I was blown away the first time I ever listened to him. Sometime in 1985, in Mrs. Johnson’s Algebra II class my friend Karl passed me a cassette containing a song called “Manic D.” by the Washington D.C. hardcore band, Beefeater. I was a heavy Hendrix fan, Karl knew it, and the cover by Beefeater piqued his interest in the original — so we swapped.
I got home, popped it into my Sony Walkman, donned my headphones and was skeptical. I was 15 and considered myself a purist about all things Jimi. Of course, the first thing I tuned into, looking for a reason to discount it, was the guitar player.
Any musician who understands song structure will tell you, that song is not an easy one to pull off. It’s got such a jagged and circular rhythm, lots of moving parts. And as I sat there listening, I fell in love with the guitar work of the legendary Fred FREAK Smith.
In a music genre and scene known for its eccentric personalities and raw, loud, and fast, emotive bands and personalities, FREAK made most of them seem like normal nine to five rat-racers.
“’Fred didn’t fit in the world,’ says Ian MacKaye, founder of Dischord Records, the label that released the music of Smith’s first and best-known band, Beefeater. ‘He lived the way he wanted to live.’
MacKaye’s earliest memories of Smith are of seeing him out at shows, where he was a distinctive figure, a ‘boisterous’ African-American man in a mostly white scene, with a look more commonly associated with heavy metal than with punk at the time — leather vests, motorcycle boots.
‘He was pretty striking-looking, even back then,’ says Beefeater lead singer Oman Emmet, who then went by the name Tomas Squip.” -NPR, 2017
Fred was murdered on a Tuesday night. It was August 8th, 2017 when his body was discovered behind some softball fields in Las Palmas Park in the San Fernando Valley. Despite cash rewards offered for information, and tireless investigative work by law enforcement, the case remains unsolved:
“Thanks in part to the efforts of L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who took an early interest in Smith’s death when she learned his backstory, there is still a $10,000 reward for any information leading to his killer. ‘He paved the way for African-American musicians in the punk genre,’ Kuehl said in announcing the reward.” -NPR, 2017
Two years later, DNA evidence offered a glimmer of hope for the multitude of friends, family, and fans who remain gutted and confused over this senseless loss of talent and soul. Unfortunately, thus far that DNA evidence hasn’t proven helpful:
“Police Chief Tony Vairo said investigators had gotten back ‘some results’ regarding a couple DNA samples. “But they were no match to anybody” that actually stabbed and killed the singer-bass-player-songwriter in Las Palmas Park in San Fernando in August of 2017.” — The San Fernando Valley Sun, 2019.
“The DNA is being examined by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department laboratory. Detective Dean Camarillo said there were ‘a lot of items to still be processed for DNA,’ and they had only gotten two items back, the results of which were turned over the the SFPD.
‘The DNA that came back on those items, we expected [the results] to be what it was and did not expect it to assist the investigation,’ Camarillo said. ‘We still have a large back up in our lab and are still waiting to process the other items.’” The San Fernando Valley Sun, 2019
Most recently, friends and former labelmates have been stoking the fires at home, organizing, and campaigning for Detective Dean Camarillo to redouble his efforts in a renewed campaign to keep the light shining on the murder of their friend and brother, FREAK.
Last night, Detective Camarillo returned a call to one of the movement’s main organizers, Mary Bryski. In Mary’s words, the phone call was “encouraging.” This is a comment from the Facebook group Justice for Fred “Freak” Smith:
“Detective Camarillo called back! From vacation! There has been a recent development — couldn’t discuss details — but in his words: There’s something about this case that yeah… I’m optimistic.
He is calling me back after vacation to discuss getting the reward reinstated! San Fernando shouldn’t have a problem issuing another ten-thousand-dollar reward. He feels it would be nice to pad this.
Skeeter (Enoch Thompson, Scream) is still looking for a podcast willing to devote an episode to Fred’s case! Please send me suggestions! He is also putting out the word to some like-minded friends to drum up more support. Please continue to share the case wherever you can!
Detective Camarillo assures me this is still one of his more active cases and that leads have just been few and far between.”
Mary elaborated on the post with more reason to keep hope alive:
“What (Detective Camarillo) actually said though is that he is completely overwhelmed with this and his other active cases that he genuinely doesn’t have time to call people back unless there is something to actually discuss. He also couldn’t say enough about how clear it is that the man was well-loved, and it means a lot to him to get justice for his mom. Also said there is an LA County Sheriff Deputy from that era in DC who checks in like once a month and offers to help follow up leads.”
I’m writing this short summary of the events of the last four years because it’s all I can do. I’m asking everyone who reads this to follow the group on Facebook. If anyone has a broader platform, especially a podcast and you would like to lend your resources to this family effort, please contact either Mary via the Facebook group or me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Somebody was in that park in 2017. Someone saw something. Somebody knows something. The light will eventually bring this all to clarity. This is my plea to everyone reading: friends, strangers, music lovers, fans of FREAK, and anyone else that can make a difference to lend your time and energy to help us keep this case alive until Fred’s murderer is brought to justice.