Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

"I Think I Know Who It Is"

One night in October 2002, Mary Katherine Smart, who was now ten years old, walked into her parents' bedroom and went over to her father. "I think I know who it is," she told him. "Emmanuel."

She explained that she had been flipping through the Guinness Book of World Records, and it suddenly came to her. The man she had seen in her bedroom, the man who took her sister Elizabeth, was the homeless man who had worked at their house for half a day nearly a year ago.

Ed Smart told the police what Mary Katherine told him, but their response was lukewarm. Emmanuel was already on the long list of people they wanted to interview, and they were a little skeptical of the ten-year-old's sudden recovered memory. The police still considered the late Richard Ricci their prime suspect and conducted their investigation under that theory. Besides, they had already searched their computerized files for anyone who used the alias "Emmanuel" and had come up empty. They didn't realize that Brian David Mitchell was indeed in their system, having been arrested for shoplifting in September. Unfortunately the arresting officer had entered his name as "Immanuel."

John Walsh
John Walsh

Impatient with the police's investigation and doubtful that Ricci was the true culprit, the Smarts decided to initiate their own efforts to find their daughter. They contacted John Walsh, the host of America's Most Wanted, who had just started a daytime talk show. America's Most Wanted had previously given some coverage to Elizabeth's kidnapping, and on December 14, Walsh broadcast a new segment on her, updating the public on the state of the investigation. More significantly Walsh appeared the talk show Larry King Live on December 23 to promote his own new talk show. King asked Walsh about the Smart case, and Walsh revealed Mary Katherine's memory of Emmanuel.

Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart

"Their young daughter has now said that she believed that Ricci wasn't the guy in there that night," Walsh told King on national television, "that it may have been another guy that did some work on the roof, an itinerant guy...." Walsh promised that America's Most Wanted would stay on the case.

Seven weeks later, on February 15, 2003, America's Most Wanted aired a new segment on Elizabeth's disappearance, and this time they showed composite sketches of "Emmanuel."

Composite sketch of 'Emmanuel'
Composite sketch of 'Emmanuel'

Derrick Thompson happened to be watching the show from his home that night. His jaw dropped when he heard the description of Emmanuel and saw the sketches. He immediately called his brother, Mark, to tell him to turn on the TV. Derrick and Mark were Wanda Barzee's sons. Mitchell was their stepfather. They decided to go out and try to find Mitchell and their mother.

Mitchell's ex-wife Debbie also saw that episode of America's Most Wanted and strongly felt that "Emmanuel" was the man she had once been her husband. She called the police and told them all she knew about Mitchell, including her daughter's memories of being sexually abused by him. It was her opinion that if Mitchell was the kidnapper, he would not have killed Elizabeth.

New information was now flowing in via the television show. The Smarts felt that this was a positive development, but they needed the police to evaluate these leads. However, there was one critical piece of information no one knew at this point. On the day the show aired, Mitchell was already in police custody in California.

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