Brian Smith murder case: A couple's happier times
Musician Stephanie Bissland knows her husband, Brian Smith, 48, as a doting man who took good care of her. He handcrafted a ukulele for her, built her storage areas for her garden supplies and a greenhouse out of windows, bought her music.
His arrest for two murders has cast doubt over the man she thought she knew, a South-African immigrant she met online gaming, fell in love with, and married.
The flower-shaped De Beers wedding ring she wears was Smith's mother's, Bissland said in an exclusive interview with KTUU.
Smith, who'd worked most recently as a hotel employee for Marriott, is in custody, charged with the murders of 30-year-old Kathleen Henry and 53-year-old Veronica Abouchuk. Both women experienced homelessness. Henry died during the first week of September, strangled and killed in a hotel room. After his arrest for Henry's murder, police say Smith confessed to shooting Abouchuk sometime in 2017 or 2018.
Anchorage Police first made Bissland aware of the charges against her husband while she vacationed in Virginia.
"They said 'was I pimping for him? Bringing girls?' You know, things like that," and '"Maybe you don't know your husband,'" Bissland said of the interview, which she described as mostly polite but at times tense.
She said she told the police she'd never done anything like that. Never, she said, did she have any indication he'd be capable of that behavior, or of murder.
Suggestions by police that her husband had been cheating on her were obvious, Bissland said.
In the years he's lived in Alaska, Bissland said Smith worked at Alaska Tire Service, Dowl Engineers, the Marriott Suites near University Lake, and was just about to start a new position at the Residence Inn.
After operating a guest house in South Africa, he had hoped to once again own his own hotel and was making good progress toward that dream, she said.
Around the time detectives spoke with Bissland, Smith had flown home to Alaska to start his new hotel job. He was arrested October 8 at the Ted Stevens International Airport.
When the first murder charges were announced, police signaled a strong case. They had in their possession, they said, a memory card containing still images and videos of Smith committing the crime, and believed Smith to be solely responsible.
By the time police announced a second murder connected to Smith, Bissland had returned to Alaska. We spoke with her as she was in the beginning stages of piecing her home back together after an extensive police search.
They'd rammed their way in, damaging the front door and frame -- not unusual when serving a high-risk warrant, police spokesperson MJ Thim told KTUU. He explained police didn't know if anyone was inside the home, and that they needed to take necessary safety precautions for residents and officers. After gaining entry, police spent time scouring the garage, an office, crawl space, basement living area and bedrooms, seizing firearms, rope, memory cards, computers, hard drives, and more.
"They didn't take any of the bedding, but they took the carpet," Bissland said, referring to a swath of carpet from a downstairs living room on which police found a stain. Bissland questioned if it could have been wine, but said it was clear the police must have thought it was blood.
Standing in the disarray, among clothing piles and shuffled boxes, she spoke of the disconnect in her heart and mind between the man she married, and the crimes he's now accused of.
"When I think about that, I think about how could I have missed something like that?" she said. "We all have tempers at times, but I never saw one that would do what these people are describing."
She said her husband is a night owl, while she has a habit of turning in early. A light drinker who only occasionally stays out late with friends, he's a man who likes gadgets, tinkering and traveling the state.
Alaska amazed him, she said. His work in years past with Dowl Engineers took him to places like the rural villages of Emmonak and New Stuyahok, and sometimes to Montana, she said. He enjoyed adventuring in Alaska's mountains - Turnagain Pass, Talkeetna, Montana Creek, going to the shooting range, and taking drives.
He liked to document his adventures, creating and sharing videos of Hawaiian vacations, bear viewing, his wife's bluegrass concerts, Anchorage snow, moose, and other quintessential Alaska mementos.
Bissland said police have suggested there may have been more to his outings than she knew, making statements like "'You don't know your husband'" and "'What's he doing when he's gone?'"
She said she never thought about it, that she always thought he was working.
In some of Smith's videos, viewed by KTUU, Smith is seen flying a drone in his neighborhood. In one sequence, he pushes in on a black truck parked in his garage, which he refers to as a "chick magnet." It is similar in appearance to, and bears the same license plate as a truck described by police in their court-filed details of Henry's killing.
Other videos show Smith and Bissland swimming in the ocean, sharing a kiss, and beaming during happier times.
Just three years ago, it seems far away from their life now.
"It is a terrible thing that has happened to this girl," Bissland said, not yet aware of the second set of murder charges Smith would soon face.
"Pray for both of them: the family of that poor woman, and for him. He also is in a dark place and needs to see the light," she said.
(Editors Note: This story has been updated to include comment from a police spokesperson.)