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‘Next Eminem’ murdered by stranger while hitchhiking through isolated rural area –

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Murder victim Hunter Smith, his killer Nicholas Vandenberg and Vandenberg's accomplice Montanna Reed
Hunter Smith was murdered in cold blood after accepting a ride from strangers while hitchhiking through rural Idaho. Nicholas Vandenberg, top right, shot him, while his pal Montanna Reed watched

An aspiring rapper whose mother hoped he would be ‘the next Eminem’ was murdered after accepting a ride while hitchhiking through an isolated area.

Hunter Smith vanished near Melba, Idaho, sometime during summer 2017, with his body discovered by hunters in the Bruneau Desert in October that year.


His killer Nicholas Vandenberg was sentenced to at least 30 years jail after admitting first-degree murder on Tuesday morning, with chilling details of his crimes read out in court.

Vandenberg and accomplices Montanna Reed and Willie Rabey offered Smith a ride, then befriended him.

They they invited Smith to shoot guns – only for Vandenberg to blast Smith with bullets in the face and head at close blank range.

Mugshot of Willie Rabey
Willie Rabey has also admitted first-degree murder, and will be sentenced in December

Reed and Rabey watched the unprovoked, cold-blooded killing take place, then helped drag Smith’s body to a nearby ditch, the Idaho Statesman reported.



Vandenberg refused to speak at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, which came after a plea deal saw earlier attempts to execute Vandenberg dismissed.

Smith’s mother Heather Smith, from Harrisburg in Oregon, did not know the sentencing had taken place.

She says she wishes she had been able to ask the judge to make Vandenberg write a letter to her son’s three year-old daughter each year to explain what he’d done.

Smith explained: ‘The idea is to have them remember that there was a child involved who doesn’t get to grow up with her her father.

Picture of road in Melba, Idaho
Smith was hitchhiking through Melba, pictured, en route home to Oregon, where he had been promised a job managing a fast food restaurant (Picture: Google Maps)

‘There’s been a lot of things I’ve thought about asking the judge to do. I thought that seemed the most reasonable.’

Hunter was an Oregon native and was headed home to start a job as manager of a fast food restaurant when he was murdered.

His mother said her son was an artist, illustrator and storyteller who also loved to rap.

She said: ‘He could have been the next Eminem. That was his hero.

‘He was trying to get into a recording studio but couldn’t get the funding to get in.’

Rabey and Reed also struck plea deals, which saw Rabey admit first-degree murder, destruction of evidence and failure to notify of a death.

Reed pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy and failure to notify authorities of a death.

Both will be sentenced in December.



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