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Man Wanted for Questioning in Smart Abduction Case Caught

Aired June 21, 2002 - 15:19   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We're now about 40 minutes away from a press conference being conducted by the Salt Lake City officials there. There they will be commenting on the capture of Bret Michael Edmunds. He is a man who has been wanted by Salt Lake City authorities in the questioning of the disappearance of 14-year old Elizabeth Smart. Bret Edmunds apparently checked himself into a Martinsburg, West Virginia hospital after overdosing on a drug called lotrodine (ph).

He is known to have had a heroin habit, but apparently he made his way in his green Saturn from Utah all the way to West Virginia and then somehow overdosed. We don't have the details on that, but found his way into a hospital where he checked himself in. But he didn't check himself in as Bret Michael Edmunds.

He gave a fictitious name of Todd Richards, but where he made the mistake is that he gave his actual home phone number and the phone number of his mother and hospital officials did some investigative work of their own. They placed those calls, and then come to find out it was Bret Michael Edmunds that they had there, a man who has been wanted by Salt Lake City authorities now for two weeks for questioning in the disappearance of 14-year old Elizabeth Smart.

We've got -- we've garnered a lot of our information from our own footwork from our reporters and producers here at CNN, but we also got a lot of help from Geoff Shank. He's a U.S. Marshal spokesperson out of Arlington, Virginia. We want to let you hear his details one more time.


GEOFF SHANK, U.S. MARSHAL'S OFFICE: We have it that on the 20th, he checked in to the hospital at approximately 5:15 a.m. under a bogus name. However, he provided a telephone number, which we realized was valid. Then using this information, we were able to trace it back and verify his identity. However, none of this would have been possible without a call from a source of information...

WHITFIELD: So he checked...

SHANK: ... who tipped us off.

WHITFIELD: ... he checked himself in. The information we've been able to gather implies that he had a heroin overdose and that's why he checked himself in. What can you tell us about that?

SHANK: It was actually lotrodine (ph) I believe, was the information that we were provided. And he was quite out of it at the time that he went to the hospital. He provided a name of Todd Richards initially, and also he provided his mother's true name, which along with the phone number and then the hospital personnel following up, you know, to verify hey, who indeed is this fellow is, reached out to the family.


SHANK: And while all this going on, then we got a call from one of the folks, or source of information that we have spoken to in the last several days who tipped us off and said hey, we think the guy that you're looking for has checked himself into a hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia.


SHANK: And that's when we dispatched our deputies out to Martinsburg. Once they got there they were able to locate a suspect vehicle that we thought he was in, in the parking lot, and from there then they backtracked through the hospital admissions, utilizing the false information and nexusing (ph) it up with the telephone number to get a room number in the hospital.

WHITFIELD: So what kind of vehicle did he have parked out there that you believe was his?

SHANK: It was a green Saturn that I believe had been broadcast that he was in.

WHITFIELD: Right, the same vehicle that had been reported that he was last seen in. So since your contact now with him or since being notified by the hospital that that was indeed Bret Edmunds, what have you learned from him? What has he said? What has your conversation been like with him?

SHANK: Ma'am, we were asked by the Salt Lake City Police Department and the FBI to come into this thing to find Bret Michael Edmunds. We're not going to question him on the case. We find fugitives. We find people who are wanted in questioning in large cases like this. They asked us on Wednesday. Three days later, two and a half days later, we found him. Now we're going to turn him over to the authorities that began this thing so they can look into it a little further.

WHITFIELD: And so when are they likely to arrive there?

SHANK: As soon -- as soon as possible, I hope. We notified them immediately upon identifying that it was indeed Mr. Edmunds. We've secured the vehicle and obviously Mr. Edmunds himself. We've got deputy marshals there on the scene standing by. They may very well be arriving as we speak.

WHITFIELD: OK, so now it was 5:15 a.m. yesterday that he checked himself in under a bogus name, you said.


WHITFIELD: But then how much time elapsed before the West Virginia hospital authorities realized this person isn't really who he says he is and now let's bring in the police?

SHANK: He was in pretty bad shape from a medical standpoint from what we understand to the point where the drugs or what have you that he -- that he had he taken had caused his liver to crash or stop functioning. So I imagine it took quite awhile just not only to stabilize him, but then once they stabilized him, then they tried to find out exactly who he was because things were just a little haywire when he checked himself in.

That's when they reached out with the actual phone number that he provided. You know then as they questioned people, it came up hey, you know this indeed isn't Todd Richards, it's perhaps somebody else.

WHITFIELD: So, he's coherent now. He was able to give telephone numbers that were valid. You haven't and your authorities haven't talked with him because you say Salt Lake City police would rather be the ones to have some discussions with him, but no one has had any kind of dialogue with him at all?

SHANK: Ma'am, we will not discuss the case with him whatsoever. I can't vouch for exactly what the deputy marshals who are at the scene have said to him, if anything, but we are under strict instructions not to discuss the case whatsoever and I can tell you they're going to abide by that. When Mr. Edmunds, a.k.a. Mr. Richards, checked in, the only correct piece of information he gave was his phone number and a lot of fugitive cases are people who are running from the law.

Often times, you know, they may make a little slip like that and it was lucky for us, but I'm just glad the hospital staff, our deputies in Salt Lake City and in West Virginia who just did a fantastic job in figuring it all out as quickly as possible before he was able to somehow get himself out of that hospital. That's the big thing.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Now what condition does he appear to be in?

SHANK: He's stable at this time, but he can not be moved at this time. We do know that.

WHITFIELD: OK. And you mentioned the drug, sorry, I don't know all my drugs here, but you said lotrodine (ph).

SHANK: Yes, lotrodine. I'm not real familiar with what lotrodine is. We know that he had a heroin habit and that he was trying to actually score some heroin, but the actual admission papers or what have you said that he was on lotrodine, and that it had caused his liver to crash, almost complete liver failure is what you would call it, I would imagine.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, now in the time that's elapsed since you've figured out his true identity...


WHITFIELD: ... are there other people in that community who have emerged who said that, oh, yes, I've had contact with him or I had a conversation or saw him, anything...

SHANK: At this time...

WHITFIELD: ... before he checked himself in?

SHANK: ... there's no one else that we know of, no. We haven't -- we -- right now, we're just waiting to turn the individual over to the Salt Lake City police and the FBI.

WHITFIELD: OK. Now it had been said that because there were other apparent sightings of him that he had run out of money, that his credit cards weren't working. What do you know about, you know, his financial state, if you will? I mean, you know, did he have any money or did he have anything, in which to help him get checked in at the hospital?

SHANK: Ma'am, I have absolutely no information on that end whatsoever.

WHITFIELD: OK. And so when the phone call was made to perhaps the mother, since you had the mother's phone number, what if anything was learned from that conversation? Are you able to comment on that?

SHANK: All we know is that the hospital standard protocol reached out to the phone number that he provided and that the name that he checked in under did not correspond with the individual that they spoke to on the other end of that phone. Who that person was, we do not know.


WHITFIELD: And that was a telephone conversation with Geoff Shank of the U.S. Marshals Office out of Arlington, Virginia.

Right now, Salt Lake City police, as you heard from Geoff Shank, are likely to be making their way to West Virginia and wish to ask some questions. But for now, in about 30 minutes, at the top of the hour, Salt Lake City officials will be holding a press conference, perhaps answering some of the questions that we have as to exactly what kind of questions they want to be asking of Bret Michael Edmunds.

Once again, he is not a suspect in the disappearance case of 14- year-old Elizabeth Smart. Instead, Salt Lake City police have only said that they want to ask him a series of questions. Now, Ed Lavandera is in Salt Lake City. And, Ed, perhaps you got a little bit more information as to what kinds of questions Salt Lake City police want to ask more specifically - Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, we're understanding now that a press briefing will be held at the chief of police here, Rick Dinse at 2:00 Mountain time. So 4:00 Eastern, we'll be able to bring that to you when it happens. Right now I'm joined by Chris Thomas, a family friend and spokesperson for the Smart family.

Chris, I know this is all developing rather quickly, but your gauge, and have you been able to speak with the family? What are they saying?

CHRIS THOMAS, SMART FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: Right. Well, the family -- all the family knows at this point is that yes he has been apprehended in West Virginia, waiting to get more information from law enforcement, you know any information that could lead to Elizabeth's return obviously is very encouraging for the family. As far as you know, talking to him, he was not a suspect. He's just somebody wanted for questioning. So, you know, we're hopeful that maybe he will have some new information that will get us a step closer.

LAVANDERA: Can you talk about -- I imagine this must be an emotional rollercoaster for the family as they anticipate and hope that he might be able to bring any kind of information to them. Can you -- can you speak to how they're taking the news?

THOMAS: You know there have been a lot of different rollercoasters throughout this, you know, different pieces of news that didn't -- you know, a week ago, we were, I think, in the same spot and they thought that they had him, and so really it's difficult to say. I mean, I think that they have tried to stay on a real even plane. They're a very resilient family. You know, again, they're just hopeful that maybe there'll be some new information that, again, will lead to bring Elizabeth home safely.

LAVANDERA: Are you surprised that he was found in West Virginia?

THOMAS: Well, I think that's interesting, because it points to the fact that Elizabeth could be anywhere. And so it's really important that everyone out there listening checks their neighborhoods, checks their yards or cabins.

He was first here. And in a short period of time, he has got across the country. So, hopefully, it will get people to take more of a look and to be a little more conscientious of their own neighborhoods and other places that they frequent.

LAVANDERA: Could you talk to us about what you or what the family knows about him or what you have been able to learn about him in the last couple of weeks?

THOMAS: Very little. Again, he's just one of a number of things. We are not privy -- you and I aren't privy to all of the aspects of the investigation that the family is. And so I don't know what they know and what they don't know. I know that it hasn't been a major focus, because there are a number of people out there that may have some information.

LAVANDERA: I think Elizabeth's uncle was making a point today that, nationwide -- and Ted Wilson was making the point as well -- nationwide urging people across the country to pay attention, not only just here in Utah. And I may a point earlier that this -- I think that reinforces the point that you guys were trying to make, that evidence or clues could pop up anywhere.

THOMAS: That's so true.

And, again, it goes back to, everyone out there needs to be a searcher. And everybody needs to be conscientious of what's happening in their community. This perpetrator does not live in a bubble. He is out there. He's someone's neighbor. He's somebody's friend. So we need to watch those that are closest to us, even, and see. If there's something out of the ordinary, report it to the authorities immediately.

LAVANDERA: Do you think, I guess in your heart of hearts, that this will provide enough evidence perhaps that might bring this to an end?

THOMAS: I think everybody thinks that -- everyone wants to see a positive resolution to this. I don't think there's anyone out there that doesn't. And if this is some new information that might lead to this perpetrator or lead to -- Elizabeth's return is the ultimate goal -- that would be very encouraging.

LAVANDERA: Will the family come out and speak today again?

THOMAS: They will. They will address the media after the police. They really want to gather the facts and find out what is new on this before they react to it.

LAVANDERA: All right, very good.

Thank you very much, Chris Thomas...

THOMAS: Thank you, Ed.

LAVANDERA: ... a spokesperson for the Smart family who has been helping them out and coordinating all of the different requests that the family here has gotten.

If we have time as well, we are also joined here by Ted Wilson, the former mayor, here, who is also a family friend.

What have you been able to gather, anything that you might be able to add at this point?

TED WILSON, FORMER MAYOR OF SALT LAKE CITY: I think the family is cautiously optimistic. We have had a report before that he got picked up. But this looks like the real thing. I think it is a shot in the arm to us. We need something. And this is something.

I think it's also important, however, that we not necessarily see him as the suspect. We want to keep our volunteers energized. We want people to continue to look over the weekend, go out and about, and participate as volunteers to find Elizabeth. And we have not yet found Elizabeth. So, it's only a partial victory, but it is exciting.

LAVANDERA: We had talked about that the police weren't going to be attending the briefings anymore for the foreseeable future.


LAVANDERA: That the family wasn't going to do anything over the weekends. And I think the overriding feeling was that perhaps things were slowing down a little bit. You alluded to it.

But speak about I guess the shot in the arm, as you mentioned. You hope this energizes and perhaps turns up even more clues?

WILSON: Well, yes.

We have had a week -- and you press folks have been through it -- of just minor things that caused us all to kind of get interested, little changes in facts regarding the encounter between the perpetrator and the girls, and that sort of thing that kind of occupied our attention.

To have something now really to sink our teeth into like this is exciting. And it is important. But, on the other hand, it's not Elizabeth at this point. We don't know what he's going to yield. And let me tell you, there's something about this guy that is really fishy. He has been haunting these meetings at times. There's records of him watching these press conferences. He shows up at a candlelight vigil around town.

He's been camping in the neighborhood. And then he goes on the run, when he has got nothing but misdemeanors that he knows he'd probably have excused by a police department if he talks. So, there's something fishy about this gentleman. And I think we need to find out what that is.

LAVANDERA: We have been reporting that officials out of West Virginia reporting that he was found in rather bad shape, that some sort of drug overdose perhaps, that his livers were failing, and that sort of thing.

Did you have any inclination that he was in this kind of condition or that he might have had these kinds of problems at all?

WILSON: No. Of course, I don't know much about the gentleman himself. I heard that he was a drug addict, he had problems like that

But the fact that he went all the way to West Virginia indicates how much he wanted to get away from the scene.

LAVANDERA: You also...

WILSON: And, to me, that's interesting.

LAVANDERA: I apologize.

You also made this point this morning that -- urging people, not only in Utah, but in the surrounding states to pay attention. You made the point earlier that you thought that this kind of development would reinforce what you had been saying, that anywhere at any time, something might be able to pop up.

WILSON: Absolutely.

This is the kind of thing we are looking at. Just be alert. People out there need to look and. To think that a couple of hospital people sort of got into this and turned it over to the local police back there, and they were alert, and they called our police, and they determined who this gentleman was, is indicative of the kind of power that people observing can have.

LAVANDERA: It might be too early for this question, but let me go ahead and ask it anyway. The condition that he might have been in, does that lead to you believe that maybe, if he's been like this for the last week and a half that they have been looking for him, that perhaps the information you might be able to get from him might be a little bit tough to get from him?

WILSON: Well, I don't know anything about his physical condition, so whether he can be questioned successfully is up in the air.

But I understand he is stable. And, usually, people, when they're stable, they can talk. So, I'm sure our police department will be flying back there immediately. They are going to have a press conference in a few minutes to tell us. And they will get into it as quickly as they can.

LAVANDERA: Can you speak about the family and how they have taken this news?

WILSON: They are, I think, happy that this has occurred. It's something to latch onto. But they are also very realistic. And they understand that he is not a principal suspect at this point and that he might have some information. And so it's cautious optimism.

LAVANDERA: I guess, in the end, the important thing is, until Elizabeth is found, that all of these are just more dips in the roller-coaster.

WILSON: We will not dance in the street until Elizabeth dances with us.

LAVANDERA: Very good. Thank you very much, sir.

WILSON: Thank you.

The family will be out here at 2:00 Mountain time, 4:00 Eastern. And they will be addressing the news media, after the police release more of the details that they have at this point.

So, Fredricka, for now, this is Ed Lavandera reporting live from Salt Lake City -- back to you.

WHITFIELD: Hey, well, Ed, if the mayor is still nearby, I wonder if you could just pull him over again real quick just to ask him, if he were to have an opportunity to offer some questions to be asked to Bret Michael Edmunds, once he's in a state where he can answer questions, what sort of questions he might have specifically for Bret Edmunds.

LAVANDERA: Sure. Sure.

Folks in Atlanta are asking if you have any questions, what kind of questions would you specifically like to ask Bret Michael Edmunds at this point?

WILSON: "Do you have Elizabeth somewhere?" No. 1.

But I'm not an investigator. I don't know how they do that stuff. I would want to know: "If you don't have the girl, do you know anyone that does? You were hanging around the neighborhood. What did you see? Who was coming and going? Are you familiar with anyone that would want to kidnap a young woman?"

I don't know how they do these things. And I'm not a police investigator. But those are the kind of questions we are after. I mean, we just need to know as much as we can about this fellow and what he knows.

LAVANDERA: His behavior before they were looking for him was already suspicious to us begin, from what police and you all have been saying. But what has happened since is even more suspicious, is it not?

WILSON: Oh, I think the fact that he's in West Virginia is very suspicious. Why would he go that far? He's known to live in Utah. He's known to hang out around here. So, the whole circumstance of his fleeing, I think, makes him look like a real fishy kind of situation.

LAVANDERA: We had reported also that the hospital just across the street here had had surveillance video of the night, that there was a car that was there and a gentleman who looked suspicious, also kind of matching some descriptions of people they are looking for. Do you have any inclination whether or not that might have been him or...

WILSON: Well, the videotape that they got, I understand, has been sent to the FBI labs because it was undiscernible. They could hardly tell what was on it. And that's being checked.

But there was another car, too, that, I think, one of the hospital security people saw. And there was a conversation, which might imply there was a second party and there were two people involved rather than one, which would lead to some sort of a ransom- type motive, rather than a sexual or other kind of motive. So, who knows.

But it helps to have someone under suspicion. Once they look at the tape, if they can maybe enhance it enough to see it was his car, then you start getting into things that might be very, very helpful.

LAVANDERA: Let's explore some of those theories that have been thrown out there.

One of them was the ransom theory. What kind of stock do you put in that one way or another?

WILSON: At this point, I wouldn't guess that it's a ransom crime, simply because there have been no credible ransom requests come through. There was an e-mail or something that came through "America's Most Wanted." But they discounted that pretty quickly. It looked like a crank. There's nothing at this point that would indicate this is a ransom crime.

LAVANDERA: There were a lot of sightings of Bret Michael Edmunds that came about because of that TV show. What did you hear about it?

WILSON: About the show itself?



WILSON: Well, I think the show, over the years, has provided tremendous kinds of services to the communities, all communities. And we were happy to have him on there and happy to have the crime on there, because, I'll tell you, one of the great allies of this whole thing has been the press. If we hadn't had the press the last week and a half or two weeks, we would have not gotten the word out.

LAVANDERA: But there were a lot of sightings from all over the country.

WILSON: Yes, a lot of sightings. Again, I think the police department is still filtering through some of those.

LAVANDERA: All right, very good. Thank you very much, sir.

WILSON: Thank you.

LAVANDERA: Appreciate the time.

WILSON: Nice talking to you.

LAVANDERA: Fredricka, as we heard them say, that the family cautiously optimistic as to what kind of details this might be able to bring about. So, we'll continue to gather more information here and bring it to you as quickly as we can -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, now, Ed, that press conference, scheduled press conference with Salt Lake City officials is just now about 20 minutes away. They are not being very specific about who might be attending that press conference, are they?

LAVANDERA: Well, we understand the chief of police, Rick Dinse, will be there, as well as other family members.

A gentleman just told us that they are going through some of the details, making sure all the facts that they have gotten up to this point are straight and everyone is on the same page -- so, the family, as they have doing here for the last couple of weeks, coming out together, usually arm in arm as a united front. So, we anticipate that we will be seeing the same thing.

Remember, it was yesterday the police had said that they weren't going to be coming out to these press briefings anymore. Today was the first day they hadn't attended in quite a while. So, it didn't take very long for them to come back. They had been waiting and hoping for a development, a major development in the case. And this is exactly what has happened this afternoon. So, that's why the chief of police will return to the podium and offer up as many details as they will be able to do so at this point.

It's a good point to mention that a lot of the details and the facts about this case, you might -- if you have been paying attention to the story over the last couple of days, that has changed and developed, the moment Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her room by this culprit, that there was a lot of details about what happened that night that have changed in the last couple of days. So, that's one of the things to keep in mind, that, as the police give out information, they have deliberately and strategically been putting out what they want to put out, as to not hurt the investigation, however they deem that to be the case.

So, a lot of this information has been very limited at times and very difficult to cover. And, for a while, the information about what happened that night, you might remember, was actually -- they had known it was wrong. And even though it had been continued to be reported, they had known it was wrong for about a week before they decided to go ahead and correct it. And the chief of police said that because -- it took them about a week to figure out that, "OK, we can correct this information because it's not going to do any harm to the case itself."

But that's why they just let it kind of sit out there and sit out there on the public airwaves and the newspapers across the country, falsely. But they have corrected that. But there's a lot of that going on, as police try to figure out what they can release, what they want to keep close to the vest -- so, a lot of that jockeying for position that investigators do in many of these cases, which is very typical and standard.

WHITFIELD: All right, great job. Thanks very much, Ed Lavandera, from Salt Lake City. Don't go too far, though.

LAVANDERA: I'll stay here.