Crime & Courts

In Smith trial, jury hears how railroad workers discovered body; detectives tracked movements on night of killing

Railroad workers discovered the skeletal remains of Kathleen Henry dumped just off the Seward Highway, within feet of a busy road and railway, jurors in the murder trial of Brian Smith heard Thursday.

Smith’s trial in the deaths of Henry, 30, and Veronica Abouchuk, 52, is in its second week.

On Thursday, jurors heard from more than a half-dozen law enforcement witnesses who described facets of the complex October 2019 investigation into the women’s deaths, ranging from FBI cellphone tracking data to physical searches of Smith’s home and truck to forensic techniques used to process multiple crime scenes.

Jurors also saw the first photos of the area where Henry’s body was discovered Oct. 2, 2019, near the Rainbow turnout at Mile 108.5 of the Seward Highway.

Two longtime Alaska Railroad employees were clearing debris near the railroad tracks that skirt along the busy Seward Highway south of Anchorage. One of the men, an excavator operator named Roger Strickler, spotted something at the bottom of a steep embankment, he testified Thursday.

“It looked like skeletal remains in a fetal position, curled up,” he said. “It looked very small.”

The remains were ultimately identified as Kathleen Henry. Detectives testified it wouldn’t be unusual for a body to decompose to skeletal remains in a month if in an exposed area.


[‘Are you guys in a rush?’: Smith interrupted police interview to confess to second killing]

An FBI cellphone analyst based in the Seattle area explained how cellphone location data — and Smith’s Google account location, which had not been turned off — shaped a narrative of his movements on the night of Henry’s death. The cellphone data placed him at Walmart that evening between 9 and 10 p.m., at a Midtown hotel during the hours the violent video of Henry’s death was filmed and, around 1 a.m. on Sept. 6, 2019 a couple days later, at the Seward Highway spot where Henry’s body was eventually found.

One surprise: Perry’s testimony revealed that Smith took a previously undisclosed trip to South Anchorage hours after Henry’s killing, stopping at Forsythe Park off O’Malley Road and texting with a man who lived nearby, off Hillside Drive, between 4:46 and 4:56 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2019.

Prosecutors have not explained what Smith is believed to have done at that stop, or what the involvement, if any, was of the person he texted. The person hasn’t been charged with any crime.

Police detectives and other personnel also testified about searches undertaken of the room Smith rented, using his employee discount, at the hotel and where Henry is believed to have been killed: Police took samples of the distinctive carpet, seen in the video of Henry’s death, to analyze. They also searched the Staubbach Circle home Smith shared with his wife, Stephanie Bissland, finding a collection of guns and ammunition. Police found stains on a carpet downstairs in the house near a red couch, officers testified.

Smith had told investigators he shot and killed Abouchuk when she was on that couch, for no reason other than he was angry she wouldn’t take a shower.

The trial continues Tuesday, after the Presidents Day holiday.

Correction: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported the time Smith’s phone was tracked to Forsythe Park off O’Malley Road. It was between 4:46 and 4:56 p.m. on the afternoon of Sept. 4, 2019.

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Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.