Chester D. Smith immediately knew something wasn’t quite right when his daughter didn’t come home for Thanksgiving weekend.
Jacqueline Smith had always been headstrong and independent, but she loved the holidays and realized how much it meant to her parents for the family to be together — especially after she left her comfortable nest in sleepy Lebanon, Pa., months earlier to make a life for herself in New York City as a fabric designer.
But Smith also knew not to crowd his 20-year-old daughter, so he and Jackie’s mother hid their disappointment and accepted it would be a quiet turkey dinner without their sweet and vivacious only child.
Jackie had, after all, written home gushing about the nice young man she’d been dating, and it was obvious she was smitten with her new beau. The Smiths reluctantly realized romance was part of the adventure Jackie was seeking in the big, bright city only 150 miles to the east, yet a world away from the farms, steel mills and small-town vibe of Lebanon, population 29,000.
A month later, the dad’s general sense of unease turned into impending dread when Jackie didn’t come home for Christmas either.
She did write to say she’d make it up to them by spending New Year’s at home. But as December 1955 was drawing to a close and the Smiths still hadn’t heard from their daughter, Chester received an unsettling phone call from New York.
It was from one of Jackie’s colleagues, asking when she would be returning to work — no one had seen Jackie since before Christmas, and everyone at the Manhattan fabric company assumed she was back in Lebanon.
Hours later, Smith was pounding the pavement in New York, hellbent on finding his missing daughter.
The determined dad’s first stop was at the E. 27th St. apartment of Jackie’s boyfriend Thomas Daniel, a dapper, well-spoken 24-year-old who worked as a stock clerk in an equestrian equipment shop.
“What is this?” Smith asked him helplessly. “What’s wrong with Jackie? Where is she?”
But Daniel was no help. He hadn’t seen or spoken to Jackie since Christmas Eve. They had a silly quarrel, he told Smith, and she stormed out of his apartment. He, too, assumed Jackie had gone home to spend some time with her parents, and was hoping she’d eventually simmer down and call him.
Now Daniel was worried as well, and he accompanied Smith uptown to the W. 95th St. flat Jackie shared with two roommates.
Both women hadn’t seen Jackie for days, they told Smith, and both also figured she’d gone home for the holidays.
Smith’s next and final stop was the nearest police precinct. He filed a missing persons report, then returned to Lebanon with a heavy heart, fearing the worst.
The cops assigned to the case, Detective James Stephens and Policewoman Julia Antonelli of the NYPD’s Missing Persons Bureau, immediately suspected foul play once they learned Smith wasn’t the type to just run off and worry her anguished parents.
She had seemingly settled in nicely as a new New Yorker. She had a decent job designing motifs for scarves and handkerchiefs at a textile firm, she’d been taking art and design lessons at a local school, and she’d made fast friends with her two roomies.
The attractive honey-blonde with an easy smile also had many male admirers. But she had settled on Daniel, by all accounts a nice guy who was well-liked by his co-workers at the horse equipment shop.
The investigators, naturally, focused on the boyfriend.
A little digging quickly turned up that he wasn’t such a catch after all. Daniel was described by Smith’s roommates as a vain, egotistical “ladies man” who was simply using the impressionable small-town girl for his own desires.
The roommates also revealed a secret: While Smith always paid her $9 share of the rent, she had moved out after just two days and had actually been living with Daniel for several months. The apartment on W. 95th St. was a ruse to deceive her parents, who of course wouldn’t approve of their unmarried daughter living in sin. The roommates admitted they didn’t have the heart to tell that to Smith’s father.
Stephens and Antonelli next questioned Daniel about the last night he saw Smith. It was Christmas Eve, when he and Jackie had a quiet dinner at his place, he said. He fell asleep and when he woke up at 3 a.m. Jackie was gone, he told the cops. He figured she took a late bus to Lebanon. He never saw her again, he said glumly.
The cops weren’t buying it. On Jan. 10, 1956, they dragged Daniel downtown in the middle of the night for further questioning. After a few hours of the third degree, a tired and broken Daniel finally told the truth.
Smith never left the apartment on Christmas Eve, he admitted. They instead fought after Daniel told her he was marrying someone else. Jackie, he told police, was hysterical. When he returned from a trip to the bathroom, he found her on the floor — with a kitchen knife sticking out of her belly.
The distraught woman had killed herself, and in a panic Daniel placed her body in a large cloth bag, took a taxi to Riverside Park on the Upper West Side and dumped her body in the frigid Hudson.
Police boats searched the river but failed to find Smith’s body. Figuring Daniel was lying, they squeezed him for more information. Finally, he broke — and confessed to a horrendous crime followed by a horrific cover-up.
Smith had indeed died on Dec. 24 — of a botched illegal abortion. After Daniel refused to marry her, the desperate young woman agreed to undergo the procedure in his apartment. Daniel enlisted a friend, Leobaldo Pijuan, 46, a hospital orderly with access to medical instruments and sedatives to perform the abortion for $100.
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
But Pijuan gave Smith too much sodium pentathol and she died of an overdose. Both men panicked and then decided to dismember her body and dispose of the remains.
After hacking her to pieces, they brought the body parts to Pijuan’s apartment, where he cut them into even smaller pieces that were then neatly wrapped in festive Christmas paper — 50 packages in all.
For the next two days, the men scattered Smith’s remains in garbage cans all along the Upper West Side. The body parts were never recovered.
Daniel, who made a spectacle of himself at the May 1956 trial by repeatedly berating the prosecutors, judge and jury, was sentenced to 8 to 20 years in prison for first degree manslaughter. Pijuan pleaded guilty to the same charge and received 7 to 20 years.
The sentences were of little consolation to Chester Smith, who returned to his Pennsylvania hometown without his beloved daughter, a broken man facing a lifetime of regret.
“I wanted Jackie to come home,” Smith said at the trial. “I don’t like this city. It frightens me. But if I hadn’t let her come to New York, she would have scorned me the rest of her life.”
JUSTICE STORY has been the Daily News’ exclusive take on true crime tales of murder, mystery and mayhem for nearly 100 years. Click here to read more.