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Questions around Missouri murder feature in Netflix true crime series ‘I Am a Killer’

 Author Betty Frizzell, left, and her sister Victoria Isaac. Isaac confessed to murdering her husband in 2013.
Author Betty Frizzell, left, and her sister Victoria Isaac. Isaac confessed to murdering her husband in 2013.

Featured on the Netflix true crime series, Betty Frizzell is still fighting to prove her sister’s innocence.

Betty Frizzell is convinced: Her older sister, Vicky Isaac, did not kill Chris Smith in a hail of gunfire on May 14, 2013.

Her claims were recently given prominent placement in a 2022 episode of the Netflix documentary series “I Am a Killer” — and while the episode opens with an interview in prison with Isaac herself, her statement to the camera isn’t one declaring innocence.

“I grabbed a pistol, and something told me to end him,” Isaac said in the interview, confessing to the killing. “Chris was sleeping. He was asleep on the couch, the time I shot him.”

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Frizzell acknowledged the apparent tension between her claim — that Isaac is not a murderer — and what her sister has repeatedly stated on the record. Isaac is now serving a life sentence for the slaying, but Frizzell maintains that her sister is actually claiming credit for a killing she did not commit.

The reason? To protect Isaac's profoundly mentally ill adult son, Kenny Smith, who was never considered a serious suspect in the murder, despite threatening to kill both his mother and Chris Smith mere days before the killing.

“Vicky was looked at because she called 911 and confessed, and she was covered with blood splatter,” Frizzell said. “My sister, you have to understand she's an abused child. She's always been the literal whipping boy for our family. So her idea of the world is very different than most people. She likes to be the protector, she was my protector, and she's given me the gift of the life that I have now. … We’ll never get her to change her story. She's her own worst enemy in that aspect.”

Frizzell is a former police chief in Winfield, Missouri. On Thursday, she described her efforts to track down Kenny Smith after he disappeared on the day of his mother’s sentencing.

She’d later learn that he had somehow obtained a passport. He hadn’t just skipped the court hearing — he had skipped out of the country entirely. He was in Rome.

Frizzell said her family had already noticed signs that Smith’s mental health was deteriorating without medication. He began speaking in an Irish accent and communicated through different names and personalities. She doesn’t know how he obtained a passport, only that he somehow made his way to Italy, and then a hospital in Rome, where both his feet were amputated, presumably due to infections he’d developed while living on the streets.

After years of fruitless inquiries and searches, Frizzell learned her nephew had moved once again, this time settling somewhere in Germany. So, she traveled there herself to find him, and, she hoped, to bring him home.

“The German police had lost him for six months, they couldn't find him,” she recalled. “I found him in three days.”

Seeing her nephew for the first time in years, she added, “was better than solving any crime I'd ever solved.” Still, she said, “It was heartbreaking to see him in that condition.”

Smith is now back in the states, courtesy of the German police, Frizzell said. He is receiving treatment in a mental health facility, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to talk about what happened on the day of Chris Smith’s death in 2013.

“We have to be very cautious how we approach him,” Frizzell noted. “Because, for one thing, I don't want him going back out being homeless because we know what happens if he does that. And I don't want him to dive deeper into the pit of despair that lives in his mind.”

During Thursday’s show, Frizzell also discussed the reactions to the Netflix series covering the homicide. Along with interviews with her sister, the series spoke to the grieving family of Chris Smith, as well as former police investigators who worked on the case. All are convinced that the culprit is in prison.

Frizzell is undeterred.

“I think it's my faith that keeps me sane,” Frizzell said. “I'm a truth seeker. That's what we want our police to do. We want them to find the truth, even if it isn't in our own best interest. We need to know the truth and closure for all the families involved.”

Frizzell previously joined St. Louis on the Air in January last year to discuss her memoir, “If You Can’t Quit Cryin’, You Can’t Come Here No More,” which chronicled the slaying as well as her family’s history of abuse, addiction and mental illness.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org. 
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Danny Wicentowski
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