On June 5, 2002, in the middle of the night, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City bedroom while her parents slept in a nearby part of the house. Smart’s abductor⎯a 49-year-old street preacher named Brian David Mitchell⎯took her to a secluded campsite in the foothills above her home, where he and his 57-year-old wife held a weird, self-styled wedding ritual in which Smart was “sealed” to Mitchell in “the new and everlasting covenant”—a Mormon euphemism for polygamous marriage. Immediately thereafter the girl was forced to remove her red pajamas, and Mitchell consummated the marriage with an act of rape.
Details of the audacious kidnapping were reported breathlessly and without pause by the news media, leaving much of the country aghast and riveted. When a massive investigation failed to locate Smart or her then-unidentified abductor by summer’s end, people assumed the worst: that she had been subjected to some unspeakable ordeal and murdered. Then, nine months after she disappeared, she turned up alive, surprising almost everyone.
The astonishing reappearance of Elizabeth Smart occurred in the jittery days immediately before the invasion of Iraq. Most Americans, made fretful by the uncertainties of the impending war and a sputtering economy, were desperate for some good news, any good news, and rejoiced with commensurate intensity when the girl was reunited with her family.
Like so many of his countrymen, Dan Lafferty wa...