Authorities took to the air and train tracks Thursday to search for a campsite and possible explosives that murder suspect Leroy H. Smith III may have made in the woods of Gardiner or Richmond, but so far they have found nothing.
The search for the campsite stemmed from statements Smith allegedly made to police investigating the killing of Smith’s father, Leroy Smith Jr.
Police said Smith indicated he had placed improvised pyrotechnic devices in the woods. Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said the devices were described as paper tubes, such as toilet paper rolls, wrapped in duct tape with some filament and filled with black gunpowder. The devices were meant to alert Smith to foot traffic in the woods so he could identify safe places where he could camp and grow marijuana, Smith allegedly told police.
Local police, joined by Maine State Police units with three bomb-sniffing dogs, searched the woods on foot Tuesday and Wednesday but said they found no such devices.
“We have reservations that these devices even exist, about whether he even placed any of these devices,” Toman said. “He said he deployed these, but that’s all unverified. We’ve found none.”
Toman said if anyone discovers a suspicious device in the area, the item should be left alone and police should be called.
Smith was known to take long walks in the area, including in the woods, authorities said. Police also said Smith told them he was an avid hiker and was interested in survival-type gear.
“From talking to folks, we learned he’d walk anywhere from 10 to 15 miles,” Richmond Police Chief Scott MacMaster said. “He’d leave at dusk and be gone all night, walking trails, side roads. He’d come back shortly before his father went to work.”
Steve Marson, owner of River Road Variety, a convenience store just two-tenths of a mile from the Smiths’ Cannard Street apartment, said he occasionally saw the younger Smith out walking early in the morning.
“I’d be up at 4:30 in the morning going to the store and I’d see him walking, with his backpack, wondering what the hell he was doing wandering around that time of the morning,” Marson said.
On Thursday, authorities took to the sky and rails to narrow the search area by trying to locate a campsite or makeshift cabin police think Smith may have established in the woods.
“If we can locate it, we’ll go in and search (on the ground) accordingly,” Toman said. “Because without any definitive information — which we don’t have — as to the whereabouts, we’re searching for a needle in a haystack. There are a lot of trails in that area.”
On Thursday, MacMaster, Gardiner detective Michael Durham and Mary MacMaster, an investigator with the state fire marshal’s office, joined a Maine Forest Service helicopter pilot and flew over woods in Gardiner and Richmond, searching for Smith’s campsite. Toman said the search focused on wooded areas between the downtowns of Gardiner and Richmond, including Route 24, and Costello and Marston roads.
Shortly after noon, MacMaster said, the helicopter landed after not spotting anything, and there were no plans to continue searching by air.
However, MacMaster said a Richmond officer also was joining a Department of Transportation worker in a vehicle equipped to drive on the railroad tracks to search for any signs of a campsite along the tracks that run along Route 24 between Gardiner and Richmond.
Wednesday evening, Richmond police used a Sagadahoc County emergency notification system to alert residents to be on the lookout for the devices Smith claimed he had placed in the woods, asking them to call police if they spot anything similar, or anything suspicious.
MacMaster said it was the first time the town used the system, which sends out a recorded message to residents by phone.
Gardiner police went door to door with fliers in south Gardiner in the area where the Smiths shared an apartment, and they posted information on the city’s website and the Police Department’s Facebook page, advising residents to watch for the devices.
Toman said Smith indicated he had placed the devices in March. Toman said it’s questionable whether the devices — if they exist — would work, because the weather has been rainy and Smith said he made them out of cardboard and other paperlike material.
Toman said police have spoken with officials from the fire marshal’s office about the devices, which would be likely to ignite more like a flare than a bomb.
Toman said Smith indicated he may have placed more than 20 of the devices.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647 | [email protected] | Twitter: @kedwardskj