The man who broke into Miriam Smith’s New Jersey home more than 38 years ago, killing her parents and 3-year-old sister, had finally died.
She started to cry.
“Why are you crying, Mommy?” her 6-year-old daughter, Peyton, asked her Monday night. She held the girl close. “People just cry sometimes when they’re happy,” Smith said. She thought about how she was just a half-year younger than Peyton when she watched that man shoot her mom, dad, and sister Sandra.
He had stolen so much from her — her family, her innocence, her sense of safety — and saddled her with a survivor’s guilt that tormented her for decades, straining her family, and leading her to drugs and prostitution.
Now she looks at her children and thinks about the grandparents and aunt he robbed from them, too.
Louis Giambi was a drug dealer and hired hit man who murdered the wrong victims in their Camden County home — Smith’s sister and their parents, William and Catherine Stuart — in a crime that became known as the Pine Hill Massacre. Giambi, 83, died Friday.
Giambi spent most of more than 30 years of incarceration at the New Jersey State Prison, where he was serving three life sentences, but died at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, Matt Schuman, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, confirmed. The medical examiner’s office in Cumberland County did not immediately respond to requests for a cause of death.
“He didn’t deserve to live at all,” Smith, 44, said. “It obviously affected me greatly for many years.”
The April 1982 murders of William, 33, and Catherine Stuart, 34 — he was an insurance broker who worked from his garage and she was a typing teacher at Camden County College — and their daughter, known as “Sandy,” shocked their community, confounded investigators, and left the 5-year-old Miriam without a family.
After the murders, neighbors gathered around the split-level home, which was cordoned off with yellow rope, and told reporters how the Stuarts were devoted parents. Three years earlier, they had left for Peru to adopt Sandy, and while at the orphanage decided to adopt Miriam, too.
“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill him,” neighbor Jack Osborne said at the time. Another neighbor, Kate Jamieson, agreed. “The only thing I can figure,” she told a reporter, “is, somebody must have gotten the wrong house.”
Investigators reached a similar conclusion. Giambi had been hired to kill a witness in a criminal case and ended up committing an infamous mistaken-identity hit.
Wearing a long wig and high on drugs, authorities said, Giambi drove to the neighborhood on April 17 and kicked open the back door of a house around the corner from his intended target.
The girls were on Sandy’s bed when she heard a man order her parents to “get in the closet” in an upstairs hallway outside their door.
“Then he said, ‘Get in the bathroom,”’ Miriam testified at Giambi’s trial. He was carrying a small black gun. “Turn around,” he told Sandy. ‘You’ll not want to see this.‘”
When Miriam peeked, she saw her little sister in the doorway. “After Mommy, Poppy got shot, Sandy started to cry,” she testified. The man then told Sandy, “If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to shoot you.”
Sandy ran to her parents, clinging to her father’s leg. Giambi shot all three with a .22-caliber pistol equipped with a silencer at point-blank range. He didn’t see Miriam.
After he left, she ran across the street to a neighbor’s home and testified that she told them: “My folks are dead.”
A Superior Court jury in Camden convicted Giambi of murdering the Stuarts and he was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences plus 16 years. Capital punishment law was not allowed when he committed the crimes. Throughout the trial, he maintained his innocence.
“I am here to be sentenced for a crime I was convicted of that I had nothing to do with,” Giambi said before sentencing, the Associated Press reported at the time.
It has angered Smith that Giambi claimed he was innocent. She saw the murder of her parents and baby sister in her home, and it derailed her life.
She told The Inquirer in 2016 that she became addicted to cocaine in middle school. She had her first child at 15, spent time in jail, and ended up in prostitution, which led to an angry client’s running over her with his car, almost killing her.
“I felt like I was responsible for my sister, and I felt guilty for having survived,” she said.
Now 11 years sober, Smith believes she is alive for a reason. She thinks back to how she wasn’t supposed to be adopted on that day when her parents came to pick up Sandy, how she lived when her family died, how she survived other near-death experiences.
She works as the director of women’s housing at Solution House, a nonprofit in Frankford that provides a sober space for people who are suffering from homelessness, addiction, or other issues.
“I just believe there is a greater purpose for me to be here, to raise my grandkids, or just to help women who are also struggling with addiction,” she said, “to give them the strength that they need, that they don’t think they have.”
Smith has developed a routine around the anniversary of the murders. She takes off from work, and keeps the kids home from school and lets them pick out flowers. (In addition to Peyton, she lives in the Mayfair section of the city with daughter Samirah, 12, and two grandchildren; her two adult daughters live elsewhere.)
They go to Eglington Cemetery in Clarksboro, where her family is buried, and she tells the girls how her parents were “selfless and kind.”
She remembers how safe she felt in her parents’ home, and shares stories of her dad teaching her to ride a bike, the birthday party she had at a McDonald’s, and the way Sandy would suck in her cheeks and give “fish kisses.”
She used to check online each April that Giambi was still locked up. When asked about him in 2016, she said, “I hope he rots in there.”
Upon hearing of his death, she said she wanted to go to the cemetery with the kids to visit her family.