In a case with more than its share of the usual nonsuspects, Emmanuel is still nowhere to be found.
But just because the Salt Lake City Police Department hasn't been able to round up the homeless handyman who called himself Emmanuel when he helped Ed Smart work on his house eight months before the disappearance of Ed's daughter Elizabeth, it doesn't mean they're not interested.
"We very much want to find him," said Lt. Jim Jensen, SLPD's task force commander for the Elizabeth Smart investigation. "By no means is it the only thing we have on our plates right now, but we are actively looking for him and we certainly want to talk to him."
The street preaching drifter's legal name is Brian David Mitchell, and to date he is the only person who has been suggested by young Mary Katherine Smart — Elizabeth's little sister and the case's only eyewitness — as the man who may have taken Elizabeth.
The police department's interest in Emmanuel, or lack thereof, became an issue for several reasons. First, the department did not participate in the early February press conference when Ed Smart and his wife, Lois, revealed Emmanuel's description to the public. Second, the police had failed to find the homeless man, or identify his true identity, during October, November, December and January when they privately knew of his existence. And third, after the family's press conference resulted in a positive I.D. of Emmanuel as 49-year-old Utah native Brian David Mitchell, Sgt. Don Bell of SLPD downplayed Mitchell's potential as a suspect and the department again left it to the Smart family to take the lead in publicizing Mitchell's identity and photographs.
But in an interview late last week, Jensen, who took over in January as the case's task force commander from Capt. Cory Lyman, shrugged off perceptions of SLPD indifference. "I'd guess there's not a law-enforcement agency in the United States that doesn't now know we're looking for him," he said. "Every patrol officer here knows who he is and that we want to talk to him. We will find him."
Jensen's voice takes on a weary tone when he talks about the Smart case — as if he's reflecting the mood of the community from which Elizabeth was snatched. What's not to be pessimistic about? Despite a massive manhunt just hours after the disappearance and thousands of hours of community involvement and a tireless law-enforcement investigation, nine months later the case remains as mysterious and unsolved as the June morning it occurred.
The first high-profile nonsuspect, a small-time alleged crook known to sleep in his car near the Smart home named Bret Michael Edmunds, was chased across the country before he was caught and dismissed as a suspect. The second high-profile nonsuspect, career criminal Richard Ricci, who worked for and stole from the Smarts, died three months later without sufficient evidence to be classed as a suspect.
Now comes Mitchell, a religious zealot who likes to mimic Jesus and who spent a total of five hours at the Smart home eight months before the kidnapping.
"This is a guy who dresses up in sheets and preaches to homeless people," says Jensen. "He lives on the fringes of society. We really don't know how he'll behave or what he'll do if he knows we're looking for him, and I think we should assume he does. It could be difficult for us to find him."
Just so they don't quit trying.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and faxes to 801-237-2527.