Legendary Colorado Springs detective Lou Smit — who proudly boasted that his work led to more than 200 murder convictions — had a dying wish of his own.
He’d come out of retirement in 1997 to assist the Boulder district attorney as a special investigator into the murder of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey, who’d been found slain in the basement of her family’s home on the day after Christmas in 1996. Smit resigned within two years of taking up the position, firmly convinced of the Ramseys’ innocence and frustrated at what he perceived as failings within the Boulder investigative teams.
Smit continued investigating the case on his own, forging a tight relationship with the Ramseys, and remained steadfast in his belief that JonBenét’s family had not killed the little girl. As his own death approached in 2010, the detective asked his loved ones to take up the investigative mantle in his place.
They agreed. And they haven’t stopped.
The team includes Smit’s daughter and son-in-law; his nephew and his nephew’s wife; best friend and fellow former lawman John Wesley Anderson; and “several other law enforcement and DNA experts who choose to remain anonymous,” the team writes on its GoFundMe titled JonBenet: Lou Smit’s Family Searches for Justice.
Another key investigator who doggedly pursued Smit’s quest for justice was Dave Spencer, who died in 2020 — on the anniversary of JonBenét’s murder. After that, Mr Anderson decided to write a book chronicling the work of Smit, his other good friend Spencer and the rest of the team; Lou and JonBenét: A Legendary Lawman’s Quest to Solve a Child Beauty Queen’s Murder will be published on 28 February.
“He developed just an extraordinary, massive spreadsheet; it has 883 rows and 53 columns,” Mr Anderson tells The Independent. “You can put in the name of people or person, an object or nickname, and it’ll search immediately ... it’ll tell you who that person is, how they’re connected to the case,” if samples have been collected or tested, and more, he says.
The system is tiered, Mr Anderson adds, with the top tier featuring “the people he thought needed to be looked at much more closely — and so he left us a long list of persons of interest.”
He continues: “What our team has done, since Lou passed in 2010, has been reprioritising and looking for those persons of interest that might have had a connection to the Ramseys, might have had a motive to do something to them, might have had some financial incentive or whatever.
“And then, sometimes, with their consent, sometimes surreptitiously, we’ve tried to focus on those individuals that would most likely have a connection and privately collect and test their DNA against the genetic markers that were left at the scene and later recovered from some of the other clothing.”
The team has eliminated more than a dozen people of interest from its original list, he says, and continues to work its way through.
“Each of those people earned their way onto our top 20 list,” he tells The Independent. “It wasn’t just throwing a dart.”
The team “meets every month or so as a group, and we talk about where we’re at, as far as the DNA lab analysis, what samples are in, what did we hear, who our next person or people of interest are that we want to pursue,” he says.
“We usually work in small teams, rarely alone; it’s usually two or three of us or more that go out,” he says. “And we’re not police officers anymore. We’re retired. So we’re really limited on what we can do as private citizens.”
According to the team’s GoFundMe, “the work is slow because of the time and expense involved in locating an individual and obtaining and testing his DNA.
“It can easily $5,000 to locate someone on the spreadsheet and collect and test their DNA,” the team writes. “Our hope is that, with the help of generous supporters, we can continue to work through the names on the spreadsheet and complete the work Lou dedicated so many years of his life to.”
As of Tuesday, the fund had raised $45,896 of its $100,000 goal.
In a 2021 post, Smit’s daughter, Cindy, made clear that the “fund is used only for out of pocket costs we incur to locate, obtain and test DNA.
“It’s a labor of love and respect not only for their friend, Lou Smit, but to the pursuit of justice for JonBenét.”
Mr Anderson tells The Independent that the team firmly believes, like Smit, that the case can be solved by DNA, pointing to constant and ground-breaking advancements in technology.
“These cold cases all across the country — to include two that were solved in Colorado Springs — they’re being solved by people, detectives, crime lab people looking at the same evidence that’s been there for 20, 25, 30 years, and just using new technology,” he says.
“Once you get past ‘the Ramseys did it,’ there’s a whole boatload of people that have never been investigated, or I should say, never been competently investigated, with their DNA being used to exclude them as potential suspects,” he tells The Independent.