Lodi police aim to shine new light on decades-old cold cases

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Apr. 29—Editor's note: This is the first in a series of profiles on cold cases that the Lodi Police Department and other area law enforcement agencies investigating.

Nearly six decades ago, a Modesto man was found beaten to death near Locust Street, and his murder was never solved.

Now, the Lodi Police Department is asking for help in solving this crime, and two others.

Stephen Joseph Smolinksi was found dead near a tool shed next to the railroad tracks near Locust Street, after suffering blunt force trauma in 1967.

"We believe there are witnesses or family of those witnesses that have information about Smolinski's death that have yet to come forward to the police," police said.

According to News-Sentinel archives, Smolinski was a 63-year-old transient whose last known residence was Modesto.

Police told the News-Sentinel at the time that Smolinksi's face had been smashed beyond recognition from heavy blows with a slag-type rock while he slept, so he had to be identified through his fingerprints.

His body had been found by a Southern Pacific Railroad employee, archives state.

"It certainly wasn't robbery because the man had $1.26 on his body," then-Chief Emil Keszler told the News-Sentinel in 1967.

Along with the $1.26, there was a partially full bottle of wine near Smolinski's body, archives state.

An investigation at the time revealed Smolinksi had a long police record, but was never arrested in Lodi.

Police asked other departments along the Southern Pacific Railroad line to check all freight trains that passed through Lodi between 10 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 9 a.m. on Oct. 18.

Officers were asked be on the lookout for any transients who may have had bloodstains on their clothing.

According to News-Sentinel archives, Smolinski's body was found in an area frequented by transients, and about 75 were interviewed in the days following his murder. One transient told officers that he had eaten with Smolinski at around noon, hours before his body was found, archives state.

Two other men reported being victims of beatings around the same time as Smolinski's murder, according to News-Sentinel archives.

One, an Acampo resident, was found near Main and Pine streets on Oct. 7, 1967, and told police that a group of men had jumped him. The other, a 43-year-old transient, was taken to Lodi Memorial on Oct. 23, 1967, also the victim of a beating. He told Lodi police that he had been jumped by two men in the north Southern Pacific parking lot, according to News-Sentinel archives.

The archives do not indicate whether the cases were linked to Smolinski's murder, or if there were any arrests.

Police theorized at the time that Smolinski could have come to Lodi with a group of harvest hands, but there was no evidence to confirm their suggestion.

In addition, it was determined Smolinksi had no immediate relatives, archives state.

The California Death Index spells his name as Smolinksi, but News-Sentinel articles at the time had his name spelled "Smolonski." The CDI said he was born in 1904 in Maryland.

Anyone with information about Smolinski's death is asked to call Detective Melita Kautz at 209-269-4833 or email mkautz@lodi.gov. Reference case number 67-6633.

Smolinski's murder is one of about 20 cold cases the department still has open and still needs information to help solve.

Louis Withrow

On Aug. 1, 1977, 79-year-old Louis Withrow of Lodi was found stabbed to death in his hotel room located at 17 1/2 W. Elm St.

During the investigation, officers contacted several occupants of the hotel, but no one heard a struggle or saw anything out of the ordinary, police said.

The following day, the hotel manager provided officers with information on two possible suspects, and a knife had been seized as possible evidence, police said.

According to News-Sentinel archives, Withrow was a veteran and former fruit picker who was discovered lying face-up on his bed at 6:40 a.m. by a neighbor at the Mir Hotel.

Police told the News-Sentinel at the time that Withrow had been stabbed four times on the chest, twice in the heart.

Detectives at the time believed robbery might have been a motive, but could never confirm their theory.

Withrow had a habit of leaving his door ajar with a chain hooked to a nail, police said, and one had to simply lift the chain off the nail from the outside to enter the room.

The stabbing occurred sometime between 9 p.m. on Sept. 30 — the last time hotel residents saw Withrow — and the time his body was found, according to archives.

Police at the time described his room as having 16 years of personal belongings stacked in a 6-by-8-foot area.

Withrow is buried in Lodi Memorial Park and Cemetery.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Paul Jimenez at 209-333-4838 or email pjimenez@lodi.gov. Reference case number 77-8881.

Caroline Schneider

On March 20, 1979, officers responded to Caroline Kathryn Schneider's home on the 500 block of East Locust Street after her boyfriend found her unresponsive in her residence. Upon arrival, officers arrived and she was found deceased.

According to News-Sentinel archives, Schneider was a 28-year-old waitress and convalescent hospital worker who went by "Carrie." She was born in San Joaquin County, according to the California Death Index.

She was strangled to death in her "tiny, box-like" home located in an alley of Locust Street.

Her boyfriend found her at 4:28 p.m. on the cluttered living room floor, clad only in a flowered bathrobe, archives state.

Police at the time said her face had been battered and bruised, and bruises marked her neck.

Former Police Chief Larry Hansen, then a lieutenant, was one of the investigating officers on the case, and told the News-Sentinel that Schneider was a divorcee who lived alone.

She had apparently been killed that morning, according to reports. Detectives at the time said there was no sign of forced entry.

Schneider worked at Sambo's restaurant, just two blocks from her home, and the Vista Ray Convalescent Hospital at the time of her death.

Her boyfriend and her ex-husband, with whom she had two sons, were both questioned but not considered suspects, archives state.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Gage Johnston 209-331-0470 or email gjohnston@lodi.gov. Reference case 79-3332.

Cold case investigations

The Lodi Police Department partnered with other law enforcement agencies in the county three years ago to identify, investigate and close cold cases in their respective jurisdictions.

Cold cases are typically investigations into homicides, missing person cases with suspicious circumstances, and forcible rapes, where all leads available have been exhausted and which remain unsolved after two years.

In addition to contacting the detectives handling each cold case, those with information may anonymously call the Lodi Area CrimeStoppers at 209-369-2746, or visit www.369crime.com to remain anonymous.

Those with information may also be eligible for a CrimeStoppers reward of as much as $1,000.

The department has partnered with the Luis G. Alvarez Jr. Rewards for Justice Foundation, and those with information can call 209-712-7711 or visit www.lgajfoundation.org as well.

News-Sentinel staff writer K. Cathey contributed to this report.