'Prophet' Took Elizabeth As Wife?

Brian David Mitchell poses for his police booking mug Wednesday, March 12, 2003, in Salt Lake City. Mitchell was arrested for aggravated kidnapping in the Elizabeth Smart case. The teen was taken from her home last June. She was found alive and well earlier in the day. He is also being held on a retail theft charge. AP

He called himself Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."

And this Emmanuel has been a member of the Salt Lake City homeless population for eight months, allegedly harboring a kidnapped local teenager right under the noses of the Salt Lake City police department.

Even when he traveled to California, he slipped through a close encounter with police. No one ever suspected that the oddly dressed man who thought of himself as a prophet might have the key to the Elizabeth Smart disappearance, a mystery that has riveted the city –and the nation – since last June.

As CBS News Correspondent Jane Clayson reports, Mitchell's own family paints a picture of a man with few endearing qualities. His ex-wife Debbie Mitchell says she can easily imagine him brainwashing Elizabeth.

"Inside our home he was very controlling and very abusive and cruel he did some cruel things," says Debbie.

Debbie Mitchell's daughter Rebecca says her stepfather traumatized her childhood.

"He was constantly hitting my mom beating her up. He molested me and my siblings for the entire time they were married," Rebecca tells Clayson.

Mitchell's influence over Elizabeth appears to have been strong. Even when she was safe in the hands of police on Wednesday, she continued to insist she was part of Mitchell's family.

"We think that you're Elizabeth. She kept denying it, said she was Augustine …Probably five times to myself," said Victor Quezada of the Sandy Police Department.

Mitchell reportedly wrote a 27-page manifesto, which lists polygamy as one of God's blessings. According to Clayson, the fear is that Elizabeth may have been taken, not as a daughter, but to be one of his wives.

The homeless who camp in downtown Salt Lake City considered Emmanuel one of their own. Said one, "He was a pretty neat dude. He never did offend me, but always had the two women with him."

Not always.

Emannuel and his wife, who usually is veiled and wearing a white tunic, were seen together for years in downtown Salt Lake City. They disappeared, except for occasional sightings, a short while before Elizabeth's disappearance. Police said they were camping out in the foothills behind the Smart home.

When they resurfaced months later, a third person was with them, also dressed in white and wearing a veil. It was Elizabeth Smart.

Mitchell 49, grew up in Salt Lake City, the third child in a family of six. He graduated from Skyline High School, where he was a middling student with few friends, according to his father, Shirl Mitchell. Her grew up a Mormon but was not active in the church.

His teenage years were troubled, Shirl Mitchell said, adding, "He was maladjusted."

Shirl Mitchell said his son became heavily involved in alcohol and drugs. He married a woman named Karen, when he was 19 and she was 16. It lasted a few years and produced two children.

Soon after, he found religion, quoting Scriptures easily from memory and serving in the church, and a second wife, a woman named Debbie. Mitchell supported them with a job as a custodian. But their relationship, which produced two children, was tumultuous.

He wouldn't let her wear anything with bright colors, so her wardrobe was brown and black. More seriously, he beat her, she said.

They divorced a few years later, and Mitchell promptly took up with Wanda Barzee, who was arrested alongside him Wednesday.

For a while, three of Barzee's teenage children from a previous marriage lived with them. One of them, Louree Gaylor, told The Early Show co anchor Harry Smith that Mitchell was cruel and overly sexual with them as children.

"He'd come in at night and kiss me and caress my hair," she said. "Or if he was giving me a hug, or you know, just a pelvic thrust."

He also subjected them to psychological abuse, she said. "I mean, he shot a dog in front of us, made me eat my own rabbit for dinner, things like that," she explained.

It was among the reasons she and her siblings left home, she said, as Mitchell's behavior became even more bizarre. Photos from that period show the transition from a seemingly happy family to a wandering couple of religious fanatics.

In the late 1990s, the couple met C. Samuel West, a self-described natural healer, and began following him. Mitchell changed his name by this point to Emmanuel, and he and Barzee took to dressing in white robes that West called "Israelite clothes."

The couple sold all their belongings and took to the streets. They told relatives they'd gotten visions that told them they needed to preach to the homeless.

They stayed with West a few months, building a mini-covered wagon on his back porch to push around town. It had a table and a bed. They later stocked it with blankets and canned goods.

West finally kicked them out because Mitchell was growing hostile, repeatedly insulting the Mormon church and pushing his own set of religious teachings.

It was then that couple started panhandling in downtown Salt Lake City. Ed Snoddy, a homeless outreach worker, met them three years ago.

"I knew him as 'God Be With Us,"' Snoddy said. "His wife was known as 'God Adorn Us."'

Salt Lake Police Chief Rick Dinse Dinse said Mitchell had been excommunicated from the Mormon church, the religion Elizabeth was raised in, and considered himself a polygamist. But Dinse added, "I do not want to attach his relationship with Elizabeth in that fashion."

Asked about reports that Elizabeth had been taken to be a wife, the girl's aunt, Angela Dumke, said Friday that the family couldn't be certain, but they wouldn't be surprised.

"You never know. He's nuts," said Dumke, a sister of Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart. "This guy's probably involved in polygamy."

Pamela Atkinson, who ladles out food to the homeless every week, considered Mitchell harmless: "I never saw any tendency for violence. He never treated his wife in a rough manner." But she added, "He really does believe he is God."

Homeless advocates said Mitchell's preaching style verged on the incoherent, but he rejected any suggestion that he seek mental health treatment.

But Elizabeth Smart's mother, Lois, apparently knew none of this when she encountered Mitchell panhandling downtown in November of 2001. She hired him to work on the roof of the family's house, a stint that lasted five hours.

"Lois felt sorry for him," Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart said this week. "He was very clean-cut at the time. She gave him some money and asked him if he needed work."

The following June, Elizabeth disappeared. Police believe Mitchell took Elizabeth to a campsite not far from her house and even was bold enough to take her to a party.

Said one partygoer, "We asked about them, why they were wearing veils. Just what the deal was, you know. He just would blow it off, pretty much."

In October, Elizabeth and her captors rode a bus to San Diego and spent the winter there. They sometimes slept under a highway bridge.

Authorities in California disclosed Thursday that Mitchell had been arrested and held for six days in San Diego County last month for vandalizing a church. A fingerprint check done after the arrest confirmed his identity, but deputies had no reason to keep him in custody, sheriff's spokesman Chris Saunders said. Mitchell pleaded guilty and was released on probation Feb. 18.

The trio returned to the Salt Lake area Wednesday in dirty clothes and carrying bedrolls. They walked around town, despite the fact that Elizabeth's pictures had been posted all over the city for months. They were arrested within hours when two couples recognized Mitchell and called police.

Such brazen behavior doesn't surprise some. One friend told CBS News that Mitchell really thought he was living the life of Jesus.

But Mitchell's own mother booted them out of her house because they were taking advantage of her and Mitchell was becoming abusive. She eventually got a restraining order against him.

It was for his aggressive preaching.
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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