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Crime News Dateline

Married Father Kills Business Partner as Part of "Diabolical" Scheme

For months, Chris Smith's family believed he was taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world, until discovering the heartbreaking truth.

By Jill Sederstrom

Handsome businessman Chris Smith seemed to have everything: a successful business, beautiful girlfriend, and laid back California lifestyle. 

How to Watch

Catch up on Dateline: Unforgettable on Peacock or the Oxygen App.

But in the summer of 2010, Chris seemingly cast his old life aside, selling his interest in his business, breaking up with his girlfriend via text and setting off on a boat trip across the world, according to Dateline: Unforgettable.

For six months, Chris’ family got a series of emails from the jet-setter, detailing his adventures alongside a Playboy playmate as they trekked from one exotic locale to another. 

But when the emails came to a sudden end and Chris’ family reached out to the U.S. Department of State to investigate their son’s whereabouts, they made a chilling discovery: Chris had never left the United States. He had instead met a grim fate months earlier by a crafty and heartless killer, who later assumed the dead man’s identity to deceive his close-knit family for months.

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“For a family, a thinking, caring family, it was like a year in a house of illusions,” Correspondent Keith Morrison remarked.

Who was Chris Smith?

Chris had always been a fiercely independent, creative thinker who loved the outdoors and surfing. 

“He’s one of those people that thought anything was possible,” his brother Paul Smith recalled.

After a stint in community college, Chris found success as an entrepreneur in California’s thriving tech world, focusing on advertising.

By 2009, Chris was looking for his next adventure and moved to Laguna Beach, California where he teamed with Ed Shin to create 800XChange, a lead generation company. 

In many ways, the business partners seemed like opposites. While Chris was a laidback single guy who spent his free time catching the next wave, Shin was a married, father of four and faithful church attendee.

Yet, together, the business thrived. Chris began seeing a beautiful girl, who he confessed to his family might be “the one.” 

Chris Smith's Emails to Family Members

Then, in June of 2010, Chris seemingly abruptly shifted course. He broke up with his girlfriend via text and emailed his family, telling them he’d sold his share of the business and was embarking on a three-week sailing trip to the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica.

Chris’ family was surprised, but he had always been impulsive and, according to Paul, had seemed “very stressed” in the weeks leading up to the life-changing decision. 

“I wanted the best for him, whatever decision he was going to make,” Paul said. 

Chris told his family in the emails that he’d taken the trip with a Playboy playmate — a detail that struck them as odd. As the weeks went on, Chris emailed that he’d decided to extend his trip, traveling around South America and heading toward Africa. 

In one final email sent on December, 26, 2010, Chris told his family he planned to embark on a dangerous plan to sell his gold krugerrands to a dealer in Rwanda who would pay “30% mark up.” 

“Only out here is this [expletive] like real currency,” he wrote. 

Paul admitted he believed his brother had “lost his marbles” by carrying out such a dangerous plan and began to suspect something just wasn’t right. 

Chris’ father Steve — a former cop — had the same feeling and when the emails stopped, he reached out to the U.S. Department of State, hoping to track his son’s movements through the use of his passport. 

But Steve was stunned to learn that Chris’ passport had never been used and there was no evidence he’d ever left the United States. 

Steve drove to Laguna Beach and spoke with Shin, who told him Chris had used a fake passport to leave the country. Yet, something still didn’t feel right to Steve, who decided to report his son missing to the Laguna Beach Police. 

When detectives spoke with Shin, he told them that Chris wanted out of the business and agreed to sell Shin his portion of the business before taking off on his trip. According to Shin, he’d kept up with Chris through email and even wired him money to India as part of a regular payment for his business shares.

“I don’t know where he is,” he insisted. “I mean, honestly, I think he’s on the other side of the world.”

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A crime scene is uncovered

Edward Shin Pd

Shin’s claims began to fall apart after private investigator Joe Dalu was asked to investigate the situation by the property manager where the 800XChange office had once been located. 

The company had moved out months earlier, leaving a large amount of unpaid bills. 

Dalu went inside the office and was surprised to find what he thought was blood on a light switch and door jam. 

He called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, who brought in crime scene investigators. 

They discovered even more blood, including a large dark stain on the concrete beneath the carpet. DNA tests would later reveal the blood belonged to Chris. 

Detectives also learned that at the time Chris disappeared, Shin had been on probation for embezzling money from another company. If he didn’t pay $700,000 in restitution in the case, he’d be sent to prison.

“Ed Shin’s desperate, he’s got a large debt that he’s paying off because of a criminal case and he’s got a wife and four kids,” former Sgt. Ray Wert told Morrison. 

Ed Shin's Confession

Orange County detectives brought Shin in for questioning. 

He initially denied knowing anything about Chris’ death, but after detectives told him they were placing him under arrest for first-degree murder, Shin changed his story. He claimed he had killed Chris in self defense after a paranoid Chris had attacked him in the office. Shin claimed Chris fell and hit head on the desk and died. 

He then admitted to spending months impersonating Chris online to throw off his family. 

However, prosecutors didn’t buy Shin’s story and believed the married father had killed Chris in cold-blood after Chris started to suspect he might be stealing from the company. 

“This case was about greed at its most diabolical and base form,” prosecutor Matt Murphy said. “He killed a really nice guy over money so that he could go gambling in Vegas. But to then assume his identify online and torture his family like this, it’s awful.” 

He suggested to a jury in 2018 that Shin beat or stabbed Chris to death in his office, before disposing of his body. Shin has never revealed the location of the body. 

To throw everyone off his trail, just minutes after killing Chris, Shin sent an email posing as his slain business partner to an attorney, falsely claiming he had agreed to sell off his shares of the company to Shin. With complete control of the business, Shin was able to siphon off the money he needed.

Shin’s attorneys, however, claimed once again that Chris was killed in self-defense after he attacked Shin at the office. 

It took the jury less than an hour to convict him of first-degree murder for financial gain. 

Shin, who is now serving a life sentence behind bars, has still refused to give any information about the location of Chris’ body.

“There are just some secrets a man is willing to give up his life for,” Shin ominously told Morrison from behind bars.