An Eerie Resemblance?

How Similar Is Philly’s Gay Sex Crime With Swann Street’s?

Two hours to the north of Swann Street in the suburbs of Philadelphia a gay sex crime occurred with an eerie resemblance to the murder of Robert Wone.  As a former resident of Philadelphia, this is unfortunate because the home of the world champion Phillies and Frank Rizzo has always felt like the forgotten step sister of east coast cities when compared to Boston, New York and Washington, DC.

And in this gruesome situation, nothing has changed. While Robert Wone’s murder has caught a certain amount of attention, the Philadelphia case has gone largely unnoticed, especially outside of the Delaware Valley region. One of the reasons maybe that Robert Wone’s murder remains a vexing puzzle with unforgiving riddles at the heart of both the prosecution and defense theories.

In the Philly case, from all accounts, the murder can be easily explained. Its only question is who exactly murdered the victim. What follows are a few of the details that help explain the case.

Is William Smithson Philadelphia's Dylan Ward?

Philadelphia's William Smithson

In the early morning hours of September 19, 2006, 48 days after Robert Wone’s murder, Jason Shephard, a 23 year old intern from North State University in North Dakota was strangled at William Smithson’s home, a supervisor at the company where Shephard was interning. 

According to the prosecution, Smithson, 44, slipped the “date-rape” drug, gamma-hydroxybutric acid, or GHB, into Shephard’s Gatorade prior to trying to rape him.  He then strangled Shephard with some type of ligature.  

At the scene of the crime sex toys and sex aids were found.

A third man, F. Bruce Covington (aka Bruce Chapman) was also there, and was known for attending gay sex parties in the evening, bringing crystal methamphetamine, and was also experienced with injecting the drug.  Covington acknowledged bringing illicit drugs to Smithson’s residence at the time of Shephard’s death but has denied knowing anything about the homicide.

Covington has a history of being quietly let go from positions he held in planned giving at universities, as well as in Mormon philanthropy.  He was also immediately removed from his position as a Bishop in the Mormon Congregation where he lived in Utah. No answers have been given by the church.

Smithson readily admits that Jason Shephard came to his home in the Philadelphia suburbs for consensual sex.  Shephard had been over at Smithson’s place the night before where sex took place. From an interview that Smithson gave to the Philadelphia Gay News, he says that he was so tired that when Shephard arrived a second time “the last thing I remember is Jason elbowing me and saying ‘you’re passing out.'”

Even with limited information publicly available, a chronology of events can be put together by this editor.  Smithson had a few days off from work. He intended to have a party-and-play, or ‘pnp’, sex party at his home. Party-and-play is gay short hand for a sex party that includes crystal methamphetamine. The drug’s gay street name is commonly known as “tina”.

The first person to attend was Jason Shephard.  They agreed to have sex either by talking about it at work, running into each other in a bar, or  on an Internet gay sex hook up site.  He and Jason ‘pnp’ and have sex.  Jason leaves, Smithson stays up pursuing additional sexual hook ups online. Later, Jason returns. 

Now they have already stayed up one night, their bodies are tired, so they seek a third person with tina.  This will help keep them awake, and will also encourage their sexual appetite.  Covington arrives before or after Smithson falls asleep.  Smithson then contends that while he was asleep, Covington and Shephard ‘pnp.’

At some point, Covington goes beyond a certain point, freaks out and strangles Shephard.  He leaves, Smithson awakes to find a dead body in his house.  Because the body was found in Smithson’s home, authorities focused on Smithson.  

He was convicted of the murder this year.  His defense argued that the case did not reach reasonable doubt because Bruce Covington was also there, and should be looked at more closely.   Since that time, Covington has been arrested on drug charges.

Those are the facts.  Later this week we’ll look at the similarites and the differences and what they say about Robert’s case.

-posted by David

40 comments for “An Eerie Resemblance?

  1. WH
    06/16/2009 at 12:49 PM

    David: Thanks for bringing this case to our attention. I was not familiar with this case. I wanted to say that I do not care for the way you worded this sentence:

    “Party-and-play is gay short hand for a sex party that includes crystal methamphetamine. The drug’s gay street name is commonly known as “tina”.”

    I am gay, and I am not familiar with either of these “gay” terms: “party-and-play” nor “tina”. I’d hate for non-LGBT readers to get the impression that all of us universally engage in these activities (no judgement intended on those who do, but it’s not my cup of tea!).

    • Bea
      06/16/2009 at 1:35 PM

      WH, I appreciate your comments but also know that the editors do a lot of work to keep up this site (while working full time) and expect that “gay short hand” and “gay street name” was a shortcut of saying what you rightfully point out – that some gay people engage in such activities and would know these terms. I did know “tina” (though I don’t “know her” intimately :)) and it was through gay friends.

      • WH
        06/16/2009 at 1:42 PM

        Thanks Bea. No disrespect intended to the editors; I recognize and appreciate their hard work in trying to bring justice for Robert. I just couldn’t help clarifying this point, in light of the current vilification of our relationships by no less than the Obama administration. I’m afraid I may be getting hyper-sensitive, but can you blame me?

        • Bea
          06/16/2009 at 2:03 PM

          Nope. It’s a point well taken. That said, the editors are “reporting” something that (like it or not) is spot-on. There is a subculture in which such activities and names are well known (no judgment intended).

          • WH
            06/16/2009 at 2:16 PM

            I have to add (forgive me, everyone!) that when I said “no judgment intended” above, I mean specifically, no judgment on the *character* of those who engage in these activities. Regarding judging the activities themselves: as an HIV physician, I have to strongly discourage both meth use and unsafe sexual activities. OK, I’m probably preaching to the wrong crowd on this site, but I wouldn’t sleep tonight if I did not put it out….

    • David
      06/16/2009 at 2:18 PM

      WH,

      As Bea says no harm taken. I certainly don’t expect all gay folks to fall under one rubric. I am thankful that is the case.

      We’ll work on making sure that as much of the case’s language is explained while not implicating our community in one broad stroke.

      David, co-ed.

      • WH
        06/16/2009 at 2:25 PM

        Thanks David. And thanks again to you and all the editors for your hard work on this site!

      • mr.ripley
        06/16/2009 at 6:10 PM

        Perish the thought that you would implicate the whole community! You shouldn’t have to say something so obvious as that some gay men recognize drug lingo while others don’t. Not saying that implicates no one and saying it is pedantic. Your work is great the way it is.

    • AnnaZed
      06/16/2009 at 6:18 PM

      Hi David, I too think you might consider adding a caveat to that description of a certain kind of activity and drug use pattern.

      I am not sure how to recommend wording it, but I am reminded by reading it that the drug use that you describe is an illegal activity and hardly reflective of the wider “gay culture” with which I constantly interact.

      My daughter is a lesbian, my dear beloved late brother was homosexual (these are just examples) and neither of these people would ever even think of engaging in the activities which you describe and would not recognize those street terms for illegal drug use and would object to characterization of these habits as being specifically “gay.” In fact, my own experience in New York and LA is that by far the majority of drug abusers known to me are heterosexuals.

  2. CDinDC
    06/16/2009 at 1:04 PM

    common thread? drugs

    I wonder if they were trolling on alt.com.

  3. 06/16/2009 at 7:11 PM

    being in philly, i followed this investigation. it is terrible – this one actually picked his victims parents up at the airport when they were looking for him – they were from the midwest, i believe. smithson: true PNP garbage. another potential common point in this case — mental illness/depression. smithson and ward both are struggling with mental health issues — perhaps made worse by tina.

    • CDinDC
      06/16/2009 at 7:57 PM

      Pat’s or Geno’s?

      • 06/16/2009 at 8:13 PM

        jim’s on south, darling! 🙂

        • CDinDC
          06/16/2009 at 8:21 PM

          Around the “corner” from Beau Monde!

  4. CDinDC
    06/16/2009 at 8:05 PM

    “Since that time, Covington has been arrested on drug charges.”

    Gawd….not only drug charges, but a victim came forward…..

    From a Feb. 2008 article:

    “Former Saint Joseph’s University employee F. Bruce Covington has been charged with drug-related offenses and is being held on $500,000 bail.

    Covington, 57, of Narbreth has also been named a suspect in the alleged drugging and rape of a 27-year-old man on Feb. 8, according to an affidavit of probable cause written by Narberth Police Sgt. Robert Yantorno. Covington’s residence was searched on Feb 12.

    No sexual-assault-related charges have been filed.

    Covington was the director of planned giving in the Office of Development until this month.

    Covington faces one count of possession of marijuana, three counts of drug possession with intent to deliver, 116 counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one count of conspiracy.

    Narberth police were contacted by the Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit regarding the alleged rape. They then interviewed the victim, who had been admitted to the Fairmount Hospital Behavioral Center due to the “severe trauma of his rape”, according to the affidavit.”

    • Anonymous in DC
      06/16/2009 at 8:22 PM

      Jesus. How many of those monsters are out there? Is this the “new” thrill?

      For everyone who can’t imagine that it wasn’t consensual sex gone wrong on Swann Street, there really are sociopaths in the world.

      • CDinDC
        06/16/2009 at 8:24 PM

        And, like Robert Wone, the victim was straight.

        • Doug
          06/17/2009 at 7:48 AM

          For the record, CDinDC, while Jason Shephard’s former girl friend insists Jason was straight, William Smithson has said that he and Jason had previously engaged in consensual sex and that, in fact, was the purpose for his coming to Smithson’s house that evening.
          Doug, co-editor

          • DCLC
            06/17/2009 at 9:10 AM

            So, it is very possible that Robert Wone was also gay (in the closet)

            • CDinDC
              06/17/2009 at 10:33 AM

              Well, gay, straight, bi, hermaphrodite, whatever…..dead = dead.

              • CDinDC
                06/17/2009 at 12:22 PM

                So, if Mr. Shepard went there to have consensual sex, why is he now dead? Why was he given a classic “date-rape” drug? Wouldn’t he have been a willing participant?

                So, I suppose the question to ask in this case AND Robert Wone’s case, is whether the victims were lured for the intent of murder.

                • Idiots
                  06/24/2009 at 7:42 PM

                  Jason was not gay. Go by facts that were proven in the case and not by what some idiot with no remorse for his stupid behavior and regret for any factor of his lifestyle had to say.

          • 06/17/2009 at 10:00 PM

            i would treat every word that came from smithson’s mouth as garbage, not much different from smithson himself. having followed this case somewhat, i truly don’t recall this tidbit — when did he say it – at his sentencing when he also said he was depressed to be gay and had drug and money problems? i don’t think he took the stand otherwise.

            • CDinDC
              06/17/2009 at 10:18 PM

              From a news article: Smithson…. confided in a former lover who works in law enforcement in Virginia, police said. He allegedly told him that Shephard had rejected his romantic overtures “and started to physically fight his advances.”

              That doesn’t sound like a planned consensual liason to me.

              The authorities also found child porn on Smithson’s computer.

              • Bea
                06/17/2009 at 11:14 PM

                Scum is what scum does.

    • Susan
      08/26/2009 at 8:24 PM

      F. Bruce Covington seems protected in the Delaware County case. Everyone seems to be looking the other way. Anyone else who had been in the home where a murder occurred, then lied about it, would generally be charged with something. Interestingly enough, the DA waited until after the statute of limitations has run to file drug charge informations against him. A witness has testified that Covington assaulted him and injected him with incapacitating drugs. Covington used to be in charge of fundraising for Georgetown University in DC, and is believed to have continued to visit the area after he left Georgetown. Is he related in anyway to the Covington law firm? When the case in Delaware County was proceeding, no one on the defense team could figure out why the DA and police were going out of their way to avoid charging Covington. Initially, they thought he might have some political protection from local politicians. This thinking evolved to the belief that he may be protected by high level government officials or politicians in Washington. Who knows, maybe he has incriminating photos? Of course, this is mere speculation and can probably never be proven.

      • Just Another Friend
        08/27/2009 at 10:34 AM

        The Covington of Covington & Burling, J. Harry Covington, died in 1939. Although it is possible that F. Bruce is related in some way to J. Harry, he is not affiliated with the Covington & Burling law firm.

  5. CDinDC
    06/16/2009 at 9:05 PM

    Soooo, if the Jason Shepard case ended in a murder conviction, whyyyy can’t this case?

  6. JusticeForRobert
    06/16/2009 at 9:50 PM

    Very enlightening and heart wrenching. As has been stated, we are all individuals not to be defined singularly by our sexuality. I am very well aware of PNP and TINA and yet have never done either. I worked for a year in one of the largest Bathhouse chains in the United States and gained some great insight into the underground. I also owned an adult supply company which sold “electro-sex” equipment. My sales of said peaked in 2006 out selling all other items of interest. I have some theory as to how Robert’s seaman could have ended up in his rectum. There are a multitude of devices that could have brought about this result. There are those who will make issue of Robert being straight and his rape and murder being allegidly perpetrated by gay men. In truth, I could care less. I am appalled by what was done to Robert because he was a human being and obviously a beautiful one, not because he was straight. The same holds true for the alleged perps. The crimes committed against Robert and his family are no worse because the perps are gay, they are despicable because no human being should ever be capable of such. The person and or persons involved in these crimes and in any cover up should be prosecuted to the maximum regardless of their orientation. This will never bring Robert back, it may only bring little peace to his family. It would ensure however that no other person would be violated in such a way by the monsters responsible. Although I did not know Robert personally, I cant help but think that he would appreciate that most.

    • CDinDC
      06/16/2009 at 9:55 PM

      Well said, Justice. Very well said.

      • Bea
        06/16/2009 at 9:58 PM

        Second.

        • Nelly
          06/17/2009 at 4:56 PM

          Justice, I appreciate your thoughtful post. I’m still lurking around here but not posting much, since I don’t have much else to add, except “yes, I agree!” and “Justice for Robert Wone!”

    • 06/17/2009 at 1:03 PM

      Third!

      JFR: Is it possible that the electroejaculation toy they found could have done it? Easy to clean?

      Could someone confirm that RW’s semen was also found on his body — not just the area JFR just mentioned. That was my impression, but just confirming.

      I just don’t think you need to use a date rape or paralytic drug on someone who is willing — if they were willing, it sort of defeats the entire purpose of the act.

      So, does anyone think it’s possible that maybe he was slipped something in the water in the beginning, was shot up with Special K or whatever (in strange places that wouldn’t be as noticable as track marks when he awoke – b/c I’m not sure they intended to kill him when this thing was concocted) and then was stabbed/cut when they thought he was already dead.

      WH, since you’re a Dr., can you confirm what RW’s vitals would have been (blood pressure) if he was under date rape and paralytic (from what I heard/read, the organs and everything run normal, but it’s not always apparent that the person is functioning normally from an onlooker)? Also, would someone have been able to make the first cut while soaking up blood from the cut with towels over it and then by the time the 2nd and 3rd were made, most of the blood was drained from the 1st?

    • Corgivet
      06/17/2009 at 8:35 PM

      Indeed, well said Justice… I think it would be fair to say that this kind of reckless behavior occurs in the gay and non gay world…

  7. AnnaZed
    06/18/2009 at 1:47 AM

    I like Justice’s post as well, and think that really is the point of following the case and trying to keep it in people’s minds so that it can be solved.

    As to this post:

    >DCLC, June 17, 2009 at 9:10 AM, So, it is very possible that Robert Wone was also gay (in the closet)

    I think the presence of Robert’s mouth guard in his mouth (which indicates to me that he was preparing for sleep) argues convincingly that whatever his orientation he was not planning to have sex with anyone at that time and place and that he was attacked both sexually and homicidally.

  8. JusticeForRobert
    06/18/2009 at 2:39 AM

    I don’t believe that Robert’s association with Joe, Victor and Dylan in anyway indicates that he was anything but “a friend to all”. There has never been one sliver of evidence that Robert had any gay encounters ever. It is not unusual for a straight man to be friends with a gay man and vice versa. I lovingly joke often that I have many straight friends and I don’t hold that against them 🙂 . In all seriousness, trying to second guess Robert’s sexuality does nothing for this case. The man was brutally murdered, nothing will ever change that fact.

  9. Anonymous in DC
    06/18/2009 at 8:40 AM

    Agreed. I don’t understand this whole “Gotcha! Must have been in the closet!” mentality. It’s so similar to the blame the victim mentality that occurs with women who are raped. The man was MURDERED.

    • CDinDC
      06/18/2009 at 1:37 PM

      Exactly, AnonDC…..like what I said above, dead=dead.

      The murderers of Robert Wone would be NO LESS guilty if Robert went there with the intention of having sex or NOT. Robert was murdered. Period.

      It would be a different story if Robert walked out of that house the next morning and accused the men of rape. Then it might come into play. But that’s not the case here.

  10. Eduardo
    07/22/2009 at 7:07 AM

    THE PROTECTION OF F BRUCE CONVINGTON

    Those who followed Jason’s murder case and witnessed the trial know that Judge Dozor and DA Thomas Lawrie used an impressionable and incompetent Jury (members of which were sleep at times!!!) to ‘cook’ Smithson’s conviction.

    F Bruce Covington (aka, Bruce Chapman for the Gay/Drugs underworld) should have been -at the least- ‘a person of interest’ and the most important source of information in Jason’s murder trial.

    Moreover, many in the community think that Covington should have been investigated and subjected to the trial as Smithson was. This is because either Covington or Smithson could have strangled Jason (not just Smithson).

    The record shows that Covington lied to the police by telling them he was not in the house when the murder happened. He only recanted when he was told that the police had material evidence proving otherwise.

    Some months later, Covington was ‘caught’ in the (How should I say it?)- “alleged” drugging and raping of Manny F: A case even the Media found oddly similar to Jason’s case.

    Instead investigating Covington or bringing him to testify, Thomas Lawrie and Judge Dozor gave outmost importance to the testimony of a person who had not been in the house at the time of the murder. A person whose testimony was not preserved on tape, and one many suspect should never had been admitted by Court (once the person and the conditions of the statement are examined closely).

    As time progresses, information is surfacing indicating that is a ‘tradition’ in Judge Dozor’s Courthouse to send to jail anyone ‘who deserves it’, not according to Justice, but according to ‘his opinion’, and by means of legal trickery. Protecting Covington is just one of them.

    Not a single piece of material evidence was presented to the Jury. Instead the Judge allowed ‘speculations’ to be admitted as proof. For instance: the DA showed a strap and implied that it was the murder weapon. He even said that they have DNA tests relevant to the case. In sotto voce the DA then proceeded to admit that only Smithson’s DNA was found on the strap. Why was the strap story even admitted to Court? It was known Smithson used intravenous drugs, so a strap was as ‘strange’ a findings as a lighter in a smokers home.

    Finally, it is also surfacing that Judge Dozor not only ‘instructed’ the Jury, but gave them ‘rules’ set up to guarantee Smithson’s conviction.

    The Smithson case was not a Fair Trial. Just consider this: two men could have murder Jason. The Delaware County system prosecuted only ONE.

  11. Friend of Smithson
    08/27/2009 at 1:09 PM

    David:

    In your comment you say:

    “The first person to attend was Jason Shephard. They agreed to have sex either by talking about it at work, running into each other in a bar, or on an Internet gay sex hook up site. He and Jason ‘pnp’ and have sex. Jason leaves, Smithson stays up pursuing additional sexual hook ups online. Later, Jason returns.”

    This is not really the way we understood that the sequence of events took place. We are very curious to know where you got that information since it was not stated that way in court. We would be grateful to know any additional information you may have or the source where this is available.

    Thank you for any help you can offer.

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