The Buffalo Gals Murder: California Cold Case Solved At Last

Joette Marie Smith’s killer has been unmasked, but he took his own life as cops closed in.

Verity Partington
5 min readSep 20, 2022


Image: Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office

Authorities in Santa Cruz have announced they have finally cracked a cold murder case that had tormented detectives for nearly four decades.

The body of 33-year-old Joette Marie Smith was discovered in 1983, and investigators must have feared they would never be able to prove their hunch about who took her life so brutally.

But now, thanks to DNA technology, her surviving family members have a name — and hopefully, an opportunity for at least some semblance of closure.

Ahead of her time

Joette had originally intended to be an art teacher, and had moved to California in the 1970s with the intention of going to school to pursue this as a career. However, when she arrived in the Golden State and saw first-hand the bohemian lifestyle of some of its residents, she was captivated.

Instead of teaching, Joette settled in the small town of Ben Lomond and took over a quirky little restaurant named Buffalo Gals.

Her younger sister Annette Anderson told the San Francisco Chronicle: “She was definitely a hippie, so much fun, always joking around.”

Despite some initial challenges, irrepressible Joette was determined to make the venture work and soon attracted a following of both locals and tourists. According to the Valley Press, the restaurant had an eclectic feel and was bolstered by the incredibly sophisticated menu, all of which Joette cooked herself and changed daily.

It’s something we take for granted these days, but Joette’s forward-thinking attitude towards her business really made her ahead of her time. Unfortunately, all of that she had worked so hard for was about to be cruelly ripped away.

A shocking murder

On the night of March 27th 1983, Joette watched some television before heading out at around 11:30 PM to buy some cigarettes. She called in at a local bar called Henflings before setting back off to walk the short distance home again.



Verity Partington

A writer and author of crime thrillers living in the UK. Partial to books, stationery, papercrafts and walking. You can find her books on Amazon here: https://a