Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

Emmanuel

Emmanuel
Emmanuel

The homeless man who called himself "Emmanuel" was clean and relatively well groomed when Lois Smart first met him on the streets of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, in November 2001. Some of her children were with her, including 14-year-old Elizabeth and nine-year-old Mary Katherine. Polite and soft-spoken, Emmanuel was begging for change. He said his calling in life was to be a minister for the homeless.

Lois and her husband Ed often hired homeless people to do odd jobs at their home in the Federal Heights section of Salt Lake City. She offered Emmanuel a half-day of work, raking leaves and doing roof repairs if he was interested. He accepted her offer and took the bus to the Smart home where he worked for about five hours. Ed Smart worked with him on the roof. In the course of conversation, Emmanuel said that his self-proclaimed mission was to travel from city to city, reaching out to the homeless. Ed paid him for his services, and that was the last the Smarts saw of him.

Lois and her husband Ed Smart
Lois and her husband Ed Smart

But if the Smarts had known more about Emmanuel, they might not have invited him to their home and introduced him to their six children. His real name was Brian David Mitchell, age 48, and he had only recently cleaned himself up to be more presentable for panhandling. Normally his hair and beard were long and shaggy, and he usually wore white robes that gave him the appearance of a Biblical prophet.

Brian David Mitchell
Brian David Mitchell

Brian David Mitchell had a troubled background. His father, Shirl Mitchell, a social worker, had some odd ideas about childrearing. He tried to teach his eight-year-old son about sex by showing the boy graphic pictures from a medical journal and leaving other sexual material around the house where Brian could find it. When Brian David Mitchell was 12, his father drove him to an unfamiliar part of Salt Lake City and told him to find his way home by himself. By the age of 16, Brian had started acting out and was caught exposing himself to a child. He was sent to live with his grandmother, but it wasn't long before he got involved with drugs and alcohol and dropped out of school. He got married at age 19 and fathered two children, but the marriage did not last, and he fled to New Hampshire to keep his ex-wife from gaining custody of the kids.

Wanda Barzee
Wanda Barzee

By 1980 Mitchell had returned to Utah and dedicated himself to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He married a woman named Debbie and fathered two more children, but over time his religious beliefs became fanatical, and his fascination with Satan scared her. His exuberant portrayals of the devil in church services displeased the elders of his ward who asked him to restrain himself. Mitchell filed for divorce in 1984, accusing Debbie of being cruel to his children. A year later she accused him of abusing two of her children from a former marriage, a three-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl.

On the same day that his divorce was granted, Brian David Mitchell married his third wife, Wanda Barzee, a divorcee six years older than him who had six children of her own. Mitchell's increasingly extreme religious practices alienated Barzee's children, and they eventually moved out of the house. He declared that he spoke to angels and said that he was a prophet of God guided by visions. His new wife treated him like a holy man and took to calling herself "God Adorneth." Together they wandered the streets of Salt Lake City, wearing white robes and panhandling for money. When they ran into people who knew them, Mitchell and Barzee treated them as strangers, holding out their hands and asking for handouts. In November 2001, around the same time that Lois Smart met "Emmanuel," the LDS Church excommunicated Mitchell and Barzee for "promoting bizarre teachings and lifestyle" that were not in accordance with church doctrine.

Excommunication did not deter Mitchell. He wrote his own gospel, "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah" and declared that he was sent by God to return the Mormon Church to its fundamental values, including the practice of polygamy. In one of his writings he urged his wife to accept "seven times seven sisters" into their family.

Lois Smart might have thought twice on that November day when she invited Emmanuel to her home if she knew that his fervent desire was to have 49 more wives.

"Why Are You Taking Me?"

Mary Katherine Smart
Mary Katherine Smart

Six months later, at about 2:00 a.m. on June 5, 2002, nine-year-old Mary Katherine Smart woke from a sound sleep and discovered that her sister, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, was not on her side of the queen-sized bed they shared. She saw that Elizabeth was out of bed and someone else was in the room — a man. Mary Katherine sensed that it wasn't her father or one of her brothers.

As described in the book, In Plain Sight by the girls' uncle, Tom Smart, and Lee Benson, Elizabeth Smart, who was wearing red silk pajamas, was moving around the mostly dark room. She stubbed her toe on something, and Mary Katherine heard her say, "Ouch!"

Elizabeth's bed, shared by Mary Katherine
Elizabeth's bed, shared by Mary Katherine

The man told her in a whisper to be quiet and threatened to kill her and her family if she didn't obey. His voice was soft and seemed vaguely familiar to Mary Katherine.

Petrified, Mary Katherine pretended to be asleep, but through half-closed lids she saw the man's hands and the dark hair that covered the backs of them. He wore a light-colored cap and a light-colored jacket and didn't seem to be much taller than Elizabeth. Mary Katherine thought he was holding a gun.

"Why are you taking me?" Elizabeth Smart asked.

In Plain Sight
In Plain Sight

Mary Katherine wasn't sure, but she thought she heard the man say, "For ransom or hostage."

He told Elizabeth to get some shoes, and she briefly turned on a light to find a pair of white sneakers. Elizabeth then left the room with the man.

Mary Katherine waited until she thought it was safe, then crept out of bed and tiptoed to the doorway. She peered out into the hallway and saw Elizabeth and the man coming out of one of her brothers' bedrooms. Terrified that the man would come back and take her, she ran back to bed and shut her eyes. She stayed that way for almost two hours, too scared to move.

Shortly before 4:00 a.m., Mary Katherine threw a blanket around herself and summoned the courage to go to her parents' bedroom. She woke her father and told him that Elizabeth was gone.

Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart

Ed Smart's first thought was that Mary Katherine had had a nightmare. After all it had been a difficult week. The child's grandfather, Lois's father, had died the week before, and the funeral had been the previous day. Elizabeth and Mary Katherine had played their harps at the viewing at the funeral parlor. Ed Smart also knew that Elizabeth sometimes retreated to the living-room sofa whenever Mary Katherine kicked in her sleep. He got out of bed and looked for Elizabeth to put his youngest daughter's mind at ease. But as they went from room to room, Mary Katherine begged her father to listen to her. "You're not going to find her! A man came and took her! A man with a gun!"

Unable to find Elizabeth anywhere in the house, Ed Smart called 911. "My daughter's missing!" he told the dispatcher. "Oh my gosh! Please hurry!"

The police arrived at 4:13 a.m., and the search for Elizabeth Smart began.

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