May 6, 2024 | By: Daria Mironova

This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and the University of North Florida’s Applied Journalism class.

Brenda Smith loved cooking for her daughters. “She was a great cook, it seemed like everything she made was good. As simple as it was, my favorite dish was pinto beans with cornbread. I used to love it,” said her daughter Tonya. Brenda’s second daughter, Seina said, “Our education was a high priority for our mother. She encouraged us to strive to excel and to be our best! She wanted the best education for us and more than anything, for us to simply be happy in life.”

Unfortunately, Brenda was not there to witness her daughters grow up. Almost four decades have passed since an arson fire took the life of Brenda (age 30) and her infant daughter Mallory, who succumbed to her injuries 4 days later at St. John Mercy Hospital after suffering heart failure and 2nd to 3rd degree burns over 60 percent of her body. Brenda’s eldest daughters were able to escape the fire by jumping out of their 2-story bedroom window with Tonya (age 13) suffering 2nd degree burns over 12 percent of her body and Seina (age 12) suffering 2nd degree burns to 7 percent of her body. Brenda and Mallory’s murders remain unresolved.

Brenda grew up with 11 siblings in South St. Louis and enjoyed spending time with her family. She enjoyed watching scary movies, listening to music and her hobbies included martial arts, exercising and dancing, she was a fantastic dancer! Many family members would refer to Brenda as a “protector” because she feared no one and defended her family against anyone and fought the battles for many. She was known for her braveness. The family lived in a big 3-story home. Every Saturday, Brenda and her siblings helped their mother clean the house. “All the baseboards, everything had to be washed down. Brenda would go the extra mile and clean the kitchen floor, according to her older sister Hellen “She would go in like swabbing the deck on a ship with Clorox Bleach. She was squeaky clean with everything.”

Brenda fell in love and gave birth to two daughters as a young teen and went on to marry their father at the age of 18.  “If I had a choice to be around anyone, it would be my sister Brenda,” Hellen said. “She had a very bubbly and fun personality.” Brenda was a loving and caring mother to her daughters and treated them like princesses.” She would buy the girls beautiful matching dresses, socks and shoes and made sure their hair was glorious every Easter Sunday, Hellen said. “She had a lot of love for her children and sacrificed a lot for them.”

Brenda’s daughter Seina remembered her mother as a fun person and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. “If they were not on TV, she would turn on the radio and listen to the games,” Senia said. “Mom went to the laundromat every Sunday before the school week began. She would always watch or listen to the Cardinals games when she returned home from the laundromat.” The young mother encouraged her daughters to be strong and to not let anyone bully them. Brenda’s older daughter Tonya described her mother as a fit and beautiful woman who liked to laugh. She had a nice figure and took good care of her body,” Tonya said. “She was six feet tall and reminded me of an Amazon. She was a jeans and t-shirt type of girl daily, but she could simultaneously put on a nice dress and heels, she cleaned up well.” Brenda had a soft and beautiful voice. “Sometimes, she would sing to us at night in our beds, she seemed to love doing it,” Tonya said. “My favorite tune to hear her sing was Summertime.” Brenda’s daughters said their mom was the center of their universe. “Everything revolved around our mother and us. I remember she never asked for anything, but she always ensured we had everything we needed,” Tonya said. “She took very good care of us.” Tonya and Seina liked to spend time with their mother and helped her around the house with different chores. “She held a spotless home,” Seina said. “She was very tidy. I think that’s where my sister and I got it from.”

On May 6, 1987, while Brenda and her three daughters were asleep, a fire was set by a flammable liquid poured through the mail slot in their front door apartment, according to Lt. George Hollocher. First responders found Brenda huddled over the body of her 3- month-old daughter Mallory. Brenda’s oldest daughters, after being awakened by their mother’s screams to get up and follow her to safety, were able to escape the fire by jumping from the 2-story bedroom window. According to newspaper reports an arrest was made a few weeks later. There are no reports of what happened to the charges but the case remains unresolved.

After losing their mother, Tonya and Senia moved into their grandmother’s home for a few years. Unfortunately, they did not have a close relationship with their grandmother and with the loss of their mother, they no longer had the support system, guidance and protection they were accustomed to. “With no counseling, we became rebellious and made bad choices,” said Tonya. “We were forced to grow up quickly and basically raised ourselves.” “A traumatic event like this impacts you for your entire life. It is a pain you never quite get over. It was not an easy transition for us.” Tonya was able to find happiness later in life. “At the age of 22 I met a wonderful man and I’ve always felt in my heart that my mother led me to him. We recently celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary in January 2024.”

Tonya has given birth to three of Brenda’s grandchildren. Unfortunately, her oldest daughter’s life was taken in October 2022 and that loss set her on a journey. As a means of coping with her grief, Tonya made the decision to write a book. Her book is going to tell their story. About their relationship with their mother, details of that awful night and the days and weeks that led to it. As well as their journey after losing their mother. She believes this is the best way to honor her mother’s memory by ensuring that future generations know her story and by keeping her memory alive. The tragic loss of their mother and baby sister changed Tonya’s and Seina’s lives forever. “My sister and I went down different paths after losing our mom and her unconditional love, Seina said. “We want answers to why this happened. It has impacted us so profoundly. I don’t know if we will ever find closure.”

Anyone with information on Brenda and Mallory’s case is asked to contact the St. Louis Missouri Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Division at 314-444-5371. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a reward, call Crime Stoppers at 866-371-TIPS (8477).

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Newspaper Clippings

St. Louis Post Dispatch - May 7, 1987

St. Louis Post Dispatch - May 7, 1987 cont...

St. Louis Post Dispatch - May 8, 1987

St. Louis Post Dispatch - May 11, 1987

St. Louis Post Dispatch - May 12, 1987

St. Louis Post Dispatch - May 29, 1987

Photo Album

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Image provided by the family of Brenda Smith & Mallory Thomas

Location of Homicide