Lou Smit, who passed away Wednesday at 75 after a battle with cancer, was the kind of hard worker who never got the hang of retiring.
In his case, the work was homicide investigation. And sticking with it put hundreds of truly scary, violent men behind bars.
Based primarily in Colorado Springs, Smit was involved in some of the state's highest-profile murder cases, including the shocking death of thirteen-year-old Heather Church. Smit put away former tree farmer Robert Browne for that one (much later, Browne would make dubious claims of being one of the most prolific serial killers in history). And he continued to consult on cold cases long after most cops would have just gone fishing.
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Ironically, for such a successful detective, Smit will probably be best remembered for the one that got away: the killer of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey in Boulder. Smit was brought onto the case in 1997 by District Attorney Alex Hunter and resigned a year later, claiming the local gendarmes were "going in the wrong direction" by focusing on the girl's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. He went on to develop an "intruder theory" of the crime that ultimately won many adherents, including Hunter's successor, Mary Lacy, who brought him back onto the case in 2003.
There are problems with Smit's theory -- as there are with any magic solutions to the Ramsey puzzle. And espousing his confidence in the innocence of the parents managed to turn him into the star of several manipulative documentaries put together by University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey and producer David Mills, which managed to implicate various innocent people in the crime on the flimsiest evidence -- and eventually led to the John Mark Karr debacle.
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But Smit can't be held responsible for what others did with his findings. He kept plugging away until near the end. His death won't end the speculation about what happened in Boulder on Christmas night in 1996. The quest for a phantom intruder that he championed may some day, through DNA advances, actually help solve the crime. But right or wrong, Smit pursued his hunches with the same doggedness he'd always shown -- the kind that you want to see rewarded at the end.
For more of our Ramsey coverage, see our JonBenét Ramsey murder archive.