True Crime Society – The remarkable recovery of Elizabeth Smart


Elizabeth Ann Smart was born on November 3, 1987 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Her parents are Edward and Lois Smart.  Elizabeth has four brothers and one sister – their names are Mary Katherine, William, Edward, Charles and Andrew.  The family are part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The day before ElizABETH abduction was June 4, 2002.  The Smart family did not get home until late that evening as they had attended the Bryant Middle School awards function.  Elizabeth got awards in physical fitness and academics.

In the early hours of June 5, 2002, Elizabeth and Mary Katherine were asleep in a bedroom of the Smart home.  A man entered the house by cutting a window screen near the back door.  Mary Katherine heard the man threaten Elizabeth if she didn’t stay quiet.  Mary Katherine pretended to be asleep through the abduction. Elizabeth was 14 at the time she was abducted and Mary Katherine was 9.

Mary Katherine told police that the abductor was a white man who was around the same height as her brother Charles – 5’8.  She said he was 30-40 years old, was wearing light colored clothes and a golf hat.  She said he had dark hair on his head, as well as dark hair on his arms and hands.

Mary Katherine said she thought the man had a gun. 

Elizabeth said ‘ouch’ at one point after she stubbed her toe.  The abductor said something along the lines of ‘You better be quiet, and I won’t hurt you.’ 

She said she thought she heard Elizabeth ask ‘Why are you doing this?’ and the man possibly replied ‘for ransom.’

Mary Katherine said the abductor was polite, calm and nicely dressed.  She also said she thought his voice sounded familiar but she could not recall where she had heard it before.

After Elizabeth and the abductor left the room, Mary Katherine ran to tell her parents what had happened.  She saw then that Elizabeth and the man were still in the house, outside the bedroom of her brothers.  She crept quietly back into her bed where she hid for up to two hours.  Just before 4am, Mary Katherine went and told her parents what had happened.  They at first did not believe her, until they found the window screen that had been cut.  

Lois and Ed Smart gave an interview about the circumstances to Katie Couric.

Couric: “Tell me what happened. You all were sleeping. And you were awakened by Mary Catherine.”

Lois Smart: “Yes. She came in and said, ‘Elizabeth’s gone.”

Couric: “Was she frantic?”

Lois Smart: “She was frightened. She had a blanket. She was—”

Ed Smart: “Almost hiding behind the blanket.”

Lois Smart: “As she came in. And she said, ‘Elizabeth’s gone. A man took her with a gun.’ And of course being awoken to that, it was like, this is a bad dream.”

Couric: “Because you thought, well, maybe Elizabeth went to sleep on the sofa. Mary Katherine was bugging her or whatever—”

Lois Smart: “Yeah, taking the blankets or kicking or something. And so we weren’t alarmed. Within the next three or four minutes, it seemed like an eternity, while we were going around the house and checking everything.”

Ed Smart: “Checking each of the rooms and as you went from one room, didn’t find her, and it was — the adrenaline starts building to a point where you just, you know, is this really possible?”

Couric: “You were completely panic stricken.”

Lois Smart: “Yes. And when he came upstairs and says she’s not on the sofa, and I went flying down and turned on every light. And I saw that she wasn’t there either. As my eyes panned the room, I saw this cut screen. And I knew.”

Lois Smart: “I was hysterical, and I was— we were yelling. I was yelling for Ed, ‘Call the police! Call the police!’ It’s a horrible, horrible feeling.”

Couric: “The police came immediately. And Ed, in the book, you write, ‘I remember feeling as if the police didn’t have control over the situation. It was as if they were waiting for something to happen or somebody to come and tell them what to do. I was bothered that they weren’t out looking for my daughter.’”

Ed Smart: “I don’t know that police handled kidnappings every day. I don’t think it’s— I hope it’s not a common occurrence.”

Elizabeth has since spoken out about how she was kidnapped.  This info is from People:

“He placed his hand on my chest and then put the knife up to my neck. He told me to get up quietly and if I didn’t then he would kill me and my family.”

He was whispering, but it was still loud enough it could wake someone. He was dressed in sweats, sweatshirt, stocking cap, tennis shoes.”

On June 6, 2002, Ed and Lois went on television and pleaded for the kidnapper to return Elizabeth. 

“If you can hear me, Elizabeth is the sweetest girl. She’s an angel,” her father, Ed Smart, told reporters late Wednesday. “Please let her go. Please. I mean, she doesn’t do anything to anyone, and there’s no reason that you should have her.”

“Elizabeth, if you’re out there, we’re doing everything we possibly can to help you. We love you. We want you to come home safely to us.”

A massive search was undertaken for Elizabeth, with up to 2,000 volunteers involved.  Authorities also used search dogs and planes.  

There was little usable evidence found at the Smart home, no fingerprints or DNA of the abductor were found.  They also searched the house with bloodhounds and found nothing.

At the time, obviously, the abductor’s identity was unknown.  We know now that he is Brian David Mitchell.  Before we get into what Elizabeth endured while she was kidnapped, we will go into his background.

Brian David Mitchell was born on October 18, 1953, making him 48 at the time of the abduction.  He was born in Salt Lake City and was the third of six children born into a Mormon family.  His mother was a teacher and his father was a social worker.  

As part of his sex education, Brian’s father would show him explicit photos.  To teach him independence,  his father would drop him to parts of the city that he wasn’t familiar with and would leave him to find his own way home.

Brian’s trouble seemed to start around age 16, when he exposed himself to a child and was sent to juvenile hall.  He got married at age 19, to a 16 year old female named Karen Minor.  They had two children together and ended up getting divorced.  Karen was awarded custody of both children.  Brian ended up taking the children illegally to New Hampshire for a period of time.

He stayed in New Hampshire for two years and he joined a Hare Krishna commune.  

He was known to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Brian returned to Salt Lake City and he got married to a woman named Debbie.  They had two children together.  (Debbie had three children from a previous marriage).  They ended up divorcing in 1984 after Debbie alleged that Brian had been abusive during their marriage.  She also claimed that Brian had sexually abused their 3 y/o son.  This could not be medically proven but all future visitation with Brian’s children was supervised by the Division of Child and Family Services.  One of Debbie’s daughters from her first marriage would later claim that Brian sexually abused her for four years.

On the day that Brian and Debbi’s divorce was finalized, he married a woman named Wanda Elaine Barzee.  Wanda was born in Salt Lake City on November 6, 1945.  Wanda was 40 at the time and had six children from a previous marriage.

Wanda’s relationship with her kids was troubled.  One daughter described her as a ‘monster’ and said that Wanda once fed her the family’s pet rabbit for dinner.

Wanda and Brian were actively involved in the LDS church.  Brian started going by the name Immanuel and he claimed to be a prophet from God who experienced visions.  Wanda started using the name Hephzibah.  The couple would end up being excommunicated from the church for being too extreme.

They started panhandling and preaching in downtown Salt Lake City.  Brian started dressing like Jesus, in white robes and he grew a beard.

So after Brian kidnapped Elizabeth, he took her into the woods just outside of Salt Lake City where he had a camp set up.  Wanda was there waiting for them.  

Elizabeth said that Wanda ‘ eventually just proceeded to wash my feet and told me to change out of my pyjamas into a robe type of garment.  And when I refused, she said if I didn’t, she would have Brian come rip my pyjamas off.  I put the robe on.  He came and performed a ceremony, which was to marry me to him.  After that, he proceeded to rape me.’  

Brian also told Elizabeth that he was an angel and a Davidic King who would ‘emerge in seven years, be stoned by a mob, lie dead in the streets for three days, and then rise up and kill the Antichrist.’  

He told Elizabeth that she was the first of many virgin brides that he was going to kidnap.  Each bride was to accompany him as he battled the Antichrist.

Brian shackled Elizabeth to a tree with a metal cable.  This gave her limited mobility outside of the tent that she occupied.  Brian told Elizabeth she had to take a new name, and she chose Esther, after Esther in the Old Testament.  Brian also sometimes called her Shearjashub.

Shearjashub (שאר ישוב‎ Šə’ār-yāšūḇ) is possibly the first-mentioned son of Isaiah according to Isaiah 7:3. His name means “the remnant shall return” and was prophetic; offering hope to the people of Israel, that although they were going to be sent into exile, and their temple destroyed, God remained faithful and would deliver “a remnant” from Babylon and bring them back to their land.

Another name that Brian called Elizabeth was Augustine.

Brian repeatedly raped Elizabeth, sometimes up to four times per day.  He also forced her to look at pornographic magazines and regularly threatened to kill her.  He made her drink alcohol and take drugs to lower her resistance.  

Elizabeth has said that Brian starved her for days at a time.  She once tried to stop him raping her by biting him.   “He said if I did that, he would never have sex with me again and I would be the most miserable woman in the world,” she testified. “He said that but it didn’t stop him.”

Brian and Wanda used to take Elizabeth out in public while she was kidnapped.  They made her cover her face with a headscarf and face veil so that she would not be recognised.

Two months after they kidnapped Elizabeth, Wanda and Brian decided they wanted to leave Utah and take her to either Boston or New York City.

In order to research where they wanted to move to, Wanda and Brian took Elizabeth to the Salt Lake City Public Library.  

A patron at the library noticed the trip due to their unusual dress – full length robes and veils.  However, this person got a look at Elizabeth’s eyes and was convinced that she was the missing girl.  The police were called and Detective Jon Richey arrived at the library.  

When he got there, he said he thought the tip was a ‘long shot’.  He questioned Brian.  Brian said that the detective was unable to look under the veil and that the women were not able to speak in public due to their religious beliefs.  

The Detective offered for the girl to go into a bathroom to reveal her face privately.  “I upped the pressure, one notch at a time, and got the same matter-of-fact response that this was not going to happen,” Detective Richey testified. He said Brian remained “calm, assertive and very much the same throughout the confrontation.”

The detective said that he recognised the civil rights of the group and that he didn’t feel there was enough evidence to force the girl to unveil herself. 

“Had I more information, anything at all that led me to believe it was Elizabeth, [civil rights] wouldn’t matter. Her safety would be my only consideration. I would have taken off the veil.”

Brian told the detective that the girl was an 18 y/o relative. 

“She was taller than I am, and she appeared to be about 18,” Detective Richey said.

He also said he manipulated the situation so that the female had a chance to whisper in his ear, and she didn’t.  He said he expected a kidnapping victim would take advantage of such an opportunity.

Elizabeth later said: “I felt like hope was walking out the door. I was mad at myself that I didn’t say anything, mad at myself for not taking the chance. So close. I felt terrible that the detective hadn’t pushed harder. He just walked away.”

The detective left the trio alone after spending around 30 minutes with them.

Around the same time in 2002, an employee of Deseret News had a weird encounter with Brian David Mitchell.  Heidi Perry said she saw Brian taking down posters of Elizabeth that had been hanging in the lobby of the building.  

Brian told Heidi that Elizabeth “had been found, and the poster didn’t need to be up anymore,” she testified.

When Heidi told him she worked at the newspaper and would know if Elizabeth had been found, she said Brian replied that he read it in the “other newspaper.”

Brian’s demeanor was said to be “calm” as he kept tearing down the poster. When she ran upstairs to get help, he fled.

On July 24, 2002, Brian and Wanda attempted to abduct one of Elizabeth’s cousins.  It is believed that the cousin was 15, the same age as Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was forced to lead Brian and Wanda to the home of her cousin.  What they didn’t know is that the younger cousin had previously been sharing a room with her older sister, Jessica.  The house had been remodeled and the younger girl had moved to another room.  

Brian attempted to cut through the window.  Jessica woke up because a thin object sticking through her window blinds had knocked over a picture on the desk in front of the window. The father met his daughter in the hall as she ran from the bedroom. 

Jessica’s father Steven Wright called police and the FBI arrived to question him.  He said they accused him of staging the break-in.  “It was hell with the breaking in. It was hell with the cops accusing me. It was hell trying to find out who did this,” Steven Wright said.

Brian and Wanda also took Elizabeth to grocery stores and a restaurant but nobody took any notice.  She also attended a party in the fall of 2002 with them and she was actually photographed while there.  

In September 2002, Wanda and Brian left Salt Lake City with Elizabeth, and they moved to San Diego County in California.  They set up a camp in a dry creek bed in Lakeside.  They moved location frequently, often in the middle of the night.  In February 2003, Brian was arrested in El Cajon for breaking into a church.   He spent several days in jail over this incident.

In October 2002, Mary Katherine had a realization about where she had heard the abductor’s voice before.  She remembered that the Smart family had hired a man named Immanuel to work on the roof and rake leaves at the home. 

Ed and Lois eventually wrote a book about the abduction and they recalled some information about Mary Katherine’s sudden memory.  “(S)he told us that she’d been reading the ‘Guinness Book of World Records.’ She saw a photo of a very muscular woman, and something triggered her memory of who took her sister the morning of June 5. It’s strange, because Brian David Mitchell was a thin man.’

The police were skeptical of this information at first because Immanuel had only worked for the family for a short time, and a long time had elapsed since his voice was heard.  The family had a sketch artist draw Immanuel based on their descriptions.  The sketch was given to the media in February 2003 – it was shown on Larry King Live and AMW.  

Miraculously, the sketch was recognized by members of Brian’s family, who gave police current photos of him.  Those photos were also made public.

On March 12, 2003, Brian was spotted with a woman and a girl in Sandy, Utah, by two separate witnesses who had seen his photo on the news.  Sandy is just 15 miles from where Elizabeth was abducted from.  

The three people had been seen carrying bedrolls and bags and were walking down the street.  Officers went to the area and “located a male and two females at the side of the road. Sandy officers questioned the three and determined one of them was possibly Elizabeth Smart,” Sandy police said in a statement.

Elizabeth and Wanda had been wearing wigs and veils at the time.  

The three were taken to a police station where it was confirmed – the female found was Elizabeth Smart.  

Elizabeth’s family spoke about the moment the family was reunited.  “All of the children out there deserve to come back to theirparents the way Elizabeth has come back to us,” he said. “It is nothing but a miracle. I just held her, held her the whole way home. … I had to take a double-take and pull her back away from her and say, ‘Is it really you? ’

“Words cannot express how incredibly grateful we are,” said Elizabeth’s uncle, David. “Do miracles still exist? Our answer is yes.”

The Smart family said Elizabeth was sharp and healthy. During her reunion with her parents, she asked questions about her siblings and was shocked to hear that her younger brother had earned straight A’s on his last report card, according to family members who spoke to reporters tonight. They said police were amazed about the amount of information Elizabeth was giving them in their interview.

“What a great day it is for the city of Salt Lake,” said FBI Agent Chip Burress. “There are law enforcement officials up there [in the police station] with wide grins on their faces. I cannot tell you how many cases we’ve had where the end outcome was not this.”

“You know, we’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said neighbor Shelly Eugaphusa, who organized the balloon hanging. “We just wanted to celebrate. We’re so happy for their family. … We never gave up.”

When he was arrested, the court requested that Brian undergo a competency evaluation, based on his claims of being a religious prophet.

Brian was held at Utah State Hospital while this was undertaken.  Stephen Golding, a psychologist hired by the defense, distinguished between zealous belief and delusion, and concluded that Brian’s beliefs transcended zeal and were in fact delusional. It was his opinion that Brian was not competent to stand trial as a result of his delusions.

The court overruled this and found Brian to be competent in 2004.  

Plea negotiations between the defense and prosecution began.  Brian was willing to plead guilty to kidnapping and burglary for a 10-15 year sentence, on the condition that Elizabeth was not allowed to testify.  

The prosecution refused to drop sexual assault charges against Brian and no agreement was reached.

In February 2005, a psychologist named Jennifer Skeep interviewed Brian again.  She had previously interviewed and deemed him competent.  After the 2005 interview, Brian’s attorney filed a brief stating that he was no longer competent.  

Brian began acting out while in court, but jail staff said they observed no change in behavior.  This indicates that he was putting on a show for the court room.

Judge Judy Atherton agreed with the defense that Brian was showing signs of psychosis.  He was readmitted to Utah State Hospital on August 11, 2005 and he remained there until 2008.  During that time, no staff observed Brian being paranoid in a pathological sense. 

In February 2006, a bill went before Utah legislature that sought the right to forcibly medicate defendants to make sure they were competent to face trial.  Permission to forcibly medicate Wanda was also sought at this time.  In June 2006, a judge approved Wanda being medicated so that she could face trial.  

On December 18, 2006,  Brian was declared unfit yet again.  He had screamed at a judge during a hearing to ‘forsake these robes and kneel in the dust’.  

On December 12, 2008, it was reported that the decision was that Brian could not legally be forcibly medicated to restore his mental competency.  

The case was transferred to the Federal court on October 10, 2008.  The issue of Brian’s competency went on and on, through to December 2009.  One example of Brian’s behavior was that he burst out singing hymns in court.  

Elizabeth described Brian as “smart, articulate, evil, wicked, manipulative, sneaky, slimy, selfish, greedy, not spiritual, not religious, not close to God.’

More competency evaluations were conducted by professionals. One doctor said that Brian was fully aware of his actions and was attempting to deceive the court. Another doctor reviewed 210 sources and 57 different interviews involving Brian, Wanda, his family and Elizabeth. One expert said that Brian was competent to stand trial and diagnosed him with non-exclusive pedophilia, antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, malingering and alcohol abuse in a controlled environment.

Brian was finally deemed competent to stand trial on March 1, 2010.  

Wanda eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 15 years in state and federal prison. In 2016, Wanda’s federal imprisonment was terminated and she was transferred from the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, to the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, to begin serving her state prison sentence. She was released in September 2018 at age 72, which Elizabeth protested.

“May we all remain vigilant in watching over our families, friends, and community from anyone who would seek to hurt or take advantage. I truly believe life is meant to be happy and beautiful, and no matter what happens that will remain my goal for me and for my family,” she wrote.

“I do believe she’s a threat. For me, I know the depth of her depravity.”

Conditions of Wanda’s release included mental health treatment and an order to not contact any of the Smart family.  She voluntarily agreed to not goto any locations that the Smart family might have frequented. 

Three months after Wanda’s release, it was revealed that she was living near a Salt Lake City elementary school.  There were apparently no restrictions to how close she could live to a school, though Utah’s state rules disallowed her from going on school property.

Brian’s trial finally began on November 8, 2010.  The defense acknowledged that Brian was responsible for the crimes but that he was legally insane when he committed them.  They argued that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.  

On December 11, 2010, the jury rejected the insanity story and found him guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity.  

US District Judge Dale A Kimball sentenced Brian to live in prison without the possibility of parole.  He is serving his sentence at US Penitentiary, Terre Haute, in Indiana. 

Elizabeth has been a vocal supporter of sexual predator legislation and the AMBER Alert system since her abduction.

In May 2008, she traveled to Washington DC where she presented a book titled ‘You’re Not Alone’.  It covered her story, as well as the stories of four other recovered young adults.  The book was published by the US Department of Justice.

In 2009, Elizabeth spoke at the 2009 Women’s Conference in California, hosted by Maria Shriver.  The event was focused on how to overcome obstacles in life.  

Elizabeth left Salt Lake City in 2009 to serve as a church missionary in Paris.  

In 2011, Elizabeth founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation,  which aims to bring hope and end the victimization and exploitation of sexual assault through prevention, recovery, and advocacy.

In July 2011, ABC News announced that Elizabeth would work as a commentator for them, mainly focusing on missing people.  

While Elizabeth was in Paris working for the church, she met a Scottish man named Matthew Gilmour.  In January 2012, after dating for one year, they got engaged. They married on February 18, 2012 in a private ceremony at the Laie Hawaii Temple.  The couple has since had three children together.   

In February 2014, Elizabeth testified before the Utah State House of Representatives in favor of HB 286. The bill would create an optional curriculum for use in Utah schools to provide training on child sexual abuse prevention.

Elizabeth published a book in 2018 titled ‘Where There’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward and Never Giving Up.’

In 2019, Lois filed for divorce from Ed Smart and he came out as gay.  Ed wrote a letter about his sexuality and said it was “one of the hardest letters I have ever written.”

“I have recently acknowledged to myself and my family that I am gay,” the letter states, per the Deseret News.

“The decision to be honest and truthful about my orientation comes with its own set of challenges, but at the same time it is a huge relief,” he continued. “Living with the pain and guilt I have for so many years, not willing to accept the truth about my orientation has at times brought me to the point where I questioned whether life was still worth living.”

Ed said that Lois, was “loyal” and said she is an “extraordinary mother.”

“I deeply regret the excruciating pain this has caused her. Hurting her was never my intent. While our marriage will end, my love for Lois and everyone in my family is eternal.” 

Elizabeth said at the time:  “Their decisions are very personal. As such, I will not pass judgment and rather am focusing on loving and supporting them and the other members of my family,” she said.

In 2019, while traveling home to Utah on a Delta flight, Elizabeth said that she was woken up by a male passenger next to her rubbing her inner thigh.  “I had been asleep and, all of a sudden, I woke up because I felt someone’s hand rubbing in between my legs, on my inner thigh,” Elizabeth told Gayle King. She reported the incident.

“We took the matter seriously and have continued to cooperate with Ms. Smart and the appropriate authorities as the matter is investigated,” Delta said.

After this incident, Elizabeth began a self-defense program for women and girls called Smart Defense.  “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re wearing. None of those things matter if you are abused or taken advantage of,” she said. “It’s not your fault, and you have every right to defend yourself, to take care of yourself, to do what you need to do to stay safe.”

Elizabeth also went on The Masked Dancer in 2021 where she competed as Moth. 



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