More than a quarter-century after Carol Davidson was found strangled inside her Tacoma apartment, a convicted rapist was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in her death.
Pierce County prosecutors charged Christopher Leon Smith, 50, in the Aug. 30, 1986, slaying. He is to be arraigned July 26 in Tacoma after being transferred from Walla Walla State Penitentiary, where he is serving a sentence of 50 years to life for a 2009 rape conviction.
A DNA sample taken from Smith after his conviction matched evidence found in Davidson’s apartment. The sample recently was sent for testing after “cold case” police detective Gene Miller reviewed the murder case. DNA testing wasn’t used in crime investigations at the time Davidson was killed.
“This is one of those few cases that actually played out as cases do on ‘CSI’ and other television shows,” Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said Wednesday.
Davidson was a stay-at-home mother of five who had just started dating again after escaping a bad marriage, family members said. Police do not believe she knew Smith.
Witnesses reported seeing her talking to an unknown man at a nearby store the night of her death. They then were seen walking together in the direction of Davidson’s apartment in the 600 block of South Seventh Street.
Davidson’s youngest daughter found her the next day. Dressed only in a robe, she was in bed with her hands bound behind her back and a gag in her mouth. She had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and died by strangulation, according to the medical examiner.
Davidson’s front door was locked from the inside, according to court records. The killer was believed to have crawled out of the window when he left.
Police found some of Davidson’s belongings, as well as a pack of Kool cigarettes, beneath her window. Smith was known to smoke that brand, and a woman Smith allegedly raped told police he bought a pack of the cigarettes while they were together.
In November, Smith admitted to detectives when they interviewed him that Kool was his brand of choice but denied killing Davidson. He said any DNA linking him to Davidson’s death is a “conspiracy,” according to court records.
Prosecutors said Smith was a suspect in two rapes in 1983 and 1984. He told police back then that he had consensual sex with both women. He also has prior convictions for assault and unlawful possession of a controlled substance.
Davidson’s oldest son, James Stevens Jr., said Wednesday that the arrest opened old wounds but brings a little closure to the family.
“It’s not over yet, but it’s one step closer,” he said.
He described Davidson as a generous woman who was “everybody’s mom.”
“She didn’t have much to give, but she gave a lot of love,” Stevens said.
Miller said he’s heartened every time the Police Department solves a cold case, not just because it brings closure to the victims’ families, but also because it shows other families of unsolved homicide victims that somebody is working on their behalf.
In Davidson’s case, the detective said he knew rape-homicides can be serial, and that motivated him to work the case hard.
“I wanted to figure out whodunit so they wouldn’t be able to do it again,” Miller said.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653