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Blog: Two Deadly Puzzles in Montara

Were the deaths murder? Accidents? Suicides?

It was a pair of murders or a pair of suicides, or a pair of accidents. What it definitely was, was a pair of puzzles.

In Montara on a night in February 1960, Agnes Greene, 69, went missing from her daughter’s house. The daughter was in the habit of locking Agnes in a bedroom if the daughter went out for the evening, but on this particular night, the door to Agnes’s room was found wide open. Agnes had suffered a stroke three years earlier and showed signs that, according to The Times, “affected her mentally (and) she has become progressively senile since that time.” Agnes had left the house a few times in the past but rarely went more than a block before neighbors found her and brought her back. Agnes had heart trouble and varicose veins and bad ankles. She was less than 5 feet tall and weighed just 70 pounds. She couldn’t walk far.

So how did her shoes and bedding end up on a cliff overlooking the ocean one mile away? And how did those shoes, which still had carpet fuzz on the bottoms, get carried to the site? And what was the meaning of the marks in the sand that seemed to indicate a person crawling from the site where the shoes and bedding were found to the water’s edge?

These were the questions facing Sheriff Earl B. Whitmore and his team. A thorough investigation was started.

The mystery deepened in September 1961 when the daughter’s partner, Walter Smith, was found with a bullet through his heart. Whitmore stated: “I believe he killed Mrs. Greene… We have talked to enough people to become convinced that he either did her in or had something to do with it.” Whitmore had become suspicious when Smith refused to take a lie detector test about Agnes’s disappearance (the daughter passed her test).

Regarding Smith’s death, Whitmore told the press, “We are not satisfied that Smith’s death was accidental or a suicide. We are investigating the possibility that it was a homicide.” He also noticed a puzzling half-hour delay between the discovery of Smith’s body and the first call to authorities. Whitmore’s team noticed that the death site had been cleaned up and tampered with. A blood test showed that Smith had been legally drunk when he died. Agnes’s daughter told the coroner’s jury that she doubted Smith had killed himself and that she didn’t believe he was involved in Agnes’s death.

Over the next few years, the occasional false lead would cause Whitmore’s staff to pursue what appeared to be Agnes’s corpse. A Montara house’s basement was dug up - as was the yard and septic tank - when a tip came in and pointed to the residence as the site of Agnes’s burial. A woman’s body found in Kings County was not Agnes’s, although similarities were noted.

A representative of Whitmore’s office summed up the situation for the Redwood City Tribune: “(We have) received numerous phone calls - anonymous and otherwise - telling (us) that neither Smith’s nor (Agnes’s) deaths were accidents.”

Douglas MacGowan

About the Author: Douglas MacGowan

Doug MacGowan has authored seven books and countless articles, mainly about history and true crime. He has been a resident of Redwood City since 2000.
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