UTAH FAMILY'S FORMER HANDYMAN DIES #1373 (Abduction/Kidnapping)



Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart was reportedly taken from her home at gunpoint on June 5th between 1 and 2 a.m. Police said that an intruder forced open a window at Elizabeth's home and went into the bedroom where the teenager and her 9 year old sister slept. Police said the gunman warned the younger girl her sister would be harmed if she told anyone, and she waited two hours before alerting her parents. One of 1,200 volunteers searching for the girl reported seeing a man acting suspiciously at the top of Emigration Canyon the next evening, but an all-night search yielded nothing. Police have questioned and released a man they had been seeking and ruled him out as a suspect. Searchers in Utah urged people nationwide to check ponds, ditches and woods for any trace of Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's father was given a lie detector test, police said yesterday. Ed did submit to a polygraph and that's being reviewed by the FBI, Salt Lake City Police Captain Scott Atkinson said. No one else has been given the test, he said. Detective Jay Rhodes said it's not uncommon for police to administer such tests to parents of missing children.  On July 12 her father said he received a letter that he suspects may have come from someone with knowledge of his daughter's disappearance.  He said he couldn't say whether the letter, which was postmarked July 3 and received Tuesday, was credible.  Police first saw the letter Wednesday afternoon and did not comment on it.  Smart said the letter lacked solid information that it came from a person with specific knowledge about his daughter, but was the first that seemed to be from someone willing to negotiate.

Meanwhile, Bret Edmunds, a 26-year-old drifter wanted for questioning in the kidnapping, was caught June 21st at a West Virginia hospital after checking himself in under a fake name with drug-related liver failure. His capture shed no immediate light on the abduction and police said again that he is not a suspect. Edmunds was in serious condition in the intensive care unit at City Hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, nearly 1,800 miles from Salt Lake City. Authorities across the country had been looking for Edmunds because a Salt Lake City milkman remembered seeing him near the Smarts' home two days before the kidnapping. Edmunds was being held on a federal warrant charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on burglary, forgery and other charges unrelated to the Smart case. He has been considered a fugitive since October. Authorities have interviewed Edmunds and said the questioning hasn't moved him any closer to being a suspect.

Richard Albert Ricci, a 48-year-old handyman who worked at the Smart home, was arrested on a parole violation charge and was at the top of the list of potential suspects in Elizabeth's disappearance, police said yesterday. But, their best lead died at a hospital three days after suffering a brain hemorrhage and collapsing in his jail cell.  Ricci, who has a criminal record going back 29 years, was questioned by police the day after the girl's abduction and was among those reinterviewed because he did painting and yard work at the home a year ago. Ricci's alibi became more suspicious when he was questioned again, Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said. The Chief wouldn't elaborate. Ricci had denied involvement in the girl's disappearance.   Burglary and theft charges were filed against Ricci.  The charges are not related to Elizabeth's disappearance.  He faced one count of theft for allegedly stealing $3,500 worth of items -- jewelry, a perfume bottle and a wine glass filled with sea shells -- from the Smarts' home in June 2001.  They were found during a search of Ricci's home last month.

The FBI is trying to enhance a security videotape from a hospital parking lot a half mile from the Salt Lake City home where Elizabeth was taken. The videotape from Shriners Hospital shows two cars meeting in the parking lot hours before her disappearance. A security guard's description of one driver was vaguely similar to that of a man Elizabeth's sister said was in their bedroom that night. FBI special agent Kevin Eaton said, We're not going to get a license plate or anything like that, I'm not sure how much help it's going to be, and then again I'm not sure if these two cars have anything to do with the kidnapping.

(Salt Lake City, Utah)