Robert Benjamin Smith


Robert Benjamin Smith

Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: "I wanted to get known - to get myself a name"
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: November 12, 1966
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1948
Victims profile: Joyce Sellers (27), and her daughter Debbie Sellers (3), Glenda Carter (18), Mary Olsen (18), and Carol Farmer (19)
Method of murder: Shooting (.22-caliber pistol)
Location: Mesa, Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in October 1967. Conmmuted to life in prison without parole because the U.S. Supreme Court declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 1972

Entered the Rose-Mar College of Beauty ready to gun down someone for his 15 minutes of homicidal fame. At the College he forced five women and two children into a back room and systematically shot them in the head killing five of them.

On October 24, 1967, Robert Smith was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Because the U.S. Supreme Court declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 1972, Smith escaped execution.

Robert Benjamin Smith (5)

Bobbie just wanted to be known, to carve a name for himself. Following the leads of his two heroes, Richard Speck and Charles Whitman, this high-school senior from Mesa, Arizona, headed to the Rose-Mar College of Beauty ready to gun down someone for his 15 minutes of homicidal fame. At the College he forced five women and two children into a back room and systematically shot them in the head killing five of them. When the police arrived at the scene, he gleefully confessed to everything.

Crime: Slaughter in the College of Beauty

Friday, Nov. 18, 1966

Last summer's macabre mass murders in Chicago and Austin seemed irresistibly fascinating to Robert Benjamin Smith, 18, studious, reticent high school senior in Mesa, Ariz. (pop. 50,000). Three months ago, Bob Smith began to concoct his own nightmarish schemes for multiple murder. After toying with several other likely sites, he settled on the Rose-Mar College of Beauty, a mile and a half from his home, because of the number of potential victims—student beauticians and housewife customers—to be found there.

His plan was to bind the women, tie plastic bags over their heads, and watch them while they suffocated. After mulling it over for weeks, he set out from his home early one morning last week with a brown paper bag containing 200 ft. of nylon cord, a package of big plastic sandwich bags, two hunting knives and, for good measure, a .22-cal., single-action six-shooter that his parents had given him.

Wheel of Death.

Once inside the school, Smith brandished his pistol. No one paid any attention so he fired one shot into a mirror and ordered everyone there—five women, a three-year-old girl and a baby—into a back room. One woman shouted, "There'll be 40 people here in a few minutes." Smith replied: "I'm sorry, but I didn't bring enough ammunition for them." He found to his dismay that the sandwich bags were too small to pull over a person's head, but he still had his knives and his pistol. So Smith ordered his victims to lie down in a circle like spokes in a wheel—their heads at the center, their feet on the perimeter.

They complied.

As unconcernedly as if he were taking potshots at pop bottles, Smith squeezed off his bullets, aiming carefully at the head of each person. Mrs. Joyce Sellers, 27, mother of the two children in the circle, lurched about after he had shot her, so Smith stabbed her in the back to be certain she was dead.

"Popping Noises."

In the midst of the massacre, Mrs. Eveline Cummings, operator of the school, entered the building, heard a man's voice and "funny popping noises" coming from the back room. She called the police, who arrived to arrest Smith while he was still standing not far from the bloody bodies of his victims.

The young killer blithely announced, "I wanted to get known, just wanted to get myself a name," then reconstructed his crime before horrified policemen. But there was little to say. Mrs. Sellers and her daughter, Debra, 3, were dead on the floor; three other women died a short time later; another lay in serious condition in the hospital. The baby, Tamara Lynn Sellers, had been shot in the arm, but survived because her mother's body had shielded her from Smith's bullets.

Rose-Mar Killings (November 13, 1966)

November 13, 1966 started as any other Saturday did in Mesa, Arizona. Three beauty school students were getting ready for their busy day and one young mother with her two daughters sat, waiting for her appointment.

The 18-year old Robert Benjamin Smith entered the salon with one thought on his brain: murder. He was not a remarkable person in and of himself. He was of average intelligence and below average athletic prowess; his personality was rather one-dimensional and bland and he lacked any sort of sense of humor. Yet, why would such a person desire to kill innocent people? Fame.

Robert’s father was a Major in the air Force Reserves. As a result, the family moved around a lot as he was growing up. He was teased in school for his lack of coordination—something he would never grow out of, fully. He grew up reading books about his heroes—Caesar, Napoleon, and John F. Kennedy. Of the three, Kennedy was his favorite. That’s why on November 22, 1963, Smith’s world nearly ended. Living in Baltimore at the time, Smith begged his father to let him attend President Kennedy’s funeral. His father declined and Smith seemed to accept the answer, understanding.

Robert Smith turned more antisocial, divesting a lot of attention and involvement in books—about Brutus, Jesse James, John Wilkes Booth, and Lee Harvey Oswald. His interests turned toward books about crime and mass murders, serial killers, and murders. His world grew darker, but no one seemed to take notice.

The family moved to Mesa, Arizona in 1965. Smith’s father had retired from the Air Force and was working at an electronics plant in Phoenix. Smith still kept to himself at school, but despite his awkwardness and antisocial behaviors, his classmates still respected his intelligence enough to elect him to student council.

The summer of 1966 saw horrendous murders. In July, Richard Speck murdered eight nurses in one night in Chicago; and in August, Charles Witman climbed a clock tower and murdered 19 people. These events most likely spurred Smith forward. He began plotting his crime over the next three months. He wanted to be famous. He wanted people to know who he was.

He wanted to kill 40 people. That’s why he selected the Rose-Mar College of Beauty in Mesa. It was always filled with women on Saturday mornings trying to look pretty for date night. This particular Saturday, however, he was disappointed to only find 6 people in shoppe. Still, when none of the women noticed him, he fired a single shot from his .22 caliber pistol in to the air. He ordered them into the back room and told them to lie face down on the floor in a wheel—like spokes.

When one of the girls started praying, he demanded to know what she was doing. When asked if he minded her praying, he said “Yeah, I do,” and shot her in the back of the head. Sadly, he was a lousy shot. He ended up having to shoot her three times before she died. He shot and killed five females—Joyce Sellers (27), Debbie Sellers (3), Glenda Carter (18), Mary Olsen (18), and Carol Farmer (19). Another beautician, Bonita Sue Harris, was shot twice, but pretended to be dead until the police showed up to arrest Smith. The only other person to survive the attack was 3-month old Tamara Sellers; Joyce shielded the baby with her body.

When the police arrived, Smith did not put up any resistance. He laughed and said that he had killed five women in the back room and then pointed to the brown paper sack that contained his pistol and ammunition. When questioned as to why he committed the act, he simply said, “I wanted to make a name for myself.”

On October 24, 1967, Smith was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. However, he was granted a new trial as a judge deemed some testimony from his original trial unreliable. At his retrial, he was again found guilty, but the US Supreme Court had declared a moratorium on the death penalty by that point. He was sentenced to two 99-year sentences and four life sentences for the murders.

Robert Benjamin Smith

"I wanted to get known - to get myself a name."

At least he had a good reason.

On November 12, 1966, Robert Smith left home armed with a knife and a revolver that his father had given him. He decided to walk into town and make a name for himself. he chose his place of fame, it was a beauty salon.

He walked in and fired a shot into the ceiling. Once he had everyone's attention he ordered all the occupants, five women and two children to lie down of their bellies. He had them arrange themselves into a circle, so, as a group they looked like wheel spokes. He then proceeded to shoot each in the back of the head.

He then walked outside, sat down and waited for the police to arrive. When they did he offered no resistance at all. He was smiling, and eager to tell of his actions.

"I've just killed all the women in there."

When police entered the building they found Glenda Carter, Carol Farmer, Joyce Sellers, Mary Olsen and three-year-old Debra Sellers. The other woman was seriously injured, and also alive was Seller other daughter, Tamara Lynn. The baby was lying underneath her mothers dead body.

Not surprisingly Smith was found guilty of all five murders and two attempted murders. He is currently serving life an Arizona goal.

Following the murders it was found that Smith had a rather unhealthy (as if) obsession with Richard Speck. It seems that he wanted to be as famous as Speck had become earlier that year.

The Wacky World of Murder

Robert Benjamin Smith

Robert Smith was laughing when the first policeman walked into the Rode-Mar College of Beauty in Mesa, Arizona, on the crisp morning of November 12, 1966. "I shot some people," said the slight, handsome high-school senior, pointing toward the rear of the shop. "They're back there. The gun is in the brown bag."

Four women and a three-year-old girl lay dead or dying in the beauty college's back room. The child had been stabbed as well as shot because, as Smith explained, she "kept jumping around" after he shot her. One other women and a three-month-old baby were badly wounded. The reason for the carnage: "I wanted to make a name for myself," Smith told the horrified officer. "I wanted people to know who I was."

Smith's big day had been a long time in the making. He'd been mulling the possibilities of murder since he was 13, and in the months preceding the killings he'd focused on a mass murder. Remarkably, however, his dark obsession stayed well hidden beneath a bland exterior.

Smith kept to himself, had a few friends, and never dated. He rarely left home except to go to school, and he spent much of his time alone in his room. Nevertheless, he was a good student, and his classmates respected his intelligence and elected him to the student council. Smith's antisocial leanings might have been ascribed in part to his being new at school. His family had moved to Mesa from Maryland only a year earlier; Robert's father, a retired air force major, worked at an electronics plant on nearby Phoenix.

However unremarkable his exterior life, a horror show played continuously in Smith's head. Doctors would later describe him as schizophrenic. According to a court-appointed psychiatrist, the boy felt that "he was like a god, cut out to be come kind of ruler over the people." The psychiatrist went on to say that the boy was almost wholly without feelings for others, including his own family. Smith had seriously considered killing his father, on one occasion lying in wait for him with a knife.

Smith's homicidal leanings also colored his sexuality; he entertained fantasies in which women were shot or stabbed. Had his parents been aware of such notions, they might not have given him a .22-caliber pistol for target shooting when he turned 18 in August of 1966.

That summer was a bloody one: Richard Speck killed eight nurses on a single night in Chicago, and Charles Whitman murdered 15 people in Austin, Texas. Perhaps spurred by their examples, Smith spent three months plotting his own crime. He wanted to kill at least 40 people and considered going after the teachers at his school before settling on the Rose-Mar, a convenient mile and a half from his home.

The night before the killings, Smith helped his six-year-old sister write a letter to Santa Claus. Then he packed his pistol, 200 feet of nylon cord, rubber gloves, two hunting knives, and extra bullets into a brown paper bag. His equipment had also included plastic sandwich bags with which to suffocate his victims, but after buying the bags, he realized that they were much too small to fit over women's heads.

The .22 was in Smith's hand when he walked through the front door of the Rose-Mar shortly after the beauty college opened. He was so young and small that when he brandished the weapon the five women in the shop thought he must be joking. When he fired a shot into a mirror, they realized he meant business. Laughing frequently and talking as if "he was weak in the head," according to a survivor, Smith herded the women and two children into the back room, where he ordered them to lie down with their heads together, creating an arrangement resembling spokes in a wheel. Still not convinced he was serious, one women asked, "Are you kidding?" He put his gun to another woman's head as he asked, "Do you think I am?" Another of Smith's prisoners told him that 40 people would arrive at the school shortly. "I'm sorry," he replied, "but I didn't bring enough ammunition for them."

When one of the women began praying, Smith asked angrily what she was doing. "She's praying, if you don't mind," another women said. "I do," said Smith, and he began firing, shooting each women in the head. When blood began to flow from Glenda Carter's fatal wound, beautician Bonita Sue Harris could feel it. After Smith shot her in turn, once in the head and once in the arm, Harris pretended to be dead until the police arrived.

After his arrest, Smith admitted he had not expected to find children at the beauty college, but he took their presence in stride. When asked why he shot the baby, he said, "Well, it was going to grow up and become an adult." He declared that he would have killed his sister and mother had they been there. Voicing no regret, Smith said he'd felt exhilarated during the killings.

Guilt for the killings was shouldered by Smith's parents. Finding his son's bed empty that morning, the elder Smith had gone to the police to report Robert missing. If the father had a premonition of something dreadful, it was quickly borne out. When he arrived at the station at 9:30 a.m., reports of the killings were already on the radio. "I told him we had his boy, and he began to cry and shake," recalled an officer. The father said, "I was afraid of that."

On October 24, 1967, Robert Smith was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Because the U.S. Supreme Court declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 1972, Smith escaped execution. But the other sentences imposed on him - two 99-year terms and four for life - will keep him in jail for good.

Beauty salon massacre

Tuesday, March 25th 2008

Like most children, Robert Benjamin (Benny) Smith dreamed of making his mark on the world. But weak, slow and clumsy, he was not a prime candidate for athletic glory. He was average academically and lacked a winning personality, a great sense of humor or even a way with the ladies.

Smith was an ordinary character, destined to be ignored. So in his senior year of high school, the 18-year-old came up with a surefire way to set himself apart.

"Youth Kills 5 - And Laughs," screamed the front page of the Daily News on Nov. 13, 1966.

The day before, a Saturday morning, Smith had strolled into the Rose-Mar College of Beauty in his hometown of Mesa, Ariz., and shot four women and a 3-year-old girl, all strangers to him.

"I wanted to get known, just wanted to get myself a name," he told police as they walked him away from the carnage, a big grin on his face.

Finally, the world would have to take notice of this lackluster character. And as detectives, psychologists, teachers and family delved into the details of the boy's life, they realized there had been subtle warning signs for years.

In hindsight, it all seemed so clear that tragedy was on the horizon. If only someone had paid attention.

Retreated into books

Smith was born in 1948, the son of a major in the Air Force Reserves. The elder Smith was often away, and the family moved several times during Benny's childhood. The constant relocation was hard on him. He hated school, almost from day one; it was difficult for him to make friends.

Although of normal intelligence, Smith had to repeat grades, and was so uncoordinated he failed to master ordinary tasks, such as tying a shoelace or riding a bicycle. Other children avoided him or teased him, and Smith responded by retreating into books, mostly about great and charismatic figures of history - Caesar, Napoleon and, especially, President John F. Kennedy.

Until he hit 13, Smith appeared to be a typical awkward child, going through a difficult phase that time and maturity was supposed to heal.

If there was a true turning point, it was Nov. 22, 1963 - Kennedy's assassination.

The family, which now included a baby sister, Lisa, was living in Baltimore at the time, and Smith begged to go to the funeral.

When his father said no, the boy appeared to understand. But the murder of his hero scarred Smith deeply. He kept a scrapbook on the assassination, and as time went on, his parents noticed something odd.

Smith's focus shifted from Kennedy to Lee Harvey Oswald, and his worship from heroes to monsters - assassins, outlaws and murderers, such as John Wilkes Booth, Brutus, Jesse James and Hitler. He started reading voraciously, mostly about crime.

By the time the family relocated to Arizona, in 1965, Smith had become downright weird. His grades picked up considerably, but his social situation worsened. He was described as a loner who got good grades, good enough to get him elected to the student council.

Neighbors noted he was always alone and rarely talked to anyone. Teachers said he daydreamed in class, so much so that when called on, he seemed annoyed that he was being disturbed.

As to friends, "I'm sure he never dated a girl at our school," a classmate told reporters. Others said he never went to parties, preferring to stay home, read or watch TV.

When he did open his mouth, people were often alarmed by what came out. In religious discussions, he always referred to the "so-called God," and in political ones, he suggested using germ warfare to wipe out everyone in Southeast Asia, because "they are not important."

Peculiar his views may have been, even for a teenager of the 1960s, still no one ever dreamed where it would lead.

Oddball to killer

Two events in the summer of 1966 appear to have had an important role in transforming Smith from an oddball into a killer. One was the mass murder of eight student nurses by Richard Speck in July in Chicago. The second, on Aug. 1, was the Texas tower sniper, Charles Whitman, who climbed to an observation deck at the University of Texas' Austin campus and started shooting, killing 14 and injuring 31.

Shortly after these horrors, Smith started planning a bloodbath of his own.

He considered a few sites, like his school, where he thought of wiping out the teachers. Finally, he settled on the Rose-Mar College of Beauty, where he thought he'd get a nice large group of victims.

Smith woke up early on Saturday, Nov. 12, dressed and grabbed a paper bag filled with instruments of death. In addition to a .22-caliber pistol, which his parents had given him for target practice, he had plastic sandwich bags, nylon cord, tape, a hunting knife and extra ammunition.

His original plan had been to suffocate his victims with the plastic bags, but he ditched that idea when he realized the bags would not fit over the average human head.

He strolled a mile and a half to the beauty school, where students Bonita Sue Harris, 18; Mary Olsen, 18; Glenda Carter, 18, and Carol Farmer, 19, were getting ready for a busy day. One customer, Joyce Sellers, 27, was already waiting. Sellers had her two little daughters, Debra, 3, and Tammy Lynn, 3 months, with her. She usually came to her appointments without her children, but on this day she could not find a baby-sitter.

'Wheel of Death'

Smith entered the school, and, when the women paid no attention to him, he fired one shot into the air. Then he ordered them to go into the back room and lie down in a circle, like the spoke of a wheel, with their heads in the center. Newspapers would call this the Wheel of Death.

Olsen started to pray, and Smith asked what she was doing. Another woman said, "She's praying, if you don't mind." "I do," Smith replied, and aimed and pulled the trigger. Olsen was the first to die.

Among his other failings, Smith was not a good shot. It took three bullets to extinguish the praying woman.

Despite two bullets in the head, Debra kept squirming. So Smith stabbed her with the hunting knife. In a final, desperate act, Sellers, despite a bullet in her brain, saved one of her children by throwing herself on top of her 3-month-old.

Harris, wounded in the head and arm, survived by playing dead, and said that she heard Smith laughing as he kept firing.

When police arrived, Smith was casually walking out the door.

"I shot some people," he said. "They're back there. The gun is in that sack."

In a statement later, Smith said he was disappointed with the tally. On Saturday mornings the Rose-Mar salon was usually packed with women who wanted to look pretty for date night.

Asked what he would have done if his mother and sister had been in the room, he said, "I would have shot them, too. I wanted to kill about 40 people so I could make a name for myself. I wanted people to know who I was."

On Oct. 24, 1967, after a trial that lasted 32 days, a jury took less than two hours to find Smith guilty of five counts of murder in the first degree. The sentence was death. Four years later, he was granted a new trial, because the testimony of one witness in his first trial was ruled unreliable.

In the end, Smith pleaded guilty. His sentence was softened to life in prison. For more than four decades, he has remained behind bars, where, mercifully, he has been prevented from leaving any other marks on the world.

Robert Benjamin Smith

Robert Benjamin Smith

Loner and misfit Robert Benjamin Smith (large photo) randomly killed five at a beauty school in Mesa,
Arizona in 1966. His victim included Joyce Sellers (in oval) and her daughter Debra (top, clips)

The victims