In Plain Sight: The Startling Truth behind the Elizabeth Smart Investigationby Tom Smart, Lee Benson
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This riveting inside story of the intense search for the Salt Lake City teenager reveals never-before-told details of the largest investigation in Utah state history. The firsthand account of Tom Smart, Elizabeth's uncle and one-time suspect, reveals the details of the flawed police investigation, the media's manipulation of the family, and the eyewitness account of nine-year-old Mary Katherine Smart that went largely ignored by investigators. New research is presented on the family background of disturbed street preacher Brian David Mitchell, who kidnapped Elizabeth as part of a bizarre polygamous plot. Also examined is the critical role of the media, revealing the essential part played by John Walsh and others in facilitating Elizabeth's safe return, and the manipulative influence of Fox News and Bill O'Reilly. Going beyond a mere eyewitness account, the book includes information culled from interviews with more than 150 people involved in the search and investigation, notes from family meetings, and memos from law enforcement officials.
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In Plain Sight
The Startling Truth Behind the Elizabeth Smart Investigation
By Tom Smart, Lee Benson
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2005 Tom Smart and Lee Benson
All rights reserved.
The tip of the knife penetrated the window screen at the right edge, near the top, and sliced straight down. A cut across the bottom came next, followed by a final incision down the left-hand side, allowing access to the handle inside that cranked open the window.
Normally, the kitchen window was shut and locked at night, but at dinnertime the evening before someone had opened it to let out cooking odors, and no one remembered to close it.
The blade of the knife moved silently and easily. The screen's light nylon mesh was meant to keep out roaches and flies, not sharpened steel. Soon a slight, narrow-shouldered man holding the knife slithered through the ten-inch opening he had made, taking care not to disturb assorted utensils, plants, and window ornaments as he dropped eight inches to the kitchen counter below.
The man moved quietly through the spacious, modern house. It was for sale. Interested buyers who called the number on the real-estate agent's sign out front discovered a list price of $1.19 million.
But the million-dollar house held no appeal for the man silently ascending the stairs beyond the kitchen. He turned down a long hallway, toward the corner room where the girls slept.
Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart awakened to the sight of the man standing above her, tapping her shoulder and motioning for her to get up. As the startled girl got out of bed, her, nine-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, lay motionless on the other side. The sisters had recently started sharing a queen-size bed, after giving their twin beds to the boys. Each of their four brothers had his own room. William, Edward Jr., and Andrew were just down the hall while sixteen-year-old Charles, the oldest of the Smart children, had recently taken up residence downstairs. But the girls stuck together.
The intruder had first circled the bed and paused at Mary Katherine's nightstand on the far side of the room. He tapped her on the shoulder but got no response. Instinctively, the younger girl stayed still and feigned sleep as the disturbance in the bedroom brought her to consciousness. When Mary Katherine dared to open her eyes briefly, she thought she saw that the backs of the man's hands were covered with dark hair and he had wrinkles of some sort on the side of his face. His voice was soft. When Elizabeth stubbed her toe in the dark and reflexively said "Ouch," Mary Katherine heard the man whisper for Elizabeth to be quiet, "or I'll kill you and your family." He then ordered her to get some shoes and the two walked through the adjoining bathroom into the walk-in closet, where Elizabeth had to briefly turn on the light to find her shoes. Mary Katherine heard Elizabeth ask, "Why are you taking me?" The stranger's reply was muted, but she thought she heard him answer, "For ransom or hostage."
After they left the bedroom — Elizabeth in red silk pajamas and white tennis shoes, the man holding what Mary Katherine thought was a gun — the nine-year-old waited until she thought it was safe and then got out of bed to run to her parents' room and tell them what happened.
But she was too quick. As she looked out the door of her room and down the hallway she saw the man and Elizabeth coming out of one of the boys' rooms. On the far side of the boys' bedroom there was a door to the atrium, which led to the backyard — the quickest way out of the house. But there was a sleeping boy in between. Maybe the man stealing Elizabeth didn't want to risk waking him. Fearing the kidnapper might be returning for her, Mary Katherine retreated into her room and carefully got back into bed, faking sleep again, too terrified to move. She wasn't having a nightmare. This was real. She knew it as well as she knew there was a big empty space on the side of the bed where the older sister she idolized had been only moments before. In the hall, Mary Katherine got another brief look at the man. She would describe the clothes he was wearing as light-colored; he also had on a cap, which Mary Katherine found difficult to describe. In the dim light, she could see he was only an inch or so taller than Elizabeth, the same height as her brother Charles. He was carrying some kind of duffel bag or backpack. The man and his voice were vaguely familiar to Mary Katherine; she felt a dim connection to something too hazy to recall.
Mary Katherine stayed under the covers. She was taking no more chances. She had heard the threat: "I'll kill your family." They were all in danger. She waited. She listened to the chimes from the big clock in the living room. They rang every quarter-hour. When she heard enough of them she would run and tell her dad. It was hard waiting, but she forced herself to hear the chimes, and then hear them again, before wrapping herself in her blanket and running to the master bedroom at the far end of the hall, where she shook her dad and said, "She's gone! Elizabeth is gone!"
Edward Smart bolted up out of a deep sleep, rubbing his eyes, as his wife, Lois, aware of the commotion, also struggled to wake up. Ed thought his youngest daughter must have had a bad dream. Elizabeth sometimes slept elsewhere in the house, especially if Mary Katherine was kicking her in her sleep. She might have gone to one of the boys' rooms or to the couch downstairs.
But his anxiety mounted as he ran from room to room, not finding Elizabeth anywhere. His heart, mind, and adrenaline began to race as Mary Katherine pleaded, "You're not going to find her! A man came and took her! A man with a gun!"
Mary Katherine woke her dad at 3:58 A.M. according to his nightstand clock. The police logged Ed's subsequent 911 call three minutes later, at 4:01. "My daughter's missing! Oh my gosh! Please hurry!" On the police tape, Ed is shouting, but even more chilling are the horrified screams in the background. Lois had discovered the open window and the sliced screen inside the kitchen. In that instant, all reasonable explanations disappeared. Elizabeth was gone. It was as simple, and as complicated, as that.
The police responded in twelve minutes. At 4:13 A.M. a uniformed Salt Lake City Police Department officer, the first outsider on the scene, stood in the kitchen, staring at the screen and asking the first of what would become a torrent of mostly unanswerable questions. Outside, another officer stood guard at the bottom of the stairs leading to the front door.
After calling the police, Ed had gone into action, calling friends, neighbors, and family for help as he first searched his own house and then ran out the door and across the cul-de-sac to his neighbor's house. He knew, as did many others in the neighborhood, that Brent and Bonnie Jean Beesley's family had been victimized by a kidnapping attempt a decade earlier. "Check your kids," he begged the Beesleys because one of his was gone.
When the phone rang at our home sometime between 4:15 and 4:30 A.M. I did not look at the clock or even budge. After getting home from a late assignment and getting to sleep after midnight with the help of an Ambien sleeping pill, a quick reaction wasn't possible. My wife, Heidi, answered. Ever since our three daughters were small the phone has been on her side of the bed; she's the night watchman and mother superior at our house. A marshmallow could fall on the driveway at four in the morning and Heidi would hear it. She picked up the phone after one ring.
"Elizabeth has been kidnapped at gunpoint!" Ed told her.
"What?" said Heidi.
"Elizabeth has been kidnapped at gunpoint," he repeated, at which point Heidi handed me the phone. Fighting to wake up as Ed spoke the awful words yet again, I mumbled, "How can we help?" Ed told me to please come over, and hurry. Then he hung up.
Heidi and I just lay there as if we were paralyzed. We'd just received the proverbial phone call in the middle of the night. It was not unlike the shock of getting drenched by a bucket of cold water.
We had hardly moved when the phone rang again. It was Ed. Sensing my grogginess on the first call, he was calling back to make sure I had heard him correctly. "Haven't you left yet?" Ed said. "Please come, please hurry." The panic in his voice was now even thicker.
Within two minutes we were dressed and out the door. As we sped along the nearly deserted interstate, trying to turn the thirty-minute drive to Ed's house into thirty seconds, a small army was mobilizing and bearing down on the same coordinates. Ed comes from a large family. There are six of us Smart siblings, plus our parents. Then there's Lois's family; she's the second youngest of nine siblings. That gives Elizabeth twenty-six aunts and uncles and more than seventy first cousins. Before the sun began to rise over the Rocky Mountains, both sides of the family had been called and were racing by the dozens to Ed and Lois's home in the foothills of those mountains on the East Bench of Salt Lake City, about to join a crowd of police, neighbors, and friends.
Everyone who knew Elizabeth was thinking the same thing: "not her." Of all the children in the family, no one was less likely to be in any kind of trouble or be the center of controversy. She was the quintessential good kid. She didn't cruise the malls or surf the Internet. She wasn't the kind to sneak out at night with a boy. If she had a rebellious side to her nature, no one had ever seen it. She was beyond obedient.
Calling Elizabeth angelic was not a stretch. She was very accomplished on the harp, which only added to the image. She started taking harp lessons when she was very young and by fourteen she was performing regularly in public, to excellent reviews. Just three months earlier she had been a featured soloist at a concert for the Paralympics that followed the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games. She was happy to let her harp do the talking. Both she and Mary Katherine were quiet girls, sometimes painfully shy, especially around strangers. Even around family, Elizabeth was never one for long conversations.
All Ed and Lois's children, with the exception of Charles, had spent the previous weekend with my parents, Charles and Dorotha Smart. Lois's father, Myron Francom, had died the previous Wednesday, and Ed and Lois were busy helping with arrangements for the viewing Sunday night and the funeral service scheduled for Monday afternoon. Myron Francom lived a healthy, robust life for virtually all of his eighty-one years, but during his final three months he had been bedridden with a brain tumor. Lois had spent part of nearly every day at her father's bedside.
Dad and Mom did their best to spoil the grandkids over the weekend. They all came by Charleston, just west of Heber City, where I was a partner in a horse property development called Winterton Farms. We had pastured several horses there for the spring and we checked on the horses, haltering and leading Ranger, our newest colt, around the pasture. Deer Creek Reservoir is only a few minutes from Winterton Farms, so after playing with the horses, my father towed his ski boat to the lake and everyone went boating. Elizabeth, the oldest girl in the family and second oldest overall; twelve-year-old Andrew; nine-year-old Mary Katherine; seven-year-old Edward; and even little William, who was three, took turns steering the boat through tight turns with wide smiles on their faces.
The kids and their grandparents then left for a family cabin located farther east in the mountains on the Weber River, where they stayed until Sunday afternoon before returning for Myron Francom's viewing that evening at Holbrook Mortuary in the Millcreek area of the Salt Lake Valley. In the foyer near the guest register, Elizabeth played the harp as hundreds of people filed in to pay their respects to her grandfather.
The funeral the next afternoon, held in a church in the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay, was the last time I had seen Elizabeth. My father and I had spent the morning working with the horses, breaking Ranger. We arrived at the church just in time for the service. Elizabeth and Mary Katherine played their harps as part of the program. Afterward I saw Elizabeth in the parking lot. She took a moment to say hi while she was running and playing with her cousin Olivia Wright. Heidi remembered the dress Elizabeth was wearing, a high-necked Laura Ashley-type you might see on a younger girl.
I remember thinking how tall she was getting — already five-foot-seven and rail-thin. Running in that frilly dress with her cousin, her blond hair blowing behind her, Elizabeth Smart was really still a girl and not a woman. As a family friend who knew her well observed, Elizabeth was "fourteen going on eleven."
I wasn't the only Smart who had a short night. My sister Angela had been up till midnight, working on her yard. My brother David had been working in his basement until 12:30 A.M., putting in pipes for a shower. As for my parents, they had driven late into the night towing their boat to Lake Powell in southern Utah, where they planned to dock it for the summer. They had left the city late Tuesday afternoon and had been unsuccessful finding a motel reservation anywhere near Lake Powell. About an hour into their trip they pulled off the freeway in Provo to buy sleeping bags at a sporting goods store. They figured they would sleep under the stars on the sand by the lake if it came to that.
We are a close family, biologically and psychologically. All six Smart siblings were born within eleven years of each other, starting with me in 1953. Ed came next, eighteen months later, then my brother, Chris, followed by the two girls, Angela and Cynthia, and finally David in 1964. We have always spent a great deal of time together. As the family grew — by the summer of 2002 the extended Smart family numbered thirty-five — so did occasions for getting together. Something was always going on: birthdays, baby blessings, graduations, summer trips, and holidays.
But we had never gotten together for anything like this.
Ed called all his siblings within the first hour. In every instance, it took a moment for the news to register. Part of it was the early hour, but the bigger part was the shock. "Elizabeth has been taken at gunpoint!"
Once reality did sink in, we all went into action. My brother Chris grabbed his gun, a CZ nine-millimeter, semiautomatic — a serious handgun. Before he left his house, he put in it in the car, locked and loaded.
The phone ringing in the early morning dark hadn't initially alarmed Chris. As an engineer who buys energy for Duke Energy, he's used to fielding phone calls at odd hours. But the look on his wife Ingrid's face as she handed him the phone did alarm him. "I'll be right over," Chris had told Ed as he leaped out of bed. Ingrid wasn't as fast. "I was scared," she remembered. "If I went over (to Ed's house), it would be true and, more than anything, I didn't want it to be true. I heard Chris fiddling in the study. 'What are you doing?' I asked. 'Getting my gun,' he said. 'If I see him, I'm going to kill the son of a bitch.'" Within minutes, Chris and Ingrid left their house in Centerville, about fifteen miles from Ed and Lois's, hugging their eighteen-year-old daughter Alicia on the way out, and asking her to watch their younger kids.
My sister Angela and her husband, Zeke Dumke III, likewise left teenagers, their seventeen-year-old daughter, Elise, and sixteen-year-old son, Mitchell, in charge. Their oldest son, twenty-year-old Zeke IV, was in Bolivia waiting for the rest of the family to join him. Zeke and Angela had arranged a family trip to Bolivia to help build a well in a poverty-stricken village as a summer service project. They had their shots, their passports, and their airline tickets. They were supposed to leave the next day. Now Angela and Zeke were driving through the dark to Ed's house, flashlights beside them.
"I got the call a little after four and you could just hear the fear and the panic in Ed's voice," Angela said. "It was very palpable. I knew it wasn't something little. 'Elizabeth has been taken at gunpoint,' Ed said. 'Get up here and bring a flashlight.' I kept thinking something's not right. I knew it was Ed. I knew it was fear. There was such great angst in his voice. But it didn't make sense that someone came into their home with a gun and then Ed called me to come look for Elizabeth in the mountains. So we checked on all our kids first because I had the thought that somebody might be trying to get us out of our house. I checked all the doors. Even though Zeke and I are fanatic about locking the house, I found doors were unlocked. It was probably because I was gardening so late, but later, when I heard people criticizing Ed for the open window, I thought, nobody's perfect."
Excerpted from In Plain Sight by Tom Smart, Lee Benson. Copyright © 2005 Tom Smart and Lee Benson. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Tom Smart, Elizabeth Smart's uncle, is a veteran photojournalist for the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City, as well as an award-winning features writer. Lee Benson is an award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience as a newspaper writer, columnist, and author. He is currently a metro columnist for the Deseret Morning News and wrote numerous columns about the case as it was unfolding.
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This book was superb for the interested individual who lived through the Utah Smart Kidnapping drama. It was such a great in depth review of the investigation and story. Made my heart weep for the Smart family. I feel the story was very Utah resident friendly- if you are familiar with the area all the street descriptions, local politicians, and family members will really hit home. Tom Smart was a great voice for the story.... he is a great man for all that he did for his niece! This book was GRADE-A! (Would have loved more photographs of the 9 months).
I had mixed feelings about purchasing this book, concerned that it was exploiting Elizabeth (having read her father's concerns). However, I found it compelling and an inspiring story of a family pulling together, refusing to give up, and doing everything they could think of to bring her home. Also revealing about the media and police agencies. This is an example where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. It is a miracle that Elizabeth was found. I highly recommend it.
WOW!! I just finished Tom Smart and Lee Benson's book. Talk about amazing!! I couldn't put it down. It was an emotional roller coaster! The detail is incredible in this book. I learned so much about the investigation and the history of Brian and Wanda. The great part about the book is that it doesn't focus on Elizabeth! Tom, Elizabeth's uncle, does an outstanding job of keeping her out of the 'spotlight' He shares HIS story!! And what a story it is!! I have great respect for all of the Smart Family after reading this book and for the whole SLC community. This is a book everyone should read!