Ricky Smith, 25, was stabbed to death in front of his partner in an unprovoked attack in Highbury, north London, on Friday, 3 October 1997.

The couple were walking home from a kebab house when they were approached by the killer in Highbury Park near Hamilton Park just before midnight.

Ricky was immediately stabbed in the chest and died on arrival at Whittington Hospital. He had just started a new career as a specialist floor fitter and was described as a devoted father of a ten-year-old girl and a 14-month-old boy. 

His murder remains unsolved and detectives said it appeared to be “a completely unprovoked attack” by an attacker who “did not utter a word before producing a knife and stabbing Ricky”.

The suspect ran into Aubert Park, Avenell Road and then Conewood Street opposite the old Arsenal football ground.

The murder weapon – a lock knife with a three and a half inch blade and a yellow £9.95 price sticker attached – was found in a back garden garden on the junction with Aubert Park and Aubert Road..

The lockknife used in the attack

Detectives found a blue baseball cap and a ‘Chicago Bulls’ jacket inside two carrier bags – one green with a ‘Fenwicks’ logo and the other white with a ‘Wilkies’ logo – discarded in Conewood Street.

In October 2011 new forensic analysis of the clothing allowed officers to link the murder to the stabbing of another man two hours earlier in Harlesden, northwest London.

At around 9.15pm on 3 October 1997 Juan Marais walked out of Kensal Green station and headed to a party with a carrier bag containing cans of beer. As he walked along College Road a man walking behind him asked for the time before pulling out a knife and stabbing him in the chest and abdomen. The man then picked up the victim’s bag and walked away.

Mr Marais suffered serious injuries but went on to make a full recovery.

It was a long time ago but I can clearly remember what happened. I’d moved to London from South Africa and I’d been walking to a friends’ house for a BBQ when a guy asked me the time. As I looked down at my watch he just went for me. At first I thought I’d been punched but as I got away I looked down and saw the blood all down my shirt and my jeans. I made it to an off-license where the shop owner looked at my wounds and tried to stop the bleeding with her hands. I know she kept talking to me but I was finding it so hard to breath I was starting to panic. I know I was very lucky to have survived. Lucky that God saved me and gave me another chance. It’s amazing that after all this time my case has been linked to Ricky’s. I was just 21 at the time and Ricky was only 25. I had another chance at life but he didn’t get the same chance. I’m hoping that by speaking out we can finally achieve some closure for Ricky’s family.

Juan Marais, speaking in 2011

The suspect in both attacks is described as a tall black man aged between 18 to 30 years.

In September 2012 the case was featured on the BBC’s Crimewatch programme. Detectives revealed that a man went to the scene the day after Ricky’s murder and asked about the items abandoned in Conewood Street. He said he would contact police but never did.

During a further appeal in 2022 detectives said they were confident that they had recovered the DNA profile of the attacker and appealed for help from the public.

Detective Inspector Will Reynolds said: “Unfortunately there has been no match on our database or any international systems, meaning he does not appear to have come to police attention since the time of these offences.

“It is highly likely that the individual who committed these crimes was a violent man and it is extremely unusual that he does not appear to have re-offended. We therefore believe that after he carrying out these horrific crimes, he disappeared, very likely leaving the UK and not returning.

“We are asking the public, especially those who are or were living in the area of Highbury or Kensal Green, to think about whether they knew of anyone who simply seemed to vanish in 1997. The suspect is a black male who would have been aged between 25 and 35 at the time of the incident.”

The Metropolitan Police is offering a reward of £25,000 for information leading to a prosecution. Contact the police on 020 8785 8267 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

There is not a day that goes by when we don’t think about Ricky. He’s in our thoughts every moment and it’s almost impossible to imagine that it all happened so many years ago.

Our grandchildren have grown up without their dad and we want to know why this has happened. We still go over and over the events of that night and can make no sense of it. Ricky was a decent and hard-working man with lovely family and friends. He didn’t deserve to have his life taken away and his children didn’t deserve to grow up without him by their side.

Ricky’s father, Keith Smith

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