Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

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Richard Albert Ricci
Richard Albert Ricci

Bret Michael Edmunds was just one person on a long list of possible suspects the police had assembled. Another man, Richard Albert Ricci, soon shot to the top of that list. Ricci had done some painting and yard work for the Smarts in the spring of 2001. He was outgoing and talkative, and the family liked him. Ed Smart had even struck a deal with Ricci, agreeing to give the handyman his white 1990 Jeep Cherokee in exchange for additional work on his home. But as the police checked into the backgrounds of people who had worked at the Smarts' home, they discovered that Ricci was an ex-con who had stolen in the past to support a heroin habit. He had also abused prescription drugs and was an alcoholic. His modus was to sneak into the homes of people he worked for and steal items from the children's rooms, items that might be assumed to have been carelessly lost rather than stolen.

Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart

The more the police dug into Ricci's past, the worse it got. Ricci, 48, had a rap sheet that started when he was 19. He was a four-time parole violator, and the most serious of his many crimes was the shooting of a Salt Lake policeman in 1983 while robbing a pharmacy. He was also stocky and closer in build to the man Mary Katherine had described. He had been working full-time at a local nursery, but the day of Elizabeth's abduction happened to be his day off. And a neighbor told the police that in course of conversation one day, Ricci had said without prompting that he would surely be "implicated" in the kidnapping because he had worked for the Smarts.

Ricci and his wife allowed the police to search his home without a warrant and declined to get legal representation. Buried in the tomato patch, investigators found perfume bottles, jewelry, and a wine glass containing seashells. Ed Smart identified these as items that had been missing from his home. A search of Ricci's in-laws' home produced a machete and a light-colored hat.

Ed Smart had a hard time accepting that a man he had trusted could have done anything to harm his daughter, but in time he came to believe that even if Ricci wasn't the actual culprit, he was somehow involved and knew more than he was saying.

On June 14 the police arrested Ricci on a parole violation charge. They didn't want him going anywhere.

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