On June 1, 2002, Shelby County medical examiner Dr. O. C. Smith was found handcuffed to a window guard in a county morgue stairwell, wrapped in barbed wire, with a motion-sensitive bomb strapped to his chest.

Smith told the police that the assailant ambushed him around 10 pm as he was leaving work, and splashed him with lye before tying him up with barbed wire.

The assailant came armed with enough wire to wrap Smith’s ankles and wrists – and what looked like a crown of thorns around his head.

Former Shelby County medical examiner Dr. O. C. Smith wrapped in barbed wire after being discovered by police.
Former Shelby County medical examiner Dr. O. C. Smith wrapped in barbed wire after being discovered by police.

The attacker then glued a homemade bomb to Smith’s chest and spoke for the first time: “Push it, pull it, twist it, and you die. Welcome to death row.”

Officers carefully freed Smith from his shackles and called veteran bomb squad members to the scene to remove and neutralize the bomb. The medical examiner was then rushed by ambulance to the hospital.

Thankfully, Dr. O. C. Smith escaped serious injury. He was treated for minor cuts and burns and was later released.

Fearing that there was a madman on the loose in Memphis who could strike again, a task force of federal, state, and local authorities made it a top priority to find him, especially after learning that Smith had been targeted before.

Three months earlier, in March 2002, a Molotov cocktail and a crude bomb were found outside the morgue, in the same stairwell where Smith would later be attacked.

In a shocking development, after an exhaustive 15-month investigation and more than 100 leads, detectives concluded that the highly respected doctor, who had worked for the state of Tennessee for over 20 years, staged his attack.

O.C. Smith leaves the Federal Courthouse
O.C. Smith, second from left, leaves the Federal Courthouse with defense team member J.D. Douglas, left, wife Marge, third from left, and an unidentified woman at far right. (A.J. WOLFE, THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL)

Investigators began questioning Smith’s story when inconsistencies emerged with each recounting of the attack. Detectives were also surprised by the fact that Smith did not fight back and was easily overwhelmed by his assailant, despite having a military background.

Prosecutor Pat Harris, who examined the photographs, argued that the famed medical examiner should have suffered injuries to his face from the barbed wire and the acid that were much worse than they appeared.

In February 2004, Dr. O. C. Smith was indicted for lying to the investigators and illegal possession of a bomb. During the trial, prosecutors insisted that Smith had a mental disorder that compelled him to seek attention.

After three days of deliberating, only three of the 12 jurors had voted guilty, and the judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

Until his death in 2019, Smith never admitted his guilt and told the press he was scared for his life, despite there being no further attacks against him.

This story originally appeared in this year’s biggest true-crime hit 365 Days of Crime.
From the death row inmate who sued the state for botching his execution, to a bank robber who gave the cashier his full name and address, 365 Days of Crime is the ULTIMATE true crime treat.