Gayno Smith Massacres Five People in Southern Iowa

Carefully, the fireman removed the man from the fuselage.

He lay on his back, stretched across three passenger seats. Everything inside had been tossed around in the crash, leaving a tangle of seats, luggage, and bodies.

Slowly as they could, the rescuers put the injured man on a stretcher and slowly carried him to a waiting ambulance. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Centerville, Iowa, close to the Missouri-Iowa border.

According to business cards found on his person, the man’s name was Takehiko Nakano. He was a professional engineer with addresses in both Chicago and Los Angeles. Ninety minutes after being pulled out of the terrible plane crash that had already taken forty-four other lives, Nakano passed away. He was only 27 years old.

Earlier that night, Nakano had boarded Continental Airlines Boeing 707 Flight 11 in Chicago. It was a routine flight that had a brief layover in Kansas City before continuing on its way to Los Angeles.

As they had flown over Centerville, Flight 11 was hit by something with “tremendous force.” Dewey E. Ballard, an air carrier operations inspector, told reporters that there might have been heavy turbulence or even a tornado. The National Weather Bureau agreed with the assessment, noting that they had tracked winds in the area blowing upwards of 80-miles-per-hour when the plane had disappeared from radar.

Whatever had happened, the plane had broken apart in the skies over Centerville. The wreckage was scattered over a path that stretched for at least 15 miles before coming to rest in a cornfield.

Search parties had been formed earlier that night and sent out to look for the plane. Volunteers walked down roads and through woods and cornfields. Slowly, they began to discover debris.

Doors, pieces of metal, even sandwiches revealed themselves in the light of the searchers’ flashlights. Finally, the main fuselage was found in a field near Unionville, Missouri, just after dawn.

Nakano had been the last passenger left alive on Flight 11. Everyone else had died on impact.

While members of the Federal Aviation Administration, Continental Airline employees, and FBI forensic specialists conducted their investigation, news of the crash travelled fast. Nothing like this had ever happened in the sleepy rural area around the Missouri-Iowa border, and people were eager to hear the details.

There could be little doubt that Gayno Smith heard about it as he worked around his uncle’s farm near Martinsburg, Iowa.

Gayno had a reputation as a good worker, and frequently worked as a farm hand and performed other odd jobs around the area. He was a very quiet man, but still polite, soft-spoken, and generally well-liked.

Gayno Smith in 1962. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register

His parents had divorced when he was about 12 years old, and he had gone to live with his mother after it was finalized. Over the next few years, Gayno and his mother moved around a lot, living in Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Gayno played football and basketball through high school and stayed out of any major trouble. Academically, he performed poorly, but was very good working with his hands.

In 1956, he graduated from Blair High School in Nebraska, then joined the Marine Corps. After serving for ten months, Gayno received a medical discharge and left the service. By 1961, he was living with his father and stepmother in Hedrick, Iowa.

His father, Andrew Smith, had married Gayno’s new stepmother on May 14, 1960. Although her name was Marcella, everyone around the area called her Juanita. It was his third marriage, and Juanita’s fifth. About three months later, the three of them were involved in a serious car accident.

Marcella “Juanita” Smith. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register

While Gayno came through with only minor injuries, Juanita had severe damage done to her mouth. She stayed in the hospital for a short time, and then was released. Andrew was hurt the worst and spent the next several weeks in the hospital.

In September, Juanita stopped showing up at the hospital. No one saw her around the house, and she stopped speaking to her family. Juanita Smith had vanished. Her sister, Irene Brown, was immediately concerned.

It wasn’t like her to leave without saying anything. She called Juanita’s house to speak with her. Gayno answered the phone, and he told her that Juanita had been readmitted to the hospital. Irene continued to try and get in touch with her over the next few months, but Juanita never responded.

At Christmas, Irene’s worries deepened when Juanita didn’t send her a Christmas card. All of this was completely unlike Juanita. No matter what she had done in her life or where she had been, Juanita had stayed in contact with Irene and the rest of her family. She at least sent a Christmas card.

While Gayno had been living at the house during this time, he suddenly decided to move in with some family in nearby Martinsburg.

His Aunt Dora was his father Andrew’s sister. She lived on a small arm with her husband, also named Andrew. Andrew, or Andy as he was more commonly known, made a modest living from his farm and several more dozen acres nearby.

He and Dora had four children: Amos, 19; his twin sister, Anne, also 19; their younger sister, Donna, 17; and their youngest sibling, Patsy, 15. They welcomed Gayno with open arms.

The McBeth Family. From top left: Anna, Amos, Donna, Andy, Patricia, and Dora. Patricia, or Patsy, would be the only one to survive Gayno Smith’s rampage. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register.

Although they didn’t have that big of a house, their children were more than willing to share, and they were happy to accommodate Gayno for as long as needed. He shared an upstairs room with Amos.

Around the same time, their 17-year-old daughter, Donna Kellogg, moved back home. She had just gotten a divorce, and so came home to stay with her 6-month-old son, Perry.

Juanita Smith was still missing. No one had seen her since the previous September. Andrew Smith figured that she had decided to leave him. After spending six months in the hospital and not seeing his wife for several months, he filed for divorce.

Juanita didn’t show up to the divorce hearing. This was the biggest red flag yet for Irene.

This would be Juanita’s fifth divorce. She had always shown up to the hearings, without fail. There was no way that she was going to be divorced and simply let her soon to be ex-husband have the only say in the proceedings.

There was something wrong about Juanita’s disappearance, but Irene couldn’t figure out what it was.

On the night of May 26, 1962, Gayno drove his cousins to a dance in Brighton, Iowa, almost half an hour away from Martinsburg. Andy and Dora were going to look after little Perry while Donna went to Brighton with her siblings.

Gayno stayed with them until about 10 o’clock, then left by himself and drove back home. It was dark by then, and he eased the car into the yard.

Quietly, Gayno went and got his combination gun. Combination guns were designed to give hunters more options for shooting. Generally, they could shoot both shotgun shells and rifle bullets, with one being used for closer range quarry and the other for long-distance shots. Gayno’s model was fitted with a .410 shotgun and a .22 rifle.

In the darkness of the farmyard, he walked carefully around the house to where he could see inside the living room window. Inside, he could clearly see his aunt and uncle sitting in the living room.

Slowly, Gayno raised the gun to his shoulder and took careful aim. Taking a slow breath, he held it, then fired. The shot hit Andy in the chest. The report startled Dora. She must have realized that Andy was hurt, and she ran over to check on him.

Gayno exhaled, staying calm as he reloaded. Taking aim, again, he fired a second time, hitting Dora in the head. She went down to the floor hard. Gayno fired one last time, hitting Andy in the head.

Walking inside, Gayno put down his gun and checked the bodies. They were both dead.

He dragged the bodies to a wood-framed unattached garage near the house. When he was finished, he went back inside and made a half-hearted attempt to clean up the bloodstains on the floor with some old newspapers.

Next, Gayno went to the fuse box and pulled a few fuses, killing the power to the house leaving it engulfed in darkness. Satisfied, he got back in his car and drove back to Brighton.

He arrived about 12:30 p.m., a half hour after the dance had ended. His cousins were already waiting for him. Asking where he had been, Gayno replied, “I’ve been to Fairfield – just playing around.”

On the way back to the farm, it began to rain. It came down hard as jagged bolts of lightning lit up the sky. Stopping at a local diner, Gayno bought his cousins sandwiches and sodas. While they ate, he kept playing the song, “Cold, Dark, Water” repeatedly on the jukebox. It was a song about a love affair gone bad.

When they got back to the farm, the girls quickly discovered that there was no power. They must have figured that it had been knocked out by the storm. It wasn’t the first time that this had happened, and the girls began to gather candles.

Amos was still in the garage. As he was walking through, he saw something lying on the dirt floor. Squinting his eyes against the darkness, Amos could just make out what it was: the bodies of his mother and father.

Almost at the same time, a shot boomed like thunder from the house. Anna fell to the living room floor, dead, shot in the back by Gayno, her beloved cousin who had just bought her dinner.

The remaining McBeth children scattered, running and hiding in the house as Gayno began hunting them through the dark, gun in one hand and flashlight in the other.

One at a time, Gayno stalked them, shooting at anything that he thought might have been them. One of these shots hit Patsy in the shoulder, wounding her.

Gayno found Donna upstairs, near her son. Smith mercilessly shot her twice, once in the chest and again in the head. She fell, dead, within arm’s reach of the infant.

Finding Amos, Smith’s shot grazed the 19-year-old’s head. Amos fell, but quickly got back to his feet. He ran outside, trying his best to get away. Gayno followed him, leveling his gun at him. From inside the house, Patsy heard Amos pleading with his cousin. “Please don’t shoot me, Gayno.” A moment later, she heard another shot. Amos had just killed her brother in cold blood.

Patsy knew that this was her chance. She fled through the house and out the back door, running as fast as she could through the rain and the night. Flashes of lighting shot across the sky as she made her way down the lane and into the road.

Her breaths came in panting gasps as she ran, her feet slapping against the muddy road.

Patsy heard Gayno’s car start in the yard and dared a glance back. She saw the headlights of Gayno’s car come on, and she knew that Gayno was coming after her. Patsy knew she couldn’t stay on the road, so she ran out into a nearby field.

Through the pouring rain, Patsy fought through thick brush and fencing for over a mile until she reached the home of Emma Northrup, a family friend who lived nearby. Running to the door, she knocked as loudly as she could. The entire time, Patsy was terrified that Gayno would hear her and come pulling into the driveway.

At first, no one answered. Patsy began calling out for help.

Finally, Northrup opened the door. As soon as Patsy saw her, she said, “Gayno’s shot them all!” Comforting the young girl, Emma brought her into the house and called the police. Patsy also called her uncle, Firman McBeth, Andrew’s brother.

Firman had been a town marshal for over 20 years. He had seen violence of all kind before. He was no stranger to the aftermath of suicides and domestic abuse. He got into his car and drove to Andy’s farm.

As he pulled up into the yard, he saw that all of the lights were off. The only light came from brief flashes of lightning. Stepping out into the rain, he walked to the garage. Firman had been there several times before, and was confident finding his way through the dark.

Inside, he found the bodies of Andy and Dora. He stepped outside and began to walk toward the house. As he made his way to the front door, Keokuk County Sheriff John Wallerich arrived. After a brief exchange, the two went into the house together.

Wallerich found the children. Upstairs he found 6-month-old Perry, still asleep. Picking up the baby, he handed him to Firman. Almost in a daze, Firman McBeth walked through the house and grabbed a blanket from the living room chair. Carefully, he wrapped Perry in it and went back to his car.

As he drove home, Firman suddenly smelled blood. After a moment, he realized that the blanket Perry was swaddled in was soaked in blood. Without thinking about it, Firman had grabbed the blanket from the chair his brother had been murdered in just a few hours before.

When he got back to his house, Firman was in shock. He gently handed Perry to his wife, then told her and his sons what had happened.

Before long, other officers had arrived at the Northrup farm and the McBeth home. They found the bodies of the McBeth family in a dark house covered in bloodstains and with bullet holes in the walls.

As Patsy gave a full account of what had happened that night, police began looking for Gayno.

The next day, Smith’s car was found abandoned along a country road two miles east of Unionville, Iowa. The area was surrounded by miles of farm fields and timberland, riddled with abandoned houses and buildings. The police had no doubt that Gayno was hiding somewhere out in it.

Search parties made up of local law enforcement were formed to find him. Thanks to so many police involved with the crash of Flight 11, officers from other departments and the Iowa Highway Patrol were also able to join in the search.

Some officers traveled down back roads and highways, while others wandered through the thick timber, looking for any signs of Smith.

People were terrified. Some left the area, wanting to stay clear of any kind of trouble. Others stayed at home, keeping their guns loaded and close at hand. Many of them had sleepless nights as they kept up a constant vigil through the late-night hours.

The searchers moved methodically from house to house, building to building, eyes wary and weapons drawn. After they were finished at each property, they marked the mailbox with an “X” in yellow chalk to make sure that they didn’t search the same place twice. Their only fear was that Gayno would backtrack and come back to a property that they had already searched.

Early on the morning of the third day, a local farmer noticed fresh footprints in the mud on his property. Together with another local, they followed the tracks for nearly five miles to the property of Paul Matheny. Deciding that they had gotten close enough, the two men called the police.

Twelve officers arrived a short time later, following the tracks into a barn. Inside, they noticed mud on the ladder that led up to the loft. They were positive that they had just found Smith. There was no cover around the barn where he could hide. If he tried to run out, the officers had no doubt they would see him.

They called out to Gayno to surrender, but received no answer. Two of the officers, Richard Smith and Lowell Harris, entered the barn. Officer Smith, armed with a submachine gun, climbed the ladder first. Harris followed closely behind with a shotgun.

They found Smith partly covered with hay in a corner. He was unarmed, his shotgun nowhere to be found. He offered no resistance as they handcuffed him and led him out of the barn. Loading him into their car, they drove him to the Keokuk County Jail.

When Sheriff Wallerich talked to him, Smith seemed almost completely unfazed by the events of the past few days. Apart from being very hungry, he seemed a little the worse for wear.

After eating a large breakfast, he told Wallerich that he had lay hidden in the brush while police officers searched for him. On several occasions, Smith said that they had been no more than 20 feet away.

Gayno explained that he had hidden in abandoned barns, sheds, and empty houses. He also said that he had kept the shotgun during that time, justifying law enforcement’s cautious approach. He finally got rid of it, but wouldn’t tell Wallerich where he had left it. He would only say, “…if it rains, the gun will get wet.”

Gayno denied that he had killed anyone. He explained to the sheriff that he had left the McBeth farm a few nights before with the intention of visiting his mother in Denver, Colorado. He was adamant that everyone was alive when he had left.

Later that night, he had stopped in Osceola to sleep for the night when he heard that the McBeth family had all been murdered. Worse still, the radio said that Smith was the prime suspect. He decided to drive back and tell his side of the story to Sheriff Wallerich.

Gayno only stopped and hid when he heard about the manhunt. He explained that he had fled because he didn’t want to talk to anyone but Wallerich.

The sheriff didn’t believe any of Gayno’s story. That night, Smith was arraigned on five counts of murder. Gayno pleaded not guilty to each of the charges.

For the next several days, Sheriff Wallerich questioned Gayno about the murders. Patsy McBeth had clearly identified him as the killer. No one had any doubt that she was telling the truth.

Finally, on June 5, 1962, Gayno Smith confessed to the murder of the McBeth family. He told Wallerich that he wouldn’t lie to him anymore, but he also wasn’t going to talk about anything that he didn’t want to, either.

Generally, Wallerich and Richard Carmichael, a member of the State Bureau of Criminal Investigation who was assisting with the interrogation, had to ask Gayno questions. Smith would then respond with one of three answers: yes, no, or won’t answer. He also refused to sign a written confession of his guilt.

His story collaborated with everything that Patsy had told them. He explained how he had done everything, including pulling the fuses from the box in the house to keep his cousins in the dark. When police went looking for where Gayno had told them where he had hidden them, they found them exactly as he said.

As investigators continued to build their case against Gayno, interest resurged in the sudden disappearance of Juanita Smith the year before. Irene Brown hadn’t forgotten; she was more concerned than ever.

After Gayno’s confession, Irene and her brother, John Valandingham, went to Juanita’s house themselves. Her car was still in the driveway, and she had left a family photo album that Irene knew Juanita would’ve never abandoned.

Even more alarming was that Juanita had left her dentures behind.

After the car accident, the insurance company had paid for Juanita to have dental surgery and fitted for a set of dentures. Why go through all of that trouble and pain just to, more or less, throw them away?

Irene had always felt there was something wrong with her sister’s disappearance, but after what Gayno had done, she was almost afraid to know the answer. Still, she had to know what had happened to Juanita. Gathering herself, she called the police and talked to them about her concerns.

Patsy McBeth as she was about to be loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital. Courtesy of the Daily Times.

Sheriff Wallerich came to Hedrick and searched the house, but everything seemed to be in order. A certain portion of her clothes were missing, seemingly indicating that she had left. There certainly wasn’t any open indication of foul play.

Regardless, Wallerich agreed with Irene. There was something odd about all of this, especially with Gayno Smith involved.

Gayno was apparently the last one to see Juanita before she vanished, so the sheriff decided to talk with him about it. Gayno said that his stepmother had mentioned going to California. That didn’t sit right with Wallerich. Curious, he decided to take a few officers and make a more thorough look at the Smith house.

Upon closer inspection, investigators found Juanita Smith’s purse, eyeglasses, and her hearing aid. These were things that Juanita used every day. There was no way that she would have gone anywhere without them.

When police looked at Juanita’s financial records, they discovered that she had written three checks to Gayno, all of which he cashed. The problem was that she had written them after she had vanished and allegedly gone to California.

On June 12, police discovered a decomposed body in a shallow grave near the Smith home. It was nude and covered in lime.

An autopsy was performed, during which the body was positively identified as Juanita Smith. Although her throat had been cut, the cause of death was a crushed skull from a devastating blow to the side of her head.

When asked, Gayno said he didn’t know anything about it.

In July, Gayno was indicted for the murders of the five members of the McBeth family, as well as his stepmother, Juanita Smith. In spite of having given an oral confession to the McBeth slayings and talking openly about them, he entered a plea of not guilty to each of the counts.

In September, Gayno had changed his mind. Standing before a judge, he quietly pled guilty to the five McBeth slayings. However, he continued to plead innocent in the murder of his stepmother.

The judge asked Gayno three separate times if he had understood the implications of pleading guilty. Smith respectfully replied that he did. After a brief deliberation, Gayno was sentenced to five consecutive life terms in prison for first-degree murder.

After the sentencing was pronounced, Stephen Gerard, Gayno’s lawyer, stood up and declared that Smith now wanted to change his plea to guilty in the murder of Juanita Smith. The prosecution, on behalf of the state, made a recommendation to the judge that the plea be accepted.

Gayno Smith had finally confessed to murdering his stepmother to Sheriff Wallerich. He gave a detailed statement, although the court determined that it wouldn’t be released to the public. The only thing that would be stated was that Gayno had killed her during an argument.

In light of the recent confession and guilty plea, the judge ordered that an additional life term be added to Gayno’s prior sentence. He was taken to Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa.

As Gayno settled into prison life, the McBeth family tried their best to put their lives back together.

Patsy stayed in Martinsburg for a while, but eventually left the area. She wanted nothing to do with the memory of the killings, and just wanted to put the whole thing behind her.

Perry was adopted by his uncle, Firman. When he was eight, he asked about how his mother and grandparents had died. Firman sat down with him and explained it all.

Perry in Later Years. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register.

In spite of begin bullied by his peers growing up and having nightmares about the killings, Perry grew up and made a productive life of his own.

Gayno Smith was never released from prison. He died in 2005. His remains were cremated, then brought back and buried in Martinsburg.

When he had been asked, Gayno said that he didn’t know why he had committed the murders. No motive was ever found or given for the six deaths.

When asked how he felt about Gayno’s death, Perry said that he hoped the man burned in hell forever. Firman, still moved to tears when talking about the murders over forty years later, said that he was happy his nephew was dead. That meant that he could stop worrying about Gayno ever getting out of prison and coming back.

Gayno Smith had seemed like a good man. He was always helpful and was nice and polite to everyone around him. He was just a little quiet.

But under that quiet, something dark stirred. It waited for years until, finally, starting in 1961, it was unleashed in a fury that resulted in the deaths of six innocent people.



45 Die in Iowa Jetliner Disaster. The Courier, 5/23/1962

Massive Hunt for Killer. The Des Moines Register, 5/28/1962

Search Brushlands in South Iowa for Killer. The Gazette, 5/28/1962

Iowa Spurs Manhunt After Five Murders. The Daily Times, 5/28/1962

Slayer of 5 Apparently Gets Away. The Des Moines Register, 5/29/1962

Seized as Slayer of 5. The Des Moines Register, 5/30/1962

FBI Enters Slayer Hunt. The Des Moines Register, 5/30/1962

Denies Killing 5 in Family. The Des Moines Register, 5/31/1962

‘Not Guilty’ Plea in Five Iowa Killings. The Daily Times, 6/2/1962

Killed 5, Says Gayno Smith. The Des Moines Register, 6/6/1962

Report Gayno Smith’s Step-Mother Missing. The Muscatine Journal, 6/7/1962

Gayno Smith Stepmother is Sought. The Courier, 6/7/1962

Hold McBeth Sale; $7,000 for Patsy Lou. The Des Moines Register, 6/10/1962

Find Body at Gayno Home. The Des Moine Tribune, 6/12/1962

Think Smith Stepmom’s Body Found. The Courier, 6/12/1962

Spiegel, Robert H. Gayno: Forged, Cashed Checks. The Des Moines Register, 6/13/1962

How Gayno’s Kin Met Death. The Des Moines Register, 6/13/1962

Says Gayno Didn’t Know He Killed ‘Until Afterwards.’ The Courier, 6/15/1962

Gayno Indicted in 6 Murders. The Gazette, 7/25/1962

Gayno Smith in Court Today. The Des Moines Register, 9/12/1962

Gayno Changes Pleas, Admits Five Murders. The Courier, 9/12/1962

‘Don’t Know Why I Killed…’ The Des Moines Register, 9/14/1962

Gayno Sentenced to 6 Lifetimes in Prison. The Courier, 9/13/1962

Psychiatrists Say Killer Sane at Time of Crimes. The Courier, 9/13/1962

Kilen, Mike. A Bloody Night in 1962. The Des Moines Register, 6/12/2005

DePuy, Charles B. The untold story of Continental Flight 11. The Daily Iowegian, 5/22/2012

Bender, Jonathan. Fifty years ago this week, Continental Flight 11 fell out of the sky over Unionville. The Pitch, 5/23/2012.

Clough, Eliot. Serial Killer with No Motive: How Gayno Smith Terrorized SE Iowa., 2/25/2022

Gayno Gilbert Smith. Sioux City Journal, 12/10/2020

Kruckeberg, C.T. Notorious killer dies in custody. Southeast Iowa Union, 9/30/2018



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