Two Virginia detectives found themselves on the verge of cracking a cold case murder mystery that had been dormant for years. Their breakthrough came in the form of an unexpected phone call. The caller was adamant, insisting, “I want to talk, and I want to talk right now.”
The man on the other end of the conversation was Stephan Smerk. He had been contacted by the detectives earlier that day about the brutal stabbing death of 37-year-old Robin Lawrence in 1994. According to Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis, Smerk was interested in surrendering, intent on making a confession.
Groundbreaking tech developments had guided the diligent Fairfax Police Department detectives to Smerk. Collaborating with an independent lab, they utilized DNA evidence to trace the biological relatives of the suspect and formulate a projected suspect image. The detectives compared this sketch with Smerk’s 1988 yearbook picture and a DMV photo taken ten years later, establishing a match, which Deputy Chief Eli Cory announced at a Monday press briefing.
Eager to pursue leads, the detectives journeyed to Niskayuna, New York, and managed to find Smerk outside his home on September 7. Arriving just as Smerk was taking his garbage out, the detectives used the chance to engage him in conversation, collect a DNA sample, and leave him their business card.
In an unexpected turn of events, Smerk surrendered to the local police in Niskayuna, confessed to the murder of Lawrence, and made a self-incriminating call to the detectives by the end of the day.
Smerk is now facing charges of second-degree murder in relation to the cold case. His confession offered a detailed account of his involvement in the murder, providing depth into how he fatally stabbed Robin, among other undisclosed details, as mentioned by Davis. However, questions about whether Smerk has legal representation remain unanswered.
The DNA evidence that ultimately steered the police to Smerk was retrieved from Lawrence’s home in 1994 after she was brutally stabbed, leaving her two-year-old daughter unharmed but alone in another room. The grim discovery of Lawrence’s lifeless body came about when her husband, who was overseas for work, requested a friend to check on her due to a worrying lapse in communication.
News of an arrest left Lawrence’s husband, Ollie, utterly stunned. The family, including Lawrence’s daughter – who had to go through the ordeal of being left alone in the house until the deceased body of her mother was discovered – was present at the news conference although they refrained from taking any questions.
Robin Lawrence was an employee of the promotions department at Merchant’s Tire & Auto Centers at the time of her death, while Smerk, a married man with two children, was serving as an active-duty member of the Army. It is noted that there was no identifiable link between Lawrence and Smerk, suggesting that Lawrence may have been a random selection for Smerk.
After surrendering himself, Smerk is currently held up as a fugitive in New York and will soon be extradited to Fairfax County, Virginia, to face the murder charge.
Although a DNA profile was gathered back in 1994 from the crime scene, it wasn’t until years later that a modern DNA analysis firm could connect the DNA profile to one of Smerk’s relatives. A specialist company known as Parabon NanoLabs assisted in this connection, using a blend of DNA evidence and conventional genealogy. They also predicted physical characteristics based on unidentifiable DNA evidence, resulting in a digital composite sketch that largely contributed to identifying Smerk. This outcome was achieved with Smerk’s voluntary submission of a DNA sample outside his New York residence, a step that Davis deemed “highly unusual.”
The detectives were preparing to head back to Fairfax County when they received the call from Smerk, confessing to the murder. Amid the shock, they swiftly informed Niskayuna Police Department about Smerk’s intentions to turn himself in, paving the way for his arrest.