Deceiving Men

Abe Lincoln is credited with saying: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” There is no solid evidence that Lincoln ever said these famous words, which are credited to him.  Whether he did or not, these words do compose a good proverb.

Let us consider a story of someone deceiving a man, who was not known for being gullible, and certainly not a bleeding-heart.  Edgar H. Smith Jr. was the deceiver.  William F. Buckley Jr. was the deceived.

On March 04, 1957 Vickie Zielinski, a 15-year old from Ramsey, New Jersey, disappeared during a walk home from a friend’s house.  Her remains were found the next day, near a sandpit, in nearby Mahwah, New Jersey.

Evidence soon pointed to Edgar Smith (b. 1934).  He was arrested (March 06, 1957) and convicted of first-degree murder.  He was sentenced (May 28, 1957) to die in the electric chair.

While on death row, in 1962, Smith began to correspond with William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review.  Buckley began to have doubts about Smith’s guilt. The state’s time-line troubled Buckley.  Buckley wrote, “By the time I had completed my investigation, I was convinced that at the very least there was reasonable doubt to Smith’s guilt, and eventually, I became persuaded that Smith was innocent.  I was not alone” (Buckley, Right Reason, p. 186). In time, Smith wrote over 2,900 pages of letters to Buckley.

Smith spent 14 years at New Jersey State Prison.  In 1971, Smith was successful with his 19th appeal.  His confession was ruled to have been obtained under duress.  Smith was offered a plea deal.  If he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, he would be released on parole.  He accepted, and as released on December 06, 1971.

Smith was, for a short while, in demand.  He made appearances on radio and TV shows (including Buckley’s Firing Line, the Mike Douglas Show, the Merv Griffin Show).  He spoke on lectures for colleges and universities.  He wrote books.  One of which argued for penal reform.

Then, Smith’s true character was revealed.  On October 01, 1976 he kidnapped a 33 year-old woman, Lefteriya Lisa Ozbun, in San Diego, California.  She escaped, but not before being stabbed by him (she would survive). There were eyewitnesses to the escape, who could identify Smith. Smith fled.  Later, he phoned Buckley’s office. Buckley was not there, but in Albuquerque lecturing.  Buckley’s secretary took down Smith’s contact information, and passed it to Buckley.  Buckley immediately turned it over to the F.B.I.. Smith was arrested, October 13, in Las Vegas, Nevada.  he was found guilty of kidnapping with the intent to rob, and attempted murder.  On April 26, 1977 Smith was sentenced to life in prison.  During the trial, Smith admitted to killing Zielinski by smashing her skull with a large rock.

Buckley lived to regret his belief in, and help of Smith. He would write, “It would seem plain that Edgar Smith must never be released from custody” (ibid, p.212).

Smith showed no remorse for anything.  He said of Buckley, “I don’t have much sympathy for Bill Buckley. He got his two-hour TV show” (ibid, 211).

I tell this story for a reason.  It is not simply to recount the criminal life of Edgar Smith Jr..  It is not to speak negatively of William F. Buckley Jr..  It is to point out that it is possible to deceive men.

However, may we always remember that one cannot deceive God.  Do not try.  “God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).  “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16). “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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