Home » This Sinister True Story is Reminiscent of ‘Don’t Breathe’

This Sinister True Story is Reminiscent of ‘Don’t Breathe’

Don’t Breathe True Story

Don’t Breathe broke out in a major way. The film’s wildly original story shocked audiences. The premise of the film is fantastic from start to finish and makes for an intense ride. If you’re one of many who caught the movie in theaters, you’ll be surprised to learn of a true crime case that’s scarily similar to the plot of the film. Now, I am not accusing Don’t Breathe of being unoriginal or ripping off the case, but fact is always stranger than fiction.

For those who may have missed it, Don’t Breathe concerns three, twenty-something petty thieves who decide to steal an old man’s settlement money, which he received after the daughter of a wealthy family ran over his own child. The thieves scope out the place and see a large dog, but a blind veteran who they think they can outsmart. After breaking into the veteran’s house, the would-be robbers find more than they bargained for and the predators quickly become prey.

Did This Real-Life Crime Case Serve as Inspiration for the Film Don’t Breathe?

The true crime case that parallels the events of Don’t Breathe (review) took place in 2012, in Little Falls, Minnesota. Byron David Smith was convicted of killing two teenagers, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer. The teens broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day.  Smith was retired from the U.S. State department and 64 at the time of the robbery. In the preceding months, Smith was robbed several times. His precious war medals and his father’s awards from being a POW in World War II were stolen.

At the time of the murders, meanwhile, cousins Kifer and Brady were being investigated for at least a couple of the burglaries at Smith’s residence. Under any normal set of circumstances, two burglars breaking into a veteran’s house and being killed would fall under the castle doctrine. The doctrine states that a homeowner is justified in killing criminals that break in. While this initially appeared to be such a situation, law enforcement uncovered details that took the case in an unexpected direction.

Did ‘The Victim’ Help Bait These Teens into Robbing His Home and Tape the Entire Ordeal?

The day of the murder, Smith parked his truck away from his home, a couple of streets over. This gave the illusion he was not home. Although he had already installed a security system to catch would-be thieves on camera, Smith turned off all the lights in his house and sat in his basement with his revolver. Then he turned on a tape recorder and recorded the entire incident.

Don't Breathe and the True Story That Parallels its Narrative

The recording is available on YouTube as a smaller cut of the six-hour tape. But be warned it is pretty disturbing. Throughout the tape, we hear Smith whispering and waiting for the robbers to come in and invade his home. We hear a window break and, eventually, Brady makes his way to the basement steps, where Smith is waiting. You hear two shots and Brady falls down the stairs as one of the shots enters his face, killing him.

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Smith murmurs erratically, but continues waiting for Kiefer and, when she enters looking for her cousin, she pleads with him for a couple seconds until she death. The rest of the recording catches Smith practicing his speech for when he calls the police, him moving the bodies across the floor, and even the discovery that Kiefer is not dead. He remedies that by fatally shooting her under the chin. After the murders his ramblings are manic and strange: “I feel a little bit safer. Not totally safe. I’m still shaking a bit, but a little bit safer. I left my house at 11:30. They were both dead by 1:00. I refuse to live in fear. I felt like I was cleaning up a mess, worse than spilled food, worse than vomit, worse than s**t, cleaning up a mess. You’re dead!”

Like the Film Don’t Breathe, This True Story Has a Gruesome End

Smith did not report the deaths until the day after Thanksgiving since he did not want to bother law enforcement on the holiday, but upon investigation, the police discovered the audio recording that Smith left in his basement, which cast the would-be victim in a harsher light. This recording, along with all the physical evidence gathered, painted a dark picture of the events. Smith was subsequently arrested and the jurors named their guilty conviction heavily influenced by the recording. Smith is currently still serving life with parole in the wake of his second-degree murder charge on April 29th, 2014.

This is a supremely tragic case where no one came out innocent or was the hero. While you can make the argument that the teens should not have broken into the house, the deliberate coldness executed by Smith is also unnecessary. While Don’t Breathe has a similar lesson, there are darker parallels into the old man’s motives for keeping a woman hostage. In each case, while robbery is wrong, both the fictitious and real thieves faced something tragic and unexpected with horrendous results.

Updated June 12, 2024

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Written by Syl
Syl is a professional criminologist who shamelessly spends her time listening to true crime podcasts, watching horror films, and bringing real life horror to her written pieces.
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