Hot story leads to mistaken IDs

Published: Sunday, March 16 2003 12:00 a.m. MST

Dave Smart, right, wife Abby, and son, Jeff, have received calls about a connection to the Elizabeth Smart case. The problem is, there isn't one.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

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Shortly after Elizabeth Smart was discovered strolling along State Street earlier this week with a preaching drifter known as Emmanuel, Irene Mitchell's phone started ringing off its recharging base.

It almost hasn't stopped ringing since Wednesday afternoon. Dozens of reporters across the country — from People and Time magazines to New York City newspapers — have called from sunrise to well after sunset eagerly trying to line up an interview with the mother of the alleged abductor.

Only problem: She's not that Irene Mitchell.

This Irene Mitchell's sons are John and Mark, not Brian David Mitchell.

"Oh, good grief. I'm just taking it in stride," said the 90-year-old woman. "Sometimes it gets annoying if they call too early or too late."

She was more annoyed 10 years ago when a local furniture store refused to give her credit because a different Irene Mitchell hadn't paid her bill yet.

"I just told them to heck with it," the Irene Mitchell with good credit said. "There's more furniture stores in town than them."

There are more people in Salt Lake City suffering from cases of mistaken identity this week, too. In search of the latest, greatest breaking news story and fresh angle, press hounds have been barking up many a wrong tree in the area. And then there are those who are trying to capitalize on the whole story through books or TV movies.

David Smart, who has the same name but is not Ed Smart's brother and has never even met Elizabeth, has been inundated with errant phone calls from reporters, producers, authors, agents and well-wishers galore the past few days. On Thursday, he received two phone calls at 2 a.m., two more at 4 a.m. and a couple more at 6 a.m., including one from Germany.

"He doesn't even answer the phone anymore," said his wife, Abby. She's had to beep his pager to get a response from him.

A free-lance writer from Pennsylvania called hoping to pen a story about the joy the family's feeling. (In short: They're happy for the other Smarts, but they'd be even more delighted if they'd start receiving all the phone calls.) They've had multiple calls from people wanting first rights for books and TV movies. Several girls have just called to say how happy they are.

On the other hand, at least these Smarts haven't heard from any psychics this week. After Elizabeth disappeared last June, they were swamped with calls from Miss Cleo types who claimed they knew what happened and where she was.

"They obviously weren't very good cause they would've known they had the wrong number," Abby joked.

Chris Thomas, Sandy, has also had a noisy telephone. Callers are not so excited when they find out he's not the Chris Thomas they've seen speaking on behalf of the Smart family at press conferences on TV.

"It's not that big of a deal," he said. "It's just funny."

One Salt Lake resident, who asked that her name not be published, has received a half dozen inquiries from reporters, and her name isn't even similar to anybody in the story. Her only connection is that she lives across the street from where Brian David Mitchell once lived in the mid-1990s. She moved in a year after he moved out.

"It's not too bad," she said. "I was just shocked how fast they found me."

She took her first call from a reporter at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Some aren't even bothering picking up the phone.

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