Drowning case could be murder

May 2, 2008 8:38:35 PM PDT
It made no sense when 24-year-old Tommy Booth was found drowned in Ridley Creek last January. Now, a chilling new twist may offer an explanation while at the same time raise a disturbing question. Was he a victim of the so-called Smiley Face Gang?

"It haunts me every day. Tommy, why were you in the creek?" wondered Barbara MacKay, Tommy's mother.

Video surveillance shows Tommy and his friends arriving at Bootleggers nightclub in Woodlyn the night of January 19th.

No one ever saw him leave.

Tommy's mother and stepfather organized search parties.

Two weeks later, after a warm spell melted the ice, he was found in the creek behind the bar.

"It was just he was in the club, and then he was in the creek. It never made any sense how he got there," said his step-father Tim Bush.

The coroner ruled Tommy's death an accidental drowning. There were no signs of trauma, not even a bump on the head.

"This case always puzzled me," said Detective Sgt. Scott Willoughby.

Tommy was a healthy, robust young man and hadn't had enough to drink to become disoriented.

Something clicked for Willoughby when he saw an ABC News report this week on the Smiley Face killings.

Two retired New York Police detectives have been following the thread for ten years.

They've determined that over 40 young men have died the same way.

All appear to be accidental drownings.

All have been separated from their friends while drinking at frat parties or college town bars.

Bootleggers is a block from Widener University.

The other common thread is a smiley face painted where the victim has disappeared.

On a hunch, Willoughby asked his detectives to take another look behind Bootleggers.

"When they went down into the area where we thought he went into the water, they noticed the graffiti and they noticed this smiley face painted on the wall," said Willoughby.

It's a smiley face with a crown on its head.

It's on the wall of the bar under the party deck, just 30 feet from the creek.

Detective Willoughby called Tommy's mom who had also seen the news report.

"When he told me about the smiley face, it just gave me chills," she said.

The New York detectives believe there's more than one killer, perhaps a gang, since all of the smiley faces are painted differently.

Detective Willoughby has sent them pictures of the smiley face found near Ridley Creek.

He also contacted the FBI, even though they've looked at the other cases and dismissed the possibility of a link.

"I just think we need to look a little further into this case," Willoughby said.

None of the other cases appear to be robberies. The only thing missing, usually, is the victim's cell phone. Tommy was found with his wallet in his pocket. The only thing missing -- his cell phone.


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