SANDY, UTAH – UNITED STATES.
In the Western United States, two very different worlds collided. Wealth and poverty. Community and social outcasts. Clean living and depravity. An urgent call-to-arms ignited a desperate search for a kidnapped teenage girl in America’s Mormon heartland.
Lead up to Crime
Brian David Mitchell preferred the name Immanuel, and followed what he believed was his divine path as a prophet. Wearing white robes and a long beard, he set out on a pilgrimage through the streets of Utah, preaching and helping the homeless.
Brian Mitchell came from a strict Mormon home, littered with familial mental illness and a father who housed his own prophetic delusions. At age 16, he was convicted for sexually exposing himself to a toddler and was sentenced to a juvenile detention centre.
After the break up of his first marriage, he kidnapped his two children and hid in New Hampshire, before returning them to the legal custody of their mother. Mitchell’s second wife, Deborah, accused him of molesting their 18-month-old child and his two teenaged stepdaughters. The incidents were reported to police and to their church, but no action was taken by either organisation. Deborah also claimed the relationship was abusive and controlling.
Mitchell’s all encapsulating religious fervour saw his two marriages fail. In 1985 he took a third wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee. Barzee was a manipulative and abusive woman, who turned away her children when they reached their teens. Her cruelty saw her serve up her unwitting children their pet rabbit for dinner.
Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah. After their increasingly bizarre behaviour and their fixation on Satanism, they were excommunicated in 2001. Now homeless for nearly a decade and begging on the streets, Mitchell and Barzee were known as an eccentric couple, nicknamed “Joseph and Mary” because of their robes. Barzee now adopted the name “God Adorneth.”
Mitchell met Lois Smart and her daughter, Elizabeth, as he panhandled at Crossroads Plaza in Salt Lake City. Lois hired Mitchell to work around their yard, and fix their roof, for five hours in November 2001. It was then that he began formulating his plan to kidnap Elizabeth.
In preparation, Mitchell set up several campsites around Dry Creek Canyon, in order to hide out and remain mobile to avoid detection. His campsites contained hidden knives and holes dug in the ground to hide from thermal imaging helicopters and to use as campfires pit. One campsite contained an altar.
He believed it was God’s will that he should take 49 additional wives, and Elizabeth would become his second. Seven months after his first visit to the Smart residence, Brian Mitchell returned.
Elizabeth Smart was born into a wealthy Mormon family, the second of six children; her father a real estate and mortgage broker. In the early morning of June 5, 2002, Mitchell used a garden chair to climb through the kitchen window of the Smart’s home at 1509 Kristianna Circle, Federal Heights, Salt Lake City, Utah. He made his way to Elizabeth’s bedroom, where he abducted the 14-year-old at knifepoint.
“I have a knife to your neck. Don’t make a sound. Get up and come with me,” Elizabeth recalled Mitchell saying.
Her frightened sister pretended to be asleep in the bed they shared. He marched Elizabeth six-and-a-half kilometres (4 miles) into the forest and to an established campsite. With the police quickly alerted to the abduction, the pair hid in bushes as a patrol car cruised passed.
At the campsite Mitchell burnt Elizabeth’s red pyjamas, made her don white robes, and performed a wedding ceremony. Holding her down, Mitchell asked Barzee for confirmation, before raping Elizabeth.
For two months Elizabeth was tied to a tree and hidden under a lean-to constructed from branches. She was forced to remain naked and was raped daily. Elizabeth tried to escape but Mitchell dragged her back to the campsite, and told her an angel would cut her down if she made another escape attempt. He also threatened to kill her and her family. Believing Mitchell would murder her, Elizabeth requested her body be left out in the open, so her family would not think she had run away. Mitchell replied, “I’m not going to do that to you yet.”
Despite the Mormon religion forbidding alcohol, Mitchell forced Elizabeth to drink liquor and smoke marijuana with him several times a week. During these sessions she did not eat, to allow the intoxicants to have greater effect, so she would not be sober when he abused her, and to help her to forget.
A teacher had told Elizabeth’s class that people who had premarital sex were likened to a piece of chewed gum. Elizabeth recalled the lecture in May 2013: “Imagine you’re a stick of gum, and when you engage in sex, that is like being chewed. When you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum. And who’s going to want you after that?”