Decades later, victims' families fight serial killer Smith's parole

Mark A. Smith
Mark A. Smith

CHICAGO – More than four decades after his crimes, admitted serial killer Mark A. Smith continues to torture his victims’ families, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Every three years, the families of the women he killed appear before a hearing of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board to ask them to deny Smith’s bid for an early release. The convicted murderer was not present at Wednesday’s hearing, which was video recorded. As the families listened to the details of his brutal murders, they relived the painful details of their loved ones’ final moments.

Each murder was disturbingly similar, all horrifyingly gruesome.

Smith is responsible for two murders in McHenry County in the 1970s, another in Cook County and a fourth in Arkansas. By his own admission in the book “Legally Sane,” Smith killed at least another eight in Germany, where he was stationed with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

A 20-year-old at the time, Smith brutally raped and murdered Jean Bianchi, a 27-year-old mother of two young children, and 17-year-old Jean Anne Lingenfelter, both of McHenry.

Bianchi – who is of no relation to McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi – disappeared from a McHenry laundromat on Jan. 27, 1970, leaving behind her laundry and an unfinished letter.

Smith forced her in his car at knifepoint. He repeatedly stabbed and raped her. He dumped her body off a bridge outside McHenry, and came back when he saw her climbing up an embankment.

In his book, he said he could hear her lungs fill with blood after he punctured them. Bianchi’s body was found three days later in a partially frozen creek.

“He bragged about it. He is proud of it,” Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Gina Savini said.

Bianchi also left behind a husband, two children ages 1 and 5, and a sister, Betty Portenlanger.

These parole hearings are all too familiar for Portenlanger. Wednesday’s was her 13th.
Smith was sentenced to a total of 500 years in prison, but because of sentencing laws at the time, he is eligible for early release every three years. The law recently change to allow his requests to come every five years.

“The family shouldn’t have to relive this at all. But if they do, please let it be five years,” said Michael Combs, McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney and Chief of the Criminal Division.

The victims’ families opted not to have the news media present when they offered their objections. In an earlier interview with the Northwest Herald, Portenlanger called the triennial hearings “cruel.”

But that won’t stop her.

“We’re there to light a candle for the women who died, and who can’t go to speak for themselves,” Portenlanger has said.

Four months after Bianchi’s murder, Jean Anne Lingenfelter never returned home from studying at a friend’s house. The 17-year-old was a week away from graduating high school.

Lingenfelter’s naked body was found by a young couple on a beach in the Lakeland Park subdivision.

Even before that, Smith stymied detectives in Cook County after Janice Bolyard was murdered at a Des Plaines plant where she and Smith had both worked. After being arrested for the McHenry murders, Smith eventually confessed to raping and killing Bolyard – using her own pantyhose as his murder weapon.

Smith’s release is unlikely, but it still has to pass a formal vote of the Review Board, which likely will be taken next week. He has never received a vote in favor of his release, Savini said.

Should he be released, officials in Arkansas would be waiting with handcuffs to take him in custody to serve life behind bars for the murder of Obie Fay Ash.

“His only parole plan is natural life in Arkansas,” Savini said.

Smith served 10 years before becoming eligible for parole. An additional 18 years were tacked on for an escape attempt. His sentence at Pontiac Correctional Center lasts until June 2220.

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