Profile of Brian David Mitchell and the Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

A Self-Proclaimed Angel or a Pedophile?

Brian David Mitchell, Elizabeth Smart's kidnapper, attends hearing
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Brian David Mitchell is the self-proclaimed angel from heaven who was sent to Earth to serve the destitute and correct the Mormon Church by restoring its fundamental values. He is also the man, along with his wife Wanda Barzee, who was found guilty of kidnapping the then 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart and holding her captive for nine months.


Brian David Mitchell was born on October 18, 1953, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the third of six children born at home to Mormon parents, Irene and Shirl Mitchell. Irene, a schoolteacher, and Shirl, a social worker, were vegetarians and raised their children on a regular diet of whole wheat bread and steamed vegetables. The family was described by neighbors as being odd but decent people.

Mitchell's Childhood Years

Brian Mitchell seemed like a normal child, involved in the Cub Scouts and Little League. Irene was a caring mother, but Shirl, by his own admission, had a questionable perspective on healthy child rearing. When Brian was eight, Shirl attempted to teach him about sex by showing him sexually explicit pictures in a medical journal. Other sexually oriented books were brought into the home and left within reach of the latchkey kid who had plenty of free time on his hands.

Shirl once attempted to teach his son a few lessons in life by dropping the 12-year-old Mitchell off in an unfamiliar area of town, instructing him to find his way home. As Brian got older, he became more argumentative with his parents and began to retreat into a world of isolation. He was quickly becoming the black sheep of the family.

Mitchell Exposes Himself to a Child

Around the age of 16, Brian was found guilty of exposing himself to a child and sent to a juvenile delinquents' hall. The stigma attached to his crime alienated Brian among his peers. Arguments between Brian and his mother were constant. The decision was made to send Brian to live with his grandmother. Not long after the move, Brian dropped out of school and began using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis.

Brian left Utah at 19 and soon married 16-year-old Karen Minor after she discovered she was pregnant. They had two children within the two years that they stayed together: son, Travis, and daughter, Angela. Their stormy relationship ended, and Mitchell gained custody of the children because of Karen's alleged infidelities and drug abuse. When Karen remarried, she regained legal custody of the children, but Mitchell took off with them to New Hampshire to prevent them from returning to their mother.

Mitchell Cleans Up His Act

In 1980, Mitchell's life changed after his brother returned from a religious mission and the two began to talk. Brian discontinued his drug and alcohol use and became active in the Latter Day Saints Church. By 1981, he was married to his second wife, Debbie Mitchell, who had three daughters from a previous marriage. With Debbie's three children and Brian's two children, the Mitchells had their hands full, but that did not stop the couple from having two more children soon after their marriage.

Mitchell's Abuse in His Second Marriage

It did not take long for the marriage to show signs of strain. Brian's two children were sent to foster homes. Debbie claimed that Mitchell turned from gentle to controlling and abusive, dictating what she could wear and eat and purposely trying to frighten her. His interest in Satan disturbed her, although Mitchell claimed he was learning about his enemy. Mitchell filed for divorce in 1984, claiming that Debbie was violent and cruel to his children and feared that she was turning them against him.

Within a year of their separation, Debbie called authorities to report her concerns that Mitchell may have sexually abused their three-year-old son. A caseworker for the Division of Child and Family Services could not directly link Mitchell to sexual abuse but recommended that future visits with the boy and Mitchell be supervised. Within the year, Debbie's daughter accused Mitchell of sexually abusing her for four years. Debbie reported the abuse to the LDS leaders but was advised to drop it.

Mitchell and Barzee Marry

On the same day that Mitchell and Debbie divorced, Mitchell married Wanda Barzee. Barzee was a 40-year-old divorcee with six children, whom she left with her ex-husband when she left the marriage. Barzee's family was accepting of 32-year-old Mitchell, although they found him to be strange. After their marriage, a few of Barzee's children moved in with the newlyweds but found their new home to be increasingly odd and threatening because of Mitchell's eccentric behavior.

Outsiders viewed the couple as normal hard-working Mormons. Mitchell was working as a die cutter and was actively involved with the LDS church, but close family and friends were aware of his tendency toward rage often unleashed on Barzee. He was becoming increasingly extreme both in his religious views and his interaction with fellow LDS members. Even his portrayal of Satan during temple rituals had become too extreme, to the point where he was asked by the elders to tone it down.

One night the Mitchells woke one of Barzee's sons and told him they just spoken to angels. The Mitchell home began to change drastically after that, so much so that Barzee's children, unable to take the constant proselytizing, moved away. By the 1990s, Mitchell changed his name to Emmanuel, discontinued his association with the church, and presented himself to others as a prophet of God whose beliefs were etched out by his prophetic visions.

Emmanuel and Wife God Adorneth

When the couple returned to Salt Lake City, Mitchell had taken on a Jesus-like look with a long beard and clad in his white robe. Barzee, now calling herself "God Adorneth," stayed by his side like a doting disciple, and the two were regular fixtures along the downtown streets. Families of the couple had little to do with them, and old friends who happened upon them were treated as strangers with panhandlers greeting and an extended hand.

The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

In the early morning of June 5, 2002, Brian David Mitchell kidnapped the then 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in her bedroom as her nine-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, witnessed the abduction. Following the kidnapping, Smart's family went on television and worked with the Laura Recover Center to gather 2,000 search volunteers to find Elizabeth but were unable to locate her. A few months later, in October, Elizabeth's sister recognized Mitchell's voice as "Emmanuel," a name Mitchell began calling himself. He had worked for the Smart family doing handiwork, but the police did not find him to be a valid lead. Thus, the Smart family utilized a sketch artist to draw his face and released it on "Larry King Live" and other media resources. This led to Mitchell ultimately being found with Elizabeth and Wanda nine months later on March 12, 2003.

After several trials over the years, Mitchell's insanity defense was destroyed on December 11, 2010. Elizabeth shared in court that she was repeatedly raped, and forced to watch sexual films and consume alcohol during her abduction. The jury found Mitchell guilty of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart with the intention of engaging her in ​sexual activity and was sentenced to life in prison in Arizona, while Barzee was sentenced to serve her imprisonment until the year 2024.