Arizona · Massacres/Mass Murder

Murdered for fame

November 12, 1966
Mesa, Arizona
Robert Benjamin Smith (18), wanting the fame accompanying murder, shoots 5 women and 2 children, killing 4 of the women and one child

Smith spent months devising a plan to achieve fame, deciding on Rose-Mar College of Beauty, believing it to hold a good number of potential victims, with both beauticians working and housewives frequenting the establishment. He entered the business holding a gun, then shot a mirror and commanded the occupants — 5 women and 2 children under 3 — into a back room. One of the women attempted to intimidate Smith into leaving by telling him “There’ll be 40 people here in a few minutes.” Smith replied “I’m sorry, but I didn’t bring enough ammunition for them.”

Smith’s original plan was to tie the women up, placing large sandwich bags over their heads to watch them slowly suffocate. To his dismay, however, the bags were too small to fit over their heads and he resorted to using the gun he had brought as a contingency plan. He ordered the women to lay on the floor in a circle with the children, with their heads in the center and their legs like wheel spokes. He then calmly shot each in the head. Eveline Cummings, the school’s operator, came in to the building to hear a man’s voice and “funny popping noises” and called police.

Joyce Sellers, mother of the two children, began to convulse so Smith stabbed her in the back to ensure her death. Her 3-year-old Debra also died before police arrived on the scene. Three of the other victims were alive by the time police arrived but died a short time later. The final woman was admitted to the hospital in critical condition while Joyce’s baby, Tamara Lynn Sellers, was able to survive with a gunshot wound to her arm (she had been shielded from a headshot by her mother’s body). When police questioned Smith, he gleefully confessed and stated “I wanted to get known, just wanted to get myself a name.”

Smith was sentenced to death in 1967, but his term was commuted to life in 1972.

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