The body of 33-year-old chef and restaurant owner Joette Marie Smith was found floating, caught on a tree limb in the San Lorenzo River in Ben Lomond, in Santa Cruz County, on March 29, 1983.
Smith was the proprietor of Buffalo Gals, a small restaurant in Ben Lomond that Smith's sister says was ahead of its time, serving organic food to a local crowd. She was last seen alive at 11:50 p.m. on March 27 leaving a local bar, Henfling’s Tavern. When she was found, her body was found wearing only "a strand of pearls, one nylon on her leg, and a black boot," as the Valley Press reported. Her clothes were found on the river bank about a quarter of a mile upstream.
One especially odd detail: Smith had a premonition that her life was going to be cut short, which she expressed to friends in the weeks before she died. She had even been giving away keepsakes and randomly calling friends she hadn't spoken to in years just to say "hi" and tell them she cared.
No one was ever arrested for Smith's murder, even though investigators did at one point home in on a suspect. Now, after a reopening of the case 39 years later and getting a DNA match on Smith's clothing to that very suspect, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office says they've solved the case.
Smith's killer, as the sheriff's office says on Facebook, was Eric David Drummond.
"Drummond had an extensive history of violent crimes that included sexual assault convictions in California and Nevada," the sheriff's office writes. "Detectives learned [that] Drummond had asked Smith for a date while at her restaurant and she declined."
Smith's family had never heard about the declined date, or this man. As the Chronicle reports, they only knew that their loved one, who was kind of a hippie, had many friends and was well loved in her community.
After reopening the case and establishing a suspect DNA profile utilizing new technologies, investigators saw that they might have a chance to finally charge Drummond. It was only in recent weeks, in late August 2022, that sheriff's investigators went to find Drummond at his residence in Sierra County to obtain a DNA sample. The fact that they did that, apparently, let the 64-year-old Drummond know that his days of freedom were likely numbered.
"Unfortunately, while the final investigative steps were being taken to obtain an arrest warrant, Drummond chose to end his own life in the hills of Sierra County," the sheriff's office says.
Drummond served some time in prison in his life — 16 months beginning later in 1983 for an attempted homicide and assault in Redding, and then four years starting in 1988 for a violent assault on a family and a car theft in Nevada. But he won't face a jury or prison time for Smith's murder in 1983.
"[Drummond's death] was a little bit of a letdown, but I don’t feel like we didn’t get justice. The DNA was a match, and it’s closure," says Smith's sister, Evette Smith Nicksich, speaking on the phone with the Chronicle.
Smith's other sister, Annette Anderson, tells the Chronicle she only wishes that her sister could have lived long enough to be on the Food Network, or that more people could have gotten to know her. "Joette was the fun one," Anderson says.