On Sept. 16, Jason Shephard drove his Daktronics van into the parking lot of a small-town Holiday Inn Express about 30 miles west of Philadelphia.
The 23-year-old was alone, on a trip as a sales intern for the Brookings-based electronic scoreboard company.
Three days later, he was dead – strangled, police say, by William Smithson, 40, a sales manager at a nearby Daktronics facility.
Smithson allegedly slipped the drug GHB into Shephard’s drink during dinner the night of Sept. 18. During that dinner, Shephard called Mike Warkenthien, his roommate, to talk football. That was the last time the friends talked.
The next day, Smithson confided in a former lover, telling him that Shephard had rejected his romantic overtures “and started to physically fight his advances,” according to court documents.
The former lover drove to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, saw what he suspected was a body in Smithson’s bedroom and told him to call police, authorities said.
Smithson, 40, of Thornbury, instead filed a missing person report with police in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, where Shephard had been staying, authorities said.
Members of Shephard’s family flew in at Daktronics’ expense Wed., Sept. 20, to help with the search, police said. Smithson picked the family members up at the airport.
Smithson’s former lover got in touch with local police Thurs., Sept. 21, who contacted the Pennsylvania State Police.
Troopers found Shephard’s body around 6:30 p.m. that same day in the basement of Smithson’s home. The body was wrapped in bed sheets and belts, according to court documents.
Smithson was arrested at his grandmother’s grave, police said.
Shephard, of Cavalier, N.D., had been a student at Northern State University in Aberdeen, but took the fall semester off to work at Daktronics. Friend and coworker Steve Schreiber said Shephard would’ve begun class work at South Dakota State University in the spring, aiming for a physical education degree.
“He was a friend in every sense of the word. Just a great kid,” said Schreiber.
In addition to first-degree murder, Smithson is charged with second- and third-degree murder, criminal attempted rape, abuse of a corpse and other counts. He showed little emotion at a court appearance in Glen Mills, Pa., on Sept. 22, shaking his head when the abuse of a corpse and attempted rape charges were read.
He made no comment after the hearing and was being held without bail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 28.
Warkenthien said as tragic as Shephard’s death was, this may have been the only way Smithson could be stopped.
“From what I’ve heard, this has been going on for some time,” he said. “Jason was probably the only one out of all of them to fight him off.”
Shephard’s funeral is set for Oct. 1 in his hometown of Cavalier, N.D.