What Is The Apple Dumpling Gang? These Retired Volunteers Sought Justice For JonBenet Ramsey & Others
The unsolved murder of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey has captured the curiosity of many since it occurred in 1996. But most parties who look into the case in their free time don't have the experience or the clout of one specific investigatory team. The Apple Dumpling Gang were three men who looked into cold cases as a volunteer unit, according to the Washington Post. The group was made up of former detective Lou Smit, former newspaper publisher Scott Fischer, and former FBI agent Charlie Hess, all officially retired when they formed. Smit passed away in 2010; and Fischer and Hess are no longer actively investigating crimes. But Deadline reports that Apple Dumpling "proteges" and former Colorado Springs detectives Bobby Brown and Steve Pease will be interviewed during Investigation Discovery's three-day docuseries, JonBenét: An American Murder Mystery. The first episode airs Monday, Sep. 12 at 10 p.m. ET.
Of the three members of The Apple Dumpling Gang, Smit was the only one to have been an official part of the JonBenét murder investigation. According to The New York Times, Smit was beckoned out of retirement by the Colorado District Attorney's office to lend his famed expertise to the case. He resigned from his part-time post in 1998, perturbed by law enforcement's focus on JonBenét's parents as suspects rather than on what Smit called "substantial, credible evidence of an intruder." (The Ramseys were never charged, consistently maintained their innocence, and in 2008 were officially cleared of any involvement in JonBenét's death due to DNA evidence.) Smit carried on investigating the brutal killing outside of those official channels. In the A&E special The Killing Of JonBenet: The Truth Uncovered, Smit's daughter recalls her father working towards justice for the Ramsey family even on his death bed. Smit died of colon cancer at the age of 75, according to The New York Times.
Late in his life, Smit — along with Fischer and Hess — was able to grant closure to the loved ones of several victims through their cold case work. According to The Washington Post, Smit had been one of the detectives on the case when Robert Charles Browne was convicted of the 1991 murder of Heather Dawn Church, a 13-year-old girl. Suspecting that Browne had committed other murders, The Apple Dumpling Gang got to work further investigating the Colorado inmate, who was serving a life sentence. Hess cultivated a relationship with Browne through letters and visits; by 2006, Browne had confessed to a possible 49 murders, some of which were corroborated by police, The Washington Post reported. Director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association Ed Nowicki quantified the value of this skilled volunteer support for The Washington Post: "There's no shortcut to experience. Here you add one and one and one and it equals 10. Their motivation is from the heart, not from the wallet."
But what do cold cases have to do with the autumnal pastry that the group is named for? According to Newsweek, the meaning of The Apple Dumpling Gang nickname is twofold. Firstly, it's a nod to the 1975 Disney live-action western comedy of the same name, about orphan siblings outwitting a couple of inept criminals during the California gold rush. But it's also a reference to a German bakery in Colorado Springs that was a preferred meeting spot for those men.
Has the second generation of The Apple Dumpling Gang discovered something groundbreaking in their ongoing work on the JonBenét Ramsey case? Tune in to ID on Monday to see if any progress has been made in furthering the intruder theory.