It would be hard work to find someone in the United States that hasn’t heard the name Elizabeth Smart. Elizabeth quickly became a household name in the early 2000s when she was abducted from her bed in Salt Lake City, Utah as her little sister looked on.
It was June 5, 2002 when Brian David Mitchell found his way into the Smart home and put a knife to 13 year-old Elizabeth’s throat as she slept in her bed, demanding she come with him or else he’d murder her entire family. With her nine-year-old sister as the only eye witness, it was nine months until she was found, nine months of living in a tent and suffering regular abuse and rape by Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee.
The amazing story of Elizabeth’s story is a well-known one but the details can get lost in news reports, which makes her decision to tell her story herself so enthralling. Here are eight things we learned (or rediscovered) from the new A&E special Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography.
1. There were several things that had to happen for Mitchell to enter the house undetected.
A couple of days before Elizabeth was taken, her maternal grandfather died, which put a lot of stress on the family and especially her mom, Lois. After the funeral, Lois was making dinner and she burnt some potatoes causing her to open a window in the kitchen to let the smoke and burnt smell escape, which was the same window police found the screen cut out of the next day.
When the family went to bed, Elizabeth’s father, Edward, decided not to set the alarm in case the kids got up in the middle of the night and moved around, an alarm that would’ve woken everyone up if there was movement in the house and would’ve probably caused them to shut the kitchen window Mitchell entered through.
2. Elizabeth has three words that summarize her nine months with Mitchell and Barzee.
Elizabeth says,”the three words that really come to mind to describe it are terror, boredom and rape.”
She details her arrival to the camp Mitchell and Barzee had set up, which was a tent high in the hills not far from her home. When she arrived, Barzee made her take her pajamas off, something Elizabeth tried to fight but Barzee threatened to bring Mitchell in and let him “rip” her clothes off, including her underwear. Once she was changed into a robe-like garment, Mitchell entered the tent. Elizabeth tried to protect herself by rolling onto her stomach — she thought you had to face each other to have sex — but Mitchell knew that was not true and proceeded to rape her for the first time.
From then on, it was a mixed bag of rape, starving and traveling in plain sight without anyone recognizing her, due to a veil or other disguises she was made to wear. There was one time she was in a public library and a detective approached the threesome with questions about a missing child and Elizabeth remained silent as he walked away. She also attended a party, and was not recognized there either.
3. There were several times she was close to being found.
Elizabeth said she heard people yelling her name while they were still at their first camp not far from her home, but somehow they never stumbled across their tent. She also talks about hearing helicopters overhead, thinking this was the moment men were going to drop down on ropes and save her.
4. The initial police work was not so good.
There were a lot of family and friends in the Smart house when daylight broke following Elizabeth’s kidnapping, which caused a concern for crime scene contamination.
Mary Katherine, Elizabeth’s sister and the only eyewitness, was discounted numerous times when she told the police what she saw because she was young (she was nine at the time) and it was dark. She knew Mitchell’s voice sounded familiar, which eventually led her to remembering a man named Emmanuel (the name Mitchell went by before and throughout Elizabeth’s kidnapping), who was a street creature the Smarts gave money to and eventually a job working on their roof.
5. She denied who she was to the police
Once she was found, thanks in large part to the TV show America’s Most Wanted with John Walsh, she wouldn’t admit she was who they thought she was for about 45 minutes in fear that Mitchell would hear her betraying him which would cause him to harm her. Luckily, the officers didn’t buy it and took Elizabeth, Barzee and Mitchell into custody.
6. She never saw a therapist.
The biggest surprise of all is that Elizabeth claims she has never seen a therapist since her abduction. She said she relied on her parents and talked to her parents when she was struggling with what happened to her and that was enough. And, somehow, she says she doesn’t suffer any difficulties having sex with her husband.
7. Her husband didn’t know who she was when they met.
Her husband, Matthew, who is Scottish, was a classmate when they met at BYU. When he got to know her, he told her he had never heard about her case until she brought it up.
Part one of Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography premieres Sunday, November 12 at 9pm ET and part two on Monday, November 13 at 9pm ET on A&E or Lifetime.