Monday, August 16, 2010

Lou Smit, Detective in JonBenet Ramsey Case, Is Dead at 75

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Lou Smit, a longtime police detective who was called out of retirement to help investigate the 1996 slaying of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty pageant winner, but resigned after concluding that the police had wrongly focused on her parents, died Wednesday in Colorado Springs. He was 75.

The cause was colon cancer, a spokeswoman for Pikes Peak Hospice said.

Detective Smit helped solve several cases that gained national attention, including the killing of Karen Grammer, the sister of the actor Kelsey Grammer, in 1975.

He is also credited with identifying the killer of 13-year-old Heather Dawn Church. She was killed in 1991, and her father was among more than 40 suspects, but in 1995 Detective Smit arrested Robert C. Browne, who confessed to the crime and has since admitted to 47 other murders.

Detective Smit was proud to assert that of the more than 200 murder cases he had investigated and turned over to prosecutors in his 30-year career, all led to convictions. “I’ve never lost a homicide case,” he told The Denver Post.

But he was unable to solve the Ramsey case.

JonBenet Ramsey was found strangled and bound in the basement of her upscale home in Boulder, Colo., on Dec. 26, 1996. The case, which attracted enormous attention, remains unsolved.

Three months after the killing, the district attorney asked Detective Smith to join the investigation. He initially explored the Boulder Police Department’s theory, that JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey, was the killer and had written the ransom note she said she had found in her home. The department also believed that JonBenet’s father, John, was protecting Mrs. Ramsey.

Eighteen months after joining the investigation, Detective Smit resigned, accusing the police of pursuing the Ramseys as suspects despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

“The Ramseys did not do it,” he wrote in his resignation letter, dated Sept. 20, 1998. “There is substantial, credible evidence of an intruder and a lack of evidence that the parents are involved.”

For years after his official involvement in the case ended, Detective Smit continued to work to identify the killer, both independently and with a private investigator hired by the Ramseys. He carried a photo of JonBenet in his wallet.

He also teamed up with a former F.B.I. agent, Charlie Hess, and a former publisher of The Colorado Springs Gazette, Scott Fischer, to investigate local cold cases.

In 2008 the Boulder County district attorney, Mary T. Lacy, said in a letter to John Ramsey that DNA evidence, unobtainable by earlier methods, had “vindicated your family.” The evidence pointed to an intruder, as Detective Smit had concluded.

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