Charles is a true crime addict and has been watching and reading about crime for more than 15 years.
In June of 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted in the middle of the night from her Salt Lake City bedroom. Elizabeth was the most unlikely of victims in a crime that seemed without motive. Her abduction was so bizarre and unique a case that it transfixed America. Her kidnappers were Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Elizabeth Smart was raped daily, tied up, and threatened with death if she attempted to escape. She was rescued by police officers nine months later on March 12, 2003, on a public street in Sandy, Utah, 18 miles from her home, following the help of two witnesses who identified her abductors from an America's Most Wanted episode.
Elizabeth Smart has made a miraculous recovery from her tragic ordeal and has gone on to work as an activist and advocate for missing persons. Her life and abduction have been the subject of numerous non-fiction books and films. She has created a foundation to help prevent crimes against children and is a frequent public speaker. She and her husband, Matthew Gilmour, now have three children.
1. The Ultimate Betrayal
Elizabeth’s mother, Lois Smart, had crossed path with Emmanuel, whose real identity was revealed as Brian David Mitchell, in November 2001, seven months before Elizabeth disappeared. Lois found him in downtown Salt Lake City preaching. Mitchell portrayed himself as this born again Christian out there trying to help the homeless. He needed money and so Lois took pity on him by giving him five dollars and then inviting him to her house to work on their roof. That tragic moment was the moment he chose Elizabeth as his next bride. It is sad how one act of kindness changed the lives of the Smarts forever.
2. Brian Mitchell Showed an Excessive Interest in Sex as a Child
Brian Mitchell showed disturbing signs of sex addiction even as a child. By the age of 13, he was the black sheep in the Mitchell family. He got into drugs and alcohol, and by his first year at high school, he was caught preying on very young girls. A little neighbour girl came into the Mitchell’s home and Brian exposed himself to her, which resulted in him being sent to juvenile detention. He met some unsavoury characters at juvenile detention and things went from bad to worse for him.
3. Brian Killed His Step-Daughter’s Rabbit and Fed It to Her
When her first marriage of 20 years broke down, Wanda found herself in counselling and it was there that she met Brian Mitchell. Eighteen months later, the two were married. Wanda had a daughter from a previous marriage and Brian displayed disturbing signs of sadism towards her. Brian’s stepdaughter had a pet rabbit named Peaches. One night, Brian and Wanda had prepared something. She asked what was for dinner and they said chicken and she ate it. The next day, she asked where her rabbit was and they told her she had eaten it. It’s really hard to believe Brian and Wanda could cook their child’s pet and feed it to her.
4. For the First Couple of Months, Elizabeth Was Not Far From Her House
Less than four miles from the Smart’s home, tucked deep in the mountain beside it, was a campsite. This was where Elizabeth was detained for the first couple of months by Mitchell and his wife, Barzee. Mitchell locked a cable around her ankle and kept her shackled to a line running between two trees. She later testified that at one point a search party almost came close to her location. She remembers hearing her name being called but was threatened by Mitchell that he would duct tape her mouth shut and kill anyone who entered into the camp if she screamed.
5. The Smart Family Were Initially Considered as Suspects
A week after the unexplained kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, the family’s ordeal took an ugly turn. Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, and his brothers were taken into FBI headquarters for questioning. They were made to take polygraph tests, some of which were between seven and eight hours. The FBI wanted to know whether they had any involvement in the disappearance of Elizabeth. The police initially floated a theory that perhaps they had some financial problems and this was a way to produce a ransom note and maybe alleviate those financial problems.
6. The Tragic Case of Richard Ricci
Behavioural analysts gave an assessment of what they thought the behaviour of the abductor might be. They deduced that this was a sex crime and the perpetrator certainly could have a burglary in his criminal history. Investigators came out with a list of what they called the contractor list. It was a list of people who had worked at the Smart’s house. On top of the list was a man by the name of Richard Ricci. He was on parole and was out of prison for an attempted homicide on a police officer whilst escaping from a burglary. When they investigated his trailer where he was living, they found items that he had stolen from the Smart’s home. The police proposed a theory that Elizabeth woke up and recognised Richard Ricci whilst he was burglarizing their house. Ricci knew if he went back to prison, he probably wasn’t getting out and had taken her away as a witness.
Elizabeth’s younger sister, Mary Katherine, who was only nine at the time, was the only witness to the abduction. Mary Katherine saw Richard Ricci’s face on TV and insisted he wasn’t the one who abducted her sister. However, detectives were fairly confident that the room was too dark for her to positively identify the suspect. Two months after Elizabeth’s disappearance, Ricci died from a burst aneurysm. Investigators were so sure Richard committed the crime they wouldn’t even let his wife come and hug him after he died. He was considered this horrible man who had kidnapped Elizabeth Smart.
7. There Was Another Break-In Attempt at Elizabeth’s Cousin’s House
Eight weeks after Elizabeth was taken, there was another break-in attempt at her cousin’s house. Steven Wright, Elizabeth’s uncle, was awoken by a loud bang in his daughter’s room. His daughter saw a sharp object coming in and out of her room. They went ahead to alert the police. The Wright family believed the attack was too coincidental not to be connected because of the screen cut the same way.
8. Mitchell Began Looking for Another Girl to Kidnap
According to Elizabeth’s testimony, Mitchell soon began looking for another girl to kidnap using The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as his hunting ground. Mitchell had purposely taken them to California to find another wife. His plan was to go around to the different LDS chapels until he found her. During his rounds, a man named Vel Kimp invited Mitchell to dinner to talk about the Mormon faith. At the dinner, he saw a photo of a young girl on a piano and decided she was going to be his next bride. Elizabeth testified that Mitchell went back to the Kimp’s home to take the girl. He attempted to break in but, fortunately, noises inside scared him off.
9. Mary Katherine’s Divine Revelation
There was one witness to the crime, Elizabeth’s younger sister who shared her bed, nine-year-old Mary Katherine. Mary Katherine right from day one was very consistent in the account that she gave detectives. She talked about being awake and hearing Elizabeth up. There was conversation including threats from the perpetrator to Elizabeth. Mary Katherine mentioned that the voice was familiar to her. She thought she had heard it before although she was not able to say where for sure.
More than four months after the abduction of Elizabeth Smart, the police and public had given up hope of finding her alive. But in October, Elizabeth’s younger sister came forward with startling information. She was looking through her Guinness World Book of Record and all of a sudden it came to her. Katherine told her dad that she believed it was Emmanuel. Emmanuel was this homeless preacher that had worked on the roof at the Smart’s house. His real name was Brian David Mitchell. Mary Katherine had met him after school for only a couple of minutes. The Smarts strongly believe this key revelation was from God.
10. The Police Were Initially Reluctant to Consider Mitchell as a Suspect
The Smarts were increasingly frustrated at the police’s reluctance to publicize Emmanuel as a suspect. Even though the only eye witness, Mary Katherine, had come forward and said she knew who it was who came in the house, it still didn’t let Richard Ricci off the hook. The police said they were looking for Emmanuel and told the Smarts not to go public with Mary Katherine’s revelation because they didn’t want to scare him off. After months of waiting, the Smarts had had enough. They started planning to go it alone. Ed Smart had worked with a sketch artist to develop a likeness of Emmanuel. On February 3, 2003, Ed and Lois Smart took a gamble which ended up paying off big. They held a press conference to release the composite sketch.
11. Mitchell’s Own Sister Turned Him In
When the Smarts held their press conference to release the composite sketch of the man they believed was their daughter’s kidnapper, the press conference hit the one person that it needed to hit, Brian’s sister. When she read about this street preacher named Emmanuel who occasionally did handy work on homes, a chill went down her back. She felt deep down that it was her brother and revealed his true identity to detectives.
12. During the Hunt for Mitchell, He Had Already Been in Police Custody
America’s Most Wanted had run a story on Brian David Mitchell and authorities were desperately looking for him. Oblivious to the national media coverage, the San Diego Police already had Mitchell in custody. He had spent three days in a local jail for breaking into a local Presbyterian church and was charged and seen in court. A judge assigned a restitution payment to the church for a broken window. It’s quite ironic that the San Diego Police had had him in custody on a burglary charge and were not aware that authorities were interested in him for questioning.
13. Brian and Wanda Had a Psychological Hold on Elizabeth
Most people wanted to know why Elizabeth didn’t run when she had the opportunity and why she stayed with her captors for nine months. The truth is that most 14-year-olds wouldn’t have acted any different given the circumstances. It also goes to show how manipulating Brian Mitchell is. He and his wife had a psychological hold on Elizabeth that was unbreakable. It required some outside intervention for her to be able to break away from them.
14. Elizabeth’s Case Helped Make the Adam Walsh Act Into Law
After her return, Elizabeth joined her father as an advocate for child protection. She lent her support to the Adam Walsh Act which President Bush signed into law on July 27, 2006. The act calls for a nationwide register of sex offenders. Before the tragic ordeal, Elizabeth’s father was of the opinion that these bad things happened to other people and not him. And of course, when it happened, he realised the reality of life that it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, and what your status is, you can fall victim.
15. Wanda Barzee Was Freed More Than Five Years Earlier Than Expected
Wanda Barzee was convicted of state and federal crimes, and in 2010, she was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for her role in Elizabeth Smart’s abduction. Barzee was serving her sentence when the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole unexpectedly credited her for time served, moving up her release date from 2024. She was released from Utah State Prison on September 19, 2019, at the age of 72. Her early release infuriated Elizabeth who felt she was still a threat to society. Wanda has voluntarily agreed to avoid any geographic locations that the Smart family might find themselves.
Elizabeth Smart. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved January 18, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Smart
"Elizabeth Smart Kidnapper Wanda Barzee released from prison." Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News, September 19, 2018.
[Real Stories]. (2016, Jun 6). The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart (Kidnapping Documentary) [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5aMT-nAuxA&t=2901s
[Missing Kids Rescued Kids]. (2014, Jun 29). ELIZABETH SMART KIDNAPPING DOCUMENTARY [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBMpkDEW1Mc
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Charles Nuamah
Farrah Young on May 10, 2020:
This is such a touching story. Young Elizabeth must have gone through a lot at the hands of that Smart guy.
Anita Hasch from Port Elizabeth on January 24, 2019:
What a terrible ordeal Elizabeth and her family had to go through. But had her sister not remembered the fanatics voice she might not have been found.