West Frankfort death investigation


Reporter - Robert Bradfield
Photojournalist - Ryan Brooker

WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. — West Frankfort police said they're investigating an early morning death at an East Oak Street home.

Neighbors and family members say the body of an 8-year-old girl was found in a crawl space. The girl's grandfather said police arrested her mom as a suspect.

Mary R. Zumwalt-Jophlin, 28, of West Frankfort, is detained in the Franklin County Jail on a charge of concealment of a death.

Police said they don't expect to make any more arrests in the case.

"There is no words to describe; I just can't handle it," said an emotional Bobby Smothers as he tries to express the emotions of losing his granddaughter.

"I can't put a feeling on that," he said.

Neighbors on Oak Street say 8-year-old Alexus Smothers was found by police early Tuesday morning in a crawl space under her West Frankfort home.

"It's devastating. It's heartbreaking. It's horrible," said a neighbor.

She lives two doors down and asked us to conceal her identity. She said the worst part may be the person police have in custody: the girl's mother.

"It's out of my comfort zone. Do I feel secure? No. Do I feel safe? No," said the neighbor.

West Frankfort police aren't releasing any details about how Smothers died or why they think her mother concealed the body. Neighbors said the family moved in about two weeks ago.

"You don't have to know the people for it to touch home," the neighbor told Local 6.

Smothers is focusing on funeral arrangements and preparing to say goodbye to the granddaughter he said was taken too soon.

"It's a shame she will never grow up, go to prom, get married, have kids," said Smothers.

An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday and Chief Tharp said more charges could follow.