Can a team of dogged detectives solve a 6-year-old disappearance when all of the trails seem to have gone cold? 48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow reports.
In 1994, Russ Smith and his wife Khristine had seemed like the perfect couple. They had been married for eight years and lived a comfortable life in Kalamazoo, Mich., with their 7-year-old daughter Candace.
Next-door neighbor Debbie Orosz says that Khristine was a wonderful mother, deeply involved in her daughter's life. A former policeman, Smith, 32 at the time, worked as the service manager of the local Sears automotive department.
But in September of that year, Khristine disappeared.
Smith told neighbors that his wife, 27, had run off with another man. He showed them a handwritten note of explanation, which he said she had written. In the weeks before she left him, she would often come home late, with "affectionate marks" on her neck, Smith says.
But neighbors who knew Khris couldn't believe that she would leave behind her daughter Candace. Smith disagreed. Behind closed doors, his wife had been a different person, Smith says.
Two days after Khris disappeared, Debbie and husband Tim Orosz became suspicious when Smith backed up a boat and trailer into his garage. Smith didn't have a boat, and Tim Orosz wondered why his neighbor was being so secretive. At this point, Tim Orosz began to suspect foul play.
Another neighbor became suspicious and called police to report a missing person. Detective Randy Dyloff was assigned to the case. At first, he thought Khristine probably had run off. Even Khristine's mother said that her daughter may have abandoned him.
But when Smith refused Dyloff's request to talk to his daugher alone, or to search the Smith house, the detective became suspicious, too.
Then Smith started dating and going to nightclubs; the suspicions increased. He went out to strip clubs frequently. He began running ads for dates.
"If I had one wish, it would be to make as many people smile as I possibly could," Smith said in one telephone ad. "I enjoy the company of beautiful women, sometimes even to the point to where I might be on a date that's not going real well, and I might venture out to meet somebody else that I might see."
The Oroszs were convinced they were living next door to a murderer. It was "scary," Debbie Orosz says. But for police, the case was completely circumstantial.
But just before Christmas 1994, Detective Dyloff got a lead from a friend of Smith's: Within days of the disappearance, Smith had remodeled the upstairs bathroom. Smith told police that he had thrown something at his wife that morning, and it hit the shower and broke it, and that he replaced it.
Smith's friend, Rick Lemons, told police that Smith had asked him to help replace the bathtub and tiles damaged during the last fight with Khris.
With that information, police finally got a search warrant. hey found no hard physical evidence that Smith may have been covering up a murder. But they did find something else.
Smith's home was filled with boxes of brand new merchandise from Sears: CB radios, a snow blower, leaf blowers. Detective Dyloff suspected that Smith was embezzling from his employer. (Smith eventually spent eight days in jail after charges of embezzlement.)
More disturbing was what police found in Smith's bedroom. Candace's clothes had been moved into Smith's closet. It appeared his daughter, then 7, was sharing his bed.
Smith had an explanation: "Candace was accustomed that whenever I was out of town, she would sleep with her mother. So when one of the parents was outside the home, it wasn't abnormal that she would take that spot just out of comfort between a child and a parent."
But Child Protective Services charged Smith with improper conduct, immediately moved Candace to a foster home and allowed Smith only supervised visits. Candace told a counselor that she had learned that it was OK for family members to touch someone in private areas even if the person didn't want to be touched there. Smith denies that he molested Candace.
With Candace placed in foster care, police finally had the chance to interview her alone about the day her mother disappeared. "Her dad told her that he and her mom had gotten into a fight and that Mommy had left," Dyloff remembers. "And he told her not to go into the upstairs bathroom." She went there anyway and saw that there were holes in the wall and blood in the sink.
Khris wasn't close to anyone in her family, so Smith's parents adopted Candace out of foster care. Now 12 years old, Candace lives with them in Ohio.
Even though he had been searching for clues, Detective Dyloff had no proof that a murder had occurred. Until he found a body, a weapon, or a witness, Smith would stay a free man.
In March 1995, Detective Dyloff seemed to get another break. While being taken to the Sheriff's Department after being arrested for embezzlement, Smith seemed ready to make a deal.
Dyloff secretly recorded their conversation, which is legal in Michigan. During the conversation, Smith came extremely close to admitting that he had killed his wife. But there was one problem. Detective Dyloff didn't read Smith his Miranda rights. Therefore, the tape would probably be inadmissible in court. So Smith stayed free.
In 1997, Smith began dating a woman named Kitty, whom he had met on a business trip that year. Four months after their meeting, they moved to a small town outside Pensacola, Fla.
Even though Kitty says she knew about Smith's former life with Khris, she was certain he was not capable of murder. Smith says that even though his time with Kitty had been the happiest time in his life, he still had feelings for Khris.
To find out what happens, read Police Close In.
Produced by David Kohn;