One of Akron’s most hideous crimes — the 1998 decapitation slaying of Lilius Landrum — will be featured this weekend on Investigation Discovery’s Happily Never After series.
The hourlong documentary program tells the true stories of couples torn apart near the time of their wedding or commitment day because of some secret betrayal.
But producers say that’s not what stood out about the Akron woman, who was following her dream as an aspiring actress, when her life abruptly ended at age 43.
David O’Donnell, co-executive producer of the series, said the crime and ensuing police investigation have “some remarkably compelling twists and turns. But what really struck us — and what we think will engage the viewer — was her life story: the amazing, selfless person she was.”
The program features interviews with Akron police detective Bertina King and former Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Christine Croce, now a Barberton municipal judge.
It will air on Investigation Discovery at 9 p.m. Saturday.
O’Donnell noted that during production interviews the family members and friends of Landrum “all talked about how giving and compassionate Lilius was at every turn, her entire life.”
Her innate kindness and deep spirituality, in fact, drew her to the man who would kill her — Tony Rahmel Smith, who was convicted of the slaying and is serving a life sentence in the Ohio prison system.
Landrum gave up her acting career in Los Angeles to return to Akron to care for her ailing mother. She was here for only about two years, working for a community agency, when she met Smith at church after he was released from jail after serving time on minor offenses.
She later tried to help him turn his life around and away from drugs.
“That’s the kind of loving person she was,” Landrum’s niece, Kamelah Hartwell, told the Beacon Journal in an interview in January when Smith was up for parole. “She always tried to help people and bring them closer to God.”
Smith, a former juvenile delinquent who was born in Columbus, told friends he had become a changed man by starting his own youth ministry and promoting Christian rap music. He told family members that he was an ordained minister.
At the time of the slaying, however, crime-scene investigators said they found rambling notes and biblical quotations in Smith’s writing with repeated use of the phrase “off tha head.”
Newspaper stories on the 1998 murder quoted police as saying it was one of the most horrific crimes they had ever seen. Landrum’s headless body was found lying on the basement floor of the couple’s Fern Street home.
“The fact that someone as righteous as Lilius was betrayed like this — so horribly and gruesomely betrayed — is utterly stunning,” O’Donnell said. “I think everyone’s hope is that maybe some viewers might recognize themselves in Lilius’ story in that they are in a similar relationship — and maybe save themselves before they suffer a similar fate.”
Smith, now 38, was denied parole following a Feb. 8 hearing by the Ohio Parole Board.
“While the offender has completed significant programming and had decent institutional conduct, release at this point, at the minimum sentence, would demean the seriousness and brutality of the instant offense,” the board’s decision stated.
Smith is not eligible for parole until December 2022, prison records show.
“Happily Never After” can be seen on Channel 139 (Time Warner Cable), Channel 260 (AT&T U-verse, HD 1260), Channel 285 (DirecTV) and Channel 192 (DISH Network).
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.