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Celebration was in the air on the evening of June 2, 2007 when Kelsey Smith, a college-bound 18-year-old, left her home in Overland Park, Kansas.
Kelsey was just going to the local Target to buy her boyfriend, John, a scrapbook to mark their six-month anniversary. But Kelsey never returned home and stopped answering her phone.
“I just knew something was bad,” Missey Smith, her mother, told “Final Moments,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
John and Kelsey’s sister Lindsey went to the mall to search. Her father, Greg Smith, a veteran cop, called police departments to find out if car accidents had been reported.
John and Lindsey found Kelsey’s car in the mall across the street from the Target shopping center and left it untouched until police arrived. Kelsey was not in the car, nor were her phone or keys.
The car was towed to the Johnson County Sheriff's Office crime lab where it was processed for fingerprints and DNA.
Kelsey’s family members and boyfriend were interviewed and after their alibis were checked out they were cleared as suspects.
Authorities raced to obtain Kelsey’s cell phone records. Had she made calls to meet someone? Red tape prevented police from getting the records immediately. While they waited for the records, investigators obtained Target surveillance footage.
Video showed Kelsey entering the store, walking through aisles and collecting items, checking out, and exiting into the parking lot.
“The outside video shows Kelsey walking to her car, putting her items in the passenger side door, and getting in the driver's side door,” said Candace Bridges, a retired Overland Park, Kansas PD detective. “Then she drives away.”
At this point, the case wasn’t officially considered an abduction or a missing person.
“We couldn’t say for sure that we had a missing person taken against their will. Or if we just had a young lady who wasn't ready to be found yet,” said Bridges.
While the search for Kelsey continued, detectives reviewed video footage showing Kelsey’s car being parked in the mall across the street from Target. It showed an unidentifiable male figure getting out of the vehicle and walking away. Authorities scrutinized footage of Kelsey in the Target parking lot in search of any sign of the male figure seen driving her car.
They were stunned by what they observed.
“As Kelsey is opening her driver’s side door you see a flash of a figure wearing a white shirt and dark colored pants come up from behind her,” said Bridges. “We believe the blurry figure was forcing Kelsey into her car.”
Investigators went back to the video of Kelsey inside Target. Police discovered that Kelsey was being watched by a Caucasian male wearing a white top and black shorts. She was being trailed.
“You’ve seen the National Geographic shows where the predator is circling,” said Det. Sgt. Bob Miller, a retired member of the Overland, Kansas PD. “That's what you see.”
When the image of the suspect, who appeared to be in his 20s and had a goatee, was released to the media and the public, police were flooded with tips.
“The majority of them weren’t valid,” said Officer Andrew Black, a retired member of the Overland Park, Kansas PD, who worked the tip line.
But some tips stood out. Multiple calls came in that named the suspect as Edwin Hall. Investigators confirmed through a driver’s license photo that Hall was a match for the man in the video.
“He was a local resident with a couple of different addresses on file,” said Bridges, adding the initial attempts to locate Hall were unsuccessful.
On June 6, four days after Kelsey vanished, a tipster said she recognized the man in the photo as an individual who called himself Jack. The caller knew where that individual lived.
When police arrived at the man’s address, he confirmed that he went by the name Jack and agreed to be interviewed at the station. While being questioned, he revealed that his legal name was Edwin Hall.
Miller showed Hall a picture of Kelsey in order to gauge his reaction. Hall denied ever seeing her. When investigators showed Hall security footage from Target, he admitted being in the store but said he never saw Kelsey.
“He offered up DNA, fingerprints, anything he could do to help eliminate himself, which was quite surprising,” said Miller.
Miller pressed Hall about seeing Kelsey in the store. The investigator told producers the suspect admitted he had and said, “She had great legs.” The remark shocked the investigator.
“My skin started crawling,” he told producers.
Investigators caught a break when a local waitress reached out, saying Hall was the same individual who harassed her and skipped out without paying his bill. Hall was booked for the restaurant theft.
Around the same time, Kelsey’s phone records became available.
“The final ping on her phone was in a wooded area known as Longview Lake,” said Bridges.
Police focused their search efforts there. The nude body of a woman fitting Kelsey’s description was found under a pile of branches. A nylon belt was around her neck.
DNA testing later confirmed the Smith family’s worst fears. The victim was Kelsey.
The examination of Kelsey’s body revealed that she had been sexually assaulted and died from strangulation. Hall
Shortly after Kelsey’s body was discovered, the crime lab matched Hall’s thumbprint on the back of the driver’s seat belt buckle in the victim’s car.
Hall was charged with kidnapping and murder, as well as rape and sodomy.
Eighteen months later, the trial was to begin. Hall pleaded guilty to the charges to avoid the death penalty.
Before the sentencing, Kelsey’s three sisters and younger brother and her parents gave testimonials, reported kmbc.com. Hall was sentenced to life in prison.
To learn more about the case, watch “Final Moments,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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