The sister of a mother-of-three found dead in Pennsylvania last month has spoken out about the possible connection between Idaho murders suspect Bryan Kohberger and her sibling’s disappearance.
Dana Smithers, 45, was last seen alive on 28 May 2022 when she left her friend’s house to walk a few doors down to her own home in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.
Almost one year later, her remains were finally discovered last month, with her cause of death still a mystery.
In a bombshell development this week, it emerged that Mr Kohberger’s parents Michael and Maryann Kohberger had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigating Smithers’ disappearance and death in their home state of Pennsylvania.
It remains unclear why the Kohbergers were called to testify in the case – with the revelation coming just days after their 28-year-old son appeared in court charged with the quadruple murders of Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, in Moscow, Idaho.
On Thursday, Smithers’ sister Stacey addressed the speculation that the two cases are connected, insisting that there is no known link and that Mr Kohberger has an alibi on the night of the disappearance.
Stacey told NewsNation that authorities had informed her even before Mr Kohberger’s arrest – and therefore before the discovery of Smithers’ remains – that a grand jury was meeting to investigate her sister’s case and other cases.
Then, following Mr Kohberger’s arrest, the grand jury began investigating whether he could have been involved in her disappearance.
Stacey said it quickly became clear that the cases weren’t connected and that the accused killer was not in the area at the time Smithers went missing.
The Stroud Area Regional Police Department also released a statement on Thursday insisting that there is “no evidence” showing a link between Mr Kohberger and Smithers’ disappearance.
“The Stroud Area Regional Police Department is aware of the many currently reported news articles, in which various media outlets have reported connections between the SARPD’s Dana Smithers missing person investigation and Idaho murder suspect Bryan Kohberger,” the statement read.
“The SARPD has NO EVIDENCE that Dana Smithers’ disappearance, is in ANY WAY tied to Idaho murder suspect Bryan Kohberger.”
Officials have offered no explanation as to why the Kohbergers were called to testify in the grand jury probe – and are unlikely to do so given grand juries operate in secret.
A source told CNN that the accused killer’s mother had already given evidence to the grand jury while his father was expected to testify on Thursday.
A lawyer for Mr Kohberger’s parents had reportedly tried to fight the subpoena but was unsuccessful.
The grand jury investigation remains ongoing and no findings have been revealed.
On 28 May 2022, Smithers vanished without a trace from Monroe County – the same county where Mr Kohberger was living at the time.
Her best friend Tara Cioni told NBC’s Dateline in December that Smithers had called into her home to hang out. The two women lived just a couple of doors down from each other and would often just stop by to see each other on an evening.
“We’re best friends. She’s been my neighbor for 16 years. We’ve raised our children together,” Ms Cioni told Dateline.
“It was an open door policy, like, with her. So she came in and she was here for a little bit.”
Ms Cioni said that, in hindsight, she wonders if something was troubling her friend that night.
Smithers – who had a history of substance abuse – was smoking, something she only did if she was “nervous” or on edge.
Ring video camera captured Smithers leaving her friend’s house at around 11.05pm, holding her cellphone in her hand.
She was never seen alive again.
Smithers’ cellphone, wallet and daily medication were all found at her home.
Smithers’ family grew concerned when they realised she hadn’t gone home and filed a missing persons report.
Stacey told Dateline at the time that they knew something must be wrong when she didn’t show up for Memorial Day celebrations with her children, aged 25, 23 and 7, on 30 May.
“She would not have missed Memorial Day,” said Stacey.
“She didn’t do anything that didn’t involve her kids. That was her thing. I mean she was always there with the kids.”
In June, the Pennsylvania State Police and local police carried out searches with cadaver dogs in a heavily wooded area close to her home. The search did not turn up anything and the case went cold for months.
Almost one year after she was last seen alive – on 27 April – Smithers’ remains were found in a wooded area in Stroudsburg.
Her cause and manner of death is not yet known.
At the time of Smithers’ disappearance in May 2022, Mr Kohberger was also living in Monroe County with his family.
That summer, he then moved cross-country to Pullman for a graduate program in criminal justice at Washington State University (WSU).
A few months later on 13 November, he allegedly broke into an off-campus student home just over the border in Moscow, Idaho, and murdered the four college students.
He was back at his parents’ home in the Pocono Mountains for the holidays when police swooped and arrested him for the quadruple murders on 30 December.
In that case, it remains unclear what motive and what connection Mr Kohberger may have had to the victims.