Gayla Smith feared for months her son might try to kill her.
When the retired Orange County policewoman was found dead June 3, wrapped in blankets in her Crooked River Ranch home, police suspected her live-in adult son, Gavin Smith-Brown, 29, her only child.
Smith-Brown’s case isn’t expected to go to trial until at least mid-2019, but newly available court documents suggest the state is building a sizable case against Smith-Brown.
That case includes testimony from Smith’s friends, relatives and neighbors, who described Smith-Brown’s increasingly erratic and threatening behavior toward his mother, and her growing fear of him.
It includes a year’s worth of police reports from domestic disturbance calls, all of which Smith initiated.
There is also footage from security cameras she had installed in her house to monitor her son while she was away. And there are handwritten notes discovered in her bedroom detailing her daily struggles with her son, as well as notes found in his room of a “dark, spiritual nature,” according to court records.
“He would speak about the devil making him be a bad person,” wrote Madras Police Det. Tyler Kirk in a search warrant affidavit.
The murder investigation formally began June 3, when Stephanie Lindloff asked one of Smith’s neighbors to check on her best friend. Lindloff lives in Spanish Fork, Utah, and would speak with Smith by phone nearly every day.
The neighbor tracked down Smith’s former brother-in-law, and Smith-Brown’s uncle, Norm Brown, who lives a mile away. They used his key to get into Smith’s house.
Inside, they found empty dog bowls, but no sign of Smith. They entered the detached garage, where Smith-Brown’s room was. There, they found Smith’s truck, but her Subaru Outback was gone.
Brown walked around the truck and saw what he believed was a body wrapped in blankets seeping blood. Brown, his wife, and the neighbor, Natalie Hubbard, “immediately” suspected Smith-Brown had killed his mother, Detective Sgt. Steven Webb of the Madras Police Department wrote in an affidavit filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
“They believed this because, they say, Gavin Smith-Brown is mentally unstable,” he wrote.
Smith, 65, died from multiple impact wounds to her head, back, neck and chest, according to a court document written by Oregon State Police Det. James Koehler.
When interviewed by investigators, members of Smith’s social circle painted a picture of Smith-Brown as increasingly erratic and unstable. Neighbor Janice Garceau, a program manager with Deschutes County Behavioral Health, told police Smith had been in touch with her about finally getting her son a mental health diagnosis.
“Garceau also described that Gavin Smith-Brown was having what she described as ‘paranoid delusions,’” Koehler wrote.
Lindloff told investigators that Smith-Brown had been acting erratically, even walking around Smith’s backyard with a large knife.
Several sources told police that Smith-Brown had a psychiatric appointment June 4 to start getting help with his issues. His mother told him he needed to attend or he would be kicked off her property.
“Gavin Smith-Brown was initially upset by this demand but then he gave her a hug,” wrote Webb, the Madras detective.
Smith was scared and froze when her son hugged her because she believed her son was going to pull out a knife and stab her in the back, Lindloff told investigators.
Gayla Smith grew up in Fullerton, California, and has one sibling, a brother. After high school, she joined the Santa Ana Police Department, marrying another officer there, Smith-Brown’s father. According to Lindloff, who spoke this week with The Bulletin, Smith became the first female canine officer in California.
In 1988, Smith got divorced and took a medical retirement from the department after nine years as an officer, according to Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department, who worked with Smith.
She moved away from her home in Orange, California, and would raise her son in Beaverton, then Tigard, where he would graduate high school before attending college at Portland State University.
When he was young, Smith-Brown was a “nice boy” who was loved by his parents, according to Lindloff. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
Five years ago, Smith sought to downsize and move to a smaller house in a quieter part of the state. She chose a single-story house in Crooked River Ranch, where she enjoyed an active semi-retirement, running a home inspection business from her house while taking time to travel the world.
Shortly after Smith’s body was discovered, authorities with the Central Oregon Major Crimes Team put out a call for help locating Smith-Brown. They didn’t mention the family connection.
In the early hours of June 6, six days after he’s suspected of killing his mother, Smith-Brown was spotted by a Tualatin Police officer driving his mother’s Outback at low speed through a parking lot. He pulled into a McDonald’s, but in a “polite but noncompliant” manner, refused to come out for several hours.
As SWAT officers prepared to move in, and news helicopters circled above, he surrendered, two and a half hours after being pulled over.
Fast-food receipts found in his mother’s Outback appear to show Smith-Brown spent the days after his mother’s death in the Tigard-Tualatin area, where he has friends.
Smith-Brown was arraigned on murder charges June 14 and is being held without bail in the Jefferson County Jail.
The evidence against Smith-Brown also includes two Facebook pages.
“I am deeply patriotic and would die for my country, honor, love, and the right to choose my destiny,” he wrote in the “About” section of his Facebook page.
He kept a page under the name “Nooneknows Smith”, according to court documents.
Many of the officers who gathered evidence at Smith’s home had been dispatched there for domestic disturbance calls during the last 12 months, according to court and dispatch records.
On June 6, 2017, Smith locked herself in her house and told police she didn’t feel comfortable allowing her son inside. A responding deputy drove him to Terrebonne and dropped him off.
Three months later, Sept. 7, 2017, Smith called to report her son had made suicidal threats and she hadn’t heard from him in several days. She told the dispatcher he’d mentioned “suicide by cop” and that he believed the government was after him and had previously abducted him.
On Dec. 20, she reported he’d made suicidal statements before leaving the house.
On Dec. 30, 2017, she called police to say Smith-Brown had threatened murder-suicide, saying he would push her down and stab her. He was taken to St. Charles Bend for evaluation but was released without a diagnosis and no plan for follow-up treatment.
On March 14, Smith reported to police she believed Smith-Brown had built an explosive device in her garage. The Oregon State Police Bomb Squad responded.
The device turned out to be household objects wrapped in electrical wiring. Police took Smith-Brown to the hospital for evaluation, according to a search warrant prepared by Madras Police.
Police were called again May 17. This time, Smith-Brown was arrested for criminal mischief for allegedly breaking Smith’s security door after she’d locked him out of her house. The charge was eventually dropped.
Deputy Jonathan Adkins, who responded May 17, reported that there were security cameras inside and outside Smith’s house. She had security footage that documents a year’s worth of near-daily domestic disputes between mother and son.
A week before Smith was found dead, Elayne Watrus and her husband, Jerry Healey, responded to a craigslist ad for a 25-foot Prowler fifth wheel. The seller was Gayla Smith.
Watrus told The Bulletin that when they met Smith at her house, she told them she’d bought the RV for her 29-year-old son.
“She said she just couldn’t have him living in her house anymore,” Watrus said. “So she bought him this RV. Well, he said, ‘I’m not living in an RV. I’m moving back to Vegas.’”
Watrus and Healey agreed at that time to pay $4,600 in cash. When Healey went to pick up the Prowler several days later, he was surprised to see a red-haired man, presumably Smith’s son, hanging around her house, he said.
Smith-Brown is being represented by Bend defense attorneys Thomas Spear and Michelle McIver.
“We have no statements at this point,” McIver said Thursday.
Despite the seeming glut of evidence against Smith-Brown, Jefferson County District Attorney Steve LeRiche said he’s taking nothing for granted as he prepares for trial.
“Appearances can be deceiving, because you’re seeing only one side of things,” he said. “What will the other side show? What theories and ideas will they bring to court? We’re trying to keep all that in mind.”
Lindloff, Smith’s friend since high school and frequent travel companion, called Smith a “one in a billion friend” whose loss is felt “beyond any grief that I’ve ever had.”
“The plans that she and I had for the rest of our lives,” she said, “he stole all of at.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org