SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION-TV)
At 33-years-old Joette Marie Smith owned a restaurant in Ben Lomond.
The year was 1983 and smith was the owner of Buffalo Gal's Restaurant.
She was popular and described as being a kind woman who at times donated food to the needy. Old newspaper clippings from around Santa Cruz quote friends as saying she was also trustworthy. The night she was murdered she had gone out to a bar and had decided to walk home. Her killer detectives would later learn had his eye on her.
“Years after the homicide they received the name, Eric Johnson, they later learned that that was Eric Drummond, he was an employee there, he actually lived in a rental unit in the back - so he lived close to the crime screen,” said Detective Robbie Mcclure.
Smith was found strangled and bruised. She had also been raped.
Detectives at the time started to get leads by interviewing friends and employees at Smith's restaurant. They learned Smith had turned down Drummond when he asked her out.
Through those initial interviews detectives back in the 80s also learned Drummond had also moved abruptly. One female worker said he showed up at her door to give her the news and she though it scary because she had never told Drummond where she lived.
Still that was all circumstantial and no criminal case could be brought against Drummond.
Fast forward to 2022 detectives and criminalists with the California Department of Justice DNA Laboratory.
“Where we didn’t have opportunities in the past we have opportunities in the past, we have opportunities now,” said Lara Walk, Forensic Services Supervisor.
In August, Smith's dress from the night she was murdered was reexamined with the help of a criminologist at the California Department of Justice DNA Laboratory.
“After the dress was reexamined and they found the male DNA profile on it. That information was given to me and then I reviewed the case. I saw a list of all the suspects that we had. Our initial detectives did a great job laying the ground work on this case," said Walker.
Thankfully the forensic team did a great job in saving evidence, semen was found on multiple areas of her dress. Then the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office worked with other agencies to collect the suspect’s DNA.
Soon they got the news: it was a match. Yet, just as investigators worked on getting an arrest warrant, the suspect took matters into his own hands.
“He chose to end his own life. That was his choice. We had numerous discussions about possibilities about how to obtain his DNA without him knowing,” said Sargent Jeff Simpson.
Even originally with Joette, we thought like we might have a small chance of solving it with DNA technology and it ended up working out for us, so I think it gives us a lot of momentum going forward, we have a lot of confidence that we can solve these cases,” said Simpson.