A divorced woman has announced her plans to marry a convicted serial killer who she fell in love with after striking up a relationship through a prison pen pal scheme.
Tracy Bottomley, 41, never expected to fall in love but couldn’t help developing feelings for the imprisoned serial killer.
Her fiance is Ernest Otto Smith who was jailed for life without parole after brutally murdering a man and woman in 2005.
Ernest is serving his life sentence in Ohio State Penitentiary, where he and Tracy plan to tie the knot in 2020.
Tracy said: “Ernest doesn’t scare me – I’ve never been someone who gets frightened easily.
“Yes he is a serial killer, he’s committed a few murders, but I understand the risks of what could happen and I still love him.
“We’ve got a good relationship, we understand each other and I look forward to the moments where I get to hear from him.
“I’m not scared of death, I’ve lost lots of family, and everybody dies eventually, that’s a fact of life.
“I’m going to die one day, I could die tomorrow from being allergic to something, I could go outside and get beaten up, you just don’t know.
“Being killed isn’t the best way to go, but everybody dies one day, I’m going to die eventually and I don’t mind the fact it could be at the hands of him.”
Unemployed Tracy started talking to Ernest after seeing an advert for him on a prison pen pal Facebook page.
Before developing a relationship with the serial killer, she’d been single for three years after a string of unlucky relationships and a failed marriage in 2003.
When a Facebook page for prison pen pals cropped up on her timeline in 2018, Tracy clicked on the link out of curiosity and spotted Ernest’s advert.
She said: “Ernest’s advert did detail his crimes so I knew that he’d been jailed for life for killing two people.
“But he also spoke about what he’d been through, and how he was a victim of child abuse which led to him using drugs to battle his depression and anxiety.”
“I’ve been in an abusive relationship before, and the way he spoke about how his experiences as a child changed him really resonated with me.
“I connected to his problems, and I was interested in finding out more about what he’d been through.
“I wanted to get to know him, so I sent my details through and a few days later, I got an email from him.”
Ernest and Tracy soon struck up a friendship, emailing each other three times a day as they bonded over the bad experiences they’d both endured when they were younger.
After 6 weeks of daily communication, Ernest asked if he could call her and Tracy agreed, sending him her phone number.
Chatting over the phone, their relationship blossomed as they confided in each other about stories of their lives.
Ernest told Tracy about his children and his tattoo shop in Toledo, and also revealed details of his crimes.
Tracy said: “He told me step by step how he murdered each one of his victims and why.
“Hearing him talk about it on the phone, I could hear the emotion in his voice as he reflected on what he’d done.
“Ernest isn’t happy that he is known as a killer, he’s ashamed of being a murderer.
“He’s doing his time and you can tell he is remorseful for what he’s done.
“He doesn’t sound like a murderer, you can’t hear anything crazy in his voice, he regrets what he’s done but it has happened and he can’t change the past.”
Ernest Otto Smith, 52, robbed, shot and killed James Dillingham in Toledo, Ohio, on 2 January 2005.
He was accompanied by Cathy Barnett, who he murdered whilst on the run in Kentucky on 7 January after fearing she would report him to the police.
After attempting to break Barnett’s neck and beating her to death with a tree branch, Ernest left her body and stayed on the run until police arrested him.
Ernest was convicted for Dillingham’s murder in March 2006 and was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
After confiding in his parole officer about Barnett’s murder, Ernest plead guilty to the crime in court in March 2016 and was handed a life sentence without parole.
Ernest now lives in solitary confinement, and spends the only personal time he has penning letters and recording videos to send to Tracy which she cherishes.
In May 2019, the pair confessed they had developed feelings for each other, and started sending each other letters detailing their love.
In letters written from his prison cell to Tracy, Ernest wrote: “Girl do you know how happy you make me? Where have you been all my life?
“I’m falling in love with you girl, I feel like you were meant to find me.
“I’ll get out and come right home to you – yes, I’ve started to call your home my home so you have hooked me.
“You will never understand how happy I am that you are in my life. I love you and dream of you every night – you are an angel, my soulmate.”
Ernest took their relationship one step further last month when he proposed to Tracy, and now the happy couple are planning to marry in the prison next year.
In videos recorded from Ohio State Penitentiary and sent to Tracy, Ernest said: “We gotta figure out a way for me to marry you. I know it’s hard.
“You make me a very happy person, more happy than I’ve been in years.
“Smile, you make my day, I swear to God, you do. Love you dearly, smile for me.
“You’re crazy just like me so we should be married – what do you think? I love you.
Tracy is flying to Ohio in October 2019 so she can meet her fiance in person for the first time.
Until then, she has created a photo wall at home with pictures of Ernest on so she can still see him every day.
The engaged pair hope to marry next year at Ohio State Penitentiary, and are busy planning for their special day.
Tracy said: “I’m still in shock that Ernest proposed, I didn’t see it coming at all but I love him so obviously I said yes.
“You’re allowed to wear a wedding ring in prison as long as it’s a plain gold band, so I’m in charge of getting the rings sorted for our wedding day.
“Ernest didn’t want me to pay for the rings myself – he’s quite old school, very traditional, I am marrying an old man at the end of the day!
“His son has access to Ernest’s bank accounts from when he owned a tattoo shop, so he’s going to get him to send me money for the rings.
“I’ve spoken to his kids and they’re all fine with us getting married – their mum died a while ago and they have no problem with us being together, as long as they don’t have to call me Mum.
“Ernest is talking to his people at the prison about sorting out the ceremony and everything, so it’s looking likely to happen early next year if all goes to plan.
“I’ve always been a caring person, and I believe no matter what people have done that is wrong, they can move on and grow from it as long as they’re sorry.
“Ernest is doing his time, he’s shown remorse and he’s still a human being, he just did some bad things that he regrets.
“He’s writing a book about how child abuse can turn people into serial killers based on his own experience, and he’s even mentioning me in a few chapters too.
“People always ask me if I’m scared at the thought of what he could do to me, but I’m not scared of Ernest at all – I love him and I’ll always do my best to help him.”