This is one in a series of stories
When the news first broke last week that a man was stabbed and killed at Las Palmas Park, little was known. He was simply described as a “semi-transient African American man.”
San Fernando residents who live around the park and go there often, reacted quickly to the news on our newspaper’s Facebook page.
They immediately connected the police description to the man they saw often, who they considered a “regular at the park.” They posted comments to say, “he never bothered anyone,” and “accepted a plate of food graciously.”
Fred-Freak Smith stood out at the park. The City of San Fernando, a predominately Latino community has a very small African American population, so small that it can probably be counted on two hands.
Some quietly wondered if this attack could’ve been racially motivated. However, this ominous question added to the pile of many unanswered questions about how Smith, who was in fact a gifted, much loved musician, wound up appearing “homeless” and in the end, left to die collapsed on the hard ground, alone, in a pool of his own blood with no one to help him.
Neighbors asked how “someone who didn’t appear to have anything could be so cruelly attacked?”
Smith’s body was found in a somewhat secluded area behind the park’s softball field by the Los Angeles Fire Department, which was responding to a cardiac arrest call.
San Fernando Police Chief Tony Vairo told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol Newspaper that Smith was known to them because they were called out to the Blake House, a group home, and that location was the last known address they had for him.
Smith reportedly stopped living at the group home at some point. One person who answered the phone at the Blake House told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that Smith left that residence a few months ago.
“He didn’t appear to be sleeping at the park,” said Vairo who said he didn’t know where Smith was staying at the time of his death. Vairo said officers who came in contact with Smith never had a problem with him and he was always “nice.”
Vairo said he didn’t believe the stabbing was either racially motivated or gang related, and they are currently following several leads.
The notion that Smith died alone is very hard for his many friends and family to imagine.
His brother Michael Young, also a musician, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that while he decided to give up the musician’s life, Smith continued with it and traveled to L.A. to audition as a bass player for the Romones.
Being a musician can be a difficult life, full of sacrifices and musicians are “special people,” Young explained. “Perhaps the group home with their rules and constraints, telling you when to eat and sleep and what you could do” was too much for Smith.
“Musicians need to get in our own zone,” Young said. “Most musicians will tell you they write music in the shower where they’re alone. Fred could be walking down the street and a tune would pop into his head.
“Perhaps the park offered solitude away from the rules of the group home.”
The closest thing that Smith knew as “group homes” in the past were full of musicians that shared living space together. Young recalled living in the same apartment building with his brother in Washington, D.C., but on different floors.
“His place was always full of people. I once told him, ‘Do you know what the number of your apartment is?… It’s 4-1-1, for all of the people that come here to get information from you.’”
More recently, knowing that something was amiss, Young and his wife said they wanted to buy an airplane ticket to get Fred to come to stay with them. On the occasions when they spoke to him, however, Smith would say he was “fine.” They worried that he could be clinically depressed and had other health problems.
When fellow musicians speak of Smith, across the board they first talk of his talent, then share stories about his big boisterous personality that filled the room, juxtaposed with stories about his gentle spirit.
“You always knew when he was in the place, and his favorite word was ‘f#!%r’.,” his longtime friend Skeeter Thompson shared.
“He could play anything, but he preferred the edgier loud distorted sound and liked the extremely industrial sound. That’s probably why he got into Goth. You have to deliberately be soft at times but also be loud at times.”
Scores of friends, too many to publish here, have sent their memories of Smith to our newsroom describing a man who literally would give you the shirt off of his back.
“I was living with my old best friend in Arlington VA. He came across the courtyard where we were and me and my friend just struck up a convo (sic) with him. It was freezing outside and he was wearing a short sleeve Batman T-shirt. I mentioned it was a cool shirt and he took it off and gave it to me walking away with the girl he was with…shirtless…in the dead of winter.”
Friends said that Smith had a lot of pride and didn’t want to burden anyone with his problems although they had heard he was ill.
Michael Deet wrote:
“I’ve known Freak for almost 15 years, through professional music ventures, and managed him as a recording artist and live performer for nearly a decade. Despite the outrageous name and spirited demeanor, Freak was a kind, gentle, nurturing soul. He was a loyal friend and humanitarian with a huge heart. Although brash, vivacious and outspoken – he was a humble, honest & real person who was often too proud to seek help in any way. I’m very sad and angered by his death.”
Many young musicians spoke of the help and influence he had on their music. Christine Sacramento wrote:
“I met Fred at a concert in Ohio (I’m from Pittsburgh). He figured out that I was the guitarist for a band that he liked.
“He rushed me and flattered me and made me feel like a rock star. He was so charming and sweet and funny.
“Years later I discovered Strange Boutique. A band I instantly fell in love with, only to find that Fred was the guitarist for the band! My band opened a few shows for Strange Boutique, and I became fast friends with Fred! He moved to California, but we remained in constant touch. He was an amazing musician. He was well respected in the music community. Everyone knew who Fred FREAK Smith was! He was a good friend. Kind and generous. If you met him, you fell in love with him. A true chain wearing sweetheart in motorcycle boots. He didn’t deserve to die this way.
“He was larger than life, and in my eyes will remain large. Love is stronger than death.
“He wasn’t a ‘transient,’ he was a legend.”