around the world

A trip that was not: as an American attempt to escape from routine turned into a criminal drama

Chris Smith in California. Photo by Steve Smith

In June 2010, 30-year-old Chris Smith (Chris Smith), who had just sold a stake in his advertising company, received a million dollars in his hands. To mark this, he decided to go with the former model of the Playboy magazine Tiffany on a sea voyage. About his plans, the American told his family and friends by e-mail when he already rented a 13-meter yacht in Las Vegas with the captain and cook and was preparing to sail to South America.

At that moment, Smith fulfilled his dream, his family believed. Only more half a year later, when the private location of a private investigator became interested in the whereabouts of a man, and he himself stopped communicating, the relatives asked the question: where did he actually go? The history of the search for the missing told the publication GQ.

Dream of leaving

When Smith’s relatives and friends first learned about his plans to go on a long trip, they were not surprised. For years, the American planned to leave the US for the best place. He called people “Mu”, because he believed that they too often behave like cows. They blindly trust the government, massively consume pharmaceutical “poison” and ignore the obvious, in the opinion of Smith, conspiracy around them.

The American pasted the webcam on the computer, so that he was not watched by the CIA agents, invested in gold and regularly thought about the “rescue plan”. Together with friends, he intended to leave the country for a more intense life – in Tahiti, where you can spend whole days surfing, or on a farm in Costa Rica. Summing up, Smith’s plan for life was this: get rich, quit your job and start traveling.

In June 2010, an American sent his brother Paul a photograph of his companion Tiffany with a signature: “This is the girl I’m with now.” July 10, Smith reported on a visit to Peru and Chile, and then promised to visit 25 more islands. “I like it so much that maybe I will never go back. HA. I was joking, “- said in a message on August 4.

Chris Smith with a surfboard in the south of California. Photo by Steve Smith

However, a month later Smith’s parents, Steve and Debi, received a darker message. The American wrote that he was not feeling well, was taking drugs and thinking about suicide. Prior to this, a 30-year-old man never talked about such thoughts, so relatives immediately pricked up their ears. But his brother understood the gravity of the situation – leaving, Smith worried that he would be sued, and for part of his money come from the tax service. “It looked like he was plunged deep into the bottom. Something was badly wrong, “Paul recalls.

According to the friends of the businessman, the thought of leaving the US for a better life visited him for a long time. He was born in California and in his youth professionally engaged in wakeboarding, but once he hit the water at a speed of about 96 kilometers per hour and tore the Achilles tendon. After leaving the sport, in 2004 the American thought about the future: he liked to surf and have fun at parties, but he did not want to become an ordinary beach party-goer. Instead, Smith worked days out in an attempt to realize his dream and become an entrepreneur in the technological field.

Smith launched a search site for wholesale of essential goods at a discounted price, which at the peak of popularity in 2006 brought the businessman 72 thousand dollars a month. In parallel, he created a social network for surfers Swellster – the site never gained popularity, but helped Smith to establish links with people from advertising and marketing. So in 2008 he met Edward Shin (Edward Shin)

New business – new opportunities

Unlike his future companion, 40-year-old Shin graduated from the University of California in 2001, and actively participated in student life. While Smith was entertaining with numerous girls, Shin was already married and raised three children, regularly visiting the local Christian church. Despite such striking differences in priorities, friends quickly became friends and partners. “We were very ambitious and wanted to make a lot of money,” Shin later said.

In April 2009, businessmen opened an advertising company 800Xchange. “Refinance your mortgage!”, “Reduce debt on the loan!”, “Deceive the Internal Revenue Service of the United States” – about such services promoted Smith and Sheen. People saw the advertisement, called the number and called their names. Then 800Xchange sold these data to mortgage companies, firms to solve problems with debts or anyone who was willing to pay.

Despite the ambiguity of this business, the company’s revenues grew rapidly. In five months, the firm’s revenue was a million dollars, and 80% of it is net profit. The following year, the initial figure increased to three million, and in the third year it was already $ 5-8 million.

The building of the hotel, in one of whose rooms was the office of the company 800Xchange. GQ photo

Like Smith, Shina could be called a successful start-up, if not for his past. He once made friends with the director of the technology company LG Technologies, Joseph Gray, and he helped him get a job as president of the company. Soon Shin began secretly from a friend to transfer the company’s funds to his personal account.

This was not the first time a fraud in the history of the Californian. In 2007, the publishing company that printed the circulation of the sports magazine Shina, seized from him 117 thousand dollars for unpaid bills. It is alleged that the man even deceived his opponent during the world poker tournament for a six-figure debt. Presumably, the player was so angry that he thought to hire a killer to take revenge on Sheen.

An old American friend, Tom Raimi, said that he was suffering from gambling and once in an hour he lost about $ 140,000 in blackjack. In court on the case of theft of funds from LG Technologies, the prosecution claimed that only in 2008 Shin spent 185 thousand dollars of the firm in the casino.

In Las Vegas, the Californian met Smith. Together with Raimi, they paid the former Playboy Tiffany model, so that she would pay attention to Smith. Shin forbade Raimi to tell anyone that they paid the girl. “The goal was to create the illusion that the guy is so steep that he can appear in some place and the women will begin to mellow, and he can fuck everyone,” Raimi explained.

It is not known how much Smith knew about his partner’s past mistakes, but in 2010 he decided to sell his share in the 800Xchange and begin to live for fun.

The journey is delayed

For the fifth month since the departure of Smith, the suicidal tone has disappeared from his reports. Instead, an American who started his journey from South America told about a visit to India, Turkey, Morocco and Egypt, where he met a certain person and went with him to the east of Africa.

“Through the north I will reach Egypt and then I will come to Spain, and from there I will go to Rica ( Costa Rica – note  ). Will we meet there in February so that we can postpone and chat? “Smith wrote to his brother. On December 26, Paul received another message, where an American said he was returning home through the Congo. After that, he no longer contacted.

When Paul contacted the hotel manager in Costa Rica, who often visited his brother, he found out that Smith had not booked a place. Feeling wrong, the American applied for the loss of a person to the police department of Laguna Beach, where he lived Smith before his trip. The father of the missing, Steve, began a parallel investigation – he met with Shin and he explained why the police can not track the American on passport activity.

According to a businessman’s partner, he traveled on fake documents, which was made by a certain person from southern California. Shin looked troubled and offered to help find the author of a fake passport, but he disappeared somewhere, and his phone was turned off. The police also proved powerless – the investigators tried to track Smith’s movements through the face recognition system, expecting that he was captured by a surveillance camera in one of the visiting countries. Attempts were futile.

In June 2011, Shin told the police that LG Technologies sued him at 805 thousand dollars, and suggested that this partly forced his partner to flee. Smith advised the company and was mentioned in the lawsuit, and although charges against him were almost immediately dropped, he was worried about his financial condition.

“Honestly, I think he is now at the other end of the world and does not want to be found,” Shin said. The traveler did mention the trial in the messages, promising to return only in case of full confidence in his safety.

Private detective, blood stains and unfinished business

Although Shin had a more or less convincing version of the reasons for the disappearance of the partner, his financial affairs were also not in the best condition. In January 2011, the businessman took the things from the 800Xchange office and disappeared without paying the landlord 40 thousand dollars. The owner of the room immediately turned to private detective Joe Dalu for help, so that he could find the missing executives of the company – Shina and Smith.

The detective at once seemed strange that one of the partners was absent for so long. Coincidentally, he worked with businessmen in the same building and often walked past their office. When he was hired to find the runaways, he first asked the manager of the building whether the place of their work is still free. “Yes,” the detective confirmed. “I suggested that the police look in there, but they refused.” When Dahl and the manager entered the office and turned on the light at Smith’s desk, they saw small, dark drops that looked like blood.

Private detective Joe Dalu at the entrance to the office of the company 800Xchange. GQ photo

Arriving police confirmed – it really was the blood of a missing American. She was spattered with a switch and a door handle, walls, carpet and ceiling.

For those few who knew the background of Smith and Shin, the signs of violence in their office only confirmed fears. Back in May 2010, an American complained about the strange behavior of Shin and said that he wanted to leave the company. Shortly before the summer, he hired a security guard who watched all the checks of the firm with a sum of more than $ 500 be signed by both owners. On June 4, 2010, six days before Smith’s “sailing”, he asked his lawyer to look after his partner, fearing that he was preparing to make a new deception.

According to Shin, the same evening he met with a friend, they agreed on the terms of sale of the company and signed the necessary papers. Then Smith took the money and left. This version suited the police, until a drop of blood was found in the office.

Smith never received a million dollars from Shin and did not rent a yacht to travel with his girlfriend. As the police found out, a photograph of the companion was downloaded from the Internet. On August 28, 2011, investigators arrested Shin at the airport when he was boarding in Canada and charged him with “murder with special circumstances for financial gain.”

Travel without completion

After several hours of interrogation, Shin confessed that his meeting with the partner went a little differently than he told initially. Allegedly, they argued about who should clean garbage in the office, and began to fight. Defensively, Shin pushed Smith, he hit his head on the corner of the table and almost stopped moving.

After that, Shin, as he claims, called his friend Joni “Vegas” Koponen (Johnny Vegas Koponen) and asked to “get rid of the garbage.” The interlocutor agreed, asked to leave the door to the office open and prepare 10-15 thousand dollars of payment. The businessman said that he does not know about the future fate of the body, while Koponen himself denies the dialogue at all.

The police believe that after the scuffle, the American received access to his email from the working computer and the account of the victim killed in social networks. To ward off suspicion, Shin invented the story of Smith’s journey around the world. The version of the unintentional murder was completely rejected by the prosecution, pointing out that if the deceased really died after hitting his head on the table, the ceiling of the office would not have been splashed with blood. This could only happen if he was beaten with a knife or a blunt object.

Edward Sheen. Photo of the California Police

For the investigation, Shin’s motive was obvious – he already had to pay LG Tecnologies 805 thousand dollars and did not want to give another million to the partner. This is indicated by the fact that a few hours after the alleged murder, Shin wrote to Smith’s lawyer, saying that he is ready to sell his share not for a million, but for 45 thousand dollars.

Two months before his arrest, Shin began to blog, where he mostly wrote about his goals, faith and forgiveness for some sins. However, he did not specify which sins he was talking about.

It does not matter whether you are a seasoned killer who holds the cross a few hours before his death, or comes from a good Christian family whose covenants led you to Jesus even before you committed a serious sin, we are all human beings. So yes, I’m sorry. And yes, one day I will do everything possible so that the things I have accomplished bring as much benefit as possible.

Edward Shin
Californian entrepreneur

The trial of Shin began in January 2018. Since then, nothing has been reported about the new details of the proceedings. Smith’s body has not yet been found.

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