Anthony Smith

JOHN ANTHONY SMITH worked part-time at the Mr. Meat butcher shop at Federal Street and Route 130 for many years. Known locally as a nice fellow with a serious drinking problem, he had no permanent address. On October 18, 2007 four teenagers from Pennsauken beat him badly at Johnson Cemetery Park at 39th and Federal Streets. He was taken to Cooper Hospital, where he died about three weeks later.

Camden Courier-Post * October 2, 2007

Slain homeless man recalled at makeshift funeral

Courier-Post Staff

John Anthony Smith used to stand behind the counter at Mister Meat, flash a smile and crack a joke.

The 54-year-old homeless man was brought in to work a few days at the beginning of each month.

They could have used him today.

As Smith's family and friends gathered out front of the store to attend his funeral, about 20 people stood in line ordering pounds of pork chops, ground beef and deli items.

Officials said Smith was beaten by four teenagers as he slept on a Camden park bench Aug. 29 and died from those injuries last month.

Though homeless, he wasn't anonymous. More than 35 people remembered Smith as a "prideful," "funny" and "loving" man. Family members, whom authorities could not locate at the time of Smith's death, were there. So were friends from the neighborhood bar and his part-time job.

All of them gathered in front of Mister Meat in Pennsauken and traveled to Morgan Cemetery here.

Romona Hirschfeld remembered how Smith, also known as John Lester, would make his entrance known as he walked into the bar.

No "hi" or "hello" to the bartender, but a quick question -- "Is my drink ready?"

"He'd fuss on you, but then he would give you the shirt off his back," Hirschfeld said.

Smith, born in Turks & Caicos, moved to Philadelphia in 1971. He moved to Camden, family said, and began working for a construction business. Friends from Camden said he lived with roommates for a while, but didn't know how he ended up on the street.

"This is what he chose," Hirschfeld said. "John wanted to do for himself."

Those at the funeral ignored his biography. Instead, they recalled stories and praised Smith's characteristics.

"Once you developed a bond of friendship, you had a friend for life," said Cassandra Johnson, Smith's cousin. "He never had a hard word to say about anyone."

The teenagers -- two 15, one 16, and one 17 years old -- appeared in Family Court Monday. The Camden County Prosecutor's Office will request the case be transferred to adult court, officials said. The teenagers are being held at Camden County Youth Center in Gloucester Township. They are scheduled to have a status review today.