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Mary Katherine tells dad: ‘I know who took Elizabeth’

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The lead-in to Tom Smart's narrative: Mary Katherine Smart, the only eyewitness to the abduction four months earlier of her big sister, Elizabeth, believes she knows who took her.

Like most moments of clarity, the epiphany came unannounced. Mary Katherine Smart, now 10 years old, had been alone in her bedroom. It was Saturday night, Oct. 12, 2002, her parents were out for the evening, and she had gone to her room alone to read. She ignored her schoolbooks, picked up a copy of the "Guinness Book of World Records," and started thumbing through the pages, randomly scanning the stories and pictures. She turned a page and a muscular-looking woman stared out at her. In that moment, a flash of memory hit her.

Mary Katherine waited until her parents came home and were getting ready for bed. By that time, she had collected her thoughts to make sure of what she was about to tell them. She went to their bedroom and said, "Dad, I know who took Elizabeth."

"Who?" her dad asked.

"It was Emmanuel."

And again Ed asked, "Who?"

It took a moment for what Mary Katherine was telling her parents to register. It was late, and they were all tired. What, again, had she been reading? Did she know what she was saying? But as they continued to talk, Ed and Lois felt a vague memory begin to surface — the memory of a man who had once briefly entered their lives, a man who called himself Emmanuel.

He was the one Lois and the kids had met downtown by the mall, where he asked for a handout, and Lois had given him five dollars and invited him to come to the house to work. But that was a long time ago. And he came only one day for just a few hours. Was that who Mary Katherine meant? Was that the man who took Elizabeth? Was that Emmanuel? Was she sure?

She nodded her head yes, explaining that she remembered his name and the day he came to the house and the backpack he was carrying. She also remembered his voice. It was the same voice she'd heard that awful night in the bedroom.

Ed and Lois walked with Mary Katherine to her room so she could show them the picture that had jarred her memory. She didn't know why, but it had. She had been looking at it and suddenly she just knew.

The police had said this might happen. In June, (former Salt Lake police sergeant) Don Bell had specifically cautioned Ed, Lois and the extended family to be careful not to fill Mary Katherine's head with theories and suggestions about who or what she saw. Because sometimes, a moment of truth could arrive months down the road, and when it did, it was usually unbidden. In a July 19 press conference, Chief (Rick) Dinse had said, "We've had four formal interviews with her (Mary Katherine), and we are confident we have a good piece of information. We may learn more from her as time goes on because of the ability to remember and recall a traumatic situation, particularly with a child of her age."

Ed and Lois continued their questioning. This Emmanuel — that's the only name he'd given them — was such a fleeting part of their lives and it had been almost a year ago. His stay was so short and of such little consequence that Ed had not included him on the list of workers he'd given to the police. It was not a conscious omission. Ed had simply kept no memory of the man.

Despite the clarity of Mary Katherine's recall, on paper it didn't add up. It seemed unlikely that a person who came and went from their lives that quickly, and that long ago, would be Elizabeth's kidnapper. Ed and Lois could not recall ever seeing the man again or hearing another thing about him. Neither could Mary Katherine — until the night Elizabeth disappeared. . . .

Like Ed and Lois, the police had a hard time making it fit. If Emmanuel was homeless then he probably wouldn't have transportation. If he took Elizabeth, how did he escape? And what was his motive for taking Elizabeth? Why would he wait seven months to take her? Why had no one seen him again in the vicinity? Why hadn't he demanded any ransom?

As with the attempted break-in at Steve and Jenny Wright's (Lois Smart's brother-in-law and sister's) house in July, the police wanted to keep this development quiet. If Emmanuel was the one, they wanted to look for him without spooking him. If it turned out that he wasn't the kidnapper, they wouldn't run the risk of looking foolish as they had with Bret Edmunds (an earlier person of interest).

Beyond the name of Emmanuel, which was almost certainly an alias, they had little to go on. Ed and Lois couldn't come up with many details from the two brief contacts the street preacher had with the family. Lois seemed to recall the man saying he was from Pennsylvania or somewhere back East, which wasn't much to go on. He had been very soft-spoken, Ed remembered, and did not volunteer much information about himself. They sat within a few feet of each other while they worked on the roof, and they talked, but their conversation was mostly about the Bible. The man did tell Ed that he was staying with his sister somewhere in the valley, and that they both traveled and preached to the homeless. Ed couldn't even remember if Emmanuel had seen all his children, although from the skylight they did have a view of the living room where Elizabeth played her harp. She may have been practicing that day. He couldn't remember. He could remember paying the man forty dollars even though he owed him fifty dollars. Whoever he was, Ed owed him 10 bucks.

No one was sure how to spell Emmanuel. The dictionary said the name, meaning "God with us," could be spelled with an E or an I. Either way was correct. We decided to spell Emmanuel with an E.


Coming Thursday: "She's alive!"


Readers wishing to order "In Plain Sight: The Startling Truth Behind the Elizabeth Smart Investigation" can go to www.ipgbook.com