Update: Alexander Johnson and his wife Luna have admitted that they had a threesome with Ivana Smit before she died. Read the story here.
Last December, the body of Dutch model Ivana Smit was found. This exotic beauty of Dutch-Indonesian descent died the ugliest of deaths when her body was discovered on the 6th floor balcony of an apartment block. How did it go so wrong for her?
Additional research by Haresh Deol and Frankie De Cruz.
Evolution favours beauty. Our innate attraction to beautiful people is a natural instinct to procreate better-looking, fitter, superior progeny. Ivana Smit had the kind of curvaceous beauty that men lust after and long legs that women envy. In today’s world, we no longer rely on agents only to promote (or protect) “talent”, as models are euphemistically called. Instagram is the brave new marketplace to showcase your brand, to create the image that “followers” desire. Who was Ivana Smit? In her own words on Instagram she says “Top Model Belgium 2018 finalist. Model / Production Manager / Hostess – Malaysia. Soon Paris. Don’t wait for opportunity, create it”.
Let’s pause here. It’s rare to see “Hostess” listed as a profession on a bio, certainly in Malaysia. At 18, Ivana was already leading a complicated life.
In the world of modelling, fashion, film and presumably “hostessing”, beauty is the most valued commodity. Unfortunately, across the world, those with the currency to trade in this commodity and who control the market, are also responsible for the ugliness surrounding these industries. The #metoo and #timesup movements bear witness to the commoditising and ill-treatment of females, in particular, vulnerable Beautiful Ones with stars in their eyes.
Her beauty was her calling card, but did she have bigger dreams than modelling? On November 21 2017, one month before her death, there were demure pictures of her on IG in office attire, attending the World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuching (Borneo). Not just any economic forum, but the Islamic one. She felt that “…networking and gaining knowledge has been a success. time (sic) to head back and execute”. An odd, or even diametrically opposed forum perhaps, for a lingerie-clad model with a public IG account to attend. Despite the overtly sexual persona that she portrayed, it reminds us to reserve judgment. She was still a teenager finding her way in this world, discovering her personality and looking for a definition of her “Self”.
Her image, now distributed far wider than any fashion campaign she was in, is today seen in a darker light. Her beautiful image in each glamour shot no longer soliciting followers, but a bitter reminder of loss. Ivana Smit was weeks away from her 19th birthday, and at her prime in the shelf-life of a model. She had over 17,000 followers on Instagram, who were buying what she was selling.
A respectable number; not vast, but she was only just beginning.
Her appeal was obvious for all to see on her public account. Posing provocatively in sexy swimsuits barely covering her glowing body, she looked like a Sports Illustrated model. She posted embraces with the new man in her life, happily sharing her dream Instagram life. She seemed confident and certainly, not shy. And then it all went wrong. Terribly wrong.
The phone rings at 2.30am in a home in Batu Ferringhi, an affluent stretch of beach in Penang, the usual haunt of tourists and expats. Only bad news comes from a call before dawn. 78-year-old Hendrik Smit picked up the call and heard crying from the other end.
Roused from their sleep, Hendrik and his wife Susan were given the news no grandparent ever wants to hear. Their beloved granddaughter Ivana was dead. The caller was Ivana’s father Marcel who, in Holland at the time, could only say that she fell.
“We were in shock,” says Hendrik, his eyes searching the ceiling of his spacious home as he recalls the painful memory. His wife, clutching a piece of crumpled tissue paper in her hand, is already in tears. “My wife cries every time we talk about her,” he says, his voice unwavering. “I can still hold it, but she cries every time she sees a picture of Ivana or talks about her.” The couple looked like a kindly pair of grandparents, but one who had suffered not only a great loss but the shock of a gruesome death.
At about 3pm on 7th December 2017, Ivana Smit’s naked body was found on the sixth floor balcony of The Capsquare Residences in Kuala Lumpur. It was presumed that she had fallen from the 20th floor apartment occupied by 44-year-old American Alexander Johnson and his Kazakh wife Lunara Almazkyzy, 30, also known as Luna, all the way up on the 20th floor. Ivana had plunged 14 floors down.
The night before, the trio were seen having a good time clubbing with eyewitnesses spotting Ivana kissing both Alexander and Luna. The party continued at 3am at a karaoke club and CCTV footage confirms Johnson carrying a barely conscious Ivana out of the club. He then took her home at around 6am. At approximately 3 o’clock in the afternoon her body was found.
Alexander Johnson has been described as a wealthy cryptocurrency trader and co-founded Everus Technologies which according to its press release on bitcoinist. com, is a “young blockchain fintech startup”. Sources in the KL banking circles confirm that he was a Bitcoin dealer with a reputation as a “party guy”, while others have been quoted in the dailybeast.com talking about the couple’s “sexual antics and drug-induced issues.” His marriage to Luna was his second and they have a young daughter together.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Johnson’s ex-wife Mary Ann Sgarlato said that during their marriage, he was “very apple pie, very vanilla” and “wouldn’t have hurt a fly”.
It was later confirmed that Johnson and his wife Luna tested positive for drugs. Both were charged with drug abuse on December 11 and released the following week on bail. The post-mortem also confirmed that Ivana had drugs and alcohol in her system.
To date no charges relating to Ivana’s death have been brought against them.
However, as the last people to have been seen with Ivana, coupled with the confirmation of drug abuse, suspicion naturally falls on them.
On a wall of Ivana’s grieving grandparents’ home hangs a painting of a smiling Ivana as a child. “I took care of her since she was a baby,” says Susan in Bahasa Indonesia. Her voice broke into sobs. “Everywhere we went, she went.”
Ivana had lived with her grandparents since she was 18 months old. “My son has a business and he was very busy, so he asked us to take care of her. The first time was just for a few hours but later her daddy said, let her stay with you,” Hendrik explains.
When the senior Smits moved to Penang after they retired, Ivana visited and when she was three, started living with them. It is an unusual arrangement to live away from one’s own parents, especially thousands of miles away, but by all accounts she was happy to be living in Malaysia.
Those were good times for the Smits, as they recalled how smart she was, how she learned everything and excelled in most. “She can play music very well, only singing, that she cannot do,” Hendrik chuckled.
By the age of 13, she had collected 35 certificates in a wide variety of disciplines, including piano, guitar, drums and ballet. “She also did Chinese mathematics with an abacus,” Hendrik says proudly. She later enrolled in catwalk lessons and found her calling. Pretty soon, she was noticed by casting agents and found work in pageants and runways.
“She liked to be in the spotlight, she is a girl who wants attention from people, that’s the reason she liked modelling,” says Hendrik, mixing his tenses, as one does after a recent loss. “I was not worried about the attention, not here in Penang, because whenever or wherever she had a show, I was there,” says Hendrik. “She’s never alone.”
But there were instances when Ivana would go out with her friends unchaperoned. “I gave her time, but by 1am she must be home, no later. At the age of 13, she was not allowed to hang out until 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning,” Hendrik says. “Those were the rules.”. He wanted to give Ivana time to be with her peers and it seems this was the only indulgence granted to the teen.
“I don’t give her the keys to the house because if she has the keys, I won’t know what time she comes back. So I will always tell her that I will wait until she is back. Yes we are very strict,” says Hendrik, “Especially my wife.”
Ivana was taught to be diligent and hardworking and was also placed on a stringent diet. Susan cooked tofu and vegetable soup daily for Ivana. She wasn’t allowed soft drinks and, until the age of 13, Ivana ate very little meat, says her grandmother.
“That’s why she has good skin,” adds Susan.
In many ways this sounds like a typical strict Asian household. Later in her teens, Ivana moved back to the Netherlands, but according to Hendrik she wasn’t happy living there.
“She grew up here, she knows people here. People in Europe are not the same,” says Hendrik. “She is famous here, there she is nothing.”
In this age of social media, Fame is difficult to measure. More likely, Ivana was used to standing out in Malaysia. “Pan-Asian” beauties are particularly admired in the modelling industry and she had been in the spotlight since she was old enough to appreciate it. In the Netherlands, however, life would have been a little different.
The Dutch have an almost inbuilt animosity towards attention-seeking. ‘Doe normaal’, they call it, where being different and standing out can be deemed pretentious and is frowned upon. “Just act normal, that’s already crazy enough” is a piece of advice elders would tell children. Did Ivana find this culture too restrictive and jarring to her need for attention?
To truly stand out, perhaps a city larger than Penang would be good. Perhaps a city just like Kuala Lumpur.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY
Models from around the world come to Kuala Lumpur to find work. There are magazine covers to grace, fashion runways to strut and advertisement campaigns to shoot. Perhaps even a chance to become a celebrity. To do that, you must be seen at clubs where casting directors and agency bigwigs congregate. Models file in for Ladies’ Night or Models’ Night, dressed to impress and demonstrate to potential clients why they deserve casting consideration.
There is a group chat network amongst models who share work opportunities, says Emitsa Shz, a veteran of the modelling industry. “When models arrive from another country, they would want to go out. The models who are here earlier would know where to go for parties or model’s night,” she says. The group chats are primarily used for networking and for work where the job description isn’t very clear-cut. These are the party jobs.
Getting paid to turn up looking beautiful, sexy and have a good time with free drinks and food is a good gig if you can get it. And a lot of models want to get it. “Party jobs pay more,” says Emitsa, who is of Middle Eastern origin. “There are party jobs that pay, for example US$500 for three hours, just to go out. A modelling job for fashion shows is about US$100, so this is crazy.”
Text messages describe the type of model needed and where the party is at. The clients? Men who want to be seen with models. “The guys hire models to show off to the people at the next table or their friends,” says Emitsa. The message is clear – “Look at me, I party with the beautiful people.”
Emitsa insists that this isn’t the same as being an escort. Models are there to look good and have a good time, she says. “There may be nothing sexual involved.” There may be nothing. And even if there were, explains Emitsa, the models are told beforehand and they can turn down the job. Was “Hostess” in Ivana’s bio, a reference to these party jobs?
This is where the lines are blurred and the world is murky. Many 18-year-olds have not tested the boundaries of their freedom and are not worldly enough to read the subtext. This comes with experience or with guidance. Who was there in the big city for Ivana? Away from her parents in Holland, away from her grandparents’ firm hand in Penang, could she handle the modelling/party job scene and sense the inherent dangers?
“Some models don’t know how to say no to these sorts of things. When they get into these situations, they can get really hurt,” Emitsa adds. “The worst thing that could happen is that they die, they get sexually harassed, they get raped, or they get into drugs.”
At these parties, alcohol flows freely and everyone is out to have a good time. It doesn’t take much for things to spiral out of control. “There is a big problem in Malaysia when it comes to drugs, especially when models are led to another party or an after-party,” Emitsa says. Cases of models overdosing on drugs isn’t unheard of, and Emitsa believes that because it involves models, somehow the cases are not taken seriously.
“If a model dies then it’s usually ‘Oh okay she must be suicidal’ or ‘oh okay she must have been doing drugs’ but no one would say if there was a man who drugged this girl or took advantage of her. You just never hear that.”
Emitsa’s story is instructive. The depressing fact is that it seems Ivana’s case is not an isolated one. It has happened before and likely, will happen again. What distinguishes Ivana’s case from the rest is that the death of a foreign national attracts foreign media attention.
Emitsa met Ivana when she was doing her first beauty pageant at the age of 14, and later cast Ivana for a job. Over time, Emitsa has known of models and friends in the industry who got into trouble and some, like Ivana, died as a result. Because of this, Emitsa has made it her mission to emphasise safety to models and seek changes and more protection for models. “I am doing this a little bit for Ivana, I am not a close friend but I want to create more awareness about these things, for them not to happen anymore,” she adds.
Emitsa has met Alexander and Luna socially, the couple with whom Ivana left that last fateful night. “They are very sociable, they like to go out and have fun. It is not my business to judge them or think less of them, I have never seen them being not nice to anyone.” Beyond that, she would not say anymore. “I don’t know, I wasn’t there,” she adds. Indeed, no one knows what happened that night, the terrible night Ivana lost her life. But someone was in touch with her close to the time of her death.
HAD SHE FOUND HAPPINESS?
“We had dinner together,” says Lukas Kramer, Ivana’s 21-year-old German boyfriend. It was like any other night according to Lukas, a broker with an American shipping company. He came home from work and they had dinner. She wanted to go out. But it was late and he was tired. So Ivana headed out for Ladies’ Night at a club.
“She said she was just going out with a few of her model friends, just to have a few drinks, and she left about 9, 10pm,” says Lukas. “She told me to my face that she was going to return latest at 1am,” a hint of anger in his voice. Lukas was surprised to wake up the next morning to find her side of the bed empty.
“I gave her a call and she picked it up, it was like 6.30am or something, she said she was staying at a girlfriend’s place, I didn’t know anything about the guy. She said she was going to get some sleep, and that it had been a long night,” recalls Lukas. An hour later, Ivana sent him a picture of her with Luna, the girlfriend.
After her death, Lukas went through Ivana’s social media accounts and found that neither Luna nor her husband Alexander were friends with her on the platforms. “She wasn’t following them on Instagram or Facebook which is unusual because she was such a social person,” he says. “She was very much into social media, so if she knew them, she would definitely be friends with them on social media.”
Lukas has never met Alexander or Luna, but he feels they should be held accountable for the tragedy. There were things they could have done, Lukas feels. When the night was over they could have just got her a taxi and sent her home. Perhaps if they did, he would still have his girlfriend.
“Something happened between 7.24am, when she sent me the last picture, and 10am when she died,” says Lukas, his voice firm.
Lukas banishes the thought that Ivana committed suicide. She was happy, he says and they were happy together. Ivana’s last IG post supports this: “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.” The next day, she was found dead.
Two days before that tragic day they were at Ikea getting things to brighten up their apartment. They were making plans, insists Lukas, and had purchased flight tickets to attend a wedding in February. He recalls Ivana talking to her mother on the phone, saying how happy she was, she had met a guy, and everything was good.
Suddenly, the image of this young couple shopping at Ikea comes across as incredibly poignant. While her doting grandparents doubtless provided her with a loving stable home, what child does not feel the absence of a father’s firm hand or a mother’s feminine touch all those years apart? Her plans to create a home so soon into a relationship was an expression of her desire to create her own cozy family unit. “Gezellig” as the Dutch would say.
But how good was it really? Ivana and Lukas were together for just a little over a month before she died. Can someone really know another that well in that short a time? “I know that sounds like a short time but we also lived together,” he says. “You kind of get to know this person.” Yes, one month seems like the shortest of times to be moving in together or to really know someone, but as Ivana herself proclaimed on IG, “I am so totally, completely, overwhelming, (sic) eye poppingly, life changingly, spectacularly, passionately, deliciously in love with you @lukaskramer”.
But he admits that he has never met her friends, nor does he know much about her work. “Apparently there is another world or side, I don’t know, with this modelling industry,” he adds with exasperation in his voice. “I don’t know what’s going on there.”
But Lukas was not her first love. In Ivana’s short life she clearly worked hard, played hard and loved hard. Almost exactly one year before her death, on 18th December 2016 Ivana posted a picture of a diamond ring on her wedding finger captioned “And in you I see the rest of my life #engagementring #fiancee.” She was 17 years old.
There is no record of the break-up but it appears that Ivana was desperately seeking love most of all. And if it was not from a man, then her followers’ admiration and validation on social media filled that gap.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Hendrik Smit’s days of hell continued. A day after learning of his granddaughter’s death, he travelled from Penang to Kuala Lumpur to identify her body. All the way there he hoped that it wasn’t her, maybe there was a mix-up, perhaps it was someone else. If only his prayers were heard. He was taken into a small room and his worst fears were confirmed. It was his beautiful Ivana.
A white sheet covered her naked body, with only her face revealed – the face of the child who sat next to him watching TV, whom he had pampered, adored and brought up as his own. Now here he was, standing over her body and seeing her in the same state she was found, dirty.
“When I saw her in that condition, I was sad,” Hendrik says. “I was very sad,” Susan interrupts. “I wanted to take a picture of her, I was the grandma, I wanted to see her, but I was only given a short time.”
“What more is there to say?” says Hendrik with defeat in his voice. “The day after I identified her body, Ivana’s parents arrived and we were given her things – her bag, wallet, handphone, that was all.” “No clothes,” Susan adds, her face blank.
Ivana was cremated and laid to rest on 30 December 2017 in the Netherlands. The residual sadness the family experienced soon turned into anguish as the investigation plowed on, slowly. “Of course we are angry at the whole situation,” says Hendrik. “We don’t know the truth, the questions are unanswered.”
The Smits may never be able to reconcile the little girl they brought up – who followed the rules, and hung on to their every word – with the young woman who led a party lifestyle. Hendrik doesn’t rule out the possibility that she could be drinking more than just water or taking drugs since she left their care. “As far as I know,” he qualifies. “During her time with us – no. Later, I cannot say yes or no,” he adds. He suspects that drugs could have been slipped into her drink when she was not looking, but he, at the end of the day, admits he is only guessing.
The post-mortem revealed alcohol in her system and drugs, specifically Ecstasy. “E” is the drug of choice of party people, and according to websites on drug abuse, it is taken for “a perceived increase in energy levels, euphoric state of being, higher pleasure from and desire for physical touch, and increased levels of sexuality and sexual arousal.”
This would explain eyewitness accounts of her kissing both Johnsons. There are also dangerous side effects such as nausea, shaking or tremors, hallucinations, higher heart rate and blood pressure. However, when you take more than one dose or mix it with other substances, it can cause panic attacks, seizures, or loss of consciousness. It can even cause heart failure. While the autopsy did not conclude that, it is possible that the alcohol and drug abuse induced certain behaviours amongst the trio that led to the tragedy.
Susan remembers the time when her granddaughter visited them for Hendrik’s birthday and she took them out for a nice dinner. When it came to paying, Susan took a peek at her purse. “She has more money working in KL. Her wallet was full of money,” she says.
According to a modelling industry insider, no matter how hard a model works to get runway shows or advertising campaigns, there is no guarantee of a steady income. A model’s income is unstable, depending greatly on the peak seasons – fashion week, launch of seasonal collections and so on. So, how was Ivana supplementing her income? Was she working party jobs and had this put her life in danger?
The Smits are pinning their hopes on the results of a second autopsy done in the Netherlands. They have also hired, using crowdfunding, private investigators and lawyers to look into the case. While family pressure has resulted in the police re-opening the case, their efforts have been bothersome to Malaysian authorities who feel that the people hired by the family may be interfering with an ongoing investigation. Things need to come through the proper channels and procedures, the police says. If any new evidence has been discovered by the private investigation, then the best way forward is to work in cooperation with the authorities, rather than maintain an openly critical and adversarial position in the media.
As is often the case with unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries, we find it hard to accept not knowing what exactly happened. When a wrongful or sudden death occurs, social norms and laws dictate that we find the cause, assign blame and bring to account the people responsible for the unexplained death. Without these answers, it is impossible to confront the grief and move on. There is no resolution. This is how conspiracy theories are born.
It is unimaginable to fathom the depth of the family’s grief, especially for Hendrik and Susan who should not be grieving in their sunset years. The private investigation is a natural consequence of the family’s desire to find out why and how their loved one died. Their criticism of the police investigation is an expression of frustration and anguish. Where else could they channel their anger and grief?
No one knows the exact point where things turned from the ordinary to the cautionary, from the fun to the risky. While legally an adult, she was only just 18 and this may have been teenage rebellion. She was blessed with a beauty that opened many doors to the world of modelling and fashion. But it also opened the door to a dangerous world of party jobs, alcohol, drugs, swingers and older strangers preying on young girls. As for Alexander Johnson and Luna, they were the much older couple who should have taken care of Ivana, not taken advantage of her. If there is no evidence that they are legally culpable, there is at least the question of moral culpability for exposing a young girl to drugs and risky behaviour.
For Ivana Smit, so beautiful and so full of life, 7th December 2017 marked the end of the year of living dangerously.
This feature first appeared in the April 2018 issue of UNRESERVED.