In this week’s edition of Serial Killer Sunday: When True Crime Meets the Gridiron, we will discuss another NFL affiliated serial killer.
Where it all began
Anthony Smith’s roots are in the south – Elizabeth City, North Carolina to be exact. He was born in 1967 to his mother, Naomi.
Smith’s very early formative years were defined by an alcoholic mother, and a violent father figure, James Gallop. James had been referred to by others as the little boy’s father or stepfather. However, Anthony told everyone he never met his dad. Gallop was described as mean spirited, and a family friend indicated “he’d smile at you and cut you at the same time.” James suspected Naomi was being unfaithful so he allegedly picked Smith’s mother up and set her on a wood-burning stove.
Anthony’s mother died when he was 3. Neighbors report she was an alcoholic and succumbed to liver failure. Neighbors were snoopy in small town Elizabeth City. Smith’s half-brother, Donald, came to the rescue to raise Anthony. Donald’s first item on the list? Kicking James out of the house.
Donald was an honorable man. He raised Smith when he was just in his mid-20’s, and protected the toddler by booting an extremely violent man out of his life without hesitation. He was busy being responsible, Anthony felt too busy for him, working at UPS in the early years. He had a strong work-ethic, one that earned him the role of deputy sheriff and magistrate judge later in life.
The man had another side though. Donald was described as cold, irritable, and hot-tempered, laying hands on Smith. According to the family friend, that was commonplace in Elizabeth City for men of that generation. He described the men as “shining,” presenting a good front to the world, while being another person at home. The friend indicated corporal punishment was in every household, and men often lacked communication and problem-solving skills, often resorting to anger and letting their hands do the talking.
Anthony’s perception of his childhood
While talking about his work with children at Nickerson Gardens, a housing project in Watts, Smith inadvertently revealed his feelings around his own childhood. He was involved in a program that required just “shooting hoops” with the kids while he recovered from a injury his rookie year. Or so he thought.
By 1993, Anthony was working with multiple housing projects. He would take 500 kids to an amusement park himself. He fielded calls from children asking for advice, parental figures asking for advice, and went to school meetings with kids when they struggled academically. Smith would set up pizza nights, shopping trips, and ATV races. A Santa Claus dad of sorts. Anthony knowingly experienced his own childhood late with the children, having felt his own was stolen so early.
The childrens families gave back too – when he felt lonely or sick, he would stay for a night at one of their homes. Smith expressed that as a child all he “needed was to be a son to somebody” but never was. The support of being taken care of by people who cared seemingly helped heal that emotional wound to some extent.
Smith remained haunted by the poverty he experienced as a child, well into his NFL career. He would look around and dwell on his large house (7 floors!) filled with opulent furniture, and would focus on the large amounts of money in the bank, buying “toys” whenever he wanted them. This, and providing the children with things they needed, helped distract him from when he had less. He even brought his brother Donald a new Corvette every year.
Anthony Smith’s introduction to sports
Smith was a teen with limited supervision and a lack of direction. He was nerdy, with glasses, and no close friends. He was the biggest kid at his school, and he was fast. The coaches waited to see some initiative and he became a member of the team in his junior or senior year (records differ) after obsessively working out in the gym.
Anthony says he didn’t care about football, he actually enjoyed boxing, but the element of competition appealed to him enough to play. People perceived him as caring quite a bit – seeking confirmation from his peers, without an ego, not realizing he was better than everyone else athletically. He continued with football, even though he was a multi-sport athlete, because he considered it his ticket out. A way into college.
He played ball at the University of Alabama for three years, recruited by a coach he felt a strong bond with. Other than coach Ray Perkins, Smith kept mostly to himself, not getting close to anyone. He was lonely and unhappy in school, working as a bouncer, occasionally hanging out with casual friends he met on the job. When Perkins left the university for the NFL, Anthony transferred to the University of Arizona.
Anthony Smith’s NFL debut
Anthony was drafted into the NFL in 1990, as the 11th pick overall. He was surprised he was drafted so early, but he was excited to be a defensive end for the Raiders. Smith thought he fit in well with the team personality, and play wise. As he said: “I like sort of roaming around in the field like a free spirit, sort of with a hard-core hell-bent-for-leather attitude.” The Raiders felt it was a good fit as well – the Los Angeles community embraced him, holding him to an almost ‘god’ like status.
Smith kept a chip on his shoulder by keeping and reading his draft evaluations riddled with critiques, particularly his “small size” weighing in at just 270 pounds. His knee kept him off the field his rookie year and earned him the title “worst draft decision in the first round.” This likely made his shoulder chip that much bigger although he seemed to take it in stride. He received a four-year contract extension his third year for $7.6 million.
He was not invited back to the team in 1997. This life event seemed to panic Anthony – until he signed with the Broncos for 1998 season. Then out of nowhere he quit during training camp. He was done with being a football player.
Smith is the only serial killer so far with a long career, that succeeded as a player. Randall Woodfield didn’t make it off the practice squad, and Robert Rozier played six games in his rookie season.
Anthony Smith tries relationships
There was no mention of any romantic relationships prior to Anthony becoming a NFL star. In 1993, He expressed disdain for girlfriends he perceived as chasing him for money and clout. He actually had a PI check out any prospective girlfriends.
This sort of lack of trust seemed to occur in every aspect of Smith’s life. Anthony’s circle consisted of four people, all on his payroll. He never allowed more than seven adults in the house at one time. In 1991, he felt better after reclaiming control over his finances – he felt used and abused by family, coaches, and advisers. Mid-career, he was still expressing frustration with family asking for so much of his money. He wanted to be able to retire comfortably when he was done with his career.
Anthony had a strong commitment to being a role model for “his” kids. He stopped going to clubs, smoking and drinking. But he had a blind spot when it came to his romantic relationships. He had been married in the early 90’s to a actress, but the marriage was short, and little is known about it. Then came his second wife in 1995.
Anthony Smith tries violence
The famous Denise ‘Vanity’ Mathews took a liking to Smith. She had converted to Christianity, was invested in sobriety, and was changing directions in life. Denise set up a meeting with Anthony and proposed to him three days later. Smith has an appreciation for the more seasoned ladies, and sealed the deal in marriage one month later.
The couple probably should have waited a smidgen longer. The marriage lasted a year and a half. Anthony was sweet – he helped get Denise a kidney (that sounds a little nefarious), but he was also salty. A family friend remembers seeing Smith get furious with her about something, he grabbed her arm and forced her to sit. She tried to get up, and he grabbed her arm again hard enough to break her arm and sat her back down. People were afraid for her safety.
Shortly after the end of the marriage in 1997, Anthony was arrested for intimate partner violence and was sentenced to anger management classes. This was at the same time that he was experiencing a dip in productivity on the field. It would be interesting to see if the two were related.
1997 was a busy year for Smith. He met his future wife – Teresa White. Teresa was a successful lawyer and gave Smith strong wifey and mother vibes. Anthony seduced her with family drama when he introduced her to them – he got into it with his brother Donald, and felt threatened enough to leave abruptly. The brothers never spoke again, sealing the deal on Smith’s abandonment complex.
Teresa said ‘I do’ at a tough time. Anthony had just retired, a rough transition for all former players. He had messed up fingers, bad knees, and CTE (probably). Say what you will about Ms. Teresa, but she is a ride or die for her man – to a fault. She supported him through his first two trials but dipped out on the others – it might not have fit with her DA position well. They remain married to this day and have three kids together.
Anthony Smith adjusts
Anthony’s retirement plan to ‘chill’ after the NFL didn’t work out for him. Between family demands, and his own taste for the fine life, money wasn’t as plentiful as it had been. He started hanging out with a rougher crowd, and had some alleged questionable side hustles: robberies, stealing cars, unloading trucks of stolen goods, and a medical billing scam.
Long-term friends noticed he was acting differently, with his new friends who he claimed were genuine and cared for him. They said he wore a new ugly, scowling face, and was incredibly paranoid. A paranoia that had been brewing since the early 90’s.
Right around this time the “firebombing” incident occurred at Simply Sofas.
Ms. Marilyn Nelson, the owner, had sold some of Smith’s furniture on consignment in 2003. They had a minor disagreement about money owed, until Marilyn conceded – writing him a check. A check he “lost.” Anthony demanded and received a new check, and then cashed out the first one. Nelson’s daughter told the bank not to cash the second check when he tried to.
Two weeks later, the business was smoldering in flames. Oddly enough all 30 of the letters fueling the firebombs were addressed to Anthony or his wife. It seemed like a open and shut case. Smith didn’t think so though.
He cried when detectives came to his home, asking for the cops to apologize to Marilyn on his behalf. By the time he reached the station, the detective said he had “changed.” He had an excuse for his tears and apology, he was combative, and said he had been set up. He wasn’t caving.
Anthony was a star in court for both cases (the jury hung in the first trial), winning over the juries with his charisma. He smiled, cried, was strong but not proud, he was perfect. He came up with a half-baked excuse for how the letters had gotten there, and the jury ate it up. He was unshakable when being cross examined by the DA. The jury hung again.
It’s unclear if the gang members wearing Raiders jackets that stared down the witnesses and staked out the courthouse during breaks had anything to do with it. Smith could be described as a unsuspecting unifying force. He had his affiliated friends, his wife, the godfather of one of his children, and people from his church filling the court for both cases. And then he walked free.
Anthony later sued Marilyn, haunting her emotionally, and taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from her between the loss of her business and the lawsuits. He did say in an interview that she would get hers, and he followed through on that promise.
Anthony Smith has a mercenary
In either 2000 or 2001, Anthony was casual friends with his neighbor Barry. The helpful man connected Smith with his brother Dennis to obtain hard drugs. Dennis was an entrepreneur in the business. Anthony wasn’t committed to the kids anymore.
Barry and Anthony went to grab some lunch one day, and Smith needed to run to his storage locker on the way. Anthony invited Barry to take a look – the neighbor reports seeing blades, zip ties, fire arms, silencers, ammo, hand grenades, police uniforms, and a how-to book on taking lives.
Smith also showed him license plates that he said he attached to rented Crown Victorias (the model of police cars at that time) that were untraceable. Barry recalls Anthony bragging about two prior murders. Sounds like an awkward prelude to lunch.
In an 2003 police interrogation, Anthony shows his completely confusing and unpredictable nature. After the alleged firebombing, a detective questions him on his guns (he had eight according to a registry). Anthony’s first answer? “That’s it?” His second? “I only own shotguns” – some of the guns on the list were pistols. And his third? Saying he doesn’t own guns because it would be against the law due to his prior intimate partner violence charge. Try to make sense of that, the police struggled to.
Interestingly, in 2008 after a murder, the police found similar objects in Anthony’s possession that Barry saw. Smith had an AR-15, ammo, stolen license plates (and cars), rubber gloves, rope, handcuffs, zip ties, police uniform hats, and how-to-books on the art of perfecting pre-death afflictions. Other warrants throughout the years provided fake police badges and ID cards, and fake press passes.
Anthony Smith becomes violence expert
Angie Ponce reflects back on her and Maurilio’s love story. They met working at McDonalds – he was working three fast food jobs to send money back to his family and pay for his little’s brother’s college and grad school. They married and started a truck repair business with just one used tire. Maurilio loved being a husband and a father to his three young children.
Maurilio was a friend and business partner with Anthony. The details are a little unclear, but it appeared that Smith lured Ponce to an area out in the woods for “business” where he met with Anthony’s two co-workers and his maker. They were able to place the two men with Ponce’s body in the location with cell phone records. Anthony’s evidence was more obscure. The police found phone calls back and forth between Smith and Maurilio all night, Angie heard her husband say “hey Tony” on his way out the door, and Anthony had Ponce’s cell phone and his vehicle parked at his condo. He wasn’t there though that night according to his phone records.
Cops couldn’t get him to confess – he had confusing explanations for having Maurilio’s items, he changed his story twice, and confused the detectives again by being overly helpful. Smith was calling them sir, was earnest and attentive, and even hugged one detective. Either way, the jurors deadlocked over his role in this murder, and convicted his colleagues.
This didn’t end up working in Smith’s favor for once, though. He was tried again and this time three more murders were added to his docket. Officers had looked for the murder that Barry mentioned Anthony bragging about, and they found a matching cold case. Barry also pointed the officers to Smith when speaking of his own brothers cold case homicide.
The Nettles’ twins were that first case. Ricky and Kevin were closing up their businesses one night in November of 1999. They owned four on the same stretch. Kevin was at his auto-shop watching the end of the Lakers’ game with a friend. A man in a police jacket and a badge came in with a gun drawn and ordered Kevin into the back of his vehicle. Ricky was across the street locking up his barbershop with his employee, Manny. On Manny’s way to his car, he saw Ricky handcuffed and put in the back of the same vehicle. Manny gave the “officer” the what for, and the police man responded by saying they were getting “questioned.” Manny had the last word when he was able to identify the perpetrator, pointing at Anthony in the court room.
Both men were found dead the following day, 8 miles apart, with their heads wrapped with duct tape and iron shaped burns on their stomach, feet, and face (a call back to Naomi’s experience?). Ricky’s house had been ransacked as well. There was no clear reason why the brothers were specifically targeted.
Barry’s brother, Dennis Henderson was found deceased in the backseat of his vehicle in 2001. It appeared that his face had connected with a foot. He also had a sharp object inserted in his face and back several times. There was a cable tie on one wrist. Dennis had been captured by a group of men, with a friend. Henderson was separated from his friend, and that person lived.
Anthony was convicted of Dennis Henderson’s homicide, as well as the Nettles’ brothers. He was never charged for Ponce’s demise. He received three life sentences with no parole. Ponce, Nettles’, and Hockenson family members were in court daily and felt that justice had been served and found solace in Smith being in jail until the day he dies.
Some have argued that the evidence tying Anthony to the crimes was lacking. The cases had been dredged up in 2011, after the first Ponce trial fell through the first time. The cold case detectives matched Henderson with Smith because of Henderson’s brother’s testimony in 2001 retold by a police officer. Also, Dennis had a cable tie on his wrist that matched the ones Anthony was in possession of, and the two knew each other.
The police officer’s testimony also included Barry Henderson’s claim that Smith bragged about two homicides, that matched the Nettles’ brothers. Manny had identified Anthony, and rope at the crime scene was like Smith’s.
The most disconcerting part of the alleged bragging Smith had done, was that he was known to brag about lies before. Anthony told a reporter he had been raised in New York and was in a gang by age 8. He “stole” a car with his friends and banged it up, killing two of the children during a accident. Smith also says he was doing hard drugs by age 9. All lies with no clear motive. Who’s to say he wouldn’t lie again?
Current day Anthony Smith
There’s little known about Anthony Smith today. We know that multiple longtime friends cut him off in the 2000’s due to his “new” disposition. No one was present during the trial for Anthony except his lawyer. As of 2013, Smith wouldn’t meet with any family who came to visit.
Mr. Smith’s family keeps the lowest profile ever. His wife is still an active District Attorney in California, but even she has almost no internet footprint. His children are non-existent on the interwebs. No one can accuse them of being publicity hounds.
Who was Anthony Smith?
No one can be sure.
Highschool coaches described him as excited to be included, and a hard worker. He didn’t have close friends, but got along with everyone, and could walk up and talk to anyone. He was described as doing things “his own way.” It’s unclear what that meant, just that it was “different.” His college teammate and friend said he was polite, and funny, cracking dark humor jokes some found humorous. But he was mostly silent – something didn’t feel right, and people felt angsty with his wordless presence. There was always the feeling that the other shoe would drop, and it was a scary shoe.
The kids from Watts loved him. Marilyn Nelson and his second wife feared him. Juries found him a stand-up man. Detectives were confused with his behavioral switches and frustrated with his ability to get out of things. His long term friends saw him change for the worse – he was no longer “happy.” One friend described him as a teddy bear, and another said he would “choke you over fifty cents.” His neighbor said he had a short fuse, and did not play when it came to money owed. He was a generous brother. People were terrified to come forward to talk to reporters and police – they knew about Anthony’s dedication to doling out vengeance.
Ultimately, Smith is likely all of the things’ people saw and more. A traumatized child. A victim of repetitive head trauma that likely affected his frontal lobe. A diabolical criminal. He was shown by all parental male figures in his life as a child how to “shine,” how to cut someone while smiling. It seems he was a good student.
Anthony Smith is an enigma, a walking paradox, a man with more colors than Joseph’s coat. No one can be quite sure they “know” him.
What we do know? The NFL never fails to disappoint.
Make sure to check out the other Serial Killer Sunday articles: here and here.
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I attended the University of Arizona with Anthony. He was a sweet, kind, gentle drug-free, alcohol- free, and giving person.
That is so interesting! Thank you for sharing Andrea! Frankly, Anthony’s story has really stuck with me. So many people described him as you did – it’s just hard to mentally grasp.
I attended the University of Arizona with Anthony in 1989. He was a sweet, kind, gentle, drug-free, alcohol- free, and giving person at that time.