In June 2010, California entrepreneur Chris Smith emailed his family and friends that he had embarked on an epic travel adventure. Soon after, the 31-year-old former wakeboarder boasted on email that he was exploring the coast of South America on a 45-foot yacht with a Playboy model.
In another email, he said he was sandboarding in South Africa. In yet another he said that he was going to cruise through the waters off the coast of Somalia, which are notoriously trafficked by pirates.
In late December, however, the emails abruptly stopped — and Smith’s family became worried that he had been killed overseas.
On Tuesday, Orange County prosecutors announced that Smith never even left California. They believe he’s been dead the whole time.
And those emails? Allegedly written by 40-year-old Ed Shin, Smith’s partner at the advertising agency The 800 Exchange, who is now on trial for his murder in Orange County, authorities say.
“Christopher Smith loved his family, he had substantial equity in ongoing businesses, he had a serious girlfriend,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said in court Tuesday as Shin’s trial opened, according to the Orange County Register.
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“Chris Smith had a bright future,” Murphy explained. “He had a financial dispute with Ed Shin. And the evidence is going to show that nobody has seen or heard from him since June 4, 2010.”
During opening statements at Shin’s trial, Murphy said the killing was sparked by Shin’s desire to settle expensive law suits by former employers who alleged fraud and embezzlement, MyNewsLA.com reports.
According to Murphy, Smith had allegedly become weary of his partner and refused to sign off on any settlement amount unless he was protected against embezzlement.
“Chris Smith created a big problem for Ed Shin,” Murphy said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Shin’s attorney did not make an opening statement. An attorney for him told PEOPLE in 2015 that he was “anxious to have the truth revealed,” and Shin has said he killed Smith in self-defense.
“He was defending himself within reason,” lawyer Edward Welbourn said at three years ago, “and what happened was not anticipated and unplanned and was a terrible and unfortunate outcome.”
The day he disappeared, Smith cautioned his attorney against future misdeeds, Murphy reportedly said.
“We need to make sure he doesn’t have room for fraud,” he wrote in an email, according to MyNewsLA. “He’s itching to do it again.”
That same night, Smith’s attorney got an email from Smith’s account stating that Smith had agreed to a buyout from Shin and planned to leave the country and travel around the world.
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Prosecutors believe Shin wrote that email after he either fatally beat or stabbed Smith at their office in San Luis Obispo, according to MyNewsLA. He then gave his employees a week off and attempted to clean the crime scene.
As time passed Smith’s family began to question the emails and hired an investigator to look into his whereabouts. Private investigators found what they believed to be blood in the The 800 Exchange office and the case was taken over by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Investigators from Orange County subsequently discovered blood on the office ceiling and carpet.
According to the Register, Murphy described whatever chaos that killed Smith as “helter skelter.”