Police: Exterminator Murders Young Doctor During Argument
Police release more details about the murder of Philadelphia doctor Melissa Ketunuti, who was allegedly killed by a Levittown exterminator, Jason Smith.
He was an exterminator; she was a young pediatrician at one of the nation’s most esteemed children’s hospitals.
Late Monday morning, police allege, Melissa Ketunuti, 35, and Jason Smith, 36, of Levittown, crossed paths when the freelance exterminator came to her brick-faced townhome at 1728 Nauddain Street in Center City for a scheduled appointment to take care of rodents in the home.
Philadelphia police homicide unit Captain James Clark said at a Thursday morning press conference that the two got in some type of argument while in the basement of the doctor’s home. At some point, the argument went “terribly wrong” and escalated to Smith striking Ketunuti, knocking her to the ground. He immediately jumped on top of her and strangled her to death with a rope. He ultimately tied her hands and feet and set her body on fire to cover up the murder.
Law enforcment sources told 6abc.com the suspect told investigators that Ketunuti "belittled" him and that led the argument escalating.
At around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, U.S. Marshals, Philadelphia Police, Bristol Township Police and state troopers took Smith from the two-story home he shared with his girlfriend, their child, her mother and other family members, authorities said.
A dog was shot and killed outside the Crabtree section home after it charged at them sometime during the night, sources said. A police official said the dog was not killed by Bristol Township officers, but rather officials from the “state.” The body of the dog was removed in a black KIA SUV Thursday afternoon.
Philadelphia crime scene investigators collected evidence from inside and outside the house. A city tow truck removed Smith’s light-colored Ford pickup truck that he used for work as evidence just before 11 p.m.
Around the same time on Wednesday, law enforcement transported Smith from Bristol Township to the Philadelphia Police homicide unit for questioning.
During questioning, Smith - at that point labeled as a “person of interest” - confessed to the murder, according to a CBS3.com report. He was charged with murder, arson, abuse of a corpse and risking a catastrophe just hours later, police said.
City investigators told the media they used "every bit" of surveillance footage in the area of the victim's home to develop Smith as a suspect. Police work was used to estimate the murder happened shortly before noon.
According to a story on PhillyBurbs.com, Smith did not tell anyone about the murder until the law caught up with him.
Smith has very little of an online profile and he had several minor run-ins with police over the years. He was issued traffic-related summons by Bristol Borough and state police out of Trevose in 2012. In 2004, he was arrested for DUI, court records show.
An older man who answered the door Thursday morning at the Crescent Lane home where Smith resided said he had no comment.
A next-door neighbor who didn't wish to be identified told reporters outside his front door that Smith was “nice” and always “very helpful.”
“He seemed like a family man,” the neighbor said.
In a phone interview with NBC 10 reporter Deanna Durante, Smith’s cousin, George, said he knew a much different man. He claims his cousin suffers from “mental issues and substance abuse issues.”
A steady stream of onlookers slowly rolled past the news media that parked outside Smith’s home, which featured a piece of exterminating equipment in the drive. The modest suburban house is still adorn with Christmas decorations.
The young research pediatrician had family in Thailand who have made arrangements and is traveling to the United States, officials said.
Ketunuti’s boyfriend, a young doctor living in New York, assisted city police in their investigation.
The victim’s pitbull/lab mix that was home at the time of the murder is being taken care of by the Red Paw Relief Team. The organization said they have been in contact with Ketunuti’s family.
Since the murder happened on Monday, several community groups cobbled together $35,000 in reward money for tips that lead to the conviction of the killer.