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The Ongoing Mysteries of the Elizabeth Smart Case

A guilty verdict for Brian David Mitchell is in. But questions—about polygamy, prophecy, and insanity—still haunt.

| Tue Dec. 14, 2010 7:00 AM EST

Temple Square attracts religious wackos like moths to a flame. They stand outside the wall yelling condemnations, calling for repentance, quoting from the Bible. Or they pose quietly in costumes, such as the young man with his face painted silver and dressed as Little Bo Peep. Or Worm, who sat naked below the Brigham Young statue with the letters W-O-R-M tattooed across his forehead. Or Brian David Mitchell, the man who dressed like Jesus Christ and stole 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart from her bed in the middle of the night. We knew him as a temple moth and thought he was crazy but harmless. This is why we didn't suspect him, even when he walked around downtown with Elizabeth in tow, her face covered by a veil. It's about the strangest thing that's ever happened in Salt Lake City, and it could only have happened here, in this place and time, perhaps caused by the aura emanating from the temple itself.

"Hearken! Oh ye inhabitants of the earth. Listen together and open your ears, for it is I, the Lord God of all the earth, the creator of all things that speaketh unto you…"

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So opens the 27-page prophesy of Immanuel David Isaiah, the name Mitchell adopted once he realized he was the messenger of God, the new prophet on Earth.

"...I have raised up my servant Immanuel David Isaiah, ever my righteous right hand, to be a light and a covenant to my people—to all those who will repent and come unto me, for in my servant, Immanuel is the fullness of my gospel...

In the prophesy, God proclaims Immanuel to be "the one mighty and strong" called to set His house in order before the Apocalypse, a task requiring the aid of seven times seven virgin wives, plus one. His legal wife at the time, Wanda Barzee, carefully transcribed the prophesy in long hand and made copies to circulate among family and friends.

Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in 2003.: Salt Lake City Police Dept/Zumapress.comBrian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in 2003. Salt Lake City Police Dept/Zumapress.comThen they abducted their first virgin, Elizabeth Smart, and took her, on foot, up into the hills above her home in Federal Heights, where they had a camp in some scrub oak. There, that first night, Mitchell performed a sacred wedding ceremony, and then he raped her.

She was abducted June 5th, 2002, and she was gone for nine months.

It happened in my neighborhood, so I remember it. I didn't know her but my son went to grade school with her and we had a photo of the two of them together at a birthday party—she was a princess and he was a cowboy. She was taken from her bedroom in the middle of the night, and everyone was terrorized. If this could happen to the Smart family, then no one was safe. Their multi-million-dollar home represented the core values of Mormon traditions. Their extended family reached back to the original pioneers and into the present day church hierarchy. It was like 9/11, only the news spread by telephone instead of TV—women calling women and the men saying 'What? What happened?'

It seemed crazy we couldn't determine whether Mitchell was crazy, and there were other questions no one was talking about. Like, for instance, "Why didn't she run away or cry out for help?" And, "Why we didn't recognize her—how was she able to stand right in front of us and become invisible?"

A man took Elizabeth from her bed.

It was the beginning of summer and unusually hot, the air above the valley standing still, loud crickets in the backyard that would not shut up. A valley of hearts cracked open.

Thousands of volunteers combed the neighborhood, looking in window wells, going through stacks of wood. They covered the foothills in broad lines, calling her name. I didn't volunteer because I didn't think I could handle that part, hearing her name called out.

The police arrested a suspect, Richard Ricci, but the poor man died while in custody from a ruptured artery in his brain. He didn't take Elizabeth, no one but the police thought he was the guy.

Through the summer Elizabeth's photo hung in every window of every shop and on every lamp post. Her father and her family appeared regularly on local, national and international news programs, begging and weeping for her safe return. It seemed she was hidden somewhere far away, somewhere just beyond the broadcasting spectrum, or like in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy's family calls to her through the crystal ball.

Then, when she was found nine months later, in March of 2003, we realized she'd actually been right here in front of us, walking around downtown, reading in the library, eating in fast-food restaurants, and going to parties with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. From June until August they hid out in their camp in the scrub oak up in the foothills, avoiding the search parties. Then they began coming down into the city by day, passing within a quarter-mile of Elizabeth's home. They walked the streets dressed as religious pilgrims from the New Testament. Mitchell had a long beard and a walking stick. Elizabeth and Wanda covered everything but their eyes. And no one figured it out.

Elizabeth Smart (14) on left with her sister and mother in 2002.: Joy Gough/Zumapress.comElizabeth Smart (then 14) on left with her sister and mother in 2002, the year she was kidnapped. Joy Gough/Zumapress.comIn late October they got on a bus and went to San Diego, where they spent the winter, also camping out. In March of 2003*, they came back to Salt Lake, and this is when Elizabeth was discovered walking down State Street wearing a grey wig and sunglasses. The first thing she said to the police was, "I know who you think I am. You guys think I'm that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away."

Mitchell was arrested, and procedures began to determine whether he was competent to stand trial—basically, whether he was sane enough to understand what was happening. After six years of trying unsuccessfully to determine this question in state court, the federal court took over in the fall of 2008, ordering new psychological evaluations. This whole delay was very annoying. It seemed crazy we couldn't determine whether Mitchell was crazy, and there were other questions, important questions, no one was talking about. Like, for instance, "Why didn't she run away or cry out for help?" And, "Why we didn't recognize her—how was she able to stand right in front of us and become invisible?"

You'd think it wouldn't be so hard to answer these questions, but for us it's like groping about in a dark room—we know the answers are here somewhere, but we just can't find them. Or, actually, it's that we don't even want to ask the questions, because we know the answers don't make sense, at least not to the rational mind. Yes, we're uncomfortable with the questions and the answers because they don't make sense in a court of law. They only make sense in and around the temple. To understand how this works, we need to go back in time, back to the beginning of the Mormon Church.

Correction: This sentence originally stated that Elizabeth was brought back to Salt Lake City in March 2002. She was actually brought back in March 2003.

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