Kelsey Ann Smith (May 3, 1989 – June 2, 2007) was an Overland Park, Kansas teenager who disappeared on June 2, 2007 and was murdered that evening. The story was featured in the international media, including on America's Most Wanted, before her body was found near a lake in Missouri on June 6, 2007.
Smith was last seen at 7:07 p.m. CST on June 2, 2007 in the parking lot at a Target store at 97th and Quivira, behind the Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kansas. Police, other authorities and the national media launched an extensive publicity campaign and search for Smith.
Abduction and investigation
Surveillance video from Target showed Smith purchasing a present for her boyfriend to celebrate six months together. Her last call had been to her mother from the store. She then left the store before she disappeared. Approximately four hours later, her car, a 1990 era Ford Crown Victoria, was found abandoned outside of Macy's in Oak Park Mall's parking lot across the street. Her purse, wallet, and the items she had bought were left in the car.
Target stores use a large number of video cameras, and these can often be enhanced internally through their Target Forensic Services division. The surveillance footage showed her parking her car and entering the store. It even showed where she was when she called her mother. She picked out the items that were later found in the car. She did not seem to talk to anyone there except the cashier. According to the cashier, she did not see or notice anything unusual in the store and not in Kelsey's behavior.
There was however strong evidence that Smith had been abducted; surveillance video from Target appeared to show someone forcing Smith into her car. The video at first did not show anything unusual but a careful look once slowed down showed a flash in that screen in the direction of Kelsey and her car. The flash was consistent with someone running when the camera is placed at a distance.
According to the program See No Evil, the Macy's surveillance video showed the car had been left about two hours after her car left the Target lot. The time stamp read 9:17pm. A figure in white shirt and dark pants was seen leaving the vehicle and running toward the street. However it was too dark at that time to tell if the figure was male or female. Target video of the parking lot about that time showed a suspicious 1970s-era Chevrolet truck leaving at about that time.
The detectives reasoned that if she were deliberately singled out for abduction, then her stalker must have been in the store watching her. Going back to the security cameras they noticed that a male figure, who was white and in his early twenties, seemed to be in every aisle and in almost every part of the footage showing Kelsey — but at a discreet distance. Investigators also noticed he was wearing a white shirt and dark shorts. When they looked at the video of her entering they saw him coming in about thirty seconds later. He made no effort to talk to her or approach her in the store but left just as she went to the cashier. The surveillance showed a good picture of him leaving the store.
While no crime was committed at that point—after all he could claim he was just browsing—the fact that he was in almost every aisle she was in and seem to be looking at her, or at least in her direction, was too much of a coincidence for the police to ignore. Moreover, the man was wearing similar clothing as the figure seen in the Macy's video. When the video still of the man was released to the media, it generated hundreds of tips but they were too general to be useful.
Furthermore, when the car was checked for forensic evidence fingerprint experts isolated all those who had legitimate reasons to be in the car such as Kelsey's family, friends, and boyfriend. As a result, they found unidentified prints on the seat belt.
Finally the investigator looked at the surveillance and expanded it. When they saw the Chevy pickup leaving they looked at the earlier footage to see it arriving just before Kelsey drove in. The camera from the front of the store showed the driver clearly. They reasoned it was the subject and released that footage.
Police detectives reportedly found the body because of a cell phone ping that originated from the area on June 2, and a number of search areas were identified. Despite efforts by local law enforcement and eventually the FBI, it took Verizon Wireless four days to hand over the cell phone records to investigators. There is much controversy on why it took Verizon so long to cooperate with law enforcement. A Verizon technician pinpointed a cell phone tower and told investigators to search 1.1 miles north of the tower. Within 45 minutes, on June 6, 2007, at 1:30 p.m. local time, searchers discovered Smith's body in a wooded area near Longview Lake in southern Jackson County, Grandview, Missouri, 18 to 20 miles from where she had been abducted. Upon report of her death, a website dedicated to the search for her went offline, and was quickly remade into a dedication site. Through subsequent investigation, the cause of death was determined to be strangulation. She had been choked with her own belt. The autopsy also showed she was sexually assaulted.
A man who had seen the footage of the subject remarked it looked like a neighbor of his. He joked about it to the neighbor. The next day when he saw the information on the truck he called in a tip.
On the evening of June 6, 2007, police arrested 26-year-old Edwin Roy "Jack" Hall of Olathe, Kansas. Hall was in the process of leaving town with his wife and son, supposedly on vacation when the police arrived.
Hall was charged on June 7, 2007 with premeditated first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping. Hall had no adult criminal record, but had a juvenile record of assault. Hall, who had been adopted at age seven, had been returned to state custody at age 15 after threatening the family's daughter with a knife. Hall also assaulted another boy by striking him in the head with a baseball bat, which may account for the juvenile record of assault. Police do not believe Hall knew Smith. At the time of his arrest, Hall was married and the father of a four-year-old son. Hall admitted to being there but claimed he never approached her but soon was caught in a lie when his fingerprints matched the ones on the seat belt.
Hall was arraigned via video hookup on June 7, and bond was set at US$5 million. On Wednesday, August 1, Hall was indicted by a Johnson County, Kansas, grand jury for murder, rape, and aggravated sodomy. The charges made Hall eligible for the death penalty, which Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline decided to seek.
Because the body had been found in a different state (Missouri), some argued for federal jurisdiction, but because Hall was arrested and in custody in Johnson County, that jurisdiction had the legal authority to pursue the case.
On July 23, 2008, as part of a plea agreement, Hall pleaded guilty to all four charges brought against him. Hall's plea came during what was supposed to be a change-of-venue hearing. The courtroom was jammed with Smith's parents and other family members, friends and reporters. The hearing was carried live on all four of Kansas City's network affiliates.
It is believed Hall spotted her driving in after he arrived. He noticed she was alone and thus began following her in store to assure himself she was not meeting anyone. When he saw her about to leave he went to his truck and got his gun. He waited until she was most vulnerable, when she was getting ready to leave before he struck. He took her 20 miles away to the Missouri woods where he sexually assaulted and strangled her.
The hearing came a day after a judge ruled that prosecutors could still seek the death penalty for Hall after a judge denied a defense motion seeking dismissal of the case on a technicality.
On September 16, 2008, Johnson County District Judge Peter V. Ruddick sentenced Hall to life in prison without parole for the kidnapping, rape, and murder. In court, Hall apologized to Smith's family for his actions.
Hall is incarcerated in the Hutchinson, Kansas, Correctional Facility.
Kelsey Smith Act
It is believed Verizon Wireless was reluctant to locate or "ping" the cell phone because of the privacy laws governing such actions. Cell phone service providers would generally do this upon the request of the subscriber but not if anyone else did so, including law enforcement authorities—unless a court order is issued—which took time.
This led to the passing of the law mentioned in the title. Cell phone companies can ping the cell phone if the authorities determine the subscriber is in danger. Most US states have passed the law and there is a debate in the United States Congress to federalize the law.
In at least one instance in February 2015 in Lenexa, not far from where Kelsey Smith grew up, the law was acted upon when a thief stole a car while the parents were just outside. He ran down a pedestrian in a hit-and-run but did not know there was a 5-month-old baby in the back seat. The police found the car a half-hour later at a convenience store after having pinged the mother's cell phone which was still in the purse on the front seat. The driver escaped and as of 2015 is still at large. It is believed that once he realized there was a baby he decided to ditch the car since in addition to car theft and hit-and-run he would face kidnapping charges.
National media attention
Beyond local Kansas City news affiliate coverage, the case received prominent national media attention, including coverage by national news services Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, Nancy Grace, Today Show, The Mind of a Murderer, and on an episode of the television show See No Evil, which aired in Canada on Slice, and in the United States on Investigation Discovery.