Although police and media reports are slowly piecing together the events and motives leading to the murder of LSA senior Jessica Smith, dozens of questions remain – some likely to remain unanswered, and some of which can never be answered.
Smith’s body was found April 20 in a Days Inn hotel room in her hometown of Canton, approximately 20 miles from Ann Arbor. A hotel employee found Smith, a 23-year-old computer science concentrator, and called police at 12:46 p.m.
According to Canton Township Police Department reports, Smith had been shot five times – twice in the head, and once in the neck, back, and shoulder – with two separate guns.
Just a day earlier, Smith had been at home enjoying time with her family. She had been playing with her dog, making plans for the Easter holiday, and like every other University student that week, fretting over a school project that would have been due soon.
“She was telling me about something that had happened at work, and we were laughing at that, and we were laughing at how the dog was obsessed with her perfume,” said Smith’s mother, Anne Winter, remembering the good times she shared with her daughter.
During the winter holiday season one year, the pair went out in search of Christmas lights. Their first plan to visit Domino’s Farms, off M-14, had failed.
“She was like, we’ll just go find some more, and we just drove around,” Winter said. “She just had a big sense of adventure – if one thing didn’t work out, she’d go find something else. She was always encouraging me to do new things.”
Before Smith left her mother’s house that day, she sent a message to friend Samuel Serrano, an Engineering junior at the University. Serrano said Smith told him she’d be leaving her mother’s house for Ann Arbor to work on a group project for one of her classes.
Serrano declined to comment further on Smith. Several other known friends also declined to comment or could not be contacted.
It was the same story Smith told to her mother – that she was headed to Ann Arbor to work on a class project. How she ended up at the Days Inn Motel in room 309 – a room booked that night to Belleville resident Thomas Copperstone, 47 – is still unknown.
According to Canton Township Police and media reports, Copperstone and Smith met in a strip club, where Smit had been a dancer, approximately a year and a half to two years ago. They reportedly maintained a relationship after meeting.
In a five-page letter given to police by Copperstone’s brother, Copperstone wrote that he blamed Smith for accidentally shooting his mentally impaired daughter, April, in November, 2001. Police have yet to confirm how the 2001 incident occurred, since Copperstone never reported the death. Instead, he buried his daughter in a fruit cellar in his home, information consistent with police findings.
The letter indicated that Copperstone had loved Smith, but that the accidental death of his daughter was too much for him to handle.
“Over time, he couldn’t live with himself anymore and in December, he decided that Jessica needed to pay for what she had done,” said Sgt. Todd Mutchler of the Canton Township Police Department.
Police were originally searching for Copperstone while investigating Smith’s death, but that search ended when Copperstone’s body was discovered in a rural part of Washtenaw County. Police believe Copperstone committed suicide after killing Smith.
Police found Copperstone lying next to a .22-caliber handgun and a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun. He was also found with Smith’s purse, hairbrush, and a piece of her clothing near his body.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.