Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

"Peter" and "Augustine"

Mitchell, Barzee, and Elizabeth had left Utah sometime in the fall and relocated to Lakeside, California, 25 miles east of San Diego. Mitchell might have picked Lakeside because it had a large transient population and he figured he and his traveling companions would blend in there. But even here Mitchell managed to stand out, preaching loudly in the commercial district and making a nuisance of himself. Storeowners complained to the police who confronted Mitchell on several occasions, giving him warnings and forcing him to move on.

But preaching wasn't the only thing on Mitchell's mind. He wanted to take another wife and had set his sights on the 12-year-old daughter of an LDS church official in a neighboring community. Mitchell tied back his long hair, put on jeans and a checked shirt, and went to Sunday services, pretending to be interested in learning more about the religion. Virl Kemp, the father of his target, invited Mitchell, who had introduced himself as "Peter," to his home for dinner, hoping to answer any of the man's questions about the church. During the meal, Kemp got the impression from Mitchell's questions that he knew a lot more about the LDS church than he was letting on. Mitchell's real purpose was to case out the house. Later that winter he tried to break in to kidnap Kemp's daughter just as he had kidnapped Elizabeth, but Kemp's house was burglar-proof, and Mitchell was forced to abandon his plan.

Several weeks later, on February 15, 2003, Mitchell broke into the pre-school at the Lakeside Presbyterian Church. A neighbor reported that she had seen a man in long johns climbing through a window at the preschool. When the police arrived, they found Mitchell asleep on a classroom floor. He told them his name was "Michael Jenson" and gave a false date of birth, but his fingerprints revealed his true identity. Unfortunately his computer records did not show that he had skipped out on a court date in Utah on the shoplifting charge in September because it was only a misdemeanor. The police held him over the Presidents Day weekend until a hearing could be scheduled.

Brian Mitchell
Brian Mitchell

In the meantime Barzee became frantic when Mitchell did not return to their makeshift camp in the woods, one of several Mitchell had set up in the area. Barzee ran to another campsite where Mitchell had built an altar, which they called Golgotha after the hill where Jesus was crucified. She wept and prayed for hours, pleading with God for Mitchell's safe return. Elizabeth was left behind on her own, but she did not try to escape.

When Mitchell finally got his hearing, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of vandalism. The judge gave him three years of probation, a $250 fine, and a stern warning to stay away from any church that doesn't want him on their property. Mitchell, who insisted that his name was "Michael Jenson," promised to follow the judge's orders and said that the only reason he had broken into the preschool was because he had gotten drunk that night. Many people would later attest to the fact that Emmanuel had a taste for beer.

Two weeks later on March 1, America's Most Wanted broadcast an update on the Elizabeth Smart case with the photos of Mitchell provided by Barzee's sons. A viewer from Lakeside, California, called in and said a man fitting Mitchell's description had been in her area, traveling with two women wearing veils over their faces. The Salt Lake City Police Department sent an investigator to Lakeside to follow up on this lead.

That same week a librarian at the Lakeside branch of the San Diego County public library saw Mitchell, Barzee, and Elizabeth, dirty and disheveled, sitting at a library table. She recognized them because they had come in before, but this time they weren't wearing their robes. Elizabeth wore sunglasses and sat silently as Mitchell studied an atlas for nearly an hour.

On March 4, a man driving along the highway north of San Diego noticed three people in robes on the side of the road. It was pouring rain, and the driver stopped to ask if they wanted a ride. Mitchell accepted the man's offer and introduced himself as "Peter." He said his "daughter's" name was "Augustine." He told the driver that they were on their way to Las Vegas where he planned to preach God's message. The trio rode with the man for about 40 miles, then set off on foot.

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