Miami-Dade County

Suspected Miami serial killer pleads guilty to 1994 murder of elderly woman

Suspected serial killer Reginald Smith, who had been awaiting trail for the vicious beating death of an elderly North Miami-Dade woman for a staggering 18 years, pleaded guilty Wednesday and agreed to serve life in prison.

Smith, 44, admitted to the 1994 killing of Dorothy Cooper, 79, as well as to the attempted murder and robbery of nature guide Virginia Hoffmann, 73, who was beaten so badly that she nearly died.

In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors waived the death penalty.

“There’s no such thing as closure,” said Cooper’s daughter, Judy Cooper, 69, of Boston. “He has no remorse. This man has no conscience. He targeted the most vulnerable.”

Smith’s attorney, Jimmy Dellaferra, said: “The fact that he has taken responsibility for his crimes, and will be leaving prison in a body bag, is appropriate justice.”

Homicide detectives also suspect Smith in the murders of at least two other elderly women, but there was never enough evidence to charge him. As part of the plea deal, he also agreed Wednesday to speak to Miami and Miami-Dade detectives about his involvement in those cases.

Smith was first arrested in January 1995 regarding the Cooper and Hoffman beatings as well as the armed robbery of a hair salon. He was convicted in the robbery, for which he already was serving a life sentence.

The other cases lingered for nearly two decades, going through a parade of defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

“It should never have gone on for 19 years,” said Judy Cooper, who praised the latest prosecutors, Gary Winston and Lisa Jacobs, for their work to resolve the case.

The string of slayings, all of which began as home-invasion robberies, occurred in North Miami-Dade in November and December 1994. They prompted police to warn older women against opening their front doors to strangers.

Smith had just been released from state prison after serving 36 months of a 42-month sentence on a gun-possession conviction.

Cooper, a widow, was found beaten to death in the bedroom of her home just west of Miami Shores on Dec. 9, 1994. The crime was discovered when Cooper, a feisty, independent woman who had lived in her house since 1946, failed to respond to a senior citizens’ transport service van that picked her up every Friday.

The other victims: Helen Stiles, 81, who was found bludgeoned and stabbed to death in her Shorecrest house. The home had been ransacked with no signs of forced entry.

Smith’s suspected accomplice, Barbara Laidler, is now serving life in prison for that murder.

The third murder victim was 79-year-old Mae Pergolese. Her best friend found her beaten to death inside her home not far from Cooper’s home.

Authorities at the time said they believed Smith had been using crack cocaine. He boasted a lengthy criminal record for armed burglary, armed robbery and other violent crimes.