Schibler fumbled his way through his response: "No, that was just, yeah, that, well, that, no, I don't know that was that. It was just more of a generalization, you know . . . Okay? You know, knock her out, you know, get her, and burn her place as opposed to a specific way that it happened, whatever it was . . . But I don't recall anybody ever saying to me that she was hit over the head. It was a general comment."

Even the Smith family hadn't yet been told about the exact circumstances of Kathleen's death, other than the obvious, that she'd been badly burned in the fire.

Rick Schibler declined to speak with New Times, writing in response to a request for an interview, "I'm not interested in revisiting this story. I'm confident Mr. Ortloff will get his due."

Prison snitch Fred Tokars at his 1991 murder trial in Atlanta, one of the biggest cases in Georgia history.
Dwight Ross Jr./Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Prison snitch Fred Tokars at his 1991 murder trial in Atlanta, one of the biggest cases in Georgia history.

Schibler's attorney, Greg Clark, failed to respond to a phone call and an e-mail from New Times seeking comment.

For the record, Schibler has always denied wrongdoing in the Kathleen Smith murder case.

Tempe detectives never showed a photo of Schibler to eyewitnesses Lisa Pickett and Ina Weisbaum, even though the two had described a blond-haired man, which Schibler was at the time.

According to a police report, Pickett did pick Robert Ortloff and an unidentified man out of a six-man photo lineup as most resembling the guy she'd seen running from Unit 110. But Pickett also told police that she hadn't gotten a real good look at the man and wasn't at all sure that she was right.

Ortloff didn't fit the description that the pair first gave police. He wore a dark mustache at the time and had black hair.

Detectives also showed Ina Weisbaum the same photo lineup, but the grandmother was adamant that none of the subjects resembled the man who had barreled past her.

Notably, Tempe police never filed a report about Mrs. Weisbaum's non-identification of Ortloff.

That she even had been shown a lineup only came to light when an investigator who worked for Kathleen Smith's father turned over his notes and tapes to prosecutors after Ortloff's murder indictment in 2003.

Kathleen Smith was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1964, the youngest of David and Carol Smith's three children (the couple had twin boys). The Smiths moved back to the Valley about six weeks after her birth.

David Smith's father-in-law introduced him to the waste-management business, and Smith later opened his own very lucrative companies.

Carol Smith immersed herself in community activities after the couple returned to the Valley. Kathleen's mother, who died last summer, served several terms on the Tempe City Council in the 1980s and '90s.

In the 1960s, Carol met Claire Ortloff, a New York native and mother of six who was married to an aerospace chemist, William.

Robert was the Ortloffs' second child, and he was about four years older than Kathleen.

The two families socialized together, and Kathleen and Robert's sister, Mary, became best friends.

Carol Smith later said that the first word out of her daughter's mouth was "horse." Kathleen eventually became a national-level competitive rider of Arabians and always had a love of animals.

From a young age, Kathleen demonstrated a true independent streak, and always let people know just where she stood.

Photos of her taken shortly before she died show an attractive girl with soulful eyes and a determined look.

She had a serious boyfriend while attending Corona del Sol High School, from which she graduated in 1982. The two eventually split up, though they remained friends until she died.

Kathleen's parents were divorced in 1981, and it was not an amicable end to the 25-year union.

Robert Ortloff was a bright youngster with musical aptitude (he played drums) and a knack for repairing things. But he became an underachiever at school, and dropped out during his junior year.

In 1978, he fathered a child, with whom he had little contact until recently, when she contacted him in prison.

Ortloff moved in 1981 to Southern California, where his father's job had taken him, and found work at a flower shop in Irvine.

That year, the young man befriended a customer who was a college freshman, Jennifer Spies, and the two started dating.

In the fall of 1982, Kathleen Smith was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Robert Ortloff's sister, Mary. Kathleen had broken up with her high-school boyfriend, and her mother later said Ortloff sent flowers to Arizona and called Kathleen frequently after the wedding.

"She did date Robert," Carol Smith said in a 1985 interview with an investigator.

But Ortloff also continued to date Jennifer Spies, and when Hughes Aircraft transferred his father to Tucson in early 1983, Spies moved over with the Ortloffs.

She and Ortloff broke up later that year. Ortloff moved back up to Tempe in late 1983 with plans to manage the flower shop that his parents were planning to open.

Though Ortloff's romance with Kathleen Smith had "just kind of fizzled out," according to her mother, he continued to do chores at Carol Smith's home for some extra money.

By then, Kathleen was living at the SceneOne Condominiums, in a two-bedroom unit listed in her mother's name.

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