LOS ANGELES — After months of speculation, Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators confirmed Thursday they believed missing Fox movie executive Gavin Smith was killed and publicly named a convicted drug dealer as a person of interest in the case.
The revelation came as investigators announced that the 57-year-old’s Mercedes-Benz, missing since his May disappearance, was found last month in a storage locker in Simi Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. Authorities said the storage locker was linked to James Creech, now serving an eight-year sentence for an unrelated drug conviction.
“The condition of the vehicle in conjunction with cooperating witness statements indicates he was killed,” sheriff’s Lt. Dave Dolson said. “At this time the evidence leads us to believe he was murdered.”
Investigators have “a good idea” of a motive, Dolson said, “but we’re not going to discuss it.”
The relationship between Smith and Creech was unclear — Creech told a Los Angeles Times reporter at his sentencing last year that he had never met Smith.
But Dolson said “there was a relationship” between Smith and Creech’s wife, who “met in rehab.” When asked whether that relationship was romantic in nature, Dolson declined to comment.
“They knew each other,” he said.
Chandrika Creech has spoken to investigators on many occasions, Dolson said. He declined to say what information she provided.
In the months after Smith was last seen, officials insisted the case remained a missing persons investigation, even as Creech’s home and vehicle were searched.
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.
Numerous searches of the area were conducted after Smith disappeared, and his family posted a $20,000 reward.
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.
John Creech has not spoken to detectives while serving time at Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles for the drug conviction, Dolson said. Creech was picked up by Glendale, Calif., police in a February 2010 drug bust, when he 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 and cash.
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, his Hummer was found at a marijuana grow house in the Granada Hills neighborhood of L.A. Authorities searched the vehicle in connection with the Smith case, one of more than two dozen search warrants served in the investigation. Creech’s home in the San Fernando Valley was also searched at least twice.
Dolson said officials do not think that Smith was involved in any drug transactions.
Detectives are trying to piece together how the Mercedes 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 she and her three sons were “devastated” by news that detectives believe her husband was killed, but it confirmed their worst suspicions.
“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.”
Lisa Smith said she’s hopeful that detectives will find out “exactly what happened” to her husband and “bring it to justice.”
“I can’t believe they got this huge piece of evidence and I am so thrilled,” she said. “We were just waiting and now we are so much closer to closure.”