It was just another sad story on the Los Angeles evening news: a homeless man in his mid-50s, found stabbed to death in a park in the San Fernando Valley, his body in a pool of blood behind the softball fields. It took several days for him to be identified as Frederick Smith, a musician known to friends, fans and colleagues as "Freak," someone who had left an indelible mark on the epochal '80s hardcore punk scene of Washington, D.C.
Smith died on Aug. 8 in Las Palmas Park in the city of San Fernando, a northwestern suburb of Los Angeles in the valley of the same name. Four months later, the circumstances of his death remain unclear. A spokesperson for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department confirmed that his death is being treated as a homicide and remains the subject of an ongoing investigation. What is also unclear is how a talented and beloved guitarist, active in numerous bands until just a few years before his death, came to die alone and homeless, his life upended by addiction, mental illness or both. It's a question those who knew Fred "Freak" Smith from his D.C. days are still grappling with.
"Fred didn't fit in the world," says Ian MacKaye, founder of Dischord Records, the label that released the music of Smith's first and best-known band, Beefeater. "He lived the way he wanted to live."