Disappeared

05.11.12

Fox Movie Executive Gavin Smith’s Mysterious Disappearance Baffles Police

The 20th Century Fox film-distribution official has been missing for 10 days in L.A. Maria Elena Fernandez and Christine Pelisek learn more about his whereabouts before he vanished.

Ten days after Fox film executive Gavin Smith left a friend’s home in the swanky Los Angeles suburb of Oak Park, never to be heard from again, detectives are not any closer to figuring out what happened. But The Daily Beast has learned new information that paints a more complicated picture about the former UCLA basketball star’s life and where he was the last few days before he vanished.

“There is a lot of time still unaccounted for,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide division’s Sgt. John O’Brien, who is in charge of the investigation. “You can get around L.A. pretty quickly. It is hard to narrow down where he was last.”

Locating Smith is the “$64,000 question,” O’Brien said. Although he is still treating the mystery as a missing person’s case, one particular detail is bugging the sergeant: Smith’s 2000 black Mercedes Benz 420E still has not been located.

“It kind of stands out that his car hasn’t been found,” he said. “Usually, cars like that would show up.”

Police have sent planes and helicopters to search for Smith, but have found no traces of the studio executive, who helped distribute movies such as Avatar and the Star Wars trilogy and, at 6-feet-6 and 210 pounds, cuts an imposing figure. The area where he disappeared in Ventura County is full of canyons, ravines, creeks, and hiking trails, and police have been searching for any sign of Smith or his vehicle. So far, O’Brien said, there is no evidence his car was stolen.

“We are actively searching for him,” said O’Brien, adding that Smith could have careened off the road and plummeted into a ravine. “It is possible because of the area where he works and travels. It is generally that kind of terrain. There are quite a few places where there are steep curves.”

At one point, police received a report of a black Mercedes parked at the side of a road but “it was gone by the time we got there,” he added. “We are surprised we haven’t found a car,” he said.

Among the possibilities O’Brien is investigating: Smith may be deliberately hiding; he may be suffering from a health problem, although he was not on any medications and police are not aware of any preexisting conditions; he got into an accident; or is the victim of a crime. Since he was last seen around 10 p.m. on May 1, Smith has not used his cellphone or his credit cards.

“The family is very concerned and friends are worried about him,” O’Brien said. “He hasn’t had any contact with anyone. We checked ATMs and phone records and there is no trace of him. If you don’t want to be found, you won’t use your stuff. It could be intentional on his part or he is unable to use it. He didn’t have a history of taking off for days. It was the first time it happened … It is definitely a little mystery.”

By all accounts, the father of three kept a “regimented” schedule, which makes his disappearance all the more perplexing to those who love him. His West Hills neighbors describe him as friendly and said they typically saw him arrive home from work in the early afternoon. Gardeners who were working on the affluent street where the Smiths live told The Daily Beast that he liked to sunbathe in his patio in the afternoons. The family stays busy, exercising and surfing together, neighbors said. In 1975, Smith was part of UCLA’s championship basketball  team; his eldest son, Evan, has followed in his footsteps at the University of Southern California.

But then he spelled it out: “Thoughts and prayers out to my amazing Mom and bros plz. My dad decided to leave the family last nite. Real family sticks together.”

To outsiders, there were no signs of trouble. But the Smiths, whose house is for sale as a property in “distress” and could face foreclosure, have been trying to sell their home for the last six to eight months. The house on Daryn Drive is listed as a “short sale,” an alternative to foreclosure in which the property owner cannot afford to pay liens and the sale falls short of the balance of debts.

On top of the financial stress, there was another indicator of tension in Smith’s life—he had not been living at home before he disappeared, The Daily Beast has learned. Although Smith’s family has told the media that Smith had returned from a work trip to Las Vegas on May 1 and was spending that night at a friend’s house, Smith had been staying with his friend for several days, O’Brien said. (The Smith family has not responded to requests from The Daily Beast for an interview.)

Smith attended the film industry convention, CinemaCon, which ended April 18, and he returned to Los Angeles one or two days later, O’Brien said. Instead of going home to West Hills, Smith went 15 miles northeast—to the house of a female friend in a well-manicured cul-de-sac in Oak Park. “They were kind of friends and he was hanging out there for a few days,” O’Brien said. “There was no romance in that at all. Just hanging out with a friend for a couple of days.”

On the night of May 1, the friend went to bed and did not hear Smith leave the house. When she awoke and didn’t see him, she figured he was just going on about his day, O’Brien said. But she was wrong. Smith failed to pick up his youngest son that morning to give him a ride to school as he had promised his wife, Lisa. He also never showed up to work or called his office, and left his personal belongings, including his cellphone charger, at his friend’s house.

In press interviews, the Smith family has not explained why Smith was staying at a friend’s house, but his eldest son’s Twitter feed has been more revealing. On April 14, the day before Smith went to Las Vegas, his eldest son, Evan, a USC basketball forward, tweeted two intimate details about his family. At first he kept it vague: “Life is filled with obstacles. This is just another one. The Lord is testing my family and I. We will not lose faith.” But then he spelled it out: “Thoughts and prayers out to my amazing Mom and bros plz. My dad decided to leave the family last nite. Real family sticks together.”

The next day, the 21-year-old Smith sounded more hopeful as he socialized online: “Thank you Lord for giving me the strength to lead my family out of the darkness and back into the light of your love.”

Now, the young man is using the Internet to lead his own search for his father, using Twitter and findgavinsmith.com, which he created.

“Thank you so much for visiting the page and report any information or anything at all on this blog so we can all coordinate to help find my DAD!!! You all have been such a help,” he wrote.