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 , 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.

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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.


  • Levittown Man Person of Interest in Murder of CHOP Doctor
may January 25, 2013 at 05:41 PM
My heart goes out to everyone in Philly and of course the doctor's parents & boyfriend may they find peace eventually. What a tremendous loss of such a fine children's doctor so tragic. Let this be a lesson to all females not to be home alone when you invite a professional company or contractor to your home alone. Too bad the pit bull/mix wasn't down in the basement he may have saved his owner. I remember one young lady in Tampa who met the home inspector after a hurricane at her rental home who killed her then dumped her into the Hillsborough River. My heart breaks learning the details of this vicious killing. Has anyone else noticed the crazed far-a-way look the killers after killing always seem to have in their booking mug? It brings chills to my bones. This was intentional unprovoked so this killer deserves the death penalty. From NE Philly my roots to Trevose to Tampa, FL then finally paradise in Hawaii I will never forget you Bucks County. This will be such a huge impact on pediatric patients in Philly. My daughter had a life saving 7 hour spinal surgery without this pediatric spinal surgeon at the children's hospital my daughter wouldn't be here anymore. This murder brings tears to my eyes. Make A Wish sent us to Hawaii where this story broke it's heart wrecking to say the least. Most murders we don't here much on the islands. Words cannot express enough about the loss of such a fine woman a doctor may her family especially find peace somehow.
Pestilence The Kitty January 25, 2013 at 09:33 PM
Cathy -I think it's rather silly to claim no woman would belittle a man in a closed area. You can't assume every woman would react the same as you. Plenty of people just think they are safe, especially in their own home. Working for an exterminating company, I can tell you right now plenty of women berate/belittle technicians as the only one home. They just as soon assume they are safe, because if anything did happen it would be so easily traced. Obviously, he snapped. Dealing with the public can often be unpleasant. There are very very many nasty people out there. My guess is, eating enough crap from enough people made him angry enough to finally lose it.
Wendy January 26, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Why does surveillance video show him following her for a few blocks before going to her home? If he was just going to do exterminating wouldn't he have parked on her street? For that reason the explaination he gave doesn't make sense to me. From the video it looks like he was going back to her house for revenge after being her exterminator. Maybe they fought at that time and he came back to get even.
Melissa mccue January 28, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Your worried about a dog being killed when a innocent women was killed because she said something wrong. Since he had a drug problem maybe he thought he could take her rx pads. The dog is the least of anyone's worry's.


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