'Where Could He Possibly Be?'
The wife and sister of missing Fox executive Gavin Smith struggle for answers as his office is packed up, clues remain scarce and a dramatic turn dead-ends.
In late August, the personal effects of missing 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith were quietly removed from his Calabasas, Calif., office and delivered by the studio to his West Hills home. But the 57-year-old Smith's wife, Lisa, says the boxes, which contain such items as framed family photos and golf trophies -- "everything the sheriffs didn't take" -- remain on her porch. More than four months after Smith disappeared May 1, the distribution executive's belongings are a painful reminder that he still is gone.
"It's been tough to bring them into the house," says Smith.
There had been some cause for hope. The case appeared to take a dramatic turn in early June, when authorities searched the residence of Chandrika Creech, a woman with whom Smith is alleged to have had an affair, and her husband, John Creech, an admitted middleman in Los Angeles' illicit drug world. But Smith's sister, Tara Addeo, and John Creech's attorney, Daniel Teola, tell THR that it's their understanding that nothing has come of the search.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department still considers the Smith investigation a missing person's case and not a homicide probe, according to department spokesman Steve Whitmore. But Addeo says that while she has hope, her optimism is waning. "Where could he possibly be?" she asks. "I know that Gavin would not hurt himself, and I have a hard time believing that Gavin would ever walk away from his sons. The only other alternative is that there would have been foul play."
Smith was last seen on the night of May 1 at a friend's residence in Oak Park, a Ventura County community not far from his office. He departed from the property in his black Mercedes-Benz E420 sedan between 9 and 10 p.m.; the 6-foot-6 Smith, who played basketball for UCLA during the mid-1970s, was last seen wearing purple pants and black and gray shoes.
Forensic pathologist Michael Baden says that even though investigators have not publicly named a suspect, they could have people in their sights -- assuming foul play was involved. "The police are waiting to get some information," he says. "Pieces of clothing, somebody who saw him walk into the woods and never come out -- and that might be sufficient to bring charges."
Although no suspects have been named, on June 8, investigators and a SWAT team swooped into the West Hills house where the Creeches reside, searching it for several hours and leaving with boxes, a computer and a black Audi Q7 SUV in tow. But no arrests were made, investigators have not said how the Creeches relate to the Smith case, and Smith never met John Creech, according to Teola. A June 21 E! News report that cited an unnamed source said that Smith had met Chandrika Creech in therapy in 2008 and began an on-and-off affair with her. "I believe Chandrika and Gavin Smith had a prior relationship, and so that is the reason for the search," Teola tells THR.
Baden says that an affair would catch investigators' attention, "but that doesn't prove anything," he adds. According to Addeo, who says that she speaks with detectives on the case regularly, the search of the Creech residence didn't reveal anything. "That was very frustrating," she says. Lisa Smith, who has sons Evan, Austin and Dylan with her husband, declined to discuss the Creeches.
Whitmore would not confirm Addeo's account of detectives' investigation of the Creeches. "They wouldn't release that [information] if indeed that were true because it is an ongoing investigation," says Whitmore.
Teola notes that his client was not questioned by police and has not been contacted by the investigators since his house was searched. "I'm just letting sleeping dogs lie; they haven't asked me anything, requested anything," says Teola. John Creech, however, has other legal issues. On Sept. 25, he will be sentenced in a drug case that stems from a 2010 bust in Glendale. Teola, a criminal defense attorney, says Creech has admitted to police that he was a middleman between drug dealers and producers and pleaded no contest to one count of selling and transporting cocaine. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
An 18-year veteran of Fox's distribution department, Smith was the branch manager for theaters in Dallas and Oklahoma City, serving as a liaison between the studio and theaters. A source with knowledge of the situation says the studio plans to fill Smith's position (co-workers have been divvying up his duties) but has yet to do so. Fox declined comment.
Smith and Addeo say they remain confident investigators will solve the case, and the family's $20,000 reward remains in place. But apparent breakthroughs -- such as a reported sighting of the Fox exec on May 7 in Morro Bay -- have turned out to be false. "We are devastated," says Smith. "My sons, they can barely talk. We can't even have a memorial service for my husband."