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Smelcer, Taylor families wish $10K reward was offered

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gov. Bill Haslam offered rewards Tuesday in three separate criminal cases involving Tennessee women, including a $10,000 reward in the case of Shelbyville teacher Shelley Mook.

But the announcement was bittersweet for the families of two other missing persons from Shelbyville. Bobby Smelcer, 52, went missing last November. Antonio Taylor, 21, hasn't been seen since September 1999.

The Smelcer family has petitioned District Attorney Charles Crawford for assistance and has made dozens of calls to Haslam's office.

Repeated attempts

"I called him the first day he was in office," said Kristy Ray of her calls to the governor's office. "They told me they were giving my request a 'high priority.'" Ray is a sister of Smelcer.

"How do they determine how much a person's life is worth?" said Karen Harris, another sister in Smelcer's large family.

"The governor's office called us this (Thursday) morning and said they were not going to grant a $10,000 reward for Bobby Smelcer," Sgt. Brian Crews, a Shelbyville police detective, said. "We had put in requests for Bobby Smelcer and Antonio Taylor earlier this year. I don't know how they choose who gets rewards and who doesn't."

City police didn't request a reward in the Mook case because she was last seen outside the city limits. The Bedford County Sheriff's Department and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are in charge of that case.

Within days of the April 13 disappearance of nursing student Holly Bobo in Parsons this year, Haslam's office announced a $50,000 reward.

Families speak

"I am happy for the families who have received this money, but it is a hard pill to swallow for families of missing loved ones, who get less or nothing," said Harris. "How do they determine the price of someone's life? Are some worth more than others?

"I am appalled to think that our governor is placing different dollar amounts for different missing persons or cases. Our brother Bobby is priceless to us, regardless of the assumption of our governor that he is worthless."

"It is good thing that [the governor] is doing that, but I feel it is unfair to my family," said Lillie Buchanan, the grandmother of Antonio Taylor. "I feel like it's unfair because Antonio and Bobby, they were human beings too. Just because they were not a woman, or a child, it shouldn't matter."

For each of the families, the rewards offered represent funds they've raised on their own, with $1,000 being funded by the local Crimestoppers organization.

"It's almost impossible to come up with a reward, unless you just ask people for money," said Ray. One of Smelcer's brothers has personally funded most of the reward in that case, the family said.

"Due to the resemblance of our tragic circumstances, I've gotten a chance to meet some of the members of the Mook family," Jennifer Smelcer said in an email. "I want to be sure to express to all of them just how happy I am that they have received the extra reward money. Hopefully it will open up new opportunities to find Shelley and what happened to her." Jennifer is one of Bobby's two daughters.

"We are happy to have received an additional $10,000 to add to the current reward for Shelley Jones Mook," Debra Sikora, her mother, said. "We hope that funds will soon be given for rewards for finding other missing persons. I know of two local families here in Bedford County who have been missing their loved ones for quite some time."

Funding process

Typically a local district attorney makes a written request of the governor's office for reward funding.

"Whether the governor's office receives a written request for a reward or not, these are all tough cases for communities to experience," said press secretary David Smith. "A local district attorney would submit a letter requesting a reward, and each request is carefully reviewed by the governor and his legal counsel."

In addition to calling the governor's office, the Smelcer family contacted Crawford in mid-April. They assert it was made in the same time period as the Mook family's request.

"He has hurt a lot of people," says Ray of Haslam. "I did not sleep last night. I was disappointed by the man who is supposed to be taking care of us. No one person is worth more than another."

"Coming from a similar situation as the Mook family, with a missing loved one as well, I'm delighted that they now have more money to offer in a reward that might lead to additional information," said Jennifer Smelcer, one of Bobby's two daughters.

"It gives me hope that we will be able to take advantage of this same program, as we have been in contact with the Governor's office on a weekly basis for the past several months," she said.

Search for Smelcer continues

Police continue to seek clues about Smelcer's whereabouts. "We were in Estill Springs yesterday (Wednesday) following up some information we got but didn't find anything," Crews said. "The Smelcer family and I talk daily and we're continuing to follow up any tips we receive."

-- David Melson contributed to this report.