Searching For Elizabeth: Solid Leads?

Police Press On; Family Keeps Hope Alive

In the weeks after 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was stolen from her bed, her family and her friends lined up with other searchers and combed the region.

Thousands of people spread out into the canyons and foothills. Task Force commander Cory Lyman and his task force worked around the clock. They kept returning to the Smarts' home in one of Salt Lake City's most exclusive neighborhoods, reports Correspondent Jane Clayson.

Elizabeth's little sister, Mary Katherine, was the only eyewitness to the abduction.

Lyman called Mary Katherine a credible witness, and said, "Well, she heard people back here, going up around this side of the house. There was discussion back here. There was some tripping; there was some threats. You know, 'Be quiet or else.'"

Police would not reveal why, but something about the crime scene told them that Elizabeth knew the person who led her away in the middle of the night.

The police were most interested in the dozens of workmen the Smarts hired to renovate their home and landscape the yard.

When police first talked to 48-year-old handyman Richard Ricci, he was not necessarily on the top of their potential suspect list.

The Smarts found him personable and said he was always pleasant to their children. But while he was working for them, one of Lois' valuable bracelets was stolen from the house. At the time, Ricci denied it.

"You know, we did believe him," said Elizabeth's father, Ed, "but we weren't willing to take the risk."

The Smarts fired him, but not before giving him their family's white Jeep as payment for his labor.

Angela Ricci was married to Richard for six months before Elizabeth Smart disappeared and she knew something the Smarts did not: the personable handyman had a criminal record that spanned most of his adult life. His most serious offense was an armed robbery in 1983, when he shot at the officer who chased him. For the last 29 years, he had been in and out of prison for burglary and robbery.

"In this life we all have demons," said Angela, "we all have things that we have to conquer, but he had a true heart." She insisted Ricci "would never hit a woman; he would never harm a child. He just would not do it."

The last time the Smarts had seen Ricci was nine months before Elizabeth was kidnapped, when he came to their house to pick up the title to the Jeep, which would become a critical piece of evidence. A few days before Elizabeth's abduction… Ricci had taken the Jeep in for repair at a garage owned by mechanic Neth Moul.

Moul said someone claiming to be Mrs. Ricci phoned his garage and said Ricci needed his Jeep. Police did not believe that Mrs. Ricci called.

Moul said he wasn't finished working on the car, but Ricci took it anyway. On June 8, three days after Elizabeth was taken, he returned the vehicle and, according to the garage receipts, Ricci put almost 1,000 miles on the Jeep.

"When he came in, you know, drop that car off, he didn't want to say anything," Moul said. "He kept, you know, like he (was) so worried; you know, afraid of something."

Moul said the Jeep was covered in mud, and Ricci told him he'd been in the mountains with it. He says Ricci put the seat covers in a bag. And then he took two bags and a post hole digger out of the trunk. And, Moul said, there was white male with dark hair a little shorter than Ricci waiting for him across the street.

On June 14, police arrested Ricci. They didn't have enough evidence to link him to Elizabeth's kidnapping, so they charged him with violating his parole and began to question him further.

Police also charged Richard Ricci with breaking into the home of Suann Adams, a neighbor and close friend of the Smarts, who also hired Ricci for odd jobs around the house.

But in a stunning development, Richard Ricci collapsed in prison from a brain aneurysm. He never regained consciousness and died Aug. 30, almost three months after Elizabeth went missing.

The Smarts and police were convinced he took secrets to his grave. Though the Smarts begged him for information, Ricci would only say, through a letter to Angela Ricci, "I guess the only thing I would like the public to know would be I really don't know anybody who would kidnap a child. I had nothing to do with the abduction. I don't know how a child abductor thinks."

Since Elizabeth's disappearance, police had studied the crime scene over and over, and in January 2003 explained for the first time their theory of what may have happened that night.

"The point of entry (a ripped screen), I believe, was a ruse," says Lyman. "I believe that somebody staged it to look legitimate."

Police believe the intruder entered through a back door, perhaps even with a key. Investigators believe the man who took Elizabeth was familiar with her home and all the ways in and out of it. The intruder also was probably familiar with the paths around the house. Police say Richard Ricci could have had a motive to eliminate a witness. "He would have everything to lose if he was identified," Lyman says. A career criminal, he would have gone to prison for life if convicted again.

But police could not say for sure that it was Ricci.

Side by side, Ed and Lois Smart managed to get through each day. They were consumed by grief, yet filled with gratitude. Elizabeth's brothers and sister followed the example of their mother and father.

For Elizabeth's 15th birthday, the Smarts took their family to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, Elizabeth's favorite places, to celebrate.

"We definitely talk about Elizabeth,' said her mother, Lois. "We go to the store: "This is Elizabeth's favorite cereal, let's buy that one, mom,' or, 'She loves grapefruits, we've gotta buy some of those.' She's not forgotten, and we bring her up continually. But it's always in sweet remembrance of the fun things we've done."

Initially, each of the children went to see a therapist, but they did not want to continue, and the Smarts allowed them to drop the sessions. Instead, the kids lean on their parents and each other.

"We've talked about it a lot," says her brother, Charles, "everything that happened and how this isn't a normal thing, this isn't what happens to every child or this isn't what happens to every family. You know, this is just an extremely rare thing and a horrible thing but we need to start making our lives normal and stuff so that it doesn't affect us more than it has to."

Ed and Lois were most concerned about Mary Katherine.

"I think she has actually encased this little situation and probably put it somewhere for the time being," says Lois, "but I do believe that at some point in her life, she'll want to deal with it and talk about it."

The Smarts said their faith kept them strong. Sometimes before the sun comes up, Ed and Lois would go to the Mormon temple because, they say, they found great comfort there.

Their children continued to write notes to their missing sister.

"Elizabeth, I miss you playing the harp, playing games with me, reading to me and sleeping with me," wrote Mary Katherine. "Please come back to us."

Back To Part I.

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