Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

"Please Let
Her Go"

The Smart's residence
The Smart's residence

The police were not the first to arrive at the Smarts' home on Kristianna Circle. In his frantic attempt to locate Elizabeth, Ed Smart had called several friends, neighbors and relatives, and many of them rushed over to do whatever they could. According to Held Captive by Maggie Haberman and Jeane MacIntosh, over a dozen cars were parked in front of the Smarts' house when the police arrived. These people only wanted to help, but they did not realize that their presence was contaminating a crime scene. The police were later faulted for waiting until 6:54 a.m. to seal off the house, almost three hours from the time that Ed Smart had called 911.

Held Captive
Held Captive

It was soon determined that the kidnapper had entered the house through a kitchen window. He had left a lawn chair under the window, which the Smarts had forgotten to lock. The intruder had cut through the window screen and climbed in over the counter, careful not to disturb anything.

Police bloodhounds attempted to pick up Elizabeth's scent, but the trail the dogs found apparently ended several feet from the house. With no evidence of an unfamiliar car in the area, the police concluded that Elizabeth and her captor had departed on foot. But if they had left the house shortly after 2:00 a.m., they had a considerable head start.

By 7:30 a.m. local television and radio stations broadcast emergency bulletins alerting the public that Elizabeth was missing. By nine o'clock, 100 police officers and volunteers were searching the area for Elizabeth and a man who fit Mary Katherine's description. State police helicopters widened the circle of the search.

Gordon B. Hinkley
Gordon B. Hinkley

Gordon B. Hinkley, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reached out to the Smart family and offered his help. Hinkley notified LDS churches in five states, distributing Elizabeth's photograph and urging church members to join in the search.

Bob Smither of the Laura Recovery Center was asked to lend his expertise. Smither and his wife had founded the center after their daughter Laura had been kidnapped and murdered in 1998. Smither, who was based in Texas, sent a volunteer to help organize the many volunteers who had congregated at the local Shriners Hospital. The Smithers had written a manual for the parents of kidnapping victims, showing them how to be most effective in such a crisis.

Missing poster of Elizabeth Smart
Missing poster of Elizabeth Smart

Tom Smart, Ed's oldest brother and a journalist for the Deseret Morning News, became the spokesman for the family. Thousands of missing posters were printed, featuring several photos of Elizabeth from different angles and with different expressions. The Utah Missing Persons Clearinghouse distributed 800 fliers to police departments and school districts in neighboring states. The police expanded the focus of their search beyond Utah into southeast Idaho and Oregon where there had been two recent child abductions.

The Smarts had recently put their million-dollar house on the market, and in the past few months they had done renovations and repairs to get the house ready for sale. The police compiled a list of contractors, repairmen, and real-estate brokers who had been at the house so they could be interviewed. They also checked the Smarts' home computers to see if a sexual predator might have approached Elizabeth in an online chatroom, but they found no evidence of any such contact, and the family reported that Elizabeth never used the Internet. The police offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who came forward with solid information that would lead to Elizabeth's rescue.

Edward Smart
Edward Smart

On June 5 Ed Smart emerged from the house and faced a gang of reporters and television journalists who had camped out on the curb. Wrestling with his emotions and nearly overcome with grief, Ed stepped up to the microphones and spoke directly to his daughter. "Elizabeth, if you're out there, we're doing everything we possibly can to help you."

Fighting back tears, he then addressed the kidnapper: "Please let her go. Please!"

The next day Ed and Lois announced that private donors had put together a $250,000 reward for information that would bring back their daughter.

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