DAVENPORT, Iowa — Diana Kay Smith was born on April 25, 1958, to Ivry and Zoe Smith in Geneseo, Illinois. She has two brothers, Edward and Dwayne, and two sisters, Elsie and Ellen; A third sister, Debra Ann, died at birth in 1973.
Smith graduated from Riverdale High School in Port Byron in 1978. She was a special education student and always cheerful around staff and fellow students.
Smith, 21, lived with her parents in rural Hillsdale. She had recently started working at a supper club called The Ranch in Port Byron. Her manager Ed Millett described her as “a pleasant girl and a good worker.”
The restaurant’s hostess telephoned Smith’s residence on Sunday, May 25, 1980, when she failed to show up for work, but her parents said they had not seen her since Tuesday, May 20. Smith was scheduled to work Friday, May 23, and Saturday, May 24, the restaurant’s busiest days, yet never showed for either shift.
Even though Smith had not been home for several days, her parents never reported her missing to the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office. Smith was an adult and was not constantly at home.
On a gravel road near a Barstow housing addition, Smith’s abandoned car was found Wednesday, May 21. Some clothing items and melted ice cream sandwiches were in the vehicle. The police did not know if Smith had been wearing the clothes when she disappeared. The ice cream sandwiches indicated Smith had a specific location to visit before she was somehow stopped and killed. It was summer, and no one leaves ice cream in a car during the hot season.
At 11 a.m. Monday, May 26, a fisherman from nearby Cleveland and his two sons found Smith’s body, clad only in bikini underwear and tennis shoes, snagged to a tree in the Rock River near Osborn, 10 miles southwest of Hillsdale.
Dr. Jose Acosta performed the autopsy, and the results indicated Smith was killed by “injuries to the head with a blunt instrument.”
Acosta said she might have drowned after being hit on the head and thrown in the river. Traces of dried blood that had not washed off in the water were still visible on her body. He could not determine if she was sexually assaulted because the body had been in the water too long.
Acosta discovered Smith was less than four months pregnant. Tests also showed she had been dead for at least a week but not more than two.
A June 1980 jury ruled her death a homicide, and investigators interviewed dozens of people to trace her whereabouts. They established that she visited a Rock Island bowling alley until around 9:30 p.m. on May 20. However, they could not trace her activities after that. Investigators never released the name of the bowling alley.
Smith had called home from an unknown location and asked to speak with her father. Another report said she placed a toll call to one of her sisters. Authorities drove along highways to determine if she called from a payphone or an establishment.
They subpoenaed phone records from “anybody and everybody” from whose residence Smith might have called from but had no luck there either.
The sheriff’s office and the Illinois State Police combed the banks of Rock River, but no clues surfaced. Authorities never found the murder weapon or determined the exact location where her killer threw Smith in the river.
They interviewed campers and residents along the river, asking if they had witnessed anything or might have seen or heard something unusual.
Investigators tried tracking down a man who saw another man and woman struggling on Illinois 5 during the early hours of May 21. Police received the tip from another source.
Chief Investigator Michael Sheley of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office had recently trained in hypnotism to use as a tool for questioning. He hypnotized a service station employee who had seen a man with Smith. It is unclear if this man is the same witness who saw the man and woman struggling. Regardless, Sheley retrieved from the hypnotized witness that the male was white, with a slender build and dark hair. Unfortunately, the police interviewed several men with the same description, so that led nowhere.
Detectives believed the killer might have abducted Smith from where her car was found. The murder did not occur in her vehicle.
The Quad-City Times reported in December 1980 that “eight to 10 investigators from the sheriff’s office and the Illinois and Iowa divisions of criminal investigation worked nearly 16 hours a day for about two weeks to determine who killed Smith.”
Police briefly thought a transient might have been responsible for the murder, but Sheley believed Smith’s killer was “not a total stranger.” Investigators never arrested anyone connected to Smith’s murder, nor did they ever establish any suspects or a motive.
They said the killer was not likely the father of her baby, who might have been angry over the pregnancy and not want people to know. However, due to the availability of abortions in 1980 versus previous decades, detectives said it seemed an unlikely motive.
There is not much information publicly available on Smith’s murder. Smith is listed on the Illinois State Police webpage for unsolved crimes.
Her siblings have Facebook pages but no public pictures or posts dedicated to their long-deceased sister. Smith’s mother and father died in 1995 and 1997, respectively, and her sister Ellen passed a few years ago.
Chief Investigator Michael Sheley passed away on June 4, 2019, at age 72.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
One theory I have is that Smith might have been pulled over by a police officer, someone posing as a cop, or someone she knew, as she was driving. She also could have been attacked where she was headed with her ice cream.
Because she was never reported missing by her parents, I’m a little suspicious of them. She lived with them, so when she failed to come home after a day or two, why didn’t they call the police to report her missing? I get that she was an adult, but something doesn’t sit right with me about that.
My kids are well into adulthood, live independently, and have full-time jobs, so it’s not unusual for them to go a week or two without contact, but not when they lived with me. I wanted to know where they were at all times; it’s the true-crime writer in me, LOL.
I found Diana’s siblings on Facebook. There are no public pictures or posts of Diana on their Facebook pages, as I mentioned above, which I find a little strange. However, they might have kept the photos available to only friends. Still, this may very well be a case of a family secret no one will ever reveal.
The father of her baby might have also killed her. Maybe he wanted no part in raising a kid. He could have insisted she get an abortion, and she refused. Out of anger, he hit her on the head. Maybe he, or whoever did not intentionally kill her. I think it’s weird that police ASSUMED the baby daddy did not kill her because of the availability of abortions in 1980. Maybe she didn’t have the money.
Jesus, pregnancy could have been the motive.
Questions to consider: Who was the father of her baby, and where is he now? What was her home life like? Was she close to her parents and siblings? Did Smith have any enemies or long-standing grudges? Did she owe someone money? Was she raped?
Considering Diana was clad only in underwear and shoes tells me she might have been raped, which is motive; Her killer might have been some random guy who saw her at the bowling alley or knew her from the restaurant and saw her out and about. Sheley said he believed her killer was not “a total stranger.”
What are your thoughts?