16 years later, justice for theater director slain after a night out in Boystown

Brad Winters | Playbill

Sixteen years after theater director Brad Nelson Winters was brutally slain following a night out on the Boystown bar strip, justice has been served.

Ramon Smith, a two-time convicted robbery offender who investigators tracked down through DNA evidence in 2016, pleaded guilty to killing Winters in the director’s Lincoln Park apartment in August 2003.

Judge William Raines sentenced him to 24 years in prison.

A friend of Winters told the Chicago Reader in 2004 that she went barhopping with Winters on Sunday, Aug. 17 and last saw him at Little Jim’s, 3501 North Halsted:

The occupant of the apartment next to Winters’s studio recalls hearing a noise sometime around 3 or 4 AM. “It was a kind of shout. I heard a person say ‘somebody,’ and maybe ‘help.’ I’m not sure. It lasted for two or three seconds. I thought it was coming from downstairs. In the back of your mind you think, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’ Then you dismiss it as a bunch of college kids walking by off Clark Street.” This neighbor, who asked not to be named, says he got up but heard nothing more–no creaking in the stairwell or any other sound–and eventually went back to sleep. The neighbor also says a woman in an apartment across the alley reported hearing a cry of “Help me!” come from Winters’s studio at around the same time. 

Ramon Smith | IDOC

Winters didn’t show up for work at Northwestern University on the 18th. A co-worker found him dead in his apartment on the 500 block of West Belden the next day. He had been strangled and stabbed. The apartment was not locked. There were no signs of forced entry.

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A funeral director later told WBBM radio that Winters “suffered ‘wounds of torture,’ including two dozen stab wounds and blows to the head.”

The hunt for Winters’ killer quickly grew cold.

Thirteen years later, authorities in Texas took a DNA sample from Smith after he was convicted on a drug charge. The sample matched blood samples taken from Winter’s living room and bathtub as well as material recovered from under Winters’ fingernails, prosecutors said. 

Armed with the DNA match and a warrant from Cook County, Texas authorities took Smith into custody and extradited him to Chicago in 2016.

Smith, 45, is scheduled to be paroled on Oct. 17, 2040.