evicted the woman from the McIntosh Road home,
which the mother owned.
Authorities said the house had become
a drug hangout. Police were called there repeatedly,
including one night when a man was stabbed in a drug
dispute while Susan Schorpen was passed out.
Eileen Schorpen told reporters she
had had enough.
"I can't pay her bills anymore," she
said. "She's got to get out on her own." Months later,
Mrs. Schorpen died of cancer.
In January 2006, Susan Schorpen was
accused of stealing $300 cash, a $5,000 ring and a
credit card from her father, Egil Schorpen. The father
also said he gave his daughter a check for $800 to pay
for drug rehab, but she cashed it to buy narcotics.
On Jan. 19, 2006, she was arrested
for prostitution in St. Petersburg, Fla. She served
several months in jail and was locked up on the day that
Joe Smith was sentenced to death for murdering her
In June 2006, she was arrested again
for prostitution in Manatee County after agreeing to
perform oral sex for $20. Police found a crack pipe in
her bra. Schorpen got 90 days for that conviction.
She told a judge at sentencing that
her drug problem and depression had raged since Carlie's
murder. Schorpen promised to do her time, then move to
the Florida Keys to make a fresh start.
After Carlie Brucia was raped and
murdered, the Manatee County sheriff's department
tacitly acknowledged that an Amber Alert might have
helped saved the girl's life.
The national system to quickly alert
the media and public about missing children is said to
have led to the recovery of 200 individuals.
Some jurisdictions have been
criticized for using too many alerts, often in cases
that involve runaways or parental custody disputes.
Officials fear that the public will become numb by too
many Amber Alerts.
At a minimum, a federal standard
suggests that before an Amber Alert is issued law
enforcers must confirm that an abduction of someone 17
or younger has occurred; that the child or teen is at
serious risk, and that there is sufficient descriptive
information of the child, the captor or the captor's
Carlie Brucia did not qualify for an
Amber Alert under those criteria.
Yet various local jurisdictions often
issue alerts even in cases where the standards are not
Manatee County will now be one of
Sheriff Charlie Wells changed policy
on media notification in cases like that of Carlie
Brucia. He ordered his department to notify the local
media immediately when parents believe their missing
children are in danger.
Such cases will not qualify for a
statewide or national Amber Alert, but the local media
will be alerted and a detective will be assigned, said
Maj. Connie Shingledecker.
She said, "My feeling is, always err
on the side of caution."
Florida's probation officers are now
taking the same approach.
A new, zero-tolerance policy toward
probation violators has also taken hold in the state.
County jail populations have swelled as a result.