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Police say Smart investigation has consumed 4,250 man hoursSALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Capt. Cory Lyman was at a family gathering when his cell phone rang the night of Aug. 27.
Richard Ricci, the top potential suspect in the mysterious kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, had a brain hemorrhage and wasn't expected to recover.
Lyman, who heads up the Elizabeth Smart Task Force, hung up in utter disbelief.
"I just thought, 'What else can go wrong?"' Lyman recalled.
"This case has been fraught with unusual occurrences."
It's been almost five months since Elizabeth disappeared from her bedroom on June 5. Her family marked her 15th birthday on Sunday in seclusion.
Theories of how and why the girl was taken still divide members of the task force, made up of three Salt Lake police detectives and two FBI investigators.
"We've got people there that believe strongly different things, and from my perspective, that's extremely healthy," Lyman said.
The three most plausible theories are that Elizabeth was kidnapped for ransom, abducted in a bungled burglary or whisked away by a sexual predator.
Ed and Lois Smart say any of those scenarios could be possible.
They're also certain the kidnapper knew the layout of their house. But the family is haunted by the "why issue," Ed Smart said. "Why would anyone take her? What for?"
While Lyman said investigators never received any legitimate ransom requests, "realize that a kidnapping for ransom can be bungled. That could have been the intent. We don't know."
Investigators are working off a list of three to five possible suspects including Ricci, Lyman said. Police refuse to identify the others.
Some law enforcement sources have speculated Ricci's death effectively ended the investigation, but Lyman demurs.
"No, the case did not die with Ricci," Lyman said. "It certainly set back some of the theories of the case. Mr. Ricci had information, either culpable or exculpable that only he knew."
Before his sudden death, Ricci denied any involvement in Elizabeth's kidnapping, but court documents show he admitted to stealing jewelry, a perfume bottle and wine glass filled with sea shells from the Smart house.
And in an eerily similar case, court documents state Ricci admitted to breaking into another house in the Smart neighborhood last April and stealing jewelry and $100 cash. Ricci also worked in that house doing remodeling.
Ricci crept into a bedroom where a house guest was sleeping, court documents show. The woman awoke, believing Ricci's darkened profile was that of a family member, and told him he could turn on a light. The intruder responded with only a cough, and the woman rolled over and went to sleep.
When the burglary charges were filed, Salt Lake Police Chief Rick Dinse said Ricci's thefts showed a "pattern of conduct" that "considerably raised our interest." Lois Smart calls the similarities "highly suspicious."
Police remain skeptical of the 48-year-old ex-con's claims of innocence. Investigators still doubt Ricci's alibi -- that he was home in bed with his wife, Angela -- the night Elizabeth disappeared, but they refuse to say what evidence they have to discredit that alibi.
"Our conclusion is, no, he wasn't home in bed with her that night," Lyman said.
Through a spokeswoman, Angela Ricci maintained her husband's innocence.
"She hopes that Elizabeth is found alive and well," Ricci spokeswoman Nancy Pomeroy said. "She doesn't believe that Richard took anything to the grave with him, and she believes in his innocence."
Salt Lake City Police Capt. Scott Atkinson said his department has spent more than 4,250 man hours investigating, with detectives traveling about 10,000 miles running down leads in multiple states.
Family members have cooperated throughout the investigation, Lyman said.
"We looked at the family extremely hard early on," Lyman said, "While we do continue to look, there's been nothing that's changed our focus recently."
Ed Smart also has spent time and energy pushing for a national Amber Alert system. Yet he doesn't want the trauma to consume his family.
"I want so much for my children not to be scarred by this event," Smart said. "I want them to have normal lives and enjoy it. I don't want them to be seeing psychologists and having issues."
But with Elizabeth still missing, it's hard for the family to move on.
"I want to find closure in the worst possible way, but I don't want to cripple my children for life," he said. "It's hard to get a balance of life again."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)