39 years later, DNA helps solve murder of woman who turned down a date, authorities say

Joette Smith in an undated photo
Joette Smith, shown in an undated photo, was killed by a man in 1983 after she declined to go on a date with him, authorities said.
(Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office)
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Nearly 40 years after a woman was found dead in a Northern California river, authorities said they solved the cold case thanks to the clothes she was wearing when she was killed.

As deputies 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 spurned by Joette Smith, 33, when he asked her on a date shortly before her 1983 killing, and he was first identified as a suspect five years later, the department said. His DNA matched a recent profile taken from Smith’s clothing.


“While Drummond will never face criminal charges … the Sheriff’s Office is confident that the evidence in this case would support a conviction of Drummond for the murder of Joette Smith,” Lt. Patrick Dimick said in a news release.

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Smith’s body was found March 29, 1983, floating in the San Lorenzo River near the town of Ben Lomond.

The death of the well-liked owner of Buffalo Gals, a local restaurant, left the town on edge, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported. Police struggled to find suspects for nearly five years, the Sheriff’s Office said.

“It was pretty tense and uncomfortable. People used to be super friendly and open and outgoing, and I think they went into their homes more after the murder,” said Sharon Fauske, a close friend of Smith who worked at Buffalo Gals.

The two would do shopping and laundry for the restaurant and hang out off work. Smith catered Fauske’s wedding.

“She still comes into my mind sometimes,” Fauske said. “I’m so stunned. … Thank goodness for DNA testing. I’m just thrilled about the forensics on that being so valuable. … That’s a chapter closed.”


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In 1988, Drummond became a suspect in the case. He had asked Smith on a date while she was working at the restaurant, and Smith had declined, the Sheriff’s Office said. He abruptly left the state after her killing, the department said.

“While there was circumstantial information tying Drummond to the crime, no criminal case could be brought against Drummond without further physical evidence,” Dimick said in the release.

The Sheriff’s Office said new technologies allowed investigators to establish a DNA 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 the family and friends of Joette Smith. We wish to remind the community of Santa Cruz County that the Sheriff’s Office will continue to investigate each of our homicides,” Dimick said.