Gavin Smith (film studio executive)
Picture distributed by LA County Sheriff's Department to help find Smith
|Born||December 10, 1954|
|Disappeared||May 1, 2012 (aged 57)
Oak Park, California
|Status||Missing for 1 year, 10 months and 10 days|
|Alma mater||UCLA, Hawaii|
|Occupation||Executive at 20th Century Fox|
|Known for||Member of 1975 NCAA champion men's basketball team; single-season scoring record at Hawaii|
Gavin Smith (born December 10, 1954; disappeared May 1, 2012) was an American film studio executive formerly in charge of distribution for 20th Century Fox. Prior to his 18 years in that position he played basketball at UCLA, where he was part of the 1975 team that won that year's NCAA championship, the last for legendary coach John Wooden. He later played at Hawaii, where he set the school's still-standing single-season scoring record of 23.4 points per game. He had a small role as a bartender in Cobb, the 1994 biopic of baseball legend Ty Cobb.
On the night of May 1, 2012, Smith left a friend's house in Oak Park, California, where he had been staying due to reported marital difficulties. It does not appear as if he had planned to be away for an extended period. When he failed to pick up one of his sons for school the next morning, his family reported him missing. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been investigating.
A native of the San Fernando Valley, the 6-foot-6-inch (200 cm) Smith was a star player on the Van Nuys High School boys' basketball team in the early 1970s. He went on to attend the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and play there for coach John Wooden. In his sophomore year he was a forward on the 1975 team which won that year's NCAA championship, Wooden's tenth and last.
He did not play in UCLA's 92–85 title-game defeat of Kentucky. The next season was his best at UCLA, as he appeared in all but two games, averaging 5.9 points per game (ppg). In the 1976 Final Four, he appeared twice. Against Indiana, the eventual champs, he scored six points, adding eight points and four rebounds in the third-place game victory over Rutgers. After the season, he transferred to Hawaii for a season and finished his playing career there, setting the school's single-season scoring record of 23.4 ppg, a mark that still stands despite the subsequent introduction of the three-point field goal.
At Hawaii, he was known for complementing his then long hair with a bandanna and bringing his dog to practice. Former Rainbow Warriors coach Riley Wallace, who coached against Smith at that time, remembers him as a formidable opponent. "He frustrated me as a coach," Wallace recalls. "He could score from anywhere on the floor ... [he was] probably one of the best shooters in the history of Hawaii."
Eventually he began a career in the film industry, at first in front of the camera. He made his acting debut playing a bodyguard in a televised adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Glitz. The following year, he had a small role in Greg Mottola's debut short, "Swingin' in the Painter's Room."
After playing a bartender in the 1994 film Cobb, a biopic of baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, he went into the business side of the industry as an executive. He took a job in 20th Century Fox's distribution department, making sure that films got to the theaters they were scheduled to appear in. While he was not involved with the creative aspect of the business, he has been credited with helping films such as Titanic, Avatar and the rereleases of the original Star Wars trilogy succeed.
By 2012 he was Fox's regional branch manager for theaters in the Dallas and Oklahoma City areas, working out of the company's Calabasas offices. He had settled in the West Hills area of the Valley with his wife, Lisa, and three sons. One, Evan, had followed in his father's athletic footsteps, playing basketball for UCLA's crosstown rival, the University of Southern California. According to friends, he had talked about returning to acting when he retired from Fox, as he expected to do in a few years.
In the meantime, his success was offset by marital and financial difficulties. Smith's friends say that the former had been ongoing for several years, after Lisa Smith had become devoutly religious. In turn, Gavin, they say, consoled himself with occasional extramarital affairs. "I know he wanted to reconcile and fix things with his wife," a high school classmate, Gordon Van Tassell, said after his disappearance. "It was a couple [of affairs] and it was only out of the darkest frustration. Maybe just looking for relief or tenderness or something. It wasn't like he was a sex machine."
Regarding the Smiths' financial problems, they had bought their house when the market was booming and prices were high. As a result of the Great Recession, its market value had dropped to less than the money they still owed on the mortgage, leaving them upside down. While Gavin's job at Fox was secure, Lisa did not work. Like many other homeowners in that situation, they were trying to sell the house.
Smith attended CinemaCon, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners in Las Vegas. Upon his return to the Los Angeles area, he went not to his West Hills home but that of a female colleague and family friend on Kellwood Court in nearby Oak Park. The Smith family says the overnight stay at Gavin's friend's home was planned, despite recent marital difficulties that had led Evan Smith to criticize his father for "leaving the family" in a tweet (since deleted) two weeks earlier. He reportedly stopped speaking to Gavin as well. Evan later denied his parents were separating, saying "they were just going through normal stuff couples go through."
Lisa Smith, who had been busy attending to her ill mother, says she spoke with him during the day to arrange for him to pick up one of their other sons for school on the morning of May 2. According to the friend, the two were up watching television until sometime after 9 p.m. When the friend went to bed, Smith told him he would be following shortly. Instead, around 10 p.m., he apparently got into his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz E420 with California license plate 6EKT044 and left. One report claims that someone else on the street actually saw the car leave. No one has reported seeing him since then.
The Smiths say it was unlike Gavin to leave the house in the late evening without plans to do so or at least giving notice if the trip was unplanned. Their family friend reported that when he last saw Smith he was wearing purple workout pants that he had borrowed from Evan, with the intent of wearing them to bed. This choice of clothing, they believe, makes it unlikely that his sudden departure was expected, or that he was going anywhere where he expected to be seen. Further, he left his cellphone charger, a shaving kit and other personal belongings at the Oak Park house, so it is likely that he expected to return.
When Smith did not show up the next morning to pick up his son, or at work, both his family and coworkers reported him missing. Among the personal belongings that he did take with him when he left the Oak Park house were his cell phone and credit cards. Neither has been used since his disappearance. They could not identify anyone who might have had a reason to harm him, but believe that his fate or whereabouts are known. "We know someone knows something. There's no doubt that someone knows something," Smith's wife said. They believe his clothing and general appearance would not go unnoticed or unremembered.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) is leading the investigation. They have suggested that they have pings from his cell phone after 10 p.m. the night he disappeared, although they have not made the specifics public. "He was bouncing around the Valley or, at least, his phone was," said LACSD Sgt. John O'Brien. "We are talking about after bars close." On May 8, a male body was found in the Angeles National Forest near the Angeles Crest Highway above La Cañada Flintridge, but it was not Smith's.
The Smiths and their friends have been looking in ravines in the area or other places where his car might have gone off the road, without success. A volunteer search of remote areas planned for the weekend of May 19–20 was called off due to the lack of "a specific area of defined interest" to search in. Flyers were distributed and the LACSD has a special hotline number which, it says, has received "lots of tips". The family has put up a blog dedicated to the search and is offering a $20,000 reward. Evan Smith has been using his Twitter feed to spread the word on the search as well.
A possible sighting of Smith subsequent to the disappearance was reported at the end of the month. David Brill of Madison, Wisconsin, who had been traveling to Southern California on business around the time Smith disappeared, told a TV station in his hometown that he had seen Smith with a woman at a restaurant in Morro Bay on May 7. The next morning he read the story online and identified Smith as the man. The waitress who served the man also believed him to be Smith, and said that he paid in cash and told her that he and his companion would be staying in town for a couple of days and then continuing north up the Pacific coast. The restaurant claimed to have a security camera tape but would not release it to the media.
On June 8, police, accompanied by a SWAT team, executed a search warrant at a Canoga Park home belonging to a couple identified as John and Chandrika Creech, in connection with the case. After five hours, they emerged with several boxes and a computer, and towed away a black Audi sport-utility vehicle. Although searches like this are unusual in a missing-persons case, and homicide detectives were reportedly among the investigators present, the LACSD emphasized that it was still a missing-persons case and no evidence of foul play had yet been discovered. A lawyer for the Creeches who spoke with reporters at the scene said it was the second search of the house in the past month but refused to comment further. Later, it was reported that more than 20 search warrants had been issued so far and police had seized cellphones and other files from the Creech house.
Two weeks later, more details about why the Creeches' house might have been searched were reported. E! reported that Smith possibly had an affair with Chandrika, whom he had met while in therapy. After it had started in 2008, she had broken it off at the request of her husband, with whom she allegedly maintained an open marriage, living as a de facto separated couple in the house. John Creech, a convicted drug dealer who was facing new charges at the time of the search, had reportedly had no contact with Smith other than an email exchange in 2008.
Smith's family and friends spent the second weekend of July passing out fliers and putting up posters in Sylmar, the city's northernmost neighborhood. According to them, the detectives investigating Smith's disappearance said his last cellphone ping had come from the area. "The police have led us specifically to this area," she said to reporters.
Since the search of the Creeches, the LACSD has not made any more public moves related to the case. John Creech plead guilty to the drug charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison in September 2012. America's Most Wanted did a segment on the case in October.
Early that month, before the segment aired, Lisa Smith spoke at length about her life with Gavin in an interview with Britain's The Daily Mail. She said her husband had not only renewed his old affair with Chandrika Creech, but had begun a new one recently with a younger woman she identified as "Melanie", whom he'd met, like Creech, while being treated for prescription drug addiction. It had been the discovery of the latter affair that led her to throw him out of the house several weeks before his disappearance. She had not intended for the separation to be permanent, but, she said, "I couldn't cope with him cheating and I wanted to make it clear that he could never do that again.'
He had been living at his office until a coworker found out and let him live at her house, the one he had returned to and left the night of his disappearance. Lisa had found out that Gavin, always a profligate spender, had been taking money from his pension plan, and had spent most of his $30,000 bonus from Fox for the previous year on possibly setting Melanie and her children up with a place to live. Since Fox had stopped paying his salary two months after his disappearance, Lisa said, she was having difficulty paying the mortgage. In August they cleaned out his office and sent anything that the police did not need for their investigation to the Smiths' house.
His sister Tara Addeo, and John Creech's lawyer, told The Hollywood Reporter that the LACSD's search of the Creech residence had not yielded anything of use. She had nevertheless come to believe that he had become the victim of a crime. "I know that Gavin would not hurt himself, and I have a hard time believing that Gavin would ever walk away from his sons," she said. "The only other alternative is that there would have been foul play." A month later Lisa Smith told the Reporter that she had reached a similar conclusion. "I just don't picture him walking in and saying, 'I'm sorry; I just needed a breather.' I'm prepared for the worst."
On January 23, 2013, a vehicle seized at an unrelated Granada Hills drug bust turned out to belong to Creech. It led investigators to Gavin's missing Mercedes, found a month later at a Simi Valley storage facility, also connected with Creech, whom police continue to describe as a person of interest. In March, a sheriff's statement said detectives are now investigating the case as a homicide, although Gavin's body has not been found.
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