The mysterious disappearance of a “social” couple and their pickup truck following a cabin fire on Nan’s Rock Road south of Mt. Vernon evolved into a homicide case after human remains were identified by the state crime lab.
Terry Smith, 67, and Sharon Smith, 65, owned the cabin that burned down July 17-18. The cabin was located in a remote area off Laycock Creek Road and was completely gone by the time fire crews arrived.
Sheriff Glenn Palmer said his phone was “off the hook” in the days following the fire as numerous friends and family called from around Grant County and out of state.
Foul play was not suspected at first, Palmer said, but law enforcement was searching for the missing 2006 Toyota Tacoma. He also noted that the Smiths were often in contact with friends and family and wouldn’t just take off without telling them.
Palmer confirmed a few days after the fire that cadaver dogs had searched the debris from the house fire and found no human remains. Several weeks later, Palmer said the FBI and state police were assisting in the investigation. The case was labeled a homicide investigation on Sept. 5 after evidence found at the site was confirmed to be of human origin.
The Smiths bought the 80- to 100-acre property on Nan’s Rock Road in the mid-1990s, Sharon’s sister Cathy Hinshaw told the Eagle. Hinshaw, who lives in Hawaii, said she spoke to Sharon the evening of the fire, and Sharon had said they were heading to bed. Hinshaw said she spoke to her sister sometimes two to three times a day.
A man who watched the Smiths’ property when they were in Hawaii or other locations had traveled to Idaho for his wife’s medical appointment and was returning the next day, Hinshaw said. The Smiths planned to clean up the caretaker’s house the next day before he returned.
Hinshaw said she received a call at about 4 a.m. from a friend of Sharon’s who lived near Nan’s Rock Road and learned about the fire. She later told the Eagle that she suspected the couple were dead from the very beginning, despite official law enforcement reports.
Terry and Sharon Smith first met in junior high school in Springfield when he was 13 and she was 12. Terry was a “go-getter” at that age, Hinshaw recalled. He found a job as a bus boy at a restaurant in a large hotel in Eugene and worked his way up to assistant manager within a month.
Sharon was a cheerleader in high school but left with Terry before graduating after he was hired to help manage a hotel at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington.
Later, the Smiths returned to Oregon to operate two trading posts or second-hand stores and then two restaurants. They later followed Hinshaw to Hawaii, where Terry made numerous real estate investments over the years.
The couple also started a clothing business in Bali, designing and manufacturing clothing they later sold in Birch Bay and the San Juan Islands in Washington.
The Smiths never had children but always kept busy and were a happy couple, Hinshaw said. Terry kept an eye on his numerous business interests and was an active hunter and fisherman. Sharon reupholstered furniture and worked in senior homes and hospice.
Hinshaw recalled the Smiths serving food at homeless shelters on Thanksgiving and Christmas. She said Terry would “give you the shirt off his back.”
Sheriff Palmer announced two major breakthroughs in the case on Oct. 24. First, the missing pickup truck had been found by police in Boise, Idaho. Second, the Oregon State Medical Examiner had tested DNA from human tissue discovered at the burned cabin and found it conclusively matched Terry Smith’s DNA.
The Grant County Sheriff’s Office has not announced if any human remains matched DNA from Sharon Smith, and the investigation continues with assistance from the FBI, Oregon State Police, Boise Police and the Hilo Police in Hawaii.