Durham man found on roof was Marine officer, Gulf War vet

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

— Kenneth Avery Smith was a college graduate and commissioned officer with the U.S. Marines. He was honorably discharged and served in Norway as part of a support group for his fellow Marines fighting in Kuwait during the Gulf War.

On Oct. 16, an insurance adjuster discovered Smith’s body stuffed head-first into an air conditioning vent on the roof of a recently closed convenience store in South Durham.

Police have not yet said how the 48-year-old man died or how long his body had been atop of the roof. The insurance adjuster who dialed 911 after finding Smith’s body told an emergency dispatcher that the remains were “old and dilapidated.”

The recently closed Town & County store where Kenneth Smith was found is less than a quarter of a mile from where he lived with his brother on Willowdale Drive.

Nicole Smith, Kenneth Smith’s sister, said when she first heard the news about a body being found of the roof of the store, she became “suspicious that it was him because it was so close.”

“I contacted the police that night because it fit, for lack of a better word.”

The family still has questions about his death. They asked the police Monday if Kenneth Smith was trying to break into the store why did he go in “head first instead of feet first.”

“We asked was he killed and put in there?” Nicole Smith said.

The state medical examiner’s office used Kenneth Smith’s dental records from the Veteran’s Administration to positively identify him.

Nicole Smith, a Durham pharmacist, said her older brother called or stopped by everyday to visit their mother.

He had dinner with his family on Barbee Road on Sept. 2, Labor Day, after spending part of the day doing community service at the downtown homeless shelter where he helped prepare meals. That was the last time she saw him.

On Sept. 7, Kenneth Smith’s mother called the Durham Police Department and reported that he was missing.

“My mother wanted to do it after about three days,” Nicole Smith said Monday afternoon. “The police told her he was a grown man and had probably ran off with a woman. She waited until she felt like it was just too long.”

A Durham police detective visited the Smith family Monday and told them that Kenneth Smith’s body was inside of the vent and “hanging an angle” that made it impossible for him to survive. Nicole Smith said the detective however did not give them a cause of death or say how long his body had been in the air-conditioning vent.

“We suspect it was the 2nd or 3rd [of September],” Nicole Smith said.

Kenneth Smith grew up in Elizabeth City, the second oldest of four children. When the family moved to Durham in 1987, Kenneth Smith was enrolled at N.C. Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro where he majored in industrial management with a concentration in construction work. He earned a bachelors of science degree and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Reserve while in college. He graduated in 1988 he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, his sister said.

He was honorably discharged in 1995 and lived in Wilmington before moving to Durham in the early 2000s and finding work with his uncle, who owns a masonry company.

Nicole Smith said her brother had substance abuse problems in recent years that led to run-ins with the police. State records show that Kenneth Smith’s most serious drug charge occurred in 2001 when he was found guilty of felony possession of cocaine and sentenced to two years probation. Since that time, his criminal history largely consisted of drinking in public until 2010 when he was convicted of misdemeanor larceny. An additional charge for possession of burglary tools was dismissed, state records how.

Kenneth Smith was sentenced this spring to one year probation and 25 hours of community service at a non-profit organization. That is why he had been cooking at the downtown homeless shelter and was wearing striped chef’s trousers when police found his remains.

Nicole Smith described her brother as a playful, funny guy who was a bit of a “ladies man” when he was younger. He was supposed to start culinary classes and someone called the family home after he’d been missing about a week to tell him he had missed the registration period.

Smith was divorced and is survived by a 14-year-old daughter.

News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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