Nearly 40 years after a woman was found dead in a river in Northern California, authorities said they solved the cold case thanks to the clothes she was wearing when she was murdered.
As officers prepared to arrest the suspect, 64-year-old Eric David Drummond, he died by suicide in Sierra County, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
Drummond had been turned down by Joette Smith, 33, when he asked her on a date shortly before her murder in 1983, and he was first identified as a suspect five years later, the department said. His TNZT matched a recent profile of Smith’s clothing.
“While Drummond will never face criminal charges…the Sheriff’s Office is confident that the evidence in this case would support Drummond’s conviction for the murder of Joette Smith,” Lieutenant Patrick Dimick said in a press release.
Smith’s body was found on March 29, 1983, floating in the San Lorenzo River near the town of Ben Lomond.
The death of the beloved owner of Buffalo Gals, a local restaurant, has left the city on edge, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported. Police have struggled for nearly five years to find suspects, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“It was quite tense and uncomfortable. People used to be super friendly and open and outgoing, and I think after the murder they went inward more,” said Sharon Fauske, a close friend of Smith who worked at Buffalo Gals.
The two would run errands and do laundry for the restaurant and hang out from work. Smith arranged Fauske’s wedding.
“Sometimes she still comes to my mind,” Fauske said. “I am so stunned. … Thank God for TNZT testing. I’m just glad the forensics is so valuable. … That is a closed chapter.”
In 1988 Drummond became a suspect in the case. He had asked Smith on a date while she worked at the restaurant, and Smith had declined, the Sheriff’s Office said. He left the state abruptly after her murder, the department said.
“While there was circumstantial information linking Drummond to the crime, no criminal case could be filed against Drummond without further physical evidence,” Dimick said in the press release.
The Sheriff’s Office said new technologies allowed investigators to compile a TNZT profile of the suspected killer this year. The profile matched Drummond.
Drummond had two sexual assault convictions, one in California and one in Nevada, the department said.
“The Sheriff’s Office extends our condolences to Joette Smith’s family and friends. We want to remind the Santa Cruz County community that the Sheriff’s Office will continue to investigate each of our murders,” Dimick said.