Justice for Chris Smith and the Conviction of Edward Shin – Part Two
So let’s go back a bit in time, prior to our visit to the office of 800xchange. As you already know, the building’s property manager asked us to track down the former owners of 800xchange, Chris Smith and Edward Shin, so they could be served with a complaint for skipping out on a $40,000 lease balance. Seems 800xchange had closed its business doors, and these two men were nowhere to be found.
With the investigation under way, locating Chris Smith, just to speak with him, was becoming a difficult task. Smith, a popular surname, you can imagine how many Smiths there were in Southern California.
When my partner and I were reviewing some paperwork, we came across the name and phone number of who we thought was Chris’s brother, Paul Smith, who also worked at 800xchange. Close enough, right? I decided to call him.
Revelations from the Little Brother
Paul was cordial on the phone, though wary of getting a call from a private investigator. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who wanted to get some answers from Chris Smith. During our conversation Paul gave a few tidbits of information to chew on.
He confided that Chris had inexplicably “forgot” to pick he and his family up at at the airport, as previously planned. Paul learned that Chris had dumped his long-time girlfriend, and without telling anyone but his business partner, Shin, jetted off to South America with a former playboy model, named Tiffany Taylor. Huh? What? This case was getting interesting.
I believe this is a good time to put a bit more meat on the bones of this case. Unbeknownst to us, Chris Smith was already declared a missing person.
Case Opened… and Closed
Chris’s father, Steve Smith, suspicious of the bizarre actions of his son and having been in receipt of a slew of odd emails claiming to be from Chris, opened a missing persons case with the Laguna Beach Police Department. Steve traveled down from Bend, Oregon, to Southern California to file the case. The LBPD opened (and soon closed) the missing person’s case, indicating Chris was an adult male who chose to leave his responsibilities, family, and business.
Skip Trace Leads Back to the Space
Returning to the mundane investigative part of this process, skip traces for back payment of rent were generally unglamorous affairs. It involved a good deal of phone calls, knocking on doors and chair surfing on the Internet looking for any information that could help us track down those who flee from paying their debts. Not the most exciting of jobs, but a service we offer our clients. This was a normal task performed by a private investigator and we were doing our due diligence for our client.
Behind the Office Door
So, going back to that afternoon when my partner, Chris Heuberger, and I entered the former offices of 800xchange for the first time, I didn’t know it was going to be an extraordinary day. I never imagined it would morph into giving eight years of my life towards this investigation which would then lead to a murder trial.
Trusting your gut is what you might call an investigator’s superpower. Even though there was no reason to suspect foul play, as we walked through the door at 800xchange, I couldn’t shake the fact that the space felt “off” somehow.
Looking back, it’s funny how something as simple as flipping on a light switch could start the series of events that transpired.
In my former career as a detective, I had witnessed plenty of bloody scenes. It’s normal in police work, but not at all normal for the average person to see. I know what blood looks like when it’s fresh, when it’s dry, and all states in between. I didn’t need a forensic team to tell me the brown-colored smudge on the light switch was blood. Superpowers, remember? And blood drops are like rats. Where there’s one, there’s always more hiding just out of plain sight.
Anyone who’s watched a television crime show (I guess the bad guys don’t), know it’s nearly impossible to clean up a crime scene without leaving trace evidence behind. Technology is so advanced now you’d have to be the smartest guy alive to beat the system. Notice I said, “be.” Criminals, in general, just think they are. I guess they wouldn’t commit crimes if they thought they were going to be caught, would they?
The Narcissistic Sociopath
Narcissism is not an uncommon trait among murderers. A true narcissist believes he/she is smarter than the rest of us, and in truth, some are. But there’s always an eventual slip up. Coming up with legitimate reasons for why they walked into Walmart at midnight and purchased duct tape, a roll of heavy-duty plastic and a shovel begins a cat-and-mouse game that’s difficult for most to play. Once the lies begin, though, it’s hard for them to keep track of exactly what they said.
A little insider tip: Police interrogations last long for just this reason. Detectives know time is on their side. Truth is easy to recount. Lies, on the other hand, are only as good as the bad guy’s memory.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the offices of 800xchange.
Blood Evidence Everywhere
Once Chis and I discovered the blood on the light switch, it wasn’t that difficult to find more. Just like rats. We found it on the baseboard, the ceiling and the door casing, and that was just with the naked eye.
My intuition that something bad had happened here became more plausible with each new discovery. Blood doesn’t end up on the ceiling from a paper cut or a bloody nose. Science tells us that. Something much more sinister occurred and we were just starting to realize what we were walking into.
Up to now, all we knew was a couple of guys had a once successful business here; one guy bought the other out; and they both skipped out on the rent, blood or no blood.
Armed with this newly discovered evidence, we strongly believed there was enough reason to suspect foul play. First step, though, was to reopen the missing person’s case.
When Friends Come in Handy
The Blue Line is a family, and if you’ve been a police officer for any amount of time, you’ve made lifelong friends with others in surrounding county and city departments. Since the offices of 800xchange were located in San Juan Capistrano, if you add to that the suspicious disappearance of Chris Smith and now blood evidence, this was a whole new ballgame. Jurisdiction was outside the LBPD lines and it landed with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Since this case had already been opened and closed by the LBPD, who, by the way, never investigated the offices of 800Xchange, I reached out to my childhood friend, Investigator Don Voght of the OC Sheriff’s Department Homicide Division. Voght and his partner, Ray Wert, listened as we recounted all the real and circumstantial evidence we found.
In hindsight upon review of this case, some might say the detectives with the Laguna Beach Police Department handled the case incompetently. It’s easy to Monday Morning Quarterback and critique someones work, or lack of. However, I am sure they had reasons of their own to do or not do what they felt was important at that time during their investigation. Or, it could have been something simply overlooked. No matter how you look at it, police officers are not infallible, and I am sure they would have loved to put this murderer away themselves.
You have to understand the life of a police detective. Overworked and buried in mountains of tedious paperwork, they are required to handle multiple cases simultaneously and often do with little to no sleep. But one thing’s for certain and should not go unmentioned. There are many other good things those particular LPBD detectives have done, investigated and solved, brought closures to other victims and families, as well as sent many, many very bad people away to prison.
As a retired police officer, who’s now doing private investigations, I know my strengths and weaknesses. That is why I surround myself by a lot of talented people, with a strong work ethic, good moral compass, and many years of experience, who still want to help people, love to do the work, and see if they can bring closure to someone, or provide answers to their current situation.
But now, a few doors down from our office, the vacant office space at 29222 Rancho Viejo Road, Suite 123, in San Juan Capistrano, California, was a bona fide crime scene.
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