Shortly after the news broke that Edward Younghoon Shin of Irvine had been arrested for the murder of his business partner Christopher Ryan Smith of Laguna Beach, I was talking off the record with someone close to the victim's family that believed the Laguna Beach Police Department botched the disappearance case from the start.
However, the family at that time in the investigation was not yet ready to publicly express its outrage, because Smith's body had not been found. It still hasn't, as far as authorities are saying. But three family members are unloading on the city of Laguna Beach with $10 million claims each.
After cities routinely reject such claims, the accusing parties are then free to file lawsuits in civil court within six months. Laguna Beach in January rejected elements of the claims filed by Paul, Steven and Deborah Smith, the Orange County Register reports today.
The story I was originally told was the family, which is split between the Central California coast and Pacific Northwest, figured out early on that it was not Smith sending them messages from overseas while supposedly on an around-the-world adventure. Since his son was residing in Laguna Beach at the time, Smith's father contacted that city's police agency last March.
Believing Laguna Police investigators were dragging their feet and not taking the missing-person report seriously enough, the family hired a private investigator who developed clues and eventually contacted Orange County Sheriff's Department investigators, whose coverage area includes San Juan Capistrano. That's where the offices of Shin and Smith's 800xchange.com Internet advertising firm was located.
It's also where sheriff's homicide detectives believe Shin murdered 31-year-old Smith in June 2010 to avoid paying $1 million to buy out his interest in 800xchange.com, as previously agreed. Blood evidence was found in the offices, according to authorities.
Shin, who was arrested last August while boarding a plane for Canada, confessed to the murder, but the 33-year-old family man, who lives in an Irvine gated community, has not revealed where he dumped the body, sheriff's deputies say. Search-and-rescue teams combed a remote area of San Diego County all-day last Saturday, and it was later revealed clues relevant to the slaying may have been discovered.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled next month for Shin, who pleaded not guilty to the murder count at his arraignment. It's the same plea entered by his assistant, Kenny Roy Craft, who was arrested last year for allegedly helping Shin dispose of evidence.
- Christopher Ryan Smith Family and Sheriff's Department Use Blog in Hopes of Finding Murder Victim's Body
- Christopher Ryan Smith, Missing Man Said to be Murdered by Business Partner, Subject of Search That May Have Yielded Clues