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13. Lurch

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

The following has been transcribed from an original 1975 Lakeland Ledger digital newspaper archive. This article has been re-typed and organized from existing digital Lakeland Ledger archives; I've transcribed them for informational/legibility purposes. I do not claim any ownership/authorship of these particular articles.

The Lakeland Ledger:

Thursday, August 9, 1975

Suspect Was On Probation

By T. ROE OLDT | Ledger Staff Writer

BARTOW - Dennis Wayne Smith, the man charged with first-degree murder in the July 29 car-burning death of a Mulberry man, was on probation at the time of his arrest for charges relating to the sale of marijuana in 1971 and probation violations in 1973 and 1974.

Court records show the 6-foot-4 inch Smith, known as "Lurch," pleaded no contest to the marijuana charge and was placed on three years probation by Judge Roy H. Amidon, who directed Smith to "participate in self-improvement programs determined to be helpful" and to abstain from the use of alcoholic beverages, including beer.

The 23-year-old Smith was arrested Wednesday by the Polk County Sheriff's Department and charged with murdering John Mitchell Arnsdorff, 33, branch manager for A.C. & S Construction Company of Mulberry. The 1973 Ford in which Arnsdorff was found was registered to the construction company which employed him.

On Aug. 28, 1973, Smith was brought before Judge William Love on the complaint of parole supervisor William R. Anderson who said violations of parole had occurred when Smith changed employment without notifying authorities, became twice-delinquent in filing monthly probation reports, and lived with an 18-year-old-girl.

Smith had been arrested three days earlier by the Lakeland Police Department and charged with participating in an affray. Anderson said Smith "had allegedly been drinking heavily prior to his arrest."

Love found the brown-haired, hazel-eyed Smith guilty of parole violations and extended his probation by one year, with expiration due Nov. 15, 1975. He also restricted his driving to business purposes. Six months later Smith was rearrested for continued parole violations and summoned before Circuit Court Judge Robert G. Stokes. On Feb. 13, 1974, he was charged with violating his parole requirements by changing employment without notification to authorities, failing to report for psychological testing at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, driving a vehicle for other than business purposes, and failing to avoid contact with the girl with whom he had been living.

On March 5, Smith was restored to his original probation requirements without further penalty. Smith was arraigned Thursday morning on the murder charge before Judge G. Bowden Hunt and is being held without bond in Polk County Jail: R. PhillipHaddock, a Lakeland attorney, will represent Smith.

According to a summary contained in the affidavit filed against Smith by the sheriff's office, witnesses have stated Smith "and another unknown subject" left the Green Parrot Bar in Lakeland together near midnight of July 28. Smith and Ansdorff also were said to be seen together at a Lakeland bar a few hours before the dead man's flaming 1972 Ford Galaxie was discovered on Lake Luther Road north of Lakeland. Arnsdorff, who was in the car's trunk, was alive when the fire started and apparently died of carbon monoxide poisoning, officers said.

A $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Arnsdorff's slayers still stands after being posted Wednesday by his employer. Sheriff Monroe Brannen said all available personnel from the Lakeland zone office have been working around the clock on the case and other arrests are expected.

According to the sheriff's office, Arnsdorff was in Jacksonville visiting a friend the weekend before his death. He returned to his Jewel Street apartment in Lakeland Monday and called his friend to inform him of his safe return. That is the last known contact before his death.

Persons who may have any knowledge of any aspect of the case have been requested to notify Det. Chuck Kenney at the sheriff's department.

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