"Funny, he tends to make a bad first impression, until you realize he's got a heart of gold . . . and the courage of a lion to match."
William "Bill" Smithback, Jr. was a journalist and participant in several of Agent Pendergast's cases and other extraordinary events including the Museum Beast Murders and the Discovery of Quivira. He first appeared in Relic as a writer commissioned by the museum to write a book about the Superstition Exhibition.
Smithback never got to publish that book, but he did write a book about the Museum Beast Murders which was a great commercial success. Following the success of his book, Smithback took a job as crime reporter for the New York Post. He covered the Pamela Wisher murder and the New York Underground Murders for the Post.
Smithback and Kelly lived in an apartment at 666 West End Avenue on the Upper West Side. On their first anniversary, Smithback was stabbed to death in his apartment by a man named Colin Fearing who had supposedly died ten days earlier (Cemetery Dance).
Appearance and Mannerisms
Smithback was tall and lanky, with unruly brown hair. He was perpetually dishevelled and slightly grimy, like someone who was too busy at journalism to care about his appearance. Margo Green suspected that deliberately cultivated the look. He carried around a bundle of notes, computer disks, and photocopies related to his stories.
Smithback was playful and sarcastic, often cracking jokes even in inappropriate situations. He enjoyed drinking expensive scotch and port.
Smithback's family is rarely mentioned. In The Cabinet of Curiosities, it was mentioned that he has a half-sister.
In Relic, Smithback and Margo Green appeared to have a mutual attraction, but no relationship arose. He was also an acquaintance and occasional collabor of Special Agent Pendergast, although he had unpleasant memories of the time they spent together during the Museum Beast Murders case.
Smithback and Nora Kelly became close during the Quivira Expedition. When Nora Kelly moved to New York, they began dating. Kelly became angry with him after he jeopardized her career by mentioning her in a story about the discovery of the victims of 19th-century serial killer Enoch Leng. After the events of The Cabinet of Curiosities, the two patched up their relationship and eventually married.
While working at the Post, Smithback developed a professional and personal rivalry with fellow crime reporter Bryce Harriman, then of the New York Times. Following the publication of two successful books (one on the Museum Beast Murders and one on the New York Underground Murders), Smithback was hired at the Times, while Harriman moved to the Post. The two men continued their rivalry, with Harriman scooping Smithback a number of times on the Surgeon Copycat Murders case.
Smithback had been with the Times for four years at the time of his death.
The Cabinet of Curiosities
By the time of The Cabinet of Curiosities, Smithback and Nora Kelly are dating. He remains a reporter at the New York times. A dinner meeting with Nora clues him onto the discovery of the Charnel House containing Enoch Leng's victims, and he proceeds to write a story about it.
Smithback is offered a story on a tourist murder, which would eventually be known as the first Surgeon murder, murders blamed on Smithback's story describing Enoch Leng.
However, he turns down the story in order to pursue a story on Anthony Fairhaven. The Fairhaven story turns into a dead end, while his rival Bryce Harriman gets the scoop on the Surgeon murders.
Not only is Smithback blamed for inciting the copycat murders done by The Surgeon, it serves to alienate Nora from him. While he is briefly able to inform her of the stabbing of Agent Pendergast before museum security removes him, he is unable to get her attention after that.
After being informed of the location of Leng's secret laboratory, Smithback is again scooped by Harriman, but decides to work on a story about Leng.
During his research, he is able to find Leng's personnel file at the museum, giving him an address: 891 Riverside Drive.
Smithback rents a car, and heads to the house, only to be captured by the Surgeon and operated on,barely surviving thanks to Pendergast and Nora finding the house.
The Book of the Dead
On Smithback and Nora's first wedding anniversary, they were celebrating at their apartment on West End Avenue in New York. Nora went out for a few minutes to pick up Bill's birthday cake, and while she was gone a man let himself into the apartment. Bill recognized him as Colin Fearing, another resident of the apartment building. Fearing attacked Smithback with a long knife. There was a struggle and Smithback was stabbed 14 times. The final blow, which pierced Smithback's heart, killed him almost instantly.
Fearing encountered Nora in the hallway and attempted to kill her too, but she fought him and the commotion brought neighbors out of their apartments, frightening him off.
Several other neighbors witnessed Fearing entering the building, struggling with Nora, and leaving again, and he was captured on security camera, despite the fact that he had allegedly committed suicide ten days earlier by jumping from a bridge, and had already been buried.
Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta, both personal friends of Smithback, began investigating his death. His wife Nora helped the investigation in a number of ways, by accessing information on stories Bill had been researching and passing them on to crime reporter Caitlyn Kidd, and by using the Museum's DNA sequencing equipment to confirm that the killer was in fact Colin Fearing.
Smithback's wife Nora and a reported from the West Sider newspaper, Caitlyn Kidd, followed up on some of Smithback's last stories, including a series about possible animal sacrifices in a remote area of northern Manhattan. They broke into a compound near Inwood Hill Park and were chased away by an unknown person.
A week after Smithback's death, his wife Nora attended a press club banquet where he was to be honored. During the banquet, a figure that appeared to be Smithback's reanimated corpse entered the building and attacked and killed Kidd as she prepared to give an award.