Arrest made in 41-year-old murder case

Police made an arrest Tuesday in the case of a Bartholomew County man who was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head on Dec. 1, 1982, in the backwaters of the East Fork White River near Rockford.

Ronald Jack Anderson, 61, of Seymour was booked into the Jackson County Jail at Brownstown at 11:03 a.m. Tuesday on a preliminary charge of murder in connection with the death of his brother-in-law, Clifford A. Smith, 24, of Elizabethtown. Anderson was being held without bond pending his initial hearing in Jackson Circuit Court in Brownstown.

Anderson’s arrest comes exactly 41 years after Smith was murdered in rural Jackson County, according to a news release from Sgt. Stephen Wheeles.

Wheeles, the public information officer for the Indiana State Police Versailles District, said state police investigated Smith’s death in 1982, but no arrests were made at the time. Over the years, the case has been passed to new investigators to examine, Wheeles said.

Sgt. Kip Main has been actively investigating the case since September 2015.

Main’s investigation determined Anderson, who was known by the nickname of Space Monkey at the time, was at a residence on East 13th Street with Smith and other individuals in the late hours of Oct. 30, 1982, Wheeles said.

That investigation further indicated Anderson retrieved a shotgun from the house and loaded it. Anderson, while in possession of the shotgun, left the residence in a vehicle with Smith. Smith was not seen alive after they left the residence late that night, Wheeles said.

Information gathered during the investigation indicated Anderson was responsible for the death of Smith, Wheeles said.

Anderson also allegedly returned the murder weapon back to the home on 13th Street and returned to the crime scene soon after the murder to hide potential evidence.

As a result of the investigation by ISP detectives in cooperation with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, a Jackson Circuit Court arrest warrant for murder recently was issued for Anderson’s arrest. He was arrested Tuesday at his residence on the east side of Seymour.

According to the probable cause affidavit, signed by Main, investigators spoke with Anderson and others present the night Clifford Smith was last seen several times  most recently as June 3, 2021.

Main said Anderson admitted to being present when Clifford Smith was killed and that he had taken the shotgun from the house and return to the murder scene and retrieve shotgun shells. Anderson, however, always told police someone else had shot and killed Smith.

Smith’s body, found by two teenagers trapping, was floating in a shallow portion of the White River in a section left behind when the river changed course many years ago, according to a story in the Dec. 3, 1982, edition of The Tribune. The area is east of what local residents call old U.S. 31 or known today as County Road 700E and County Road 800N.

He had been shot in the head, ISP Detective Stewart Smith said in a story in the Dec. 10, 1982, edition of The Tribune.

At that time, an Indiana State Police diver was checking a muddy river bottom near the area where Smith’s body was found. Detective Smith said the diver was looking for a shotgun, which could help determine if the death of Clifford Smith was accidental or not.

“We are looking for a shotgun,” he said. “Finding it near where the body was found could answer a lot of questions. It would be a heck of a step finding the shotgun.”

Police said the area near where the body was found annually floods and dries up. An unidentified hunter tracking deer around Nov. 1 said the area was dry.

Heavy showers in mid-November, however, flooded the area. Officers had been interviewing Smith’s friends and relatives about his death. A report of Smith being missing was filed with police on Nov. 4, and he was last seen on Oct. 30, 1982, at a home on 13th Street in Seymour.

Police said at that time, Clifford may have been depressed over family problems. He and his wife were separated at the time, and she had filed for divorce around Nov. 17.

At that time, police were unclear how Smith had died and hoped blood and body tissues would give them a specific date.

Smith, who was a Seymour city employee and a U.S. Army veteran, was buried in Scipio Cemetery. He was married to Ronald Anderson’s sister, Joyce Anderson, and had a stepdaughter, Jennifer Anderson; five brothers, Lonnie Smith, Ronnie Smith, Anthony Smith and Timothy Smith, all of Columbus, and Leonard Smith of Indianapolis; and a sister, Tamara Gibbs of Indianapolis.

Crime scene investigators with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department also assisted in the recent investigation.

Wheeles said ISP continues to investigate all unsolved murder cases. All of these cases are continuously assigned to a detective for active investigation, and ISP is committed to solving previously unsolved cases to provide closure to the family and to make an arrest so those responsible for these crimes are held accountable and prosecuted in court.