A hotel murder caught on video, and unanswered questions about why
Just as 30-year-old Kathleen Henry was looking forward to changing her life around, someone ended it. Henry, a petite woman with long dark hair, left jail June 12 after serving time for an assault. She last posted on Facebook on August 29.
One day after her release from jail, she posted on her timeline: "By far, life is better with freedom."
How she first crossed paths with the man police say killed her is not yet known. Brian Smith, a married, 48-year-old immigrant from South Africa, is under arrest, charged with her murder. He lives in an affluent, older midtown neighborhood while she struggled with alcohol and homelessness, at times accessing food kitchens and other services that help people in need.
Where he led a seemingly stable life with new opportunities before him, she was vulnerable and posted to Facebook about looking to shake her troubled life and start anew.
Anchorage Police say she died in a brutal, expletive-laden assault and strangulation, after which she was wheeled out of the hotel slumped on a luggage cart and carried away in the bed of a truck. Her remains were found south of Anchorage along the highway, near an area where Smith's phone pinged within the timeline of the murder, according to police.
Smith's wife, Stephanie Bissland, told KTUU Friday that she's "horrified" by the charges. It is difficult to comprehend that her husband might have been hiding something so dark, she said.
Bissland first learned of the investigation when police officers found her vacationing in Virginia and said they needed to speak with her. She said they didn't say outright what was going on, and instead asked her a series of questions. Things like, was she procuring girls for Smith? Had she traveled alone on specific dates? Had she ever sat in a parked vehicle at Mountain View Lions Park with her husband?
Bissland said it became evident they suspected her husband had been cheating on her.
"It seems to me they've been looking at him a long time," she told KTUU.
She told police she'd never provided women to her husband, and never suspected anything was amiss.
If he's guilty of the murder, Bissland said she wouldn't defend her husband's actions. But she wants more information, and a chance to speak with him directly.
Some aspects of the case don't make much sense to her. Among them, why did a memory card get found the day they left for vacation? Also curious to her, she said, is the labeling on the SD card - "homicide at midtown Marriott."
It wasn't unusual for her husband to have numerous SD cards lying around from cameras and other equipment he'd tinker with and sell. Never, she said, did she see any of them labeled.
On September 7, one day after the last timestamp on the images from the SD card, a computer, screen, and drone were placed for sale on Facebook Marketplace under Brian Smith's profile.
Then, sometime later in the month, but before Smith's September 21 naturalization ceremony, Bissland said Smith reported his vehicle had been vandalized. It happened while he was at work at the Marriott Suites near University Lake, she said, explaining that a passenger-side window in his truck been broken. His wallet, important documents, and a briefcase with phones and other electronics, including a Go-Pro, had been taken.
Smith, Bissland said, made a police report.
Police have previously said they recognized the voice on the homicide video as Smith's based on police contact from a prior investigation. They have refused to say what that investigation was, or how Smith connected to it.
Early in September, Smith did stay a few nights at a hotel, Bissland said. The couple, married about five years, decided to spend a few days apart. He would have gotten an employee discount at a Marriott, she said. Police say records show Smith checked into the TownPlace Suites by Marriott, where they believe he killed Henry.
Neither Bissland, nor their neighbors noticed anything wrong leading up to, or after, the killing.
Police arrested Smith October 8 at Ted Stevens International Airport, after he landed in Anchorage while returning from the couple's family vacation in Virginia. He was due to begin a new job at a new hotel -- Residence Inn -- the next day, said Bissland, who remains out of state.
She has not had an opportunity to speak with her husband since his arrest, something she's eager to do.
"I have to look him in the face," she said.