On 12th March 2003 a couple walking in the street in Sandy, Utah, became suspicious of three people in the area – two women and a man – with the man in particular reminding them of the photograph of a crime suspect they had seen in a recent television news service.
Police were called and questioned the trio, with the younger of the two women soon recognised as Elizabeth Smart, who had been kidnapped from her bedroom some nine months before. This sensational development blew wide-open one of the most bizarre abductions in the history of the United States with Elizabeth Smart’s story verging on the incredible.
Police arrested the man and older woman whose names were Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, his wife, and following interviews with the three pieced together the chain of events that had generated national headlines over the previous nine-month period.
Mitchell had abducted 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart from her bedroom at knifepoint on the night of 5 June 2002, with her younger sister Mary Katherine also present in the room but too frightened to intervene. However she did recall the abductor talking softly to Elizabeth, a recollection that was to have far reaching consequences.
Elizabeth was kept as a sexual slave for the next nine months. Mitchell, assisted by his wife, kept his victim shackled and living in a tent, repeatedly raping her, with the trio changing locations several times. All three made visits to public areas on occasion, such as shops and restaurants, with Elizabeth closely watched and tightly controlled by both Mitchell and Barzee, so that she was unable to communicate with anyone else.
The breakthrough in the case came when Elizabeth’s sister Mary suddenly recalled that she recognised the voice of the kidnapper that she had heard on the night of the abduction as that of a man who had performed odd jobs around their home earlier in he year. He had used the name “Emmanuel” and the Smart family hired a sketch artist to draw a likeness of him from their recollections. This was released to the media and produced immediate results, when “Emmanuel’s” family recognised him and contacted police with the information that his real name was Brian David Mitchell. This led to his arrest in March of the following year.
Mitchell and Barzee were charged with aggravated kidnapping, sexual assault and burglary.
Mitchell had a history of mental instability and drug addiction and regarded himself as a holy prophet. This led to lengthy delays in bringing him to trial – on the grounds of suspected insanity.
Eventually both were tried – Barzee was sentenced to 15 years and Mitchell received two life sentences – without the chance of parole.
Elizabeth Smart recovered well from her shocking ordeal and became a well-known advocate for missing persons and those who suffered sexual assault.
Image: Flyer used during the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart, circulated in local and national media, as well as the FBI website, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.