Metal Scrapper Murder
Trading scrap for cash and drinking hard, two scrappers turn on a third and are charged with murder.
By Patrick Sullivan | March 16, 2019
The day that 64-year-old Frederic resident Dennis Everson went missing was a busy one for his two partners. The pair, downstaters who salvaged and soldscrap metal with Everson, made several hauls, according to records investigators dug up.
For Matthew Franklin Smith, 37, the day — July 2 — started off at the B&B gas station and convenience store in Frederic, where, at 8:34am he bought a pint of Mohawk peppermint schnapps.
Just over a half-hour later, he and his co-defendant, Dylan Ziegler, who would turn 18 in four days, delivered scrap metal to the A&L scrapyard in Gaylord in their 1996 Dodge Ram 1500 Magnum V8. They received a $280.85 check, which Smith cashed at Walmart.
From there, Smith and Ziegler repeated the cycle, returning two more times to the scrapyard with loads of metal. Ziegler returned at least once more that day to the B&B station, and Smith returned three more times, buying another pint of peppermint schnapps with each visit.
The only other notable event from July 2 listed on a court document recounting “factual circumstances,” which Smith and Ziegler conceded during their preliminary examinations on murder charges, was when the pair posed for a photo on Everson’s property that would be shared on Facebook.
Later, that photo would tie Smith and Zeigler to Everson’s disappearance and murder. When Smith was questioned by police about Everson, even before he was a suspect in his murder, Smith claimed that he had not been in northern Michigan on July 2. The photo, investigators said, placed the defendants at Everson’s property the day he disappeared.
A SENSELESS, BRUTAL MURDER
Today, Smith, of Canton, Michigan, and Zeigler, of Romulus, are in jail, awaiting trial on charges stemming from Everson’s homicide.
The case that Crawford County Sheriff’s and Michigan State Police investigators have pieced together against Smith and Zeigler paints a picture of people who live on the margins of society, living itinerantly, drinking excessively, and collecting scrap metal for (perhaps not so-) easy money.
In a summary of the defendants’ preliminary hearing, in which Judge Monte Burmeister found on January 22 that there was enough evidence for the pair to stand trial, Burmeister laid out the narrative of the events that led to Everson’s senseless, violent death, based primarily on statements Zeigler made to investigators and testimony from a jailhouse informant who claimed Smith had bragged about the crime after his arrest.
One thing that’s clear is there was a lot of drinking before Everson’s death.
Ziegler told Crawford County Sheriff’s Det. Ryan Swope he’d been up in Frederic for a few days, scrapping with Smith, when he found himself one evening at Everson’s place, drinking with Smith in the pickup.
Zeigler said Everson was drunk, too, and at some point, the older man came out and punched Ziegler in the face while he sat in the truck. Everson went back into his home and came out again a short while later, this time going to Smith’s side of the truck. Zeigler said Everson called Smith derogatory names and spilled beer in his lap.
That was allegedly enough for Smith to decide that Everson needed to die, according to Burmeister’s summary of the evidence.
Before Everson could get back inside his residence, Smith caught up to him, pulled him off of his porch and threw him on the ground, according to the account. He beat him up badly and then told Zeigler to grab his feet. They threw Everson into the back of their truck.
As they drove off, the detective said that Ziegler explained that Smith planned to either burn Everson or throw him in a lake. Meanwhile, however, Everson managed to get up and jump out of the truck bed.
Smith slammed on the brakes, said “Nope,” and backed up quickly.
NEVER SEEN ALIVE AGAIN
Everson almost made it back to his home before Smith caught up with him again, according to the narrative.
Smith grabbed Everson for the second time, beat him up, and again threw him back into the truck bed.
At this point, Zeigler told the detective, Zeigler struck Everson once to subdue him so that they could drive away without him getting out of the truck again.
They drove to another property, also owned by Everson, where they stored scrap metal. They backed up to a camper on the property.
First, according to the narrative, Smith put Everson in the camper and tried to light it on fire by setting fire to some clothes inside. Everson, though, had enough wits about him to put the fire out.
From there, it is unclear what befell Everson or how it unfolded.
Burmeister described Everson’s final moments like this: Zeigler heard rattling around in the back of the truck, and Smith left and came back about 15 minutes later and said, Done, don’t talk about it.
Everson, who was last captured on surveillance video at B&B earlier on July 2, was never seen again. His family reported him missing July 6. In an autopsy, his death was ruled a homicide, and cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma to the head.
Although Zeigler was originally charged with murder in the case, Burmeister found there wasn’t evidence that he had committed murder. However, Burmeister found that that there was evidence that Zeigler had committed a crime just as serious: conspiracy to commit murder. Zeigler was also bound over on a charge of conspiracy to commit torture.
Smith faced torture, conspiracy to commit murder, unlawful imprisonment, and arson charges, but Burmeister only bound him over to stand trial on a single murder charge, finding that prosecutors didn’t present enough evidence to establish the other charges against him.
Dylan Ziegler’s attorney, Michael Brown, did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Smith’s attorney, Kevin Hesselink, said in an email that his client insists he is innocent.
Hesselink wrote: “My client has always maintained that he had no hand in the killing of Dennis Everson, the prosecution's case is almost entirely circumstantial, and the witnesses that attempt to tie my client to the murder all have credibility issues and something to gain from making that claim.”
There isn’t, on the surface at least, anything in Smith’s record that points at him being a violent sociopath capable of a seemingly arbitrary murder. Though he’s charged as a three-time habitual offender, both of his past felony convictions — from 2000 and 2004 in Emmet County — were drug offenses, according to his court file.
In Facebook posts, however, Zeigler’s mother (who is listed as Stacie Zeigler in court filings and who goes by Stacie Love on Facebook) blames Smith for getting her son into so much trouble and pins all of the responsibility for the crime on him. On his own, she said, Dylan Zeigler would not have committed murder.
She wrote in one post: “I know my son Dylan didn't do this a mother know when their child is lieing (sic) or telling the truth this matt smith is a really bad person and has my son brain washed every one seen it he lied to my son and matt smith even said some messed up stuff about all this to my 14 year old.”
On Oct. 12, under a post about the case on the Crawford County Sheriff’s Facebook page, she wrote that Smith used her son by making him seem pathetic: “Makes me sick that matt a 36 year old was taking my son around haveing Dylan tell ppl that he was hungry or didn't have any cloths to have ppl give them or my son money for matt could take his money and spend it on drugs and bidding at the horse track … ”
Reached by Northern Express, Stacie Zeigler said she could not comment on her son’s case because she is going to be a witness at his trial.
Stacie Zeigler’s relationship with Smith may be more complicated than her Facebook comments would indicate. According to court records, up until days before Smith and her son were arrested, she and Smith were together.
At the preliminary hearing, Stacie Zeigler testified that she was with Smith on July 4— two days after the alleged murder — when she was pulled over by a state police trooper for speeding. She said Smith told her to say that his name was not “Matt Smith,” but was rather “Chris Miller.”
Stacie Zeigler also testified that while sitting with Smith that day, he said: “Well, you really want to know what happened? Things just didn’t go well up north. I had to kick some old man in the ass and murder someone.”
They had a bonfire that day, Stacie Zeigler testified, and at one point, Smith burned a bundle of clothes in the fire.
Sierra Koch, Crawford County’s prosecuting attorney, said she could not comment on the case prior to the trial. There is a status conference scheduled April 4.
People who make a living scavenging scrap metal do tend to live on the margins of society, but they also provide a valuable service — they ensure that tons of material is recycled rather than sent to landfills or dumped in forests.
Matthew Smith and Dylan Zeigler are not typical metal scrappers.
Most of the time, metal scrappers are hard-working people who want the freedom to determine where they go and what they do during the day, said John Hansen, recycling center manager at Padnos in Traverse City.
In recent years, due to high metal prices, scrappers have been responsible, in part, for removing items that have been dumped by others in Hoosier Valley south of Traverse City, for example, Hansen said.
“How many times have people gone out to Hoosier Valley and thrown a refrigerator out? Well, it’s worth money, and we’ll pay you for it,” Hansen said.
Hansen said scrappers who work within the law work long hours, develop relationships with people who generate lots of waste, and learn how to find valuables that other people see as trash. That means posting on Craigslist in search of metal refuse or scouring yard sales for leftover items worth money at a scrapyard. In other words, it’s hard work and long days.
“I can tell you, I believe literally, they are pounding the pavement,” Hansen said.
Hansen said that, in the Traverse City area, lots of people make a living collecting scrap.
“I would say it’s more than dozens. In this area, people that rely on it for a job, I’d say it’s 50 or better. Maybe a hundred,” he said. “We literally see every walk of life.”