On the night of March 22, 1978, a young Glendale woman was gruesomely shot to death in her car on a secluded street after an evening of shopping at a nearby mall. Her slumped-over body, in her 1976 Toyota Celica, was discovered at about 8:30 p.m. by a jogger on 55th Avenue, and both the Glendale police and fire departments responded to the scene. The body was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
The victim turned out to be 21-year-old Glendale resident Susan Schmidt, a popular student who attended both Arizona State University and Glendale Community College and who often spent time tutoring young adults at a community center.
Schmidt’s murder was the type of crime that makes headlines and terrifies well-to-do parents in an otherwise peaceful community: an attractive and young woman is mysteriously shot to death on the side of a dark road.
People immediately wondered whether she had a scorned lover or whether she was the victim of a robbery gone wrong, but for almost four decades investigators could not find a motive for her murder.
Since that night in March 37 years ago, Schmidt’s parents and the Glendale PD have turned the case inside out, trying to find any new details and following all sorts of tips and hunches. A witness reported seeing a man lurking by the car, but every lead that officers followed turned up empty.
Periodically, police and Schmidt family appealed to the public for any new details, and Susan’s case was shared and discussed on citizen-run cold-case-sleuthing websites.
“The initial investigation was extremely baffling because you had a 21-year-old young lady who for no reason — her vehicle was stopped on the road — was shot and killed," says Detective Roger Geisler, lead investigator on the case.
Because Schmidt was shot at point-blank range through an open car window, police wondered whether she knew the murderer.
But “what’s baffling about it is that in the original investigation, there were no leads that directed us to one specific person,” Geisler continues. “Several investigators and detectives have worked over the years . . . and everything was exhausted.”
As is typical with cold cases, all the evidence is re-examined every few years with an eye toward new forensic technology. And finally, investigators were led to 54-year-old Edward Meinhold of Bristol, Virginia.
Meinhold was 17 at the time of the murder and lived in Glendale near the scene of the crime. He doesn’t have a history of violent crime, and his record “contains very little, nothing major,” says Sergeant David Vidaure of the Glendale PD. He was convicted of writing a bad check once and at least one “small other crime,” Vidaure adds — nothing that would automatically flag him a suspect in a murder case.
“This was one of those cases that was reviewed, and we were lucky to find some physical evidence that led us to Mr. Meinhold,” Geisler says. “Obviously, in 1978 we didn’t think about DNA. DNA [technology] wasn’t around.”
Geisler clarifies that “it wasn’t specifically DNA evidence” that turned up Meinhold’s name but says “he was identified through the physical evidence.” Both Geisler and Vidaure declined to elaborate, citing the integrity of the case and the likelihood that it would go to trial.
“We still don’t have all the answers to what happened,” Vidaure says. “And as far as we know, they didn’t know each other.”
Meinhold was arrested earlier this week on suspicion of first-degree homicide and awaits extradition to Arizona. He denied any involvement with the case.