The Journal Gazette
Saturday, May 15, 2021 1:00 am

Suspect charged with murder in hotel death

Arrested in Muncie; says Decatur woman pilfered his narcotics

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

A man accused of killing a 35-year-old Decatur woman by beating and drowning her at a hotel on Fort Wayne's northwest side told an accomplice he was upset because she had stolen and used his narcotics, court records said. 

Terry Smith Jr., 34, whose last address was in Bluffton, was charged Friday with murder in the death of Tiffany I. Ferris, 34, who investigators believe was killed after 9 p.m. Sunday.

Smith was arrested without incident about 6 p.m. Thursday in Muncie by Fort Wayne homicide and vice and narcotics detectives, Indiana State Police and Muncie police officers, according to Sgt. Tim Hughes, head of the city's homicide unit. He was being held at the Allen County Jail without bail.

Smith was also charged with armed robbery and criminal confinement in a subsequent incident at 9:30 a.m. Monday at Hawthorn Suites in the 4900 block of Lima Road, court documents said. 

According to a probable cause affidavit written by homicide Detective Matthew Cline, a woman and man were with Smith when he killed Ferris in a room at Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, 3320 Coliseum Blvd. W. The room was used for storage and accessed by an outdoor window. The unidentified woman told Cline she was ordered by Smith to help tape Ferris' arms and legs after he repeatedly hit her on the head, stood on her neck and kicked her. 

Smith then “held (Ferris') head under the water in the bathtub until she was deceased,” the female witness said in court records. 

Smith then decided to stage the scene to look like Ferris died from a drug overdose, placing drug paraphernalia nearby and burning some of the tape used on Ferris. He removed bloodstained portions of the carpet using scissors and then took off Ferris' clothes, court documents said. 

The witness said she, Smith and the male witness left the room with the carpet and threw it out of Smith's truck, described as a black Ford F-150 with black rims, documents said. 

Detectives were led to Smith after a resident at Hawthorn Suites called police to report the armed robbery, set up by the female witness, according to a probable cause written by Fort Wayne Detective James King. 

The woman called the victim asking if she could wait in his room while her boyfriend, the male accomplice, found their room voucher. When her boyfriend arrived, Smith, aka “Long-Way,” was with him. The two men pulled out a handgun and a butcher knife and ordered the victim to the floor, documents said. 

While the male accomplice held the knife and gun over the victim, Smith and the woman started taking all of his belongings, including collectible football and baseball cards, jewelry, shoes, laptop computers and $600, court documents said. 

After the three stuffed everything they wanted in bags, they ordered the victim to go to the restroom while Smith held the gun on him and the other man, the knife. The victim believed the two were planning to kill him and jumped from a second-floor window, breaking his hip and suffering bruises and scratches to his right side. He was taken to a hospital. 

With help from the victim and the female accomplice, detectives were able to identify the three. One of the accomplices also admitted to being with Smith when Ferris was killed, documents said. 

The man and the woman were charged Thursday with armed robbery after they were picked up Wednesday in Indianapolis. At that time, Smith was also with them and all of them were using Smith's Ford pickup truck, court documents said.

During police interviews, detectives learned details of Ferris' death, court documents said. 

Ferris' sister, who asked not to be identified, told The Journal Gazette that the family was “heartbroken. She was so tiny. So tiny and beautiful. She was like 4 feet, 10 inches tall, 90 pounds soaking wet.” 

“She was a beautiful girl. A mommy. A friend. A sister. An aunt. And someone took her life,” her sister said. 

Records obtained from the Fort Wayne Police Department indicate police were called to Suburban Extended Stay hotel 264 times since May 20, 2020. Reasons included narcotics, disturbances, threats, vandalism, stolen vehicles, armed individuals, threats, warrants, fights, domestic incidents and shots fired.

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