AMSTERDAM—Dead bodies can’t talk, but they do have a way of giving up their secrets. And such is the case with the mysterious death of Dutch-Belgian model Ivana Smit, who plummeted nude to her death from a 20th-floor apartment owned by American bitcoin trader Alexander Johnson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Dec. 7. Her body was found on a sixth floor balcony hours after she was last seen alive.
Malaysian authorities confirm that in the early morning hours on the day she died, Smit went home from a party with Johnson and his Indonesian wife. But the authorities have refused to consider the crime suspicious, implying instead that Smit’s fall was accidental. Smit’s parents in the Netherlands adamantly disagree and are doing everything they can to prove that their daughter’s death should instead be investigated as a murder.
They have hired reputable Dutch pathologist Frank De Groot, who told The Daily Beast that there is no way to know for sure exactly when and how Smit died pending further lab results from an autopsy he conducted on Smit’s body when it was returned to the Netherlands in late December.
“What I can say at this point is that there is absolutely no doubt that there was a fall from the 20th floor,” he told The Daily Beast. “Many of the injuries are congruent with a fall from great height. The trouble is there is an injury to the back of her head, a large bruise. I can guarantee that if you make a long fall to the earth there is no time to get bruises.”
In other words, De Groot believes that while the impact of the fall might have killed her, something definitely happened before she crashed through the awning of the sixth-floor balcony. Bruising only takes place for five to 10 seconds after death, until the heart’s final beat, so any major bruising on Smit’s body would have been there before she died, which doesn’t rule out the possibility that she slammed into the side of the building on the way down or died a slow agonizing death on the sixth-floor balcony, or that she tripped and fell the day before in an unrelated incident.
“On her arms she has some spots that could tie in to several different scenarios; she has bruises on her arms which means I cannot exclude her having been grabbed,” De Groot said. “But also does not confirm it.”
The Smit family lawyer Sebas Diekstra told The Daily Beast that their private investigators were pursuing a number of scenarios. “One specific scenario is gradually emerging in which third parties played an active role,” he said. “It’s a potential crime, but we don’t want to disclose the details just yet.”
The Smit team confirms reports out of Malaysia that alcohol and both cocaine and traces of the highly potent hallucinogenic which is either PMA (Paramethoxyamphetamine) or PMMA (Paramethoxymethamphetamine) were found in Smit’s blood. PMA and PMMA are party drugs easily obtainable in Malaysia, but not as easy to get in Europe or America. They are often sold with a Superman symbol stamped on the triangular pills. De Groot calls it a “nasty drug,” responsible for several deaths in the Netherlands alone.
“As a pathologist the relevance to me is the fact that the drug is in her body,” De Groot says. “From there we will test her hair to find out if she has used drugs before. If her hair tests positive for coke from root to end, then we have a different scenario then if this is in her body for the first time.”
But what is potentially more important to whether this case stays a mysterious death or evolves to a murder investigation is just when the bruises on Smit’s body were made, and that may prove harder to determine. De Groot has sent samples to labs in the Netherlands and England, the results of which should be back later this week. “What I also want to know is if the bruises were sustained within an hour or a day before the fall. And what I really want to know is if the injuries that were most definitely sustained by the fall, show signs that toward to the end of the fall, she was still alive.”
But De Groot may not be able to share his findings, which are part of a private investigation paid for by the Smit family. “What I will divulge will depend on what the family chooses to release,” he says. “Those results will also be decisive in whether the public prosecutor will pursue the case against the man in whose apartment she was staying at the time of the fall.”
Diekstra says that in order for the Dutch Public Prosecution Service to act on murder charges against Johnson or anyone else, they must accept and compare De Groot’s findings to those from the police in Malaysia, which have not yet been released to the public.
“Only if they then come to the conclusion that there is foul play could they ask the Malaysian government to prosecute,” he says. And a request is no guarantee that charges would be filed.
Johnson, who, along with his wife, were charged with minor drug offenses after reporting the dead model to police, has not authorized their lawyer to speak to the press. Johnson, who founded a cryptocurrency trading firm called Averus, told investigators that after partying all night with Smit they went back to bed after taking their child to school and didn’t realize Smit had fallen. Her clothes and personal belongings, including her phone and handbag, were found in the Johnson apartment.
“The family has the feeling that the case was not investigated properly,” Diekstra says. “The family just wants to know what happened. The facts. And they won’t stop until they have those facts.”
Nadette De Visser reported from Amsterdam; Barbie Latza Nadeau reported from Rome.