I recently adopted a pet,
and in honor of my furry foundling I’m working on a three-part series on unsolved veterinarian murders;
people who’ve dedicated their lives to ensuring
the well-being of our kindred critters deserve special consideration—their loss is an especially despicable crime.
June 22nd, 2000: West Chester, Ohio.
For twenty hours the Bernese mountain dog and her litter of pups huddled in the basement and waited.
Her master George Gibson lay in a first-floor bathroom,
his body riddled with bullets—he’d been shot once in the neck, once in the chest and seven times in the head.
The 47-year old veterinarian was not the only victim in the residence;
two dogs, also Bernese, had been slain—Hugo on the first floor and Capella in the basement near a broken window.
The mother dog and her puppies had been spared.
“George was very personable; he was easy to talk to and a good listener.” Stephen MacMannis, friend and former co-worker, Plattsburgh Press-Republican, June 29th, 2000
At 12:30pm three parties converged in front of the secluded home at 7165 Tylersville Road:
the West Chester police, contacted by Dr. Gibson’s coworkers when he failed to report to work;
Mary Richardson and Don Page, Dr. Gibson’s worried coworkers;
and Wallace Marshall, a neighbor performing a welfare check at the behest of Dr. Gibson’s wife, who was out of town.
Upon entering the residence the reason Dr. Gibson failed to report to work was immediately clear;
the circumstances that led to his demise have defied explanation for more than a decade.
“We are not going to discuss suspects. We have no suspects.” West Chester Police Captain John Bruce, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 25th, 2000
The West Chester police have been unusually chary with crime scene details, but the following information is known:
the residence was broken into via a window in a basement recreation room;
detectives believe the assailant may have been looking for something—although nothing was stolen
the home was in disarray.
Fourteen bullets of an indeterminate small caliber were fired during the commission of the crime—nine into Dr. Gibson and a total of five into Hugo and Capella—but investigators have declined to reveal
whether the doctor and dogs were slain with the same weapon.
Detectives have, however, confirmed the existence of “physical evidence,”
including at least one unidentified fingerprint,
although the type and origin of the obtained samples is unknown.
“We are trying to protect all the evidence we can at this point.” West Chester Police Captain John Bruce, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 25th, 2000
Dr. Gibson was the only homicide in West Chester that year, and authorities spared no expense in the investigation;
detectives and lab technicians spent 10 days
searching the Gibsons’ three-acre property and minutely examining the crime scene for clues.
Dr. Gibson’s wife Paige Smith, also a veterinarian,
had traveled to New York on a business trip the day her husband was slain;
the couple, who had met while attending veterinary school, had been married fifteen years
and both were employed as research scientists at Procter and Gamble.
The Gibson-Smiths had relocated from New York to Ohio two years before the murder due to P&G corporate restructuring;
detectives would eventually spend a week in New York
verifying Dr. Smith’s alibi and speaking with the pair’s friends and former coworkers.
“He and Paige had a very tight marriage; we always said George and Paige together, like it was one word.” George Gibson’s sister Judy, Dayton Daily News, February 28th, 2013By all accounts the Gibson-Smith union was a happy one;
the couple was said to be extraordinarily close
and particularly devoted to their Bernese Mountain dogs, treating them not as pets but as children.
On the morning of the murder both
Dr. Smith and Dr. Gibson
had reported to their jobs at separate Procter and Gamble
a neighbor had subsequently spotted Dr. Gibson
arriving home at 5:20pm—investigators
believe he was murdered shortly thereafter,
perhaps by an assailant waiting inside the home.
Detectives were able to confirm
Dr. Smith’s private charter flight to New York
was in the air by 6pm—not only did she lack
an obvious motive to harm her husband but she also appeared to lack sufficient time to commit the crime.
“We know that she did not (physically) commit this murder.” West Chester Township Police Sergeant Matt Brillhart speaking of Paige Smith, Cincinnati Enquirer, July 15th, 2001
Although there was some consternation in the press when she hired a defense attorney three weeks after the crime
the couple’s nearest and dearest are certain
Dr. Smith did not conspire to have her husband slain—not only was her marriage harmonious, friends claim,
but under no circumstances would she ever have allowed anyone to harm Hugo and Capella.
In 2001 Dr. Smith offered a 10K reward for information pertaining to the crime,
and her deep regard for her canine companions is evident from the flyer’s wording, which begins:
“George, Hugo and Capella were shot and killed in their home in West Chester on June 22th, 2000. We need your help.”
“All I could say was, there is no way in hell she could ever have shot those dogs; maybe she could have shot her husband, but not the dogs.” Peter Sayles, Gibson family friend, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 24th, 2007
Statistically speaking, spouses are always the most likely culprit in a homicide investigation; so if Dr. Smith didn’t kill
or conspire to kill her husband then who did?
Some message board denizens believe Dr. Gibson’s career as a veterinary research pathologist
made him a target for animal rights activists—PETA had previously waged a vociferous campaign
against Procter and Gamble in Ohio,
and famed ecowarrior Tre Arrow had been arrested in the area in 1998 while picketing an executive’s home.
A year before Dr. Gibson’s murder, however,
P&G had announced the company would begin to drastically curtail
its animal testing practices—considering the time frame ecoterrorism seems unlikely motivator at best.
“There are some very sick people out there.” Suzanne Bechard, Dr. Gibson’s former coworker, Plattsburgh Press-Republican, June 29th, 2000
Although the circumstances surrounding the sighting are unclear, a stranger in a dark-colored ball cap was spotted walking in the neighborhood the day before the crime;
the man was described as Caucasian with dark salt-and-pepper hair,
age 35 to 50, 5’7” to 5’10” in height
and weighing approximately 130 to 150 pounds.
Investigators subsequently released a composite drawing—the mystery pedestrian has never been identified and his connection to the crime remains unknown.
“He was seen in the area and we can't explain why he was there.” West Chester Police Captain John Bruce on the strolling stranger, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 27th, 2000
Six months after the murder the FBI created a profile
of Dr. Gibson’s assailant
for the West Chester Police Department;
the completed analysis was short on identifying characteristics,
however, revealing only that the killer—described as a “determined, criminally inexperienced offender”—had specifically targeted Dr. Gibson.
As Sergeant Steve Oakes told a journalist from The Cincinnati Enquirer,
“The profile was very, very generic;
there was nothing that indicated it was a male white or that he was 6’2”—we’re still looking for something that will send us in the right direction.”
“The targeted nature of the motivation reflects some real or perceived issue between the offender and the victim.” FBI profile of George Gibson’s unknown killer, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 24th, 2007
Although the FBI profile indicates the assailant had a grudge against the victim—and the nine bullet wounds seem to indicate substantial rage—Dr. Gibson’s friends and neighbors believe the veterinarian was slain not as a result of personal animus but in a case of mistaken identity.
At the time of the murder a Tylersville Road neighbor was embroiled in an ugly divorce,
and a month or so before the killing
the man’s wife had left him an answering machine message intimating her intention,
or at least her ability,
to have him executed by a hired assassin.
The neighbor turned the recording over to authorities but the lead went nowhere.
“We don’t believe it was a random crime.” West Chester Police Captain John Bruce, Cincinnati Enquirer, August 26th, 2000
The most intriguing tip in the case was communicated not to the police but to a local television station:
a woman claimed she had been having a “phone relationship” with a P&G scientist she’d met on a dating chat line,
and she believed the man may have been Dr. Gibson.
Although detectives have been mum on the means used to obtain this information,
further investigation revealed
the good doctor had been a regular habitué of telephone chat rooms—in addition to numerous phone dalliances detectives were able to locate at least one woman with whom he’d arranged in-the-flesh assignations.
“Nobody knew about that part of his life, not even his wife, according to her.” West Chester Township Police Sergeant Matt Brillhart, Cincinnati Enquirer, July 15th, 2001
The meatspace meet-ups had begun in late 1999, and the twosome visited various locations around the Tristate including restaurants and Mount Airy Forest.
The woman, a resident of nearby Price Hill, passed a polygraph and is not a suspect in the crime
but police are interested in speaking with anyone else who encountered Dr. Gibson in a telephone chat room.
Oddly, Dr. Gibson’s home and work computers
were analyzed by the Hamilton County Regional Computer Crime Task Force
but nothing of note was discovered—that someone with internet access would opt for chat-lines
instead of cyber-dating seems preposterous,
but human behavior often fails to comport with rationality.
Perhaps Dr. Gibson—worried his wife would somehow stumble upon his online activities—felt safer
with the relative anonymity of telephone contact.
“[The Gibson-Smiths] were just really buddies and lovers—he would have to have been such a double two-faced person.” Next-door neighbor Ann Marshall, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 24th, 2007
It may have been harder to track than cyber-communication, but in the year 2000 telephone contact
was no longer as anonymous
as it once had been—caller ID was commonplace
and many chat line numbers were toll calls,
which generate a paper trail.
Although it’s possible Dr. Gibson used phone cards
for his extramarital activities
most cheating spouses get complacent
and utilize a home or work phone on occasion—any information gleaned
from the records of his personal phones, however,
has never been publicized.
Detectives have also failed to disclose
whether they subpoenaed the phone logs of the dating lines
Dr. Gibson was known to frequent.
“It was just so bizarre; we just figure one of these days the Lord’s going to reveal these secrets, and we’ll find out then.” Next-door neighbor Ann Marshall, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 24th, 2007
If Dr. Gibson’s death was related to his chat line activities—and Detective Doug Farris told The Dayton Daily News evidence found at the scene “points more closely” in this direction,
though he declined elaborate further—a lack of direct contact with his assailant or
at least someone connected to his assailant is surprising.
Fourteen shots were fired during the commission of the crime;
how did Dr. Gibson manage to generate overkill within the strictures of a relationship conducted at 90¢ a minute?
“It’s so foreign to me. So unlikely that George would have a passionate enemy.” Paige Smith, Dayton Daily News, February 28th, 2013
The West Chester Police Department’s reticence has created some oddities in the reportage of the case, including a peculiar disparity in Dr. Gibson’s timeline in the hours before the slaying.
The majority of media outlets state Dr. Gibson left work at 5pm and was spotted in his driveway at 5:20pm—his residence and the P&G Ross facility are eighteen miles apart, so it appeared he’d gone directly home. At least one article from 2000, however, stated the doctor had left work early that day, and in 2013 West Chester investigators confirmed Dr. Gibson had actually departed his workplace at 3:40pm after receiving a phone call of unknown origin;
the reason for this discrepancy—and the doctor’s whereabouts in the hour and forty minutes before being sighted at his residence—are unknown.
“Anybody who does this (commits murder) has the propensity to do this to someone else.” West Chester Township Police Sergeant Matt Brillhart, Cincinnati Enquirer, July 15th, 2001
The curious case of Dr. Gibson’s killing is chock full of unknowns, but there’s one fact of which I’m certain:
if detectives are correct and the doctor died as a result of his chat line activities
I feel a great deal of sympathy for his wife Paige Smith.
Learning about your husband’s infidelities during the investigation into his murder must be wrenching;
and subsequently having these indiscretions trumpeted in the media for all to see must be mortifying.
I hope she eventually found a way to reconcile her love for the husband she knew
with her anger at the man whose philandering may have led not only to his own death but to the deaths of Hugo and Capella.
“Love never ends—–period.” Paige Smith speaking at George Gibson’s funeral, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 28th, 2000
The moral of today’s blogpost is simple:
if you’re thinking about cheating on your spouse don’t.
You might think no one will discover your dirty little secret but remember—right up until the moment someone pumped seven bullets into his skull Dr. Gibson thought the very same thing.