Faith, family defined legendary detective Lou Smit

August 11, 2010
photo - Lou Smit died of cancer Wednesday at the age of 75. Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE
Lou Smit died of cancer Wednesday at the age of 75. Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE 

Faith, family and profession.

Combine these facets of Lou Smit’s life with his humility and an impeccable attention to detail and you get what former El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson calls “the most thorough investigator and detective I’ve ever met.”

Anderson spent much of the 1970s and ‘80s as Smit’s partner with the Colorado Springs Police Department and the latter part of the ‘90s as Smit’s boss with the Sheriff’s Office.

On Thursday, however, Anderson and the rest of Smit’s family and friends were mourning the death of the long-time homicide detective who gained national notoriety with his work on several high-profile cases, including the slayings of 13-year-old Heather Dawn Church and 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

Smit, who began his career with the Police Department in 1966, died of cancer Wednesday at the age of 75. Smit, who began his career with the Police Department in 1966, died of cancer Wednesday at the age of 75.

A public memorial service will be Aug. 20 at New Life Church, 11025 Voyager Parkway. Viewing is at 9 a.m., followed by a funeral service at 10 a.m.

“It’s a tragic loss to his family and the community,” Jeff Nohr said, pausing briefly to gather himself. “He touched a lot of lives in his life.”

Nohr, an El Paso County sheriff’s cold case detective, said he and his former father-in-law were very close. Anderson, too shared a bond with Smit, who despite being a couple decades Anderson’s senior was best man at his wedding.

“He went from being my hero at the police department, to a friend, to my best friend,” he said.

Smit’s wife Barbara, the grade-school sweetheart he married in 1958, would spend countless hours helping her husband type up notes on the latest case. She would stay up late while Smit worked, making sure he didn’t go hungry no matter what the hour of the night.

“She was committed to him and what he needed to do,” Anderson said, noting that she shared her husband’s devotion to their Christian faith. The Smits’ son Mark, 46, said that legacy was also passed on to him and his sisters — Cindy, 49, Lori, 51, and Dawn, 39.

“He always took care of his family first and you knew that,” Mark Smit said. “He would always take the opportunity to say I love you to us kids and mom.”

His devotion to his faith defined his professional life as well. Anderson said it “was something he really leaned on.” Smit regularly prayed before getting out of the car at a crime scene.

And when the case was over and the jury made their decision, “He’d always go back to the crime scene and thank the Lord,” Anderson said.

Those close to Smit saw how family and God shaped “an amazing man of character and integrity,” according to Michael Tracey, who made a documentary about the Ramsey case.

It was Smit’s devotion to his profession, however, that showed the rest of the world the type of man he was.

In a brief stint in 1995-96 with the Sheriff’s Office, Smit delved into the Church case, which had been unsolved since 1991.

“I figured if anybody in the world could solve it, it would be Lou,” Anderson said.

Three months later Robert Charles Browne was arrested and soon pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

After his retirement and subsequent work on the Ramsey case, Anderson called Smit  again. Beginning in 2001, Smit joined former FBI agent Charlie Hess and former Gazette publisher Scott Fischer as volunteer investigators, working on cold cases.

The trio worked on Browne, tagging him as a serial killer and leading to his confession in another Colorado Springs killing.

Mark Smit, Anderson, Nohr and Tracey emphasized Smit’s love toward the victims in every case was key in his success as an investigator.

“He would carry photos of the victims in his wallet,” Nohr said.

“He always made sure he did the best job he could do for the victims and their families, Nohr said.

“He never forgot about them.”




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