Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

Stockholm Syndrome

Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart

At this point Brian David Mitchell, a.k.a. Emmanuel, was not high on the list of possible suspects, and if the police had tried to locate him, it would have been extremely difficult to find him because he was living in the wilderness of Dry Creek Canyon outside of Salt Lake City with his wife, Wanda Barzee, and the person he intended to take as his second wife, Elizabeth Smart.

On the night of the kidnapping, Mitchell had forced Elizabeth to hike four miles up into the canyon where he had previously constructed a concealed shelter for his new bride. He had dug a 20-foot long trough and built a lean-to over it. Soon after their arrival at the campsite, he insisted that she take off her red pajamas so he could burn them. She was given white robes to wear, just like her captors. He tied a cable around her leg and tethered her to a tree so she wouldn't run off.

Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart

Mitchell, a self-anointed priest, planned to perform the marriage ceremony that would join him to Elizabeth. Barzee, his loyal follower, supported his desire to take Elizabeth as a wife. Though the LDS church had officially banned polygamy in 1890, Mitchell firmly believed that multiple marriage was God's will and that the church had been wrong to abandon the practice.

Mitchell and Barzee kept Elizabeth imprisoned at their makeshift compound in the canyon from June 5 until August 8 when Salt Lake City residents started seeing the familiar robed couple, who they sometimes referred to as "Joseph and Mary," with a similarly dressed young girl. Barzee and Elizabeth wore veils that covered the lower halves of their faces. The couple took Elizabeth to some of their old haunts, including fast-food restaurants that had inexpensive all-you-can-eat buffets. They typically ate voraciously, mostly salad. An employee at one restaurant later reported that he has seen Elizabeth leave the table by herself to refill her plate at the buffet and returned to finish her meal. Whether she feared for her life or had succumbed to what her father would later call "brainwashing," Elizabeth showed no outward signs that she was being held against her will.

Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst

The people who saw the unusual trio considered them eccentric but harmless characters. They were often spotted around town. Hikers and bicyclists ran into them in the canyon. No one ever considered the possibility that this girl in the dirty white robes could be the kidnapped teenager whose photograph was on posters all over the state. And they never considered the possibility that she was with this unconventional couple because she was suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological condition in which a victim comes to identify and sympathize with her oppressors, just as heiress Patty Hearst had when she was held captive in 1974.

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