Jennifer Morlan remembers the last time she saw her friend and fellow Kennedy Middle School teacher Ann Fox Smith. It was the morning of April 24, 2008.
“She came flying in the front door with her hair flying, her sunglasses on her head, her Coke in her hand – it was real Coke, not Diet Coke,” Morlan recalled, adding that Smith was known for being late. “She was laughing her head off. She was always happy. I just remember seeing her coming in and going up and talking to her.”
The next morning, Smith didn't come into work. She was found stabbed to death in her home on Whitney Drive by co-workers who went looking for her.
Five years later today, no arrests have been made in the murder, and police maintain that they have not named a person of interest.
'She would do anything for her students'
Morlan remembers Smith as a fun-loving prankster who loved to play jokes on people, especially when they would go together for teacher conferences and conventions. On one trip, their car broke down on the side of the interstate.
“There was no such thing as not having a good time, even broken down on the side of the road,” Morlan said. “We were on our way to the last conference we ever went to together. Another one of the teachers happened to go by as we were on the side of the road, so she snapped a picture of us with the broken-down car in the background and all three of us laughing.”
The picture sits on Morlan's desk in her classroom.
“She would do anything for her students,” Morlan said. “She found out they needed something, clothes or extra tutoring, she was the first one there. She would go through her children's closet or her closet – or my closet – to find whatever it was they needed.”
'Kind of like glue'
Teacher Sally Ferriter said several teachers, including her, Morlan and Smith, “had a group.”
“She was kind of like glue; she held our group together,” Ferriter said. “Since her death, we've all kind of strayed from each other. We don't do as much with each other. She was the glue, the one who, you know, said, 'You're gonna do this.'”
Ferriter said she and Smith were the kind of friends who finished each other's sentences, and they called each other “Lucy and Ethel.”
While Smith will be remembered for her compassion for her students and her willingness to go the extra mile for them, Ferriter said she'll be remembered by the adults as a “little blond that just twitted down the halls with a dadgum bird in her hand, or a squirrel.”
Smith was one of the only “squirrel rehabilitators” in the state, according to Ferriter.
“She would buy sports bras and put them down in her sports bra, so they could listen to her heart beat and cuddle. I said, 'That is disgusting,'” Ferriter recalled, laughing through tears.
Sometimes, the squirrels would fight with each other (while in the sports bra), Ferriter said, remembering a shopping trip she and Smith made.
“(Anne's) walking up to the doors of Saks Fifth Avenue. A couple comes out, and she's going, 'Would you two stop it down there! Just quit it, will ya!'” Ferriter said, imitating Smith scolding the squirrels. “And I'm like, 'Oh my god.' And these two people turn and look at her like, 'Why is this woman talking to her breasts?' I almost fell out in the parking lot. I know she did not do that on purpose, but that was perfect. That was a Kodak moment.”
During another “Lucy and Ethel” episode, Ferriter said Smith had her hair colored, and soon after asked Ferriter to color it again because she wasn't satisfied with it.
“I said, 'Oh my God, Ann! We're gonna have to shave your head!” Ferriter said of the final result. “Her hair had turned lime green. I cried and cried. She's laughing the whole time, thinking it's hilarious.”
Still an open case
The comedic moments and memories made with friends came to a shocking and gruesome end on April 25, 2008.
Aiken Public Safety has never publicly identified a suspect in Smith's murder.
A story published in the April 30, 2011, edition of the Aiken Standard cites court documents that state investigators had considered Smith's estranged husband, Wilson Smith Jr., as a suspect in her murder.
The document, filed with a probate judge by the lead investigator on the case only two months after Smith's murder, states: “Wilson Smith Jr. who is the husband of the deceased has NOT been cleared and is still as suspect as of this date.”
However, according to court documents that have been filed since, the estate has been closed as of Sept. 24, 2012. It was split among Smith's immediate family members, including her husband and three children.
Capt. David Turno, a spokesman for Aiken Public Safety, maintained that the department has not publicly identified a suspect.
“What we've said in the past is, some family members fully cooperated with everything Public Safety investigators asked, and some family members have not,” Turno said, adding that specific family members were not named.
Investigators have also remained tight-lipped about the murder weapon used.
“That is something only the killer knows and we know,” Turno said. “People may think they have information about a case, or, let's just say someone would want to claim responsibility, because there are people who do that. Well, if they don't know how she was killed or what she was killed with, it'd be hard for them to prove they did it unless they were truly the killer. That's just part of the investigation. It's not uncommon for law enforcement not to reveal.”
Turno said cases do go cold, but new leads also come in. He added that investigators get tips “from time to time” on Smith's case and follow up quickly.
“It's still an open case,” he said. “We still feel that someone out there may have information that, over this time, they're going to feel more comfortable calling us or reaching out to us. We feel the killer may have spoken to someone, or someone might be close to the killer, and maybe the time has come they feel like they should speak to investigators, so certainly we welcome that phone call.”
Turno encouraged anyone with information about the case to call Aiken Public Safety at 803-642-7620 or CrimeStoppers of the Midlands at 1-888-CRIME-SC.
'It's still very painful'
Ferriter remembers – vividly – walking into Smith's home, finding her friend's bloodied body, checking for a pulse and calling 911. She described the scene inside the home as “brutal,” “violent” and “messy.”
“And that was five years ago tomorrow, and it's still very painful,” she said on Wednesday. “We all went through counseling – it didn't help.”
Ferriter said the good memories and laughs help to ease the pain, even five years later – “but then you want more.”
“We were gonna tear the house down when we got to the old folks home, and we didn't get to do that,” she said. “We didn't get to go through menopause together. We didn't get to do stuff like that.”
Smith's friend Morlan said the pain is made worse because there hasn't been an arrest – or justice, she said.
“I want there to be some kind of justice,” she said. “I want to be able to look them in the eye in the courtroom and say, 'That's who did it,' and I want somebody to go to jail.”
Morlan said she's comforted knowing that “in the afterlife, there will be justice.”
“But she deserves justice in this life, too,” Morlan said. “It's very hard that it's been five years with absolutely no resolution. Ann deserves justice.”
Today, outside the entrance of Kennedy Middle School, a stone bench with Smith's name carved into it faces the bustling traffic on East Pine Log Road. A tree also has been planted in Smith's memory outside the window of what used to be her classroom.
Smith's friends left a bouquet of flowers on the bench before going to have dinner and remember her.
Morlan said she has not been at school on the anniversary of Smith's death since the murder.
“I was at school when I realized she wasn't there, and I went to the house, and all that happened,” she said Wednesday. “I know exactly where I was every minute of that entire day … so I haven't been able to bring myself to set foot on campus that day. But I'm gonna try tomorrow and see how it goes.”