What happened to Laura Smither, Kelli Cox, Tiffany Johnson, and Jessica Cain

In 1997, Laura Smither, Kelli Cox, Tiffany Johnston, and Jessica Cain went missing and were later found dead within a few months. The victims were reportedly targeted by a serial killer named William Reece. He pursued girls and adolescents in the area for five long months that year, leaving a trail of dead bodies and terrified people in his wake.

Authorities were only able to connect the four murders after a fifth victim, a survivor, was able to help identify him.

CBS 48 Hours revisits the crimes of serial killer William Reece in its episode titled The Daughters Who Disappeared. The official synopsis for the episode reads:

“In 1997, four families are torn apart when their daughters go missing. As they cry, a man claims to have answers. Can he be trusted?”

Laura Smither and three others became victims of serial killer William Reece in 1997.

Laura Smither, then 12 years old, left her home in Friendswood, Texas, in the early morning of April 3, 1997, to go for a run, but she never returned. Six thousand people participated in the search for the ambitious dancer, who was found dead nearly 17 days later in the Pasadena pond, which is located a few miles from her home.

On May 17, a month after the attack on Laura Smither, 19-year-old Sandra Sapaugh was traveling to see a friend when she saw a man in a white pickup truck in Webster, Texas. When she stopped in front of a store, Sandra noticed that she had a flat tire and the driver of the truck that was following her offered to help. However, he assaulted her and tried to kidnap her.

Miraculously, she Sandra managed to escape and jumped out of the speeding car onto Interstate 45, sustaining serious injuries in the process. She made it out alive and was able to provide authorities with a description of her attacker.

About two months later, on July 15, 20-year-old criminology student Kelli Cox and her classmates had just returned from a visit to a Denton prison. The single mother dialed her boyfriend’s number from a garage to report that she had left the keys inside the vehicle. However, she was never heard from again.

Just 11 days later, a car belonging to 19-year-old newlywed Tiffany Johnston was discovered abandoned at a car wash in Bethany, Oklahoma. The next day, her body was located on a dirt road near Interstate 45. She was beaten, strangled, and sexually assaulted.

Jessica Cain, 17, of Tiki Island, Texas, went out to dinner with her friends on Aug. 17 to commemorate her performance in a school musical. Later, her car was discovered abandoned on Interstate 45, after which a missing person report was filed.

The researchers made an important discovery, although they were unable to link the five cases. Sandra, the survivor who jumped out of her attacker’s truck, recognized a face of hers in a series of photos, and while she was mesmerized, she was also able to get her license plate number. The culprit was quickly recognized as Oklahoma native William Reece.

William Reece was convicted of the murders of Laura Smither, Kelli Cox, Tiffany Johnson, and Jessica Cain after decades.

William Reece began helping with investigations into the other murders in 2016 while serving a 60-year prison term for the 1998 kidnapping of Sandra Sapaugh in Texas. He then received a death sentence in 2021 for the murder of Tiffany Johnson in Oklahoma City in 1997.

Finally, in June 2022, Reece, 62, pleaded guilty to the unsolved 1997 murders of Laura Smither, Jessica Cain, and Kelli Cox and received life in prison in each of the three cases. However, at the time, the serial killer was already facing the death penalty in Oklahoma.

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