The 2007 abduction and murder of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith is a horrific tragedy that ultimately led to a triumph for crime victims that has since saved numerous lives.
As the 10th anniversary of the world losing Kelsey Smith approaches, here are five facts about the case, including how Kelsey’s legacy lives on as a positive empowerment for crime prevention.
1. KELSEY SMITH WAS ABDUCTED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
On June 2, 2007, Kelsey Smith exited a Target department store in Overland Park, Kansas, after purchasing a few gifts for her boyfriend of six months. Someone forced Kelsey inside her own vehicle, a 1990 Ford Crown Victoria.
Four hours later, the car turned up unoccupied in a Macy’s parking lot across the street. Her purse, wallet, and the items she purchased remained inside the car.
A massive gathering of volunteers nicknamed “Kelsey’s Army” assisted authorities with the search — scouring the area, distributing fliers, and working every possible angle. They would get a huge help from the stores’ surveillance cameras.
2. THE KILLER TURNED UP ON OLD-FASHIONED SECURITY CAMERAS
Experts analyzed security footage from both Target and Macy’s, and got a clear shot of a male person of interest, along with his Chevy pickup. Police released images of the figure, and a local man joked that it looked like his neighbor, Edwin Roy “Jack” Hall.
When the quipster saw that the truck involved was Hall’s, he turned serious and called the cops.
3. THE POLICE FOUND KELSEY’S BODY USING NEW CELL-PHONE TECHNOLOGY
Tragically, the hunt for Kelsey Smith ended four days after it began, when her body turned up in a woodsy patch across state lines in Missouri, about 20 miles from where she’d been abducted.
Investigators noticed that a ping had come from Kelsey’s cell phone June 2. They contacted Verizon Wireless to get Kelsey’s phone records in order to pinpoint her exact location. Verizon, citing unprecedented privacy issues, resisted handing over the information. The FBI stepped in and got the records.
Finally, then, on June 6, a Verizon technician identified a cell-phone tower near the ping and told searchers to look 1.1 miles north of there. Forty-five minutes later, Kelsey’s remains were discovered and identified.
4. KELSEY’S KILLER HAD A HORRIBLE HISTORY, BUT HAD NEVER KILLED
At the time he kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and fatally strangled Kelsey Smith, 26-year-old Jack Hall was married and had a four-year-old son. He had never been arrested as an adult.
Hall grew up with violent, alcoholic parents and suffered sexual abuse routinely by his own family members while still a toddler. He went into the state system at age seven and got booted out at 15 after threatening his foster sister with a knife. He went on to be arrested twice for assault as a juvenile.
After being arrested for Kelsey’s murder, Hall pleaded guilty in exchange for not getting the death penalty. He cried and begged forgiveness from Kelsey’s family in court. A judge sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole.
5. “THE KELSEY SMITH ACT” HAS SAVED LIVES, BUT IT SPARKS PRIVACY DEBATES
In light of Verizon Wireless taking four days to surrender Kelsey Smith’s phone information to investigators, multiple states have passed “The Kelsey Smith Act” — a law that requires cell-phone service providers to “ping” a subscriber’s phone if authorities believe that the phone holder is in danger.
Congress has debated ratifying The Kelsey Smith Act as federal law for years. Most recently, in May 2016, the House of Representatives voted against the act, opting to leave it up to individual states.
The ACLU has taken spoken out against the law on privacy grounds, stating that it opens up too much leeway for the government to demand personal cell-phone records.
Kansas has enacted the law and, authorities say that in 2015, they used the Kelsey Smith Act to locate a car that had been stolen with a five-month-old baby in the backseat. The child was quickly found and returned home safely.
On that occasion, Greg Smith, Kelsey’s father, noted: “Those are big, emotional things. Our baby’s not here, but someone else’s is because our baby’s not here.”
Watch the Investigation Discovery episode Kelsey Smith: Gone in an Instant on Sunday, March 19, at 2 P.M. or with ID GO.
Main photo: Kelsey Smith Foundation/Facebook page