Wife allegedly paid man to beat husband to death over real estate

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(CNN)George Smith lived on the beach, worked on the beach, played on the beach and raised a family on the beach.

On the night of August 6, 2007, Smith died on the beach, the victim of a beating so brutal it left him unrecognizable.
Eight years later, one man is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole for Smith's murder. His alleged accomplice is a fugitive wanted for homicide. That fugitive is George Smith's wife.

George and Lorrain

George Smith was a well-liked and somewhat eccentric fixture in the small Texas coastal community of Surfside Beach.
He was famous for his passion for surfing, and famous for opening a ramshackle burger joint, claiming to make the best burgers in the solar system.
Margaret Lorrain Smith, 56

  • Wanted by the Brazoria County, Texas sheriff's office for homicide
  • Last seen August 2009
  • Known to alter her naturally dark, curly hair or wear wigs
  • May be moving back and forth between Mexico and the U.S.

But after closing down his restaurant, and after Smith and his wife Lorrain had their fourth child and moved away from Surfside, money became tighter for the family.
As Scarlet Sears, the couple's daughter, told CNN's "The Hunt with John Walsh," "My dad's property at the beach was worth about $3-4 million dollars. (My mother) wanted him to sell his property to make some money, but he didn't want to sell it. He kept the property because he wanted to pass it down to his kids."
This conflict contributed to the growing distance between George and Lorrain Smith. By the early 2000s, she was talking divorce. She moved out of the family home and found herself a younger boyfriend. Her children were shocked as she dyed her hair, began wearing provocative clothing, and hung out with a young crowd of alleged drug-dealing partyers.
Stricken, George Smith still refused to divorce her.
'She signed my name and took the money'
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Around 2006, Lorrain's strategy for liquidating their property allegedly changed: George told friends she had forged his signature on sales documents and sold one of his parcels without him knowing it.
According to family friend Bing Cosby, this made Smith furious. "They had a big fight. He went next door, and had his friends make up a ... will and he changed his will, left everything to the kids, got her out of it, had them sign it, said 'Here, something happens to me, give it to them.'"

Beaten to death

On August 6, 2007, Lorrain invited George to dinner at their favorite Mexican restaurant. He accepted.
"He loved her, and he wanted to get back with Lorrain, he would do anything for her," noted Stephen Buchanan, a criminal investigator with the Brazoria County, Texas, Sheriff's office.
The next morning, his brutally beaten corpse was discovered on nearby Follett's Beach in Surfside, within earshot of the waves he once loved to surf.
George and Lorrain Smith
"With the trauma to his face, we were unsure if he was hit by a vehicle or not," Buchanan recalled. "But we were able to identify the deceased as George Smith by his driver's license."
At first, Lorrain denied any knowledge of his death, saying that the night before, George had gotten drunk, and they argued. She claimed he had kicked her out of his car on the way home.
"A couple of days later Lorrain called me back at the office and stated that she wanted to revise her statement," said Buchanan. "That everything she told me wasn't true."
According to Buchanan, she admitted to her children that she had been on the beach with George the night he was killed.

Murderer, accomplice or innocent man?

Their interest piqued, police examined Lorrain's phone records and traced a call made on the night of the murder to an ex-Marine named Dylan Laughrey, who lived in the same neighborhood as Lorrain's boyfriend.
When questioned, Laughrey admitted that Lorrain had tried to hire him to make a man "disappear" -- she had said the man was her sister's husband. But Laughrey insisted that he had refused.
"She said that she needed somebody to disappear ... her sister's husband who was abusing her sister and her sister's children for years now," Laughrey told "The Hunt."
"She had counted out some money and handed it to me," Laughrey said. "I told her well I didn't want anything to do with whatever it was she had going on and I tried to give her the money back. She refused to take the money, told me just to hold on to it."
Lorrain Smith
And the money Lorrain Smith gave to Dylan Laughrey? The Smiths' daughter, Scarlet Sears, told "The Hunt" it came from the property that her mother had sold off.
Other witnesses contradicted Laughrey's denials. They said he had asked around to borrow a weapon just before George was murdered. And the wounds that killed Smith matched the weapon Laughrey had been loaned: a heavy strip of metal from a car's undercarriage, a part known as a "leaf spring."
"The Medical Examiner's office was able to prove a leaf spring is what was used to kill George Smith," said Buchanan.
Both Lorrain Smith and Laughrey were arrested and charged with George Smith's murder. Laughrey maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.
"If Margaret Lorrain Smith was here right now, I would -- I'd probably ask her, 'Why? Why me?'" Laughrey told "The Hunt."

The Hunt for Margaret Lorrain Smith

Lorrain Smith posted bail, using as collateral the properties she had tried to convince her husband to sell.
According to U.S. Marshal Kyle Seitzinger, "weeks before her trial was set to start in 2009, Lorrain cut her ankle monitor off, (and) told her probation officer that she would be at a doctor's appointment. Lorrain got a ride from Angleton to Houston ... Several days later she was seen for the last time, picking up money at a Western Union in San Antonio. And she's been on the run ever since."
Police allege that "she was the instigator, the perpetrator up to the point, and was the brains behind the whole deal," notes CNN's John Walsh in the upcoming episode of "The Hunt" that features Smith's case. "Didn't anybody think she was going to run?"
Her bail collateral -- the deed to George Smith's best beach-front land -- was forfeited and the property was sold at a bargain price.
"Unfortunately there's nothing left from the property," daughter Scarlet Sears told "The Hunt." "The bail bonds company sold it for a very small amount of what it was worth. We couldn't fight for it, we couldn't afford to fight for it."
The land George had stubbornly protected, and for which he likely died, was lost to the family forever.
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"After all of her horrible planning, after (allegedly) arranging George's brutal murder," notes Walsh, "she lost it because she skipped her bond. It went to nobody in that family. The main purpose of killing George so she would get a windfall of money, she blew it all."
Margaret Lorrain Smith has a mole on the bottom of her right eyelid. She often dyes her naturally dark curly hair or wears wigs. She has a thyroid condition that requires medication. She may be moving back and forth between Mexico and the United States.
If you've seen Margaret Lorrain Smith or have any information regarding her whereabouts, call us at 1-866-THE-HUNT or go to our website, CNN.com/TheHunt. You can remain anonymous. We'll pass your tip to the proper authorities, and if requested, will not reveal your name.
See more of Smith's case on "The Hunt with John Walsh," at 9 p.m. ET/PT Sunday, August 16.