Fox executive homicide investigation progressing 'vigorously'
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials said it's likely to take some time before they close the homicide probe of Fox executive Gavin Smith.
Officials declared Smith's disappearance a homicide case earlier this week. But they said it's unclear when detectives will present evidence to prosecutors for possible charges.
Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said additional evidence still needs to be examined. More than two dozen search warrants have been served in connection with the case, he added.
"So there is still evidence that needs [to be] processed and analyzed," he said. "They are not putting a time frame on that, but it's moving forward vigorously."
Their person of interest remains behind bars on an unrelated drug conviction. John Creech — whose wife, authorities said, had a relationship with Smith after meeting him in rehab — is serving an eight-year sentence.
Even if Creech were to be released early for "good-time, work-time" credit, Whitmore said Friday, he would still spend four years in jail — a place "where he can be interviewed at any time."
"He's a captive audience," Whitmore said.
Creech has not spoken to investigators while in jail, sheriff's Lt. Dave Dolson said, but his wife has talked to detectives on multiple occasions. Dolson declined to elaborate on what Chandrika Creech said or what the nature of her relationship with Smith was.
Smith, a former UCLA basketball player who worked in Fox's movie distribution department, was last seen leaving a friend's home in Ventura County's Oak Park neighborhood the night of May 1. Wearing purple athletic pants belonging to one of his sons, Smith drove away in his Mercedes, leaving behind his cellphone charger, shaving kit and other items.
In the months after Smith was last seen, officials insisted the case remained a missing person investigation, even as Creech's home and vehicle were searched. But Thursday, they announced they believed Smith had been killed, though no body has been found.
Officials also revealed that Smith's Mercedes Benz, missing since his disappearance, was found last month in a Simi Valley storage locker linked to Creech.
"The condition of the vehicle in conjunction with cooperating witness statements indicates he was killed," Dolson said. "At this time the evidence leads us to believe he was murdered."
Dolson said investigators received a tip leading them to the storage facility where Smith’s car was recovered. The locker wasn’t registered to Creech, Dolson said, but to someone close to him.
Creech was picked up by Glendale police in a February 2010 drug bust, when he allegedly sold bricks of cocaine to a man whose car contained more than 2,500 oxycodone tablets. Subsequent searches of Creech’s home and business yielded drugs, cash and other items.
Creech later admitted to police that he was a middle-man between drug producers and lower-level street dealers, and pleaded no contest last year to one count of selling and transporting cocaine.
In January, authorities searched his Hummer after it was found at a marijuana grow house in Granada Hills. Creech’s West Hills home was also searched at least twice last summer.
Dolson said officials do not think that Smith was involved in any drug transactions.
Investigators believe Smith had already been killed by the time his Mercedes-Benz was moved from Porter Ranch to the storage facility about a week after his disappearance, but have not said why the car was in Porter Ranch.
Detectives are also trying to piece together how it got to the storage locker, and have asked the public for help in identifying anyone who might have been involved.
Smith’s wife, Lisa, told The Times on Thursday that she and her three sons were “devastated” by news that detectives believe her husband was killed, but is hopeful that authorities will find out “exactly what happened” and “bring it to justice.”
“Truly, truly this is what my sons and I thought happened all along,” she said in a tearful phone call. “For the rest of the world to know that he didn't leave us is huge. He would have never done that. We knew from the get-go that something horrible had happened because he just wouldn't do this.”
-- Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton, Kate Mather and Daniel Miller
Photo: Gavin Smith Credit: Gavin Smith family