Relatives of an Austin teen missing since 2008 believe she was killed at the hands of a former neighbor who is now in Cook County Jail, charged in the rapes of five women, including the kidnapping of two 14-year-old girls.
Jimmie Terrell Smith, 38, lived in a second-floor apartment in the same West Congress Parkway two-flat where Yasmin Acree, then 15 years old, went missing six years ago on Jan 15. Smith was arrested in 2009 and charged with a string of rapes between 2006 and 2009.
While the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County States Attorney’s Office would not comment on an active investigation, Yasmin’s aunt, Rose Starnes, and cousin, Rev. Ira Acree, believe Yasmin is no longer alive and may have been killed by Smith.
Smith allegedly admitted as much in an August 2013 jailhouse meeting between Starnes and Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church. Since 2011, Smith has maintained in interviews with reporters from the Chicago Tribune and the police that he has information about Yasmin’s disappearance.
“I really don’t believe that Yasmin is alive now,” Starnes told Austin Weekly News in an exclusive interview. “I really, really don’t. I always felt like Jimmie Smith had something to do with it, too. But I still want the police to find some kind of evidence where it is for sure.”
Smith has not been charged by police in Yasmin’s disappearence and has never stated publicly to news media that he had anything to do with her death.
Acree and Starnes said they met with Smith after he phoned her in August, requesting a meeting with both of them. Acree and Starnes said they both met Smith privately at Cook County Jail, 2700 S. California Ave. The meeting reportedly lasted an hour. Starnes said she was not apprehensive. She wanted to know what happened. She wanted the truth.
“He really didn’t want to tell us much when we first went there. He finally broke down and … let us know everything,” Starnes said. “I asked him first is she alive. He shook his head and said no.”
But according to Starnes, Smith said he took Yasmin to a house in the 2200 block of South Spaulding where Yasmin allegedly committed suicide. Starnes said she did not believe that. When Starnes and Acree asked where the body was, according to Starnes, Smith reportedly said he burned the body in a garbage can to dispose it.
She questioned why would Smith burn her body if she committed suicide? Starnes believes Smith raped Yasmin and then killed her.
“That is what he is in jail for now,” said Starnes, who knew Smith’s family.
Starnes said she believes some of Smith’s account because he described a certain pair of boots missing from Yasmin’s bedroom.
“He told me too many things about that basement,” she said, noting that Smith was not allowed in Yasmin’s basement bedroom when he lived at the apartment. “I know he’s the one who took Yasmin out of that basement.”
The realization that Yasmin might not be alive is a bitter bill to swallow for the family. On the Jan. 15 anniversary of Yasmin’s disappearance, Acree held a prayer vigil at Starnes’ Austin Boulevard home. Acree said he felt he can no longer keep silent about their conversation with Smith, even at the urging of police.
“At this point … I just want truth to come out. … I don’t know what the upside is or what’s to gain about not expressing what was told to me,” he said.
“None of us can rest until we find out exactly what happened,” added Rev. Marshall Hatch, of New Mount Pilgrim MB Church. “We have worked with the police for six years. All the information [Acree] has, has been shared with them. At this point, some of us are losing confidence that this is a top priority for the police department.”
The family has been highly critical of the police’s handling of Yasmin’s disappearance from the onset. The family said the police were quick to label Yasmin as a runaway and missed crucial evidence that Yasmin’s basement bedroom had been burglarized. Acree said the police did not consider as evidence a lock, which was cut from a security door leading to Yasmin’s basement bedroom.
“Their conduct is significant,” Acree said, noting that he’s unaware of any disciplinary proceedings against those officers who he believes mishandled the case.
Hatch urged the family to seek legal counsel “to really challenge the police to resolve this case.” Hatch said the police have a “special responsibility” to the family since they “botched the case” and to pursue Smith as a suspect in Yasmin’s disappearance.
“We don’t expect to be back here next year with no answers,” Hatch said.
“It’s been six years now and we been through so much trauma,” Acree said.
“The evidence is quite clear that we lost some critical time at the onset of this case,” Hatch said. “Evidence was compromised.”