Prosecutors say Ed Shin concocted an elaborate lie using his former business partner's email account to cover up killing him

By Christine Pelisek
November 12, 2015 09:15 AM
Credit: Courtesy Smith Family

In June of 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 Playmate. In another email, he said he was sandboarding in South Africa.

“We were getting emails from all over the place,” Smith’s brother, Paul, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “He emailed he was at the tip of Chile and then on the southwest coast of India. It was crazy.”

In late December, however, the emails abruptly stopped and Chris’ family became worried he was killed overseas.

But Orange County prosecutors now say Chris never even left California. They say that the emails ostensibly sent by Chris were actually sent by his business partner, Ed Shin, a 37-year-old, divorced father of four young children.

Prosecutors believe Shin murdered Chris after Chris became suspicious that Shin was embezzling from their advertising agency, The 800 Exchange.

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Despite being charged with murder and awaiting trial since 2011, Shin maintains his innocence. “He is anxious to have the truth revealed,” says his attorney Edward Welbourn. “He was defending himself within reason and what happened was not anticipated and unplanned and was a terrible and unfortunate outcome.”

But Orange County senior deputy district attorney Matt Murphy counters: “We will prove Ed Shin murdered Mr. Smith, and was motivated by his own financial gain when he did it.”

As Shin’s January trial looms, Chris’ friend remembers him as a “chill dude” who loved life. “He was a really generous guy,” says friend Alex Chang. “And he was always open to learning and new experiences.”

For more on this story, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.