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The End Of Harmony Ax Murder In Cda Boardinghouse Leaves Residents Fearful, Suspicious Of Others

Fri., April 14, 1995

Carmen Hook shoves her desk up against the door before she goes to sleep.

Then she checks her canister of mace, making sure it’s within easy reach on her bedside table.

“You get so paranoid when somebody dies in the room right next to you,” she said.

William J. Smith, an artist and manager of the Harmony House apartments, was found dead on April 3.

He was bludgeoned in the room next to Hook’s.

With its lazy front porch swing, pale green paint and soothing name, this boardinghouse seems like an unlikely location for a murder mystery.

The gruesome murder has shaken residents. Some are scared, some are suspicious. Some are looking for a new place to live.

Coeur d’Alene police have not arrested anyone in connection with Smith’s killing. They did find the weapon: a long-handled firefighter’s tool with an ax on one side and a hoe on the other. It was beside Smith’s bloody body, which was lying face-down on the floor.

On a table nearby was one of the artist’s works in progress. Smith, well-known for his skill at painting on glass, was creating the figure of an American Indian.

Capt. Carl Bergh said police have several “persons of interest” in the crime.

“I came here to Coeur d’Alene thinking this place would be so peaceful,” said a resident who did not want to give his name. “Then I end up living with an ax murderer.”

The Harmony House, 205 Indiana Ave., has several apartments on the ground floor and almost a dozen individual rooms on the second floor.

Hook pays $235 a month for a room so small it takes two steps to get from her bed to an antique dresser in the opposite corner. Her cable and utilities are paid for.

But she and others on the second floor must leave the security of their rooms to use the bathroom, shower or wash her dishes in a community area.

Hook must walk past the murder victim’s room where the yellow police tape still hangs. The trip can be unnerving late at night.

“I’m scared to turn my back on anybody,” Hook said. “I look around before I come back in my room. I’m afraid somebody might be nuts in here and on the rampage.”

She stapled strips of cardboard over the cracks in her door, fearing someone might be able to look in.

Hook said that since the murder she and other tenants have begun eyeing each other suspiciously. Each seems to have an idea who might have done it, but hesitates to say.

Most seem to believe it was a current or former resident.

“I don’t think it was somebody who came in from the outside and did it,” said John King, who lives down the hall from Smith’s apartment. “I’ve been kind of suspicious of a couple of people.”

Howard Reynolds likes the low rent but said he has started looking for a new place since the murder.

“You never know what could happen after a situation like this,” said Josh Lepinski, Reynold’s friend. “I don’t want him to be here not being sure if they’ve got the killer or not.”

Peter Cooper, owner of Harmony House, said several tenants have packed up and moved out since the murder. He’s also evicted several tenants who have been drinking and causing trouble.

“I’m fed up with this. I don’t want to deal with these guys who do weird things anymore,” Cooper said.

Cooper thinks a tenant may have gotten mad at Smith for trying to quiet the place down. He suspects that, drunk and angry, the killer attacked the 69-year-old manager while his back was turned.

Hook admits the murder has made life interesting at the Harmony House.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. “On the other hand, I’m not ready to die. I’ll be glad when they find out who did it. I’m tired of being scared.”“I just feel a real sense of loss because I barely got to know him.”

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